Surface Design Smackdown: Paint vs. Dye

Call it “telephone tag” for the digital age: My friend Anne sent me a question about Dye-na-Flow. We’ve been back and forth with short Facebook messages exchanges, but haven’t connected yet to talk about her question. She’s far from alone in her puzzlement, so I guess it’s time for a Surface Design Smackdown: Paint vs. Dye.

Anne wrote that she had sampled Dye-na-Flow on silk scarves “following all the directions.” While she could see many possibilities for the product, she didn’t like that it “leaves my fabric somewhat stiff, especially silk. Is this the nature of the beast, or is there something I could do to remedy the situation?”

She’s not imagining this. Despite its name, Dye-na-flow is a fabric paint. Click to keep reading.

Like other paints, Dye-na-Flow sits on the surface instead of bonding on a molecular level as a dye would. That affects the hand of the fabric. It also affects the reflective quality of some fabrics, particularly silks.

Silk is the fabric of choice for many projects because of the way it reflects light. You can get plenty of “shiny” synthetics, but silk owns the territory around “luminous.” When you want to preserve the softness and luster of silk, you may want to choose acid dye instead of paint. You can read about my acid redux dyeing adventures here.

Silk and wool love dye, and acid dyes make coloring silk almost as easy as spilling red wine on a white silk blouse. You can find complete acid dye instructions here, here and here. Don’t let the steaming throw you. You can boil water. You can follow directions. You can do this.

But don’t throw out your Dye-na-flow! This is my go-to product for many projects, including silk.

You can use it for heliographic printing and inkjet transparency transfers.

Dye-na-Flow makes it unbelievably easy to make a “crackle” style fabric. This is a technique I use a lot in classes. All you do is mix paints (from primaries, white and black or pewter) to get the color you want, slosh the paint onto barely-damp fabric, and leave it crumpled up to dry.

Gravity pulls the water in the paint down, leaving higher concentrations of pigment on the high points.

When the fabric is dry, heat set it with a dry iron on the hottest setting the fabric will accept to fix the paint. Then wash the fabric in mild soap, and maybe rinse it with some hair conditioner.

Dye-na-Flow is brilliant for a lot of other applications, including giving embroidery floss and other threads a quick color boost. And it works on a lot of different fabric types, not just protein fibers.

I like products that are really versatile, and products that are really simple. Dye-na-Flow is both. Acid dyes are not as versatile, but you don’t have to keep the whole color collection on hand: Mix what you need from the primary colors, and revel in the undiminished luster of your hand-dyed silk fabric, yarn, ribbon and thread.

I root for both of them. How about you?

Add your voice to the conversation at

Published by

Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

2 thoughts on “Surface Design Smackdown: Paint vs. Dye”

  1. I use Sabracron F dyes for both my graduated solid colored fabric and my multicolored painted fabric. This is very similar to the more commonly used Procion MX dyes. I switched to Sabracron several years ago for several reasons. What kind of dye do you use for your fabric?

  2. For silk and wool, I’m partial to acid dyes. For cotton and rayon, I still have a few bottles of Procion H on the top shelf that need to be used up but mostly I use Procion MX.

    Would love to hear why you switched to Sabracron and how you like them.

Comments are closed.