Printing and Painting on Silk using Acid Dyes

It is possible to achieve excellent levels of colour fastness when colouring the silk with Acid dyes, making the dyed silk fabric ideal for clothes, linings, and wall hangings. The silk scarf below was painted by Katherine Barney using the Dupont Steam-Fix Acid dyes. A similar technique can be used on fine wool and fabric.

The silk fabric also retains its unique properties of lustre, softness and handle when printed or painted with Acid dyes and although silk paints offer a reasonable alternative, the acrylic binder in the paint tends to leave the silk fabric feeling stiff once heat set.

Other types of Acid dyes will offer further opportunities for design. Acid Discharge dyes can be removed from fabric using a discharge paste. The discharge paste can be loaded with an Acid Illuminating dye which in turn replaces the colour which has been discharged. Find out more about Discharge Printing with Acid Dyes.

Dupont Steam-Fix Acid dye ScarfBefore printing, dyeing or painting with these dyes, it is important to check whether the material is ‘Prepared for Dyeing’ (PFD) or requires scouring to remove any grease, oil or starch. The dye will be less effective on soiled fabric, reducing the brightness and depth of colour. Run a few droplets of cold water onto the fabric. If they soak in quickly, no scour is necessary. To remove starches, size and oils, add 5ml of Synthrapol (a non-ionic detergent) along with 2-3 litres of water for each 100g of material. Stir gently over a 15 minute period, and then rinse thoroughly in warm water. It is possible to use household detergent, but the alkaline residue may affect the final colour or wash fastness.

Recipe for Printing Paste using Acid dyes

20-40g Acid dye
100g Urea
340ml boiling water. Use 2g Calgon when using water from a hard water area as this eliminates the effects of calcium and magnesium salts which make colours weaker and duller.
20ml Fibrecrafts Synthrapol
50g Manutex RS
20g Citric Acid. Note: Excessive heat during drying stage prior to steaming can cause yellowing.

  1. Make the Acid dye and Urea into a paste and then add 300ml boiling water. Stir until the dye is fully dissolved.
  2. Allow the solution to cool until tepid.
  3. Make up the 10% stock paste by sprinkling 50g of Manutex RS into 500ml of cold water. Stir and leave to stand for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Add the dye and Urea solution to the Manutex RS solution and stir rapidly.
  5. Dissolve 20g Citric Acid in 40ml warm water and add to the dye/printing paste mix, followed by the Fibrecrafts Synthrapol and stir rapidly to reduce the print paste.
  6. The solution is now ready to print or paint. Remember these dyes are very reactive and the paste must be used very quickly.

Fixing the Print

Once dry, steam-set the print for 30-45 minutes.

The Final Process

Make up a solution of 1/2 teaspoon of synthrapol with 5 litres of cold water and wash the fabric for 2 minutes. Rinse briefly in cold water.


There is no substantiated evidence of a causal link between exposure to Procion MX dyes and any chronic or fatal illnesses. Both the acid and fibre reactive dye families have a considerable track record, of use in industry in considerable quantities and in a less well controlled environment in the crafts

Sensible precautions should be taken when handling dyes and chemicals, particularly as powders:

  • Avoid inhaling dusts, they can produce an asthma type reaction. People with known respiratory problems should not handle synthetic dyes, and particularly the fibre reactive dyes, in powder form. A dust mask should be worn when working with the powders or exposed to an aerosol from spraying dye solutions made up in water
  • Avoid splashing solutions into the eyes, swallowing the materials or prolonged skin contact. A simple ‘non-contact’ approach (most people use gloves to avoid dyeing themselves) plus normal, good, hygiene is sufficient precautions for the occasional user
  • Store in clearly labeled containers well away from children, pets and foodstuffs. Treat dye powders and solutions with the same caution as domestic poisons (eg strong cleaners, bleaches or medicines)
  • Dispose of spent solutions containing residues of the dyes responsibly. Dilute and pour onto waste land or into the sewage system. They have no known effect on the environment when used in the quantities recommended in the literature.

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