about Leather Dyes
**SPECIAL NOTICE**We provide our dye products for use exclusively with VEGETABLE-TANNED TOOLING LEATHER, which is specifically manufactured to accept the type of dyes we offer, in order to produce relatively predictable results.
We regularly receive requests for information regarding special dyeing projects. However, the unfortunate truth is that we have about ZERO direct experience (and no success) with the details of how to dye most of the items we've been asked about. (Outside of our own products.)
We will not accept any responsibility for the results if you persist/insist on this course of action!
Here's our best guesses based on what we do know for the following items:
Leather Furniture and Clothing (couches, chairs, jackets, vests, motorcycle gear, etc.)
Specifically, leathers with a SMOOTH surface (as opposed to suede)
While theoretically it may be possible to dye these items and change their color, its a very tricky operation, and we certainly cannot guarantee anyone will obtain satisfactory results. If you're bound and determined to do this, you are on your own. However, here are a few tips and things to consider.
- ALWAYS test any dyes, finishes on an inconspicuous location first (as well trying out any tools or techniques involved)
- Many types of leather do not accept dye well, if at all. Since there so many different types of leather are used in the making of furniture and clothing, it is impossible for us to know or even guess or give you any specific advice on any items you may have questions about. The fact is, some leathers will simply resist dyes altogether. Others may accept dye but the results will be uneven or blotchy.
- Re-dyed Leathers are Prone to Having the Color Rub Off. In most cases, you can expect an item that you've dyed a different color to have that color rub off-- onto your skin, clothing, pets, etc. Coating the leather with a Quality leather finish can help, but it may not be sufficient to last or entirely prevent it. (Unless of course, you are looking for an uneven, blotchy piece of furniture where the color will rub off on your mother-in-law.)
- Items Need to be Coated with some type of Leather Finish. Whatever you do, if you do obtain a successful color change, it is highly recommended it is followed by a coating of a quality leather finish. This will work to help prevent the color from rubbing off onto clothing and objects that may rest on the furniture. Please note that this may not work as well as one might hope, but applying a finish is better than not doing so
- You can only go darker. It is impossible to take a dark leather item, and dye it lighter. Dyeing is a staining process where the color soaks into the cell structure itself--once the color is in, it cannot be acceptably washed out or removed. Therefore, going from medium brown to dark brown or from dark brown to black is possible. But going from dark brown to light tan is not. Once done, it can't be undone.
- The Larger the Project, the Bigger the Problem. Large objects present a formidable challenge when it comes to getting even color coverage. Dyes tend to soak in most at the initial application site, and can easily cause uneven and splotchy results. For even coverage over large objects, a good automotive-type spraygun is probably best, not to mention much larger quantities of dye than we carry (as well as adequate ventilation, industrial exhaust fans, dust masks/respirators etc.) Still, we can make no guarantees that even using all this will produce the desired results.
Overall, for an object as large (and likely costly) as a prime piece of leather-covered furniture, a saddle, or other quality leather goods, we recommend you consult a local professional furniture or leather repair shop.
Sometimes people find they have a piece of suede, but it is the wrong color. The truth is, coloring suede usually occurs within the tanning process, not so much as an afterthought. Although you can change the color of a suede with dye, it doesn't always work out well, because suede has a "nap" to it (the fuzzy stuff). This nap has a great tendency to shed any excess dye causing it to easily rub off on other objects. Also, since suede has a nap, rather than a smooth surface finish, its not possible to put a coating of leather finish or "sealer" on it.
Suede also has a nasty habit of really soaking up a lot of dye, to the point of excess. Not only can it waste a lot of dye, it also tends to cause the suede to be hard and crunchy when it dries. This effect can be offset a little bit by hand-working the leather and "distressing it" to loosen it up... but it's a pain in the butt for any large piece of leather.
In all truth, it is best to obtain suede in the color you desire rather than try to change the color of it later. Trust us on this. Really!
dyeing Other Materials
In particular, dyes are best suited for organic materials. It is possible to dye wood and other vegetable matter (such as gourds, grasses), but the exact color you get as a result can vary quite a bit.
- Dyes will actually STAIN the material permanently-- seeping into the pores, rather than just covering the surface like paint.
- Dyes tend to seep, spread and bleed color often into areas you don't want it to. The amount of spreading or bleeding of color depends on the material and its natural structure.
- Different areas of a material may "accept" dye differently. Some items or materials may only partially accept dye... a small amount stays to permanently stain the area, but most of it will wash or rub away easily... leaving a color that may be not at all acceptable (or expected). Sometimes dyes will stay in cracks, pores or rough areas, but not even penetrate higher surfaces. Hair and similar fibers are notorious for this.
- Coatings, natural or synthetic, on a material can affect results. Some organic materials/objects may have a natural "waxy" coating on the surface. This will tend to repel most liquids and prevent the dye from soaking in... so this needs to be removed if possible. (Sanding is the most likely method with vegetable materials).
- Wood generally accepts dye rather well (as well as wood-like natural materials), if unevenly. Depending on the type of wood and the density of the cells/pores, it may bleed and spread more than expected. This will vary depending on the type of wood . . . generally the softer a material, the more "spread" you can expect. Very hard or oily woods are likely to be very resistant to coloring, and the harder/denser areas of grain tend to absorb less color than softer areas.
- Objects should be coated with some type of lacquer or finish when it has thoroughly dried, to seal the color in, as some color may tend to rub off at the surface.
Across the board, the best way to find out what does and does not work, is to try it out and test it in some way where you aren't going to ruin a valuable item. Dyeing large items is a much bigger pain in the keister (exponentially) than working with very small objects.
If you do try dyeing unorthodox items, and you have success (or you fail miserably), we'd be happy to hear about it and add that information to this page for other readers.