What's the Difference Between Powdered and Liquid Dye?

You won't find a difference in hue, but variations in the usage of each.

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When we're looking for a creative activity to pass the time, many of us choose to roll up our sleeves and dip various household items including white shirts and socks into dye for some creativity and fun. While dying is especially popular in the warmer months, there's no reason why you can't do it all year long. The outcome is a kaleidoscope of color that made your otherwise simple items vibrant and new again. But before you begin your next project at home, it's important to learn the difference between powdered and liquid dye and how each one of these supplies is each used.

Understanding Types of Dye

According to Jonathon Spagat, creative director at Rit Dye, the difference between the two types of dye isn't in the outcome of color but rather in the usage of each. Liquid dye ($13.99, amazon.com) is a pre-mixed concentrate that requires little mixing when added to water. Powdered dye ($5.61, amazon.com) is the opposite—it's very concentrated as it requires a lot of mixing; by not fully mixing the powdered dye, your project has a good chance of coming out splotchy.

Our expert recommends liquid dye as the easiest out of the two for beginners. "Because the powdered dye is so concentrated, the measurements are often so small that you might not have the correct measuring spoon in your home to get such a measurement," he says. Liquid dye also offers more formulas as a result of mixing colors; in fact, Rit Dye has over 1,000 options (which wouldn't be possible in the powdered variety).

While more colors equal more fun, be warned: "There is also much more room for error when mixing liquid because it isn't so concentrated," adds Spagat. It's a delicate process either way, as mixing too much powered dye can significantly alter the project's outcome.

all-natural indigo dye
Victoria Pearson

How to Use and Store Them

While Rit's liquid and powdered dyes can work on a wide range of fabrics, not all brands of powdered dyes are able to do so. It's important to read the packaging, as some powered dyes will only dye a certain type of fabric.

Before starting any at-home dyeing project, look at the package's expiration date. Spagat explains that certain powered dyes have expiration dates once the package has been opened. Liquid dyes are the opposite—even if opened, they don't have a shelf life. Store both in a cool, dark place.

Choosing the Right Dyeing Technique

Like any form of crafting, there are different techniques within dyeing—and some are only possible with powdered dyes. As an example, Spagat points to ice dyeing. This is when you sprinkle the powdered dye on ice on top of the fabric and, as the ice melts onto the fabric, it reveals an organic watercolor effect unique to the folds and twists in fabric. Spagat also suggests using powered dye for dip-dyeing candles, since the very concentrated formula is the only mixture that works on wax.

Alternatively, all-purpose liquid dye is ideal for immersing items into a bath and fishing them out all awash with color; think: paper, wood, scraps of fabric, and even buttons. Part of the fun is in experimenting with your dyeable items on hand.

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