Dye mixing

@morganstanfield figured you’d know the answer to this, since I assume you frequently dye leather. I just found out that I can dye my 3D printed parts made in nylon using aniline dyes. My question is are they mixable? And if so can you mix the CMYK like you would ink, so I can use Pantone numbers to get the colors I desire?


Hmm–interesting questions. First, yes, aniline dyes are mixable, though you may find that you get your best results mixing only within brands, rather than between brands–you won’t know what kinds of impurities and additives will show up in any one brand and then fight with something in another brand.

Mixing like a CMYK system to get something that even approaches a Pantone level of consistency and predictability is a whole other ball of wax. There are two issues here. One is mixing using CMYK
formulas and the other is getting Pantone-like predictability and consistency.

As to using CMYK formulas, every color brand and color system within each brand has unique colors, no matter what those colors are named. Buy five brands of magenta dye, mix them up, put them on paper (or, in your case, samples of nylon) side by side, and not one will exactly match any other in hue, intensity, opacity, etc… Buy five brands of yellow, even limiting yourself to one hue name, say, “lemon yellow,” and you’ll get five more unique colors. Then mix each version of yellow with each version of magenta–no matter how exactly you measure, you’ll get 25 different results, because each color is unique. Some colors that are labelled a magenta will be much warmer or cooler than others, just as the yellows, cyans, and blacks will be warmer or cooler, with undertones of other colors. Mix a warmer magenta with a warmer yellow will get very different results than mixing a two cool colors or two iterations of warm and cool. Blacks are especially nuts, because they might have undertones of green, brown, blue, or neutral grey. Any binders, anti-caking agents, or whatever, will also affect the color, and the when you’re dying, you’re like to have to think about whatever is in any water you might mix in to powdered dyes. AND, you have to be precise about dyeing times to get consistent results, a whole other pain in the tuchus. Whatever you mix, you’ll find that each swatch is a fresh experiment, and to get a set of tones that you even like may take a LOT of swatch mixing.

Getting a Pantone level of predictability will be, frankly, extremely difficult and I’ve never heard of anyone getting it with dyes. You might be the genius who does, though, so please do report back if you find a way.

In the meantime, if you want to approach the ability to do something like Pantone-based mixing, usually, the best one can do is to get a bunch of dyes that have a good reputation for consistency, a chemist’s scale and thermometer, measuring vessels, and tons of little pieces of scrap to test the dye in. Make a s**t ton of batches and record the formulas you used on each and every one, (including dye time and temperature) and glue the sample you get next to the formula in a swatch book.

Let us know how it goes! I’d love hear about your results and see what you print. I’m nuts about color.


wow, thanks for the details, and as usual figured you’d be the perfect person. The good news is from a testing standpoint, did you know that wire ties are made of nylon? Yeah, cool fact, so I have buckets of “test strips” since in general I don’t care about what color my wire ties are.

So it seems that the steps are:

  1. Start with one brand
  2. Use CMYK as base, with tweak of mix to get desired color (I need close, not truly pantone matching at this stage). It seems powder dye is better, since I can do this by weight rather than liquid.
  3. carefully record temp/time variables until the saturation of that color is correct
  4. I can hopefully assume come consistency of the same color/brand? so that my formula will work each time?

Thanks for the kind words, @henryhbk!

On item 4, the answer is yes, usually. Dye batches do vary even within companies, but big, reputable companies are more likely to have consistency between batches than smaller, cheaper companies. Same with expensive dyes versus cheap ones, and ones labelled “professional” rather than “student” or “craft.” The way to save yourself hairpulling on large projects is to buy enough dye at one time to dye the whole project or series you want to do, and then mix all the pigments at the same time before mixing in the liquid. Then, you’ll at least get consistent color in that batch. (A flour sifter makes a good pigment mixer, if you’re doing big batches. For smaller batches, a small screen of some kind is very helpful.)

Also, when buying dyes, you may enjoy (and benefit from) occasionally throwing a “wild card” dye into your cart. For instance, finding a really vivid, bright yellow watercolor paint was the bane of my existence for a long time–the ones that were recommended for landscape painting were too golden (i.e., had brown-orange undertones), and the ones recommended for portraits were too pinkish. I ended up getting my favorite results from a cheap Chinese brand that I would normally not have looked at twice, but I liked its name. It might not take a lot of extra time, but mixing a weird color with another on your palette might give you exactly what you’re looking for.


Oh, btw, I don’t actually dye a lot of my own leather–I have access to really fantastic pre-colored hides. In Decemberish, when I need veg-tan only, I expect that will rapidly change. :smile:

Replicating the exact color has driven many a person nuts - in every medium.

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Wow. I got an education there. Many trials and errors on the path to that information.
Thank you!

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I gain so much by having little opinion on color in most things.

I can appreciate some brilliance; but I’ve got no gift for it.

Seems like a lot of work - I’m glad you find enjoyment from it.

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@morganstanfield gave a terrific summary of why predicting the outcome of subtractive color mixture is so hard. Quite the geek yourself, Morgan!

My son was attempting to teach color mixture principles to students in Kenya while with the Peace Corps. The only paint they could supply to him was house paint. When he tried to mix blue and yellow to get green, all he could get was various shades of brown!

There are some mathematical theories that can do a pretty good job of predicting how real colored paints and dyes will mix, such as the “Kubelka-Munk” equations. Unfortunately, they require a great deal of knowledge about the individual pigments that must be obtained through experiments and spectrophotometric measurements.

My favorite website on the topic is Bruce MacEvoy’s Handprint series: http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color5.html#scientific


Thanks, @fan-of-glowforge–there’s no doubt about my geekery. To whit, I now love Bruce MacEvoy.

For people who just want to play with color, this is a fun tool: https://color.hailpixel.com/#everything-else


What your son and his students went through in Kenya reminds me of the color “theory” class I took in art school. I went to a Buddhist college, so mostly what we did was learn theory, and then essentially forget it as we put the rest of our time into training and using our perceptions. We learned color theory, and then spent hundreds of hours actually mixing swatches, gently nudging colors in one direction or another with tiny additions of different colors, putting various colors next to each other in different concentrations, and then talking with each other about the effects we noticed. My professor, who was also a watercolorist, among other things, had a hue he liked so much that he just called it The Color (always capitalized). It was a mix of Pthalo blue and, I believe, alizarin crimson–it created a color that was almost a real black, but had a slightly unsettling warm blue undertone. Despite being made of “blue” and “red,” it wasn’t even vaguely purple.


Of course unlike mixing colors on a wheel, mixing chemical dyes produces chemical reactions between the pigments, not just pure color mixing, hence the challenge with watercolors, etc. I imagine changing brands of paints changed his blue-black…

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Oh yes–when I was using The Color a lot, my ingredients were always Sennelier pthalo and Utrecht crimson. :smile_cat:

Oh neat medical tie in here, I went to a presentation at Bayer about this: The original antibiotics were sulfa drugs (still used today widely) but they were in fact aniline dyes. Way back when the dye company (Bayer in germany) was testing toxicity on rabbits and the rabbits accidentally got some bacterial infection causing pneumonia, all the ones who were in the control group died, and all the ones in the test group survived (barely due to the dye toxicity). A short while later the CEO’s daughter got pneumonia, and as she was dying, ordered his team to try the same dye on her. She again barely survived (what would have been a lethal infection) and then the team worked on making a safer version, e.g. sulfa drugs…


I just ran across this article in Boing Boing:

While ink ain’t dye, I thought folks in this thread might be interested in seeing this process. There is a discussion of mixing colors just past the mid-point of the video.


So satisfying!

I love one word, noun-titled books like “Salt” or “Cod”. One of those books is “Mauve”. To understand that so much of the modern chemical industry was founded on the search for color. I’ve often reflected about that. Our desire for pretties has really messed up the environment. So many stories about paint and color affecting the artist or craftsman. Other than the lead paint issue, one of the wildest is the radium paint for alarm clocks that sickened so many.


That’s a great book! So is this one:


To get the block quote or a “onebox” as Discourse calls it, post the link on a separate line. Make sure you have no spaces in front of the url. Try and edit your post and see if the preview shows it. Took me a while to figure this out. Yes, check the URL. It’s chopped off. needs some more info. Here is the currect URL

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The URL has to work… =P