October 2, 2013

How to Tie Dye with Acrylic Paints

When we were brainstorming different ideas for my 8-year old daughter's birthday party, we quickly settled upon having a tie dye theme.  In case you haven't been around 8 year olds lately, they can be all about tie-dye, peace signs, hearts and rainbows, so it seemed like the perfect plan.

However, once I thought about it a little more, I was worried it would be tricky to pull off.  Regular tie-dying often involves presoaking the fabric, dying it, wrapping it up and waiting several hours before rinsing it out.  That definitely would be tricky to pull off in a 3-hour time frame for our party.  Plus, it's often recommended to use 100% cotton fabrics, and that would rule out the pillowcases and socks we were hoping to tie dye.

Luckily, we decided on an alternative that worked out really well...  using watered-down acrylic paints instead of regular dye.

Check it out...

That rainbow of bottles was filled with the watered-down paint that was really easy to use and all those colorful shirts and pillowcases were ready to take home at the end of the party.  (NOTE:  They were still a little damp, but we simply put them in plastic bags as the girls left and they hung them up to finish drying when they got home.)

Here's what you'll need:

 * plastic squeeze bottles ( found ours in Walmart in the food storage section, but spray bottles could also work)

* acrylic paints (they're available in tons of colors and are often less than $1 a bottle)

* fabric textile medium ( found with the acrylic paints in most craft stores)  Optional but I'd recommend it

* smocks and containers to catch the paint (We use disposable lab coats as smocks and they're awesome!)

* variety of items to dye ( we did pillowcases, t-shirts, and socks) and rubber bands

Here's what to do...

1.  Add the water and fabric textile medium to your acrylic paint.  The textile medium is optional but it helps to soften up the paint so the shirt is not as stiff when it's dry.   For each of the colors, I poured  one bottle of acrylic paint and half a bottle of the textile medium into the squeeze containers.  Then I filled up the empty acrylic bottle three times with water and added that in.  (So the ratio is 1/2 part textile medium, 1 part paint, 3 parts water - but you can experiment with your own ratios)  Then shake well to mix. 

2.  Repeat with the other colors you'll be using on your shirts, pillowcases, etc.  (That's the other awesome thing about using acrylic paints, there are sooo many colors available so it's a lot easier to find the perfect colors for you)

3. If you're doing this for a party or group of kids, you'll want to get all your supplies together and try to minimize the mess.  Because the paint will stain clothes once it dries, I gave each of the girls a smock.  I actually used these disposable lab coats (affiliate link) and they worked great to really cover all their clothes. 

I covered my tables with plastic tablecloths.  Then  put out bowls of rubber bands and some spray bottles on one table and then the paints, trays and rubber gloves on another.

4.  Next it was time to get dying!  I had the girls lightly mist their shirts, pillowcases or socks with a spray bottle of water, then put on the rubber bands.   (I had to help some of them with the rubber banding step)  Once everything was all tied up, they were ready for the color.  I instructed the kids to hold the tip up the bottle right up against the fabric so the color went into the fabric instead of squirting everywhere, but we did do each color over the disposable pans so I could collect any extra paint and put it back in the containers.

A few tips I gave the kids...

* Try to stick to two or three colors for the best effects.
* Try not to put yellow/purple, blue/orange, or red/green next to each other or they may mix together to make a yucky brown.
* Try to make sure you get plenty of paint in each area, but not so much that it's dripping off or it'll run into the other colors.

5.  When the items were dyed, we put them on plastic trays and tablecloths to soak in and set the colors.  After about an hour, I took off the rubberbands and held up each masterpiece so the kids could "oooh" and "ahhh" as their designs were revealed.  I hung up each piece so it could dry a little before it was time to take it home.

(NOTE:  Most of the items were just wet, but some of the girls went a little overboard and their items were still pretty sopping wet when I undid the rubber bands.  I simply squeezed them a little with an old towel to sop up some of the extra liquid so they weren't actually dripping onto my deck while they dried.)

Our finished products...

I instructed the parents to allow the items to dry then throw them in the dryer to heat set the colors.  After that, you can wash the items just as you would your regular t-shirts or pillow cases.

One final note about fabrics.  One of the good things about acrylic paints is that they'll "stick" even if the fabric is not 100% cotton.  Some of the pillowcases we used were a 60/40 cotton blend and others were microfiber (all synthetic).  The colors on the microfiber ones didn't seem as bright as on the cotton blend.  It may have been the combination of colors used, but I'd recommend staying away from microfiber items or testing it out first if you want more vibrant colors. 

Check out all the other fun foods and activities from our Tie Dye Birthday Party HERE.

Sharing our tie dye tips at:


  1. I really like this, I have been wanting to do some with my boys and bought the dye but not sure about the mess this seems so much more doable and it is still just warm enough for us to do them out on our deck.. I also do a lot of crafts so I have plenty of paints wouldn't have thought of mixing the medium in with it though.. Than you so much for sharing!!

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  3. you have use nice colors for tie-dye... this shirts looking so beautiful.. i have bought many plain white shirt for tie-dye... http://www.apparelnbags.com/port-authority/index.htm

  4. This is so helpful and exactly what I need in order to use what I already have on hand for tie dyeing a bedsheet. I've got more acrylic paint than I know what to do with, so this works out for me!! Unfortunately, I will have to buy fabric textile medium :/ Even though it is optional, it sounds necessary so the curtains I make out of my sheet hang well. Thanks for the info!!

  5. Were are you able to find Medium paints?

    1. I found the fabric textile medium in right with the acrylic paints at JoAnn Fabrics. It doesn't come in different colors, it's clear and you mix it with your colored paints. My bottle was just a 2 oz one but here's a link to a larger bottle on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000XZTD28/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000XZTD28&linkCode=as2&tag=comet0c-20

  6. Can I ask- did you start with damp shirts? or dry ones? We're having an end of the school year tie dye bbq with our friends and I want to do this method instead of the fabric dyes

    1. We misted them with a spray bottle of water, although dunking them and wringing them out well could also work if you had enough adults around to help out.

  7. i was just wondering if you knew how well the colour will stay in;i want to do this with a bedding set but am a little worried it may leave residue on my blanket and matretress and pillow?

    1. Once it's dry, I think the color stays on even better than with regular dyes. If you've ever spilled acrylic paint on a something, you can see that once it's on and dry, it's pretty much on there for good!

  8. I thought I was so clever to come up with doing a tye dye craft project for my 4 year olds summer bday party. The shirt would be the party favor not a bunch of junk. But then I started researching it and yikes, the mess. And then the instructions afterward the parents would have to follow to "set the dyes" and an extra load of laundry to wash one shirt. Although parents will be around, I am wondering if this isn't such a good idea for 4 year olds. This method does seem easier than dyes and I will definitely try it at some point but do I take the risk at a bday party. Dilemmas

  9. This sounds like a great idea! My friends and I want to do some sports bras and t-shirts etc. for an end of season party but don't want the hassle, mess, or cost of dye so this is a perfect solution. Two questions though, do you think the spandexy material of the bras would work? And second, do the garments turn out hard or crunchy because most acrylic paints harden into solid globs... This is our weekend plan so I'm super curious! Thanks ��

  10. Once you mix the paint and you don't use all of it, can you save it for another day? I know the Tulip One Step Dyes have to be used in 24 hours.

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  12. So did you just use 1 oz of the textile medium per colour?

    1. Yes, I didn't measure exactly, but I used about half of a 2oz bottle for each color. Hope this helps.

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  14. Does the hand of the fabric change with this? Is it stiffer afterwards?


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