How To Dye Faux Fur
This process is a work in progress and still experimental. I will update this guide as I tweak things and achieve the most desirable results.
- spirit-based dye in color(s) of your choice
- at least 4 cups (1 quart) 99% isopropyl alcohol
- a one gallon container with a lid
- a 1 cup measure
- 1/4 teaspoon measure
- mixing stick
- your pre-cut fur pieces
- a pencil
- all-plastic wide-tooth comb or hairbrush
- plastic sheeting or lots of newspaper
Step 1: Assemble Materials
I used a bucket, but I think a shorter and wider container would have made dunking more controlled. As for sourcing the alcohol, I got it from a local chemical supply company. The dye pictured was bought from www.Fiebing.com, and is their LeatherColors line (color chart is here). Ensure you protect your work area with plastic sheeting or lots of newspaper, as you will often end up unintentionally splashing or dripping dye.
Step 2: Mark Dye Borders (Optional)
The pictured ready-to-fur underskull and fur pieces are for a Red Wolf, an animal which does have some white areas on the muzzle, cheeks, and neck. If you do not need to retain any non-dyed areas on your fur, you may skip this step. However, if you do need non-dyed areas, use a pencil and mark on the backing where you need the dye to end. Be sure to give a generous allowance so if you have a little bleeding past the line it won't be a problem. You can always manually add color later up to where you truly need it to end, which should be done during your normal airbrushing phase after the mask is fully assembled.
Step 3: Mix Dye
Put 4 cups (1 quart) of 99% alcohol in your container, then add 1/4 teaspoon of your dye and mix well. Don't forget to RE-CAP your dye and alcohol containers, as these liquids evaporate rapidly. For this project, I used the Medium Brown LeatherColors dye, which is reddish-brown.
Step 4: Dunk That Fur
Fold one of your fur pieces in half so the backing is on the outside and you can see your dye border line, if any. With your non-dominant hand holding the top, carefully lower your fur into the dye mix up to the desired point (or submerge it if you want to dye the whole thing). If you have a dye line, use your dominant hand to push the fur down along the line so the mix reaches it. You may have to rotate it a bit to get it up along the entire line. When everything you want to dye has color on it, slowly lift the fur up out of the dye mix, using your dominant hand to squeeze the dye mix out and back into the container. Be careful to not touch un-dyed areas with that hand unless you dry it, but even if you do it is the backing side which is less critical than the fur. When it's no longer dripping heavily, move the fur piece to a prepared spot and lay it out to dry. Put the lid on your dye mix container to prevent unnecessary evaporation.
For color testing purposes, you can optionally perform this step and the next two steps with just a swatch of fur rather than one of your cut pieces.
Step 5: Brushing & Color Evaluation
Brush the dyed fur to even out the color. Your comb/brush bristles will carry color, so do NOT brush any of the un-dyed fur! However, you can use this to your advantage if you want to even out the edges of the dye or "drag" dye into other areas. Let the fur dry for about 10 minutes (it will lighten as it dries) and then evaluate the color. If it is nearly dark enough, leave it alone because you can airbrush it slightly darker later during your regular coloring phase. However, if it is way too light, you can alter your dye mix and dunk again.
Step 6: Re-Dunking (Optional)
Add another 1/4 teaspoon of dye to your dye mix, re-dunk and re-evaluate to your satisfaction. Once you are pleased with the result, take a note of how much dye you used per that 1 quart of alcohol. My mix ended up being two 1/4 tsp doses, or 1/2 teaspoon total of dye.
Step 7: Dye Remaining Pieces
Now that you've got the color right, go ahead and dye the remaining pieces according to the previous steps. Pictured, you can see the hood/neck pieces of the Red Wolf mask, consisting of two pieces of fur I had pre-sewn at the middle front edge.
Step 8: Allow To Fully Dry
When the fur pieces are no longer obviously dripping, brush again and hang them up to dry somewhere. Here you can see the Red Wolf pieces hanging on my shower rail. Put some newspapers or plastic down to catch any possible future drips. Once the fur is fully dry, you can use it as you normally would for mask assembly and it will make your coloration phase that much quicker!
Step 9: Even Out Color (Optional)
Here you can see the finished product from my Red Wolf pieces after they were fully dry. The color is not even, rather it is a bit mottled, which may be good for certain species of animals.
- the amount of time the fur is submerged in the dye mix
- the amount and frequency of brushing the wet hair
- gravity's effect on the position it dries in (laid out vs hanging)
If you would like a more even distribution of color, dip your brush/comb into some alcohol and brush the dyed areas thoroughly, de-furring and re-wetting the brush as needed. Brush the fur with the grain, against the grain, and then with the grain again. You should get a result similar to this:
If your ending color is too dark, or if you accidentally dyed some fur that you didn't mean to, use pure alcohol and a sponge or paper towels to leech dye out of the fur. With some tenacity and patience, you can get nearly all of the dye out and achieve an off-white color. However, I've never been able to get all the way back to pure white with this method.
When I finished dyeing the Red Wolf pieces, I had slightly over 2 cups of dye mix remaining. Since I had started with 4 cups of alcohol, I chose to assume I had used half of the total mix, which used 1/2 teaspoon of dye. Therefore, I added 2 cups of alcohol and 1/4 teaspoon of dye in order to remake my dye mix so I could also dye my Maned Wolf pieces the same base color. I could have technically just used the remaining dye mix, but I didn't want to have to deal with trying to sop up the liquid evenly - plus I will be using this color for at least one fox mask in the near future.