How to use transfer dyes to print on synthetic fabric.

Did you know you can can dye, print and paint synthetic fabrics with transfer dyes? Well, you can and this morning I thought I would put together this tutorial on how to use a stencil technique to print on synthetic fabrics. These dyes are also known as disperse dyes and they are not difficult to use. You simply follow the instructions to dye fabric.

What many people don’t know is that you can use these dyes in printing techniques. For instance you can paint these dyes on paper and use a hot iron to transfer them to synthetic fabrics. This means you can make paper stencils easily and build up patterns and images on fabric.

First mix the dyes in cold water. They do not disolve easily so stir them well. I use quite a heavy concentrate of one to two teaspoons of powder to a cup of water. Mix up a selection of colours.

Paint and print on paper. (I recycle and use the back of computer print outs) You can draw pictures, symbols, geometrical motifs or what ever pops into your head. Or create lots of papers that are simply drips and dribbles on the paper.

If you place a sponge soaked with dye in a shallow tray you can use this as a stamp pad and print images on paper. You can use cotton reels, carved vegetables, bits of net, bottle corks, card board rings, and anything you can think of to create a print.

Paint, print, dribble, splatter and have fun on a selection of pages and let them dry.

This is an image of the paper print and the fabric after transfering.

Make yourself a few stencils. I desinged these using Adobe lllustrator but all you need is simple shape that can act as a paper stencil.

I am using unpainted paper to make my stencils as I like working with subjects in the negative, but you can make the stencils out of dyed paper too. Place them face down (if they are dyed paper) on synthetic fabric

Cover the stencils with a sheet of painted paper. Make sure you place the sheet dye side down. With the iron set on hot, iron the paper for between 20 and 30 seconds. Move the iron carefully, as you do not want to shift the stencil underneath, otherwise you will get an impression of darker dye where the steam holes of the iron was. Lift the edge of the paper to see if it is tranferring. Keep ironing until the image has transfered

When you lift the paper off you have a dyed fabric.

Remove the stencil and you can see the design clearly.

You build up quite large areas on piece of fabric by using this method. You can also build up imagery of multiple layers of colour, by using multiple papers. Transfer one colour, remove the sheet and then do another and so on until deep interesting textures and colours are built up.

You can use all sorts of things as stencils such as paper doylies and lace.

The image above is the painted paper after it has been used. The paper doyley has acted as a stencil. Below is a close up of the print on the fabric.

Remember that these dyes are desinged to be used on synthetic fabrics. I obtain my transfer dyes from Kraftkolour. I am not associated with this business in any way. I am just a happy customer of a decade or so.

Hope you enjoy this technique. If you do, or think it is interesting, spread the word on your blog or if you are on a discussion list let them know, as I have not found this technique documented online or even in books! But it is simple as pie and a lot of fun.

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28 Responses to How to use transfer dyes to print on synthetic fabric.

  1. Sophie says:

    Hi sharon i purchased some of these a few days ago and when using the black it came out as a very faint purple. How do i fix this , I really need a jet black ! Also i tried painting a design onto paper but half my design didn’t come out when i pressed it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong please help it would much apprecitaed !!!
    Kind regards Sophie

    • sharonb says:

      Sophie sounds to me as if you are mixing the dye too week – try a stronger mix and if that does not work contact the people you purchased it from for instructions as every brand will respond differently

  2. Penny says:

    Thanks a lot for linking to this tutorial Sharon. I have used transfer dyes, however, had never thought to use a stencil with them. DUH! Much appreciated.

  3. anaslua2010 says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I discovered your transfer dyeing – it is something which interests me terribly much. Thank you so much for showing with your pictures. I am already experimenting.

  4. Barbara Millward says:

    Hi Sharon
    2 books which have chapters on various transfer methods including disperse dyes. transfer crayons, transfer pens etc Also cover techniques such as printing, stencilling, stamping etc in other chapters
    "Transforming Fabric" Carolyn Dahl
    "Imagery on Fabric" Jean Ray Laury
    But book which covers all this best and specific to transfer paints is
    "Color Moves – Transfer Paints on Fabric" Linda Kemshall

  5. Sharon B says:

    If you paint it on paper to do this type of transfer dyeing you do not need to boil it as it is the heat of the iron that sets it. If you are wanting to immerse fabric in it to dye – you need to boil it.

  6. sally says:

    Thanks sharon,
    I actually got the powder form, mixed it with water…but i didnt boil it. do i have to boil it? maybe thats why its not as dark and bold when I iron it

  7. Sharon B says:

    Hi Sally – I want to make it clear that I have never used the inks. In pricipal it should be Ok – contact the supplier and see if you can get answers from them however.
    I used dye powders which I mix up myself. I assume your inks are just pre-mixed.
    With the POWDER dyes you can dye any synthetic – just mix them up put the dye in a pan and boil! I have done nylon laces – synthetic fibers etc quite happily but as I say this is the powder not the ink.

  8. sally says:

    I’ll try that, thanks Sharon. Also, do you think I can put the actual ink on the fabric?? is it possible or is it gonna mess up. Cuz i want a clear effect of my stencil on the shirt and I want it to stay. what do u think??

  9. Sharon B says:

    Hi Sally
    the dyes need heat to transfer and fix – so paint on paper not card as when you iron the card it probably did not get hot enough

    I hope this works as its just theory but since its heat that set the dye it sort of makes sense to me.

    Otherwise I would contact the suppliers of the dye. I always use dye powders not dyes that a premixed – but that is the way they come here in Australia.

  10. Sally says:

    Hey sharon. so I got the inks, I mixed with water, painted on a card board, let it dry and tried to tarnsfer print on a shirt…it came out really really nice. But as soon as I washed it, it started fading away. Is there anything I can mix with my color so it stays on and doesn’t fade away with washes??
    Thank you

  11. Sharon B says:

    Ah I see – In Australia the dyes come as a powder and we mix them up. If they are already mixed try painting a test on paper and trial it for the colour. If it is too strong, in a separate container add a bit of water to water it down and test again.

    You can email the suppliers and ask for directions too – they probably have a file they send out if requested.

    There is also this link which give general (very general directions) but it might help

    http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/dispersedye.shtml

  12. Danz says:

    I’m sorry, it was on caps and I didnt notice until i posted it, my bad :o)
    here is the situation, the dyes just came in little jars and nothing else in the box :S i was expecting instructions too but…couldnt find any!
    how do you do it??

  13. Sharon B says:

    Danz – no need to shout at me. I am assuming that you do not mean this but full caps often cause offence because it means you are shouting.
    Follow the directions that come with the dyes as each brand is different .

  14. Danz says:

    SO WHAT IS THE PROPORTION WE NEED TO USE. INK VS. WATER. HOW MUCH OF EACH DO I MIX??
    THANKS

  15. Sally says:

    Thanks so much Sharon 🙂 so helpful

  16. Sharon B says:

    Sally here is a page of suppliers – look for disperse dye powder or transfer dye powder – different places call it different things –

    http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/dyesources.shtml

    I am in Australia so I use
    http://kraftkolour.com/

    I hope this helps

  17. Sally says:

    That was awsome. but do you happen to know where I can find the Disperse/transfer dyes from? I’ve been looking for them and I can’t find them?
    thank you

  18. sharonb says:

    Hi Lisa Transfer dyes can only be used on synthetic materials – not natural fabrics. They are designed to dye synthetics. This tutorial is another use for them

  19. LISA says:

    Can these dyes be used with muslin or are there transfer dyes that can be used with natural fiber fabrics?

  20. RAYA ENGLER says:

    I’M TRYING TO LOCATE A SOURCE FOR TRANSFER INKS OR DYES THAT ARE USED WITH AN IRON TO TRANSFER COLOR TO FABRIC – I THING THEY’RE CALLED TRANSPRINT INKS – I’M NOT SURE.
    ARE YOU ABLE TO HELP ME WITH THIS?
    THANK YOU !
    RAYA.

  21. Sindie says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. I just bought a set of these dyes from eBay not even knowing what they were for! I am now so excited to use them as they were intended. I am bursting with ideas now. :0)

    Sindie (UK)

  22. debra.roby says:

    These disperse dyes are wonderful on lutrador.

  23. ok, got it! You DID explain, I just didn’t catch it since I’ve not done it yet…thanx!!

  24. Allison says:

    Your dyed images remind me of your photoshop work..layers and collages of imagery combined to make a mysterious whole.
    So this is what happens when Jerry is across the world!!!
    Thanks for the tutorial…it is inspiring.

  25. sharonb says:

    stitchermom – sorry I thought I explained myself – The dyes are called transfer dyes or in some countries disperse dyes – that is the name of them – they are designed for synthetic fabrics only – but with so many interesting synthetics on the market you can do lots with them.

  26. Sharon, I’ve never dyed, but I find myself quite intrigued, especially on seeing your fab pix and direx! Is it ok to ask which dyes you used? With Ron gone all the time, I feel a need to add YET another fiber pasttime to my schedule. Besides, why do I have Ever Embellished if I can’t learn about more ways to embellish, right??!! (How’s THAT for justification??!!)(VBG)

  27. Judy says:

    Hi! Sharon,

    What a great tutorial, I’d thought about using dyes but it all seemed just too messy doesn’t look or sound so from your intstructions.

    Thanks so much for the info.

    Judy.

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