Leather University™

Leather Dyes & Pigment Types Explained

Picture of by Dan Concord

by Dan Concord

Author, speaker, teacher, and educator on leather working tools and techniques.

Leather Dyes And Pigment Types Explained

Leather Dyes and Pigment Types Explained

Welcome back, everyone! In this article, we’ll explore the different types of leather dyes, application techniques, and the choice between tannery-dyed and home-dyed leather. From understanding the components of leather dyes to examining popular products, we’ll equip you with insights and tips for a successful leather dyeing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned leather crafter or a beginner, join us on this journey to discover the intricacies of enhancing leather with color.

Key Notes:

  • Selecting the appropriate type of leather dye is crucial, with alcohol-based dyes providing vibrant and flexible colors, while water-based dyes, although less intense, offer easier application.
  • Applying alcohol-based dyes requires natural applicators like wool daubers to prevent the synthetic materials from dissolving, ensuring effective and precise coloring without compromising the tools.
  • Tannery-dyed leather provides a colorfast option and home-dying offers more personalized customization and creativity.
Types of Leather Dye - International Leather Club
Types of Leather Dye

What Are Leather Dyes and How Do They Differ From Paint?

Leather dyes are pigmented solutions that are used to change the overall color of leather by penetrating into the material’s fibers. They differ from leather paints, which essentially coat the surface of the material, creating a new barrier of pigment that gives the leather a different colored look.

Leather Dye vs Leather Paint - International Leather Club
Leather Dye vs Leather Paint

Components of Leather Dye

Powder-Based Pigment

Powder-based pigments are one of the two main pigments used in leather dyes. These pigments are mixed with solvents such as alcohol or water to create a solution that can penetrate deep into the fibers of the leather. The carrier used in these dyes is usually a liquid that helps to carry the pigment down into the material. Once the carrier evaporates, the pigment is left behind, changing the color of the leather.

 

Oil-Based Pigment

The other main type of pigment used in leather dyes is oil-based pigment. These pigments are mixed with solvents such as alcohol or water to create a solution that can penetrate deep into the fibers of the leather. The oil in the pigment allows it to attach to the fibers and stay embedded within them, leaving a vibrant color behind.

 

Carrier

The carrier is the liquid that carries the pigment into the leather fibers. There are two main types of carriers used in leather dyes: alcohol-based and water-based. Alcohol-based dyes are composed of around 50% alcohol, 25% ethanol, and 10% oil pigment, while water-based dyes are composed of around 90% water and 5% ethanol. The carrier eventually evaporates, leaving the color behind.

Dye Pigment and Carrier - International Leather Club
Dye Pigment and Carrier

Types of Leather Dyes

Alcohol-Based Dye

Alcohol-based dyes are one of the two main types of leather dyes. They are composed of a powdered or oil-based pigment and a carrier liquid that is mostly alcohol. The alcohol allows the pigment to penetrate deep into the leather fibers, leaving a vibrant and flexible color behind.

When applying alcohol-based dyes, it’s important to use a natural applicator like a wool dober or cotton rag to avoid dissolving foam applicators in the strong solvents.

 

Water-Based Dye

Water-based dyes are the second main type of leather dyes. They are composed of a powdered pigment and a carrier liquid that is mostly water. The water allows the pigment to penetrate the leather fibers, but the resulting color is usually less vibrant than that of alcohol-based dyes.

One example of a water-based dye is Tandy Eco Flo, which contains about 90% water and 5% ethanol. Another example is the Tandy alcohol-based dye, which uses an oil-based pigment and is more vibrant than the water-based option.

Leather Dye Components - International Leather Club
Leather Dye Components

Examining Popular Dyes

Fiebing’s Pro Dye

Fiebing’s Pro Dye is a popular alcohol-based dye with an oil pigment. It contains 0% water, about 50% alcohol, 25% ethanol, and 10% of the oil pigmented for the colorant. The oil used is oleaic acid, found in olive oil. This dye leaves a more flexible leather with less rub-off and a vibrant color.

 

Fiebing’s Leather Dye

Fiebing’s Leather Dye is also an alcohol-based dye, but it uses a powder pigment. It contains about 10% water, 60% ethanol, and around 10% of the same oil pigment used in Fiebing’s Pro Dye. It yields a stiffer leather with more rub off and a more muted color than the Pro Dye.

 

Tandy’s Eco Flo

Tandy’s Eco Flo is a water-based dye with a powder pigment. It contains about 90% water, 5% ethanol, and the remaining pigment and solvents. This dye is generally less strong and less vibrant than alcohol-based dyes.

 

Tandy’s Alcohol-Based Dye

Tandy also offers an alcohol-based dye with an oil pigment, similar to Fiebing’s Pro Dye. This dye is more vibrant than the water-based Eco Flo but has less strong solvents than other alcohol-based dyes. Remember to use a natural applicator like a wool dauber or cotton rag when applying alcohol-based dyes to avoid dissolving synthetic materials.

 

Homemade Blueberry Dye

For those interested in making their own dyes at home, blueberry dye is an option. It is made from blueberry juice with a water base. Other natural substances like carrots, teas, coffee, and hibiscus can also be used to make dyes at home. While homemade dyes may not be as vibrant as professional dyes, they can still produce unique colors and items.

Also, keep in mind that leather dyed at home may have more rub off potential than leather dyed professionally. Applying a finishing coating like resolene or sealant can help minimize this.

As a leather crafter, I have found that creating my own dyes can be a fun and rewarding experience. Not only does it allow me to customize the colors of my leather items, but it also gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I made the dye myself. 

Alcohol-Based Leather Dye - International Leather Club
Alcohol-Based Leather Dye

Tannery vs Home-Dyed Leather

When it comes to dying leather at home versus tannery dying, leather that comes dyed from the tannery is going to already have a pretty colorfast dye to it, which means that it’s the chemicals they’re using and the finishing process are going to make that color pretty set.

Dyeing at home allows for more customization and creativity in terms of color and design. It also gives a sense of satisfaction and pride in creating something unique. However, it requires more time, effort, and skill to achieve a professional-looking result. Leather that you dye yourself will have much more rub-off potential than leather that you get from a tannery. However, you can use some sort of a finishing coating to it like a resolene or a sealant to help keep that rub off to a minimum.

Home-Made Blueberry Dye - International Leather Club
Home-Made Blueberry Dye

Application Tips

As someone who has worked with different types of leather dyes, I have some tips that can help you get the best results for your project. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Understand the difference between leather dyes and leather paints. Dyes penetrate into the fibers of the leather, while paints coat the surface. This means that dyes will give a more natural-looking finish, but they can be more difficult to work with.
  • Choose the right type of dye for your project. There are two main types of dyes: alcohol-based and water-based. Alcohol-based dyes tend to be more vibrant and flexible, while water-based dyes are less strong but easier to work with. Consider the specific needs of your project before deciding which type to use.
  • Pay attention to the pigment and carrier in your dye. The pigment is what provides the color, and the carrier is what helps it penetrate into the leather. Different types of pigments and carriers can affect the final result, so choose a dye that has the right combination for your needs.
  • Use natural applicators when working with alcohol-based dyes. Strong solvents in these dyes can dissolve synthetic applicators, so it’s best to use natural materials like wool daubers or cotton rags.
  • Consider making your own dyes at home. Organic substances like blueberries, carrots, and teas can be used to create unique and natural-looking dyes. While these may not be as vibrant as professional dyes, they can still produce great results.
Applying Leather Dye - International Leather Club
Applying Leather Dye

In Conclusion

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, armed with insights on alcohol and water-based dyes, pigments, and practical tips, you’re ready for a rewarding leather dyeing adventure. Remember, with the right type of dye and a bit of know-how, you can infuse your leather projects with your personal style and creativity.

Until next time – keep crafting!

Picture of About Author Dan Concord

About Author Dan Concord

Dan Concord is a professional leather crafter with 15 years of design experience and expertise. He is founder of the successful Liberty Leather Goods studio, and also a published author, speaker, teacher, and educator on leather working tools and techniques. He lives in the USA.

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