54: Dyeing Acrylic

Looking back over 2014, I am quite impressed by how well our projects went off.  Not everything went off well, but that’s a learning experience too.  Here are the top three fails of 2014:

1. Week 21: Laser Engraved Bricks – while the brick (oddly, as I have come to find out and am working on a post about it) wasn’t a failure, my ignorance over the concrete paver could have been a laser destroying disaster

2. Week 19: Fire Flower Vase – Ryan still refers to engraving glass as “My nemesis”

3. Week 43: Starman Coasters – Engraving cork was just not meant to be, unless the goal was a crispy sooty mess.  Ryan salvaged this week by cutting them out of wood.

Why am I bring this up?  Well, I have the dubious honor of the first fail of 2015!  Whoo!

At a trade show many moons ago, after complaining about the garish colors available in opaque acrylic, another artist confided in me that they used RIT dye to color their plastics.  I filed that information away until last weekend, when I stumbled upon new bottles of liquid RIT at the thrift store, priced perfectly for my “experiment” budget.  Score.

Work space!
Work space!

Having never used RIT dye before, but taking every single warning to heart, I prepared a work surface in a tray and covered every nearby surface in plastic.  In order to minimize the damage to any of my pots and pans or buckets, I dyed in small disposable plastic cups. To dye fabric, the manufacturer suggests 4oz of liquid dye to 3 gallons of water.  Scaling it back to my 1 cup container size…admittedly, I eyeballed it.  Mathematically, it would be less than a teaspoon per cup of water, I went more for tablespoon per cup with the first batch, the green.  For hot water, I just filled it up with water from my teakettle.

I dumped some white acrylic in the green bath, and waited for a half an hour.  After rinsing them off, It honestly didn’t look like anything happened.  Until I put it next to an undyed piece.  Then it took on a weird barely greenish cast.

Fresh from the strongest dye, the blue.
Fresh from the strongest dye, the blue.
One swish in water later.
One swish in water later. What dye?

Try two: let’s make the dye stronger.  For the “Violet” I mixed it roughly 1 part liquid dye to 2 parts water, and the blue I mixed half and half.  I put in white acrylic, clear acrylic and opal acrylic, and waited about an hour.  Results were quite lacking, so I actually decided to leave them overnight.  And the results didn’t get any better.  The “violet” (I put that in quotes because it way more red) colored better than the blue, and the edges picked up more color than the flat fronts.

Verdict: hot water + RIT does not dye cast acrylic satisfactorily, no matter how strong or long the dyeing is.

Awesome dyed bamboo!
Ways to make the dye thing awesome – switch to bamboo!

So, the dye was already out, and I had some lovely bamboo ready to go.  In an attempt to salvage the week, I threw them in the dye.  The bamboo pieces colored quickly and really nicely.  One bad thing – they float.  To get an even color, you need to flip them regularly.  I had the most fun partially dip dyeing them, but had to make sure they didn’t float and make the dye line all cockeyed.  A quick search on RIT’s website actually gives a how-to on dying wood!

I love the partial dip on these Boule earrings!
I love the partial dip on these Boule earrings!
My attempt at ombre on bamboo...sorta successful.
My attempt at ombre on bamboo…sorta successful.
Double dipped in different colors!
Double dipped in different colors!

To recap: hot water + dye is not cast acrylic friendly.  Clear seemed to work marginally better than the white – perhaps because you see more surfaces?  Some internet sources suggested mixing acetone with the dye to help it penetrate, but I was not game at all to heat acetone in my kitchen.  And as for the bamboo, it picked up the dye quickly, but I should probably seal the finished pieces.  If they get wet, would the color run?  Not sure.

Acrylic after it's been in the dye 24 hours - dye sludge.  Amazing how it did't stick.
Acrylic after it’s been in the dye 24 hours – dye sludge. Amazing how it didn’t stick.  The cup and the acrylic nearly washed clean.

5 thoughts on “54: Dyeing Acrylic”

  1. So, as a long time fabric dyer, I can totally believe your acrylic didn’t work. I can’t believe someone told you it would. In fabric dyeing, the fibers chemically react with the dye and that’s what makes the color permanent. The same dyes work great with bamboo because it has fibers that can react with the dye. (Bamboo fabric works a little better then bamboo wood just because it has been processed and it is a lot more porous and able to soak up the dye.) The best you were getting on the acrylic was a stain, like tomato sauce on cheap tupperware. It’s not porous and there is nothing chemically for the dye to lock on too.

    There are some much nicer dyes than RIT that should give you more vibrant colors on bamboo. If you ever want to do another experiment, drop me a note.

    1. That would be fun, especially since it was kind of an afterthought to the acrylic.

      Other methods recommend acetone and even baking (!) it, but that just seemed really bad for my health

  2. That stinks about the acrylic (and interesting about the reason why it didn’t work from the other commenter above!) But that bamboo looks really pretty! I really, really love the dip dyed earrings!

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