Photo Fabric Dye: Make Multicolored Sun Prints!

inkodyeExtra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3, 4

What do you call dye that uses sunlight to develop photos on fabric? Frakkin’ amazing, that’s what.

You could also call it our Photo Fabric Dye Kit! A kit of red, orange, and blue gives you enough dye to create some serious awesomosity.

It’s a little like making cyanotype sun prints, only in a jillion different colors.

The Photo Fabric Dye Kit
$35 at the Photojojo Shop

BONUS!: We’ve been playing around with this amazing stuff. Here’s what we learned!

How to: Make Sun Prints on Fabric with the Kit

The How & What of Photo Fabric Dye

scarfThis dye’s really easy to use: you brush it onto whatever you want to print on, put a negative on top, take it out in the sunshine, then wash it to stop the exposure.

You can mix different colors of dye to make new shades, and it works on cotton, silk, or even wood.

What You’ll Need


  • The Photo Fabric Dye Kit
  • A foam brush
  • Black & white film negatives
  • Cotton T-shirt or natural material to print on
  • A large board or flattened cardboard box
  • Optional: the glass from a picture frame
  • Optional: dish or plate to mix dye on

Step 1: Mixing colors

mixing colorsMixing new colors is really easy. Just pour two colors into a little dish, then stir until they’re well-blended.

A few ideas:

  • Red + Orange = Scarlet
  • Blue + Red = Purple
  • Orange + a little Blue = Brown
  • Blue + a little Orange = Navy Blue

Step 2: Painting the dye on

brushUse a foam brush to paint the dye evenly onto your material (you can use cotton, linen, or any natural material).

Slip something underneath to keep the dye from getting everywhere, like a sheet of wax paper or a spare magazine.

For your first exposure, paint an area just big enough for your negative. Later on, when you see what exposures or images work best, try painting all of a small object like a coin purse or handkerchief.

Step 3: Exposure!

printingPut your project on a board or flattened cardboard box: something big enough to hold it flat.

Arrange your negative on top of the dye area. Keep it in a plastic sleeve to keep it clean, or put a layer of Saran Wrap between the negative and the wet dye.

You can put the glass from a picture frame on top to keep the negative flat in place. This will keep the image sharp–if the negative curls you’ll get soft focus in places.

Take the project out into the sunlight and let it sit while the dye develops. It should be about 8 minutes in bright sun, 16 minutes on cloudy days.

Step 4: Time to wash

washingOnce the exposure’s done, bring the project inside and wash it in hot water.

Use the strongest detergent you have and scrub the fabric really hard. You need to get all the unexposed dye out or it will continue to darken.

That’s it! Just let your project dry, and it’s done!

How to Make Photograms

cuttingPhoto fabric dye is great for photograms. Photograms are silhouette images made by putting objects on top of light-sensitive material.*

You can make silhouettes by printing photos on heavy paper and cutting out the shape with an x-acto knife.

We like using pictures of animals for this sort of thing, or you could try taking profile shots of your friends, just like old-fashioned silhouette portraits!

*That’s how Anna Atkins, the first female photographer, made her images.

Exposing your photograms

photogramsPlace your paper cutouts on top of the wet dye area and place glass on top to keep the paper flat. Expose the dye the same way as above.

You can also use interestingly shaped objects like plants, feathers, or even lace. Play around, and let us know what you come up with!

How to Make Humongous Negatives

negative4×5 or medium-format negatives work great for this project because they’re so big, but if you don’t have those you can make your own.

You can either print on inkjet-compatible transparency sheets or take the file to Kinko’s to have it printed.

Just choose a black-and-white digital image, bump up the contrast like crazy, invert the image to make it a negative and size the document to the dimensions you want for your project.

More ideas

  • This dye works on pretty much any natural material, so you can try it on cotton, linen, silk, or even wood.
  • Use a long 35mm strip to print a photo ribbon.
  • Try it out on wooden bracelets.
  • It even works on lampshades.
  • Make your own photo-printed picture frames.
  • Try using different colors of dye to paint in different parts of your photo, like this hand-colored scarf.