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Don’t Have Dye? Tie-Dye With Acrylic Paint Instead!

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Tie-dye is a fabric-reactive dye that bonds with the cellulose in certain fabrics, including cotton and hemp.

But what if you want to tie-dye other types of fabric, such as polyester, or you have a sudden hankering to tie-dye but you don’t have any dye? 

Luckily, as so often is the case in the art world, there’s more than one way to create amazing tie-dye designs.

Can you tie-dye with acrylic paint? You can use acrylic paint to tie-dye, and the results can be very impressive! You’ll need to use fabric medium to help the paint adhere properly to the fabric and to keep the fabric supple and comfortable to wear. Other than that, the process is quite similar to regular tie-dye.

The following will teach you the step-by-step process for tie-dyeing with acrylic paint as well as alternatives to both traditional tie-dye and acrylic paints that you can find around your house for the tie-dyeing process. 

How To Tie-Dye With Acrylic Paint

Tie-dyeing with acrylic paint is easy and fun and is an excellent way to use any acrylic paint you might have lying around.

Acrylic paint is great for tie-dyeing as it comes in a multitude of bright colors, is permanent when dry, and is a low-toxin option that is good for children’s projects.

1. Gather Supplies

All you need to get started tie-dyeing with acrylic paint are:

You don’t have to spend a lot here, the inexpensive acrylic paint found in the hobby section of craft stores is perfectly fine to use!

This set, for example, is full of fun, bright colors, comes in easy-to-use tubes, and is priced affordably.

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2. Set Up

It’s wise to tie-dye with acrylic paint outside as it can get messy, especially if you’re tie-dyeing with kids.

Use disposable tablecloths or drop cloths to protect the area you will be working on from spilled paint.

You can wear plastic gloves to keep paint off your skin and a disposable apron to protect your clothes.

3. Mix the Paint

Follow the instructions on the fabric medium (I highly recommend Liquitex), or mix the acrylic paint and fabric medium in the squeeze bottles at a 2:1 ratio (2 parts paint to 1 part fabric medium).

Add water and stir, or close the bottle securely and shake until the mixture is a dye-like consistency.

4. Dampen the Fabric

You can run the fabric under cold water in the sink and then wring it out, or simply mist the fabric with a spray bottle of water. The fabric should be damp, not soaking wet. 

5. Fold and Bind the Fabric

Fold the fabric into your desired pattern, and then fasten the folds in place with the rubber bands. 

6. Dye the Fabric

Carefully apply the paint mixture to the fabric. Having a color wheel handy is a good idea here as it is easy to create muddy browns by combining blue and orange, yellow and purple, or red and green. 

7. Let the Fabric Sit

Let the fabric sit for at least an hour to give the paint a chance to soak into the fabric. You can then hang the fabric up or lay it out flat to dry.

Once it is mostly dry, you can put it in the dryer to heat set the colors.  

8. Wash and Wear

Once the dyed fabric is dry, launder as usual and your item will be ready to wear!

The fabric medium softens the acrylic and makes it a part of the fabric, helping you to avoid the rough and tacky feel of acrylic paint alone.

How To Make Your Own Tie-Dye Liquid


Oh yeah! You can totally use Kool-Aid to create DIY tie-dye. Simply mix Kool-Aid packets in cups with a little bit of cold water and a splash of vinegar.

Then either pour the liquid over the item you wish to dye or dip sections of the fabric into the Kool-Aid mixture.

Allow the dyed fabric to sit in an airtight plastic bag for at least 24 hours before washing with cold water and drying.

Food Coloring

Try tie-dyeing with food coloring. First, mix white vinegar and water in a bucket at a 1:1 ratio, and allow the item to be dyed to soak in the mixture for at least an hour.

Then mix 8-16 drops of food coloring with half a cup of water inside of a plastic squeeze bottle.

Wring the excess water from the soaked fabric, fold it into your desired pattern, and apply the food coloring mixture as you would regular tie-dye. 

Fabric Paint

Fabric paint is designed to adhere to fabric permanently, making it an excellent choice for a DIY tie-dye. Magicfly makes an excellent product, and the colors are hard to beat.

Mix 3-6 tablespoons of fabric paint with 1 cup of cold water to create the dye. Be sure to dry the fabric on a high-heat setting in order to set the colors.

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Bleach Tie-Dye

All you need to create a rad-looking reverse tie-dye project is a little bit of bleach. Mix bleach and water at a 1:1 ratio, and apply to dark-colored fabric.

Allow the bleached fabric to sit for at least half an hour, then either add color to the bleached sections of the item, or stick it in the washer and call it a day!

What Items Can Be Tie-Dyed

Cellulose-based fabrics, such as cotton, hemp, and rayon, work particularly well for tie-dye. Denim can also be tie-dyed.

T-shirts, socks, tapestries, pillow cases, and hoodies are all commonly tie-dyed objects. 

What Should Not Be Tie-Dyed

Hard items such as those made from metal, plastic, or wood, are not conducive to effective tie-dyeing.

Fabrics made of animal fibers, such as silk or wool, can be tie-dyed, but the process is a little bit different from traditional tie-dyeing. 

Linen and felt can be challenging to tie-dye.

Tie-dyeing doesn’t really work for fabrics such as polyester or nylon as the dye doesn’t adhere to polyester and dyeing nylon requires the use of heat that can damage the fabric.

Tie-dyeing with acrylic paint is a good way to dye polyester materials.

Related Questions:

Does Acrylic Tie-Dye Fade?

If you use straight-up acrylic paint, it can fade and crack with time.
Adding a fabric medium to your acrylic tie-dye will help the paint to create a more permanent bond with the fabric that will help the colors to last longer.
It will also help to keep the material supple and comfortable to wear.

Can You Use Food Coloring To Tie-Dye?

You can use food coloring to tie-dye! For best results, mix it with water and apply it to fabric that has been soaked in a vinegar solution.

Final Thoughts

Craft stores carry ready-made tie-dye kits galore, but if the urge to tie-dye strikes you when you’re stuck at home, then you might look around your house and see what kind of items you have lying around that can be used as tie-dye alternatives. 

From acrylic paint to Kool-Aid, bleach, and food coloring, there are many common household items that can be used to create epic tie-dye projects!

image showing a man crafting a piece of pottery on a pottery wheel - header graphic for the hobby ideas post on gigworker.com
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