Cosplay Tutorials: Painting Fabric with Acid Dye

This is the method I used to paint my “fins” for my Goldeen Gijinka! By painting the chiffon with acid dyes from Jacquard, I was able to get the coloring to mimic Goldeen’s fins.  I used nylon chiffon, but you can use this method with any type of material that acid dyes work on, such as silk, wool, or even feathers!


  • Acid Dyes in choice of color(s)
  • Citric acid
  • Hot water
  • Nylon fabric (or other fabric that acid dye works on)
  • Paint brushes
  • Plastic sheet (I used garbage bags)
  • Spoon
  • Iron/Ironing Board
  • Scrap fabric
  • Glass Jars (or anything else to mix dye water with)


Step 1: Prepare Dye Water

To start off, mix up the colors of dye you want to use.  I needed orange and red, so I used Sun Yellow and Fire Red to mix them.  Make sure you have citric acid as well, you’ll need it if you want your dye to work!  The citric acid was included in the set of dye colors I bought.

To start, I first mixed a small amount of citric acid into hot water.  I used a tea kettle to heat my water to boiling, but you can use a regular pot on the stove, or even the microwave to heat your water.

Note:  There will be instructions on your dyes and/or citric acid packet for how much acid to use in ratio with how much dye/water.  I however, didn’t really use the instructions and just added a spoonful to my jars.  It worked out fine for me, but you can use the instructions if you want to do things properly.

To mix the orange color, I added about half a spoonful of yellow and a very small amount of red.

The mixture looks more red in the jar, but as you can see below, its much more orange on the fabric.  Be sure to test your colors before you commit!


Note: Please be aware that acid dyes are not safe to consume.  Use containers and utensils that you don’t plan to use for food later.

For the red, I just mixed a half a spoonful of red dye in with the citric acid and water.  It doesn’t look much different than my orange dye, but it looks a lot different on fabric, so don’t be fooled!  Theo orange is on the left and the red is on the right.



Step 2: Prepare Fabric and Painting Area

You’ll need a surface area to paint on that you won’t have to worry about things getting messy.  I used a large table, covered it in cardboard, and then covered the cardboard with plastic garbage bags before starting.  The cardboard was kind of unnecessary, but the plastic is 100% needed.  Whatever you do, make sure that you have the same kind fo surface underneath all your fabric pieces, because the surface can have an effect on how your dye works.  If you have different painting surfaces, you might end up with different colors, even if you used the same dye.


For example, for pieces I painted on the plastic bags, the dye turned out more vibrant and more true to color, while the pieces painted on cardboard looked more faded.  The orange even turned out more yellow than orange, so I definitely recommend using a plastic surface!


Step 3: Paint!

Grab some paint brushes and get started!


Normally, with fabric dyeing, you should wet your fabric before beginning, but you don’t need to do this here, especially if you want a clean line between the original fabric color and your dye color.  If the fabric is wet, it will make the dye colors run, so if you’re looking for a soft transition, wet fabric might actually be a better choice.

I started by outlining the shape I wanted, and then filled the space in with dye water.  Make sure your dye water is hot to get the best results.  When my dye cooled off too much, I just reheated it in the microwave.

The color looks darker than it should simply because its sitting on top of black plastic.  As you can see below, if I lift the fabric up you cans the true color of the dye.

Then, once you’re done leave it alone to dry.  If you move it, you might ruin the work you’ve just done.  Best to let it sit until its dry.

Step 4: Adding More Colors

For mine, I needed a red section in the middle of my orange section.  To do this, I waited until the orange dye was mostly dry and then painted the red right over the top.  Again, if you want a clean line between your sections of color, you NEED to wait until the first layer is dry, otherwise, the first layer of dye will just soak up the second layer and you’ll have a very smooth, soft transition of color.


Painting the red right over top of the orange caused the orange to turn the red a bit more orange-red than pure red, but for my purposes this was fine.  If you need your colors to stay true, you might need to leave the space bare before you paint it, rather than covering it with your first color like I did.  Just remember that your colors will interact with each other and blend if you paint one on top of the other.

Tip: If you end up getting dye water where you don’t want to, or if it ends up running, you can soak it up with a towel before the dye sets completely!  I didn’t let my first layer dry long enough before adding the red on one of my fabric pieces, so I had some issues with the dye running.  The towel trick worked perfectly!


Note: You can also add multiple layers of dye after the’ve dried to make the color darker or more intense.  I ended up using two layers of orange, one layer of red, and I outlined the edge of the red to get my final colors.  


Step 6: Let It Dry

After you’re done painting. Its very important to let the dye water dry completely before continuing. For one thing, you can see exactly what your paint job looks like and decide if you need to do more to it.  Secondly, moving the fabric around before it dries can lead to the dye smearing or running.

After seeing my fabric dry, I decided that my lines weren’t clean enough, so I went over the edges of the red again to clean them up!


Step 7: Heat Seal

Once your fabric is 100% dry, you can go ahead and heat seal it.  To do this, you’ll need an iron with a steam setting.

You’ll want to protect your ironing board from the dye, so cover it up with an old towel or scrap fabric.  If you don’t, you’ll end up ironing dye right onto your ironing board.  You’ll want to protect your iron as well, so you’ll need more scrap fabric to lay on top of your fabric prior to ironing.  Not only that, but chiffon fabric is very delicate, so putting an iron directly on it can be damaging.

Make sure your iron has been filled with water for the steam function and set it to the proper temperature for your fabric.

Cover up your painted fabric with your scrap fabric and steam it.  Keep your iron moving so you don’t heat up one spot too much and damage it. Be sure to keep it steamy too!


I ironed my fabric for about 10 seconds at a time, and kept the iron moving the whole time.  The fabric went from feeling slightly sticky to the touch before ironing to feeling pretty clean after ironing.  The heat treatment definitely helps set the dye!

Step 8: Hand Wash

Once you’re ironed your painted fabric, you’ll still need to wash it to get any lingering dye out.

Use cold water and liquid dish soap and gently wash your fabric by hand.  You’ll have some dye come out, but it shouldn’t harm your fabric.  I had a very very minimal amount of dye run into the white on some pieces (I mostly contribute that to the fact that some pieces I didn’t iron very well) while others came out perfect!  Washing the fabric also didn’t seem to effect the intensity of the dye either, so all in all it was a successful dye job!


After than, you can hang your fabric up to dry or dry it in a dryer.  Just make sure if your fabric is delicate to use low heat setting!

Step 9: Add It To Your Project

I used these painted fabric pieces to make the pieces you see below!  There are so many possibilities for what you can do with this method, so go on and make some magic!



One thought on “Cosplay Tutorials: Painting Fabric with Acid Dye”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s