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How to Dye Acrylic Plastic
Acrylic plastic both in extruded and cast forms, contribute a unique beauty to jewelry and sculpted art and decor. In this article, I will discuss the various steps and techniques in dyeing acrylics to create something even more spectacular. Topics included will be material needed, safety concerns, use of dye carriers, and the methods of dyeing clear acrylic plastic. Also. there will be examples of other creators work featuring dyed acrylics.
Why Dye Plexiglass And Acrylic Plastic?
If you do any online search for acrylic sheet or plexiglass you will find that it comes in many sizes, thicknesses, and even textures. Also, acrylic sheet can be found in several colors that are transparent, translucent, mirror or opaque. So why would anyone want to deal with the hassel and the mess of trying to dye clear acrylic plastic?
Here is why:
- The dyes can be mixed in any proportion to produce an almost infinite array of colors.
- By controlling dye concentration, heat input, and immersion time, you can dial in the necessary intensity of color to a point.
- Clear acrylic is cheaper than colored and available in many thicknesses.
- It is possible to partially immersion object to create interesting decorative coloring
Samples Of Acrylic Scraps Dyed with Dispersion Dyes
Most of the tools and materials needed to dye acrylic could be found around the home or easily obtained from local stores.— Jason Bosh
Tools and Materials
Most of the tools and materials needed to dye acrylic could be found around the home or easily obtained from local stores.
- Dispersion dye specifically made for synthetic materials
- Portable hot plate
- Stainless steel pot,enameled pan or Pyrex glass container NO LONGER USED FOR FOOD PREPARATION
- Stirring rod
- String or pliers to remove dyed workpiece
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- Selection of extruded or cast acrylic parts
1. Both Acetone and Isopropyl alcohol are flammable. Acetone is much more so!
2. Never leave heated dye bath unattended.
3. Never let bath boil to the point it froths over the walls of the container. If necessary, remove from heat source if things get out of hand.
4. If bath ignites, calmly cover with fireproof lid and remove from heat source
5. Only perform procedure outdoors or in a very well ventilated space far from flammable surfaces or open flames.
Safety And Cleanliness
Safety is an important subject to cover here. Although most of the disperse dyes are relatively non-toxic they can be very messy and permanently stain many materials. Other types of dyes, namely basic dyes, carry a significant hazard as they are even more tenacious in staining and are considerably more toxic. Always wear gloves when dyeing and thoroughly clean all tools and materials with warm soapy water.
The real safety concern here is the use of the isopropyl alcohol and acetone. We will be using a small amount in heated water based dye baths and good ventilation is essential. Additionally, when these two solvents are used, it is imperative the operator constantly monitors the dye bath to ensure it does not boil over! Allowing the bath liquor to boil over could cause the bath to ignite. It is recommended the user has a flat fire proof lid so any flames can be smothered promptly.
What Are Disperse Dyes?
Disperse dyes are neutral organic dyes that feature no bonding ionic groups. They generally are water insoluble. They are therefore "dispersed" in water with the aid of a surface active detergent to crtheate an emulsion. By heating the bath to 185 to 212 Fahrenheit and using a carrier, the surface of the acrylic plastic is able to swell and accept the dye. Since the dye is not really soluble in water it prefers to transfer to the synthetic particles within the acrylic.
Using RIT Dyemore for Synthetic Materials
Role of Dye Carrier
As noted above, dispersed dyes are not real soluble in water and usually need a detergent to help keep them dispersed in water. The dye carrier is an organic liquid that is both soluble in water and can better dissolve the organic dispersed dyes. Also. the carrier opens the pores of the acrylic plastic enough to assist in setting dye in the acrylic. The carrier is chosen to be a solvent strong enough to have action on the acrylic but not so much that it crazes or melts the plastic. It is best to add carrier to dye bath prior to heating or the carrier may flash boil violently out of the container.
Proceedure With Liquid Dye
1. Pick the smallest stainless,enameled pot or pyrex glass container that will hold enough fluid to cover your acrylic object completely.
2. Use a measuring cup to determine volume of dye bath needed to cover part.
3. Once volume of bath is determined, mix water to dye in 3:1 ratio (ex 300 ml water to 100ml water).
4. Add carrier(isopropyl alcohol or acetone) in a quantity that is 25 to 30% volume of dye and water mixture.
5. With thermometer in bath, gently heat bath until it reaches 185 fahrenheit(85 Celsius) . The carrier will already be boiling out of the solution at this point. Immerse acrylic and keep agitated.
6. When proper color intensity is obtained, remove from bath and rinse in cool water.
Tips And Tricks
1. Extruded acrylic dyes easier that cast acrylic
2. Some dyes can tint lightly without carrier if a subtle color is desired.
3. To increase color intensity, prolong immersion into dye bath or add more dye.
Suggested Liquid Dye Bath Compositions
Temperature For Dyeing
Liquid RIT Dyemore 1 part in 3 parts water
200 degrees Fahrenheit +
Isopropyl Alcohol 30% by volume
Liquid RIT Dyemore 1 part in 3 parts water
185 degrees +
Acetone 25% to 30% by volume
Dyed Acrylic Bangles
Using Basic Dyes On Acrylic Glass
So far I have been focused entirely on dispersion type dyes in liquid form. Even though these dyes can only produce light or,at best, medium tinting of acrylic sheet or block, using liquid disperse dyes is the easiest and safest method for beginners. If you are well organized and make safety a priority, then you should be able to use basic dyes for darker and more intense coloring of clear acrylic plastic.
What is a basic dye? It is a dye that has a molecule that is postively charged unlike acid dyes which use a negatively charged molecule. What this basically means is that basic dyes are very active and will dye many things other dyes would not. They are usually supplied in powdered form and require special handling because of this. Also, some but not all of the basic dyes are either toxic or cancer causing or both! This is wear personal protective equipment and safe practices comes into play. Protective eyewear and a dust mask are the minimum protective measures needed.
It is best to have a dedicated place for handling this dye so nothing important gets permanently stained. This can be a garage or shed workshop with newspapers or drop cloth on the floor to collect any solid or solution that spills.
For deep or intense colors, 4 to 5% by weight of the Plexiglas to be dyed is used. Some basic dyes may not dissolve easily in even hot water so vinegar must be used.