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Textile Dyeing

Methods of textile dyeing

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Dyeing operations are used at various stages of production to add color and intricacy to textiles and increase product value. It chemically changes a substance so that the reflecting light appears colored.

Color is an extremely important aspect of modern textiles. The color of a textile product is a major factor in the marketing and use of that product. The color of textiles can be used to differentiate groups of people such as uniforms used for athletic teams, hospital personnel, or military organizations. Color can also be functional such as camouflage or protective uniforms. However, in modern retail stores, the color of textile products is a major contributor to what is referred to as fashion. The color is very important with apparel, carpet, upholstery, curtains, drapes, sheets, and towels. All of the items are marketed with an emphasis on their specific color.

Textile Dyeing

Dyeing operations are used at various stages of production to add color and intricacy to textiles and increase product value. Most dyeing is performed either by the finishing division of vertically integrated textile companies or by specialty dyehouses. Specialty dyehouses operate either on a commission basis or purchase greige goods and finish them before selling them to apparel and other product manufacturers.

Textiles are dyed using a wide range of dyestuffs, techniques, and equipment. Dyes used by the textile industry are largely synthetic, typically derived from coal tar and petroleum-based intermediates. Dyes are sold as powders, granules, pastes, and liquid dispersions, with concentrations of active ingredients ranging typically from 20 to 80 percent.

Methods of Textile Dyeing

Dyeing can be performed using continuous or batch processes. In batch dyeing, a certain amount of textile substrate, usually 100 to 1,000 kilograms, is loaded into a dyeing machine and brought to equilibrium, or near equilibrium, with a solution containing the dye. Because the dyes have an affinity for the fibers, the dye molecules leave the dye solution and enter the fibers over a period of minutes to hours, depending on the type of dye and fabric used.

Auxiliary chemicals and controlled dyebath conditions (mainly temperature) accelerate and optimize the action. The dye is fixed in the fiber using heat and/or chemicals, and the tinted textile substrate is washed to remove unfixed dyes and chemicals. Common methods of a batch, or exhaust, dyeing include beam, beck, jet, and jig processing. Pad dyeing can be performed by either batch or continuous processes.

In continuous dyeing processes, textiles are fed continuously into a dye range at speeds usually between 50 and 250 meters per minute. Continuous dyeing accounts for about 60 percent of the total yardage of products dyed in the industry (Snowden-Swan, 1995).

To be economical, this may require the dyer to process 10,000 meters of textiles or more per color, although specialty ranges are now being designed to run as little as 2,000 meters economically. Continuous dyeing processes typically consist of dye application, dye fixation with chemicals or heat, and washing.

Dye fixation is a measure of the amount of the percentage of dye in a bath that will fix the fibers of the textile material. Dye fixation on the fiber occurs much more rapidly in continuous dying than in batch dyeing.

Each dyeing process requires different amounts of dye per unit of fabric to be dyed. This is significant since color and salts in wastewater from spent dyes are often a pollution concern for textile facilities. In addition, less dye used results in energy conservation and chemical savings. The amounts of dye used to depend on the dye are exhausted from the dyebaths which determine the required dyebath ratio.

The dyebath ratio is the ratio of the units of dye required per unit of fabric and typically ranges from 5 to 50 depending on the type of dye, dying system, and affinity of the dyes for the fibers. Dyeing processes may take place at any of several stages of the manufacturing process (fibers, yarn, piece-dyeing). Stock dyeing is used to dye fibers. Top dyeing is used to dye combed wool sliver. Yarn dyeing and piece dyeing, are done after the yarn has been constructed into the fabric.

Textile Coloration

Dyeing is the application of color to a textile material with some degree of fastness or permanence. The materials which impart the color are known as colorants.   When these colorants have a natural affinity and permanence on textiles, they are referred to as dyes. Dyes actually migrate or diffuse into the chemical molecular structure of textile fibers in order to develop the final color of the textile product.

The dye-fiber molecular association is also responsible for the degree of fastness or permanence of the color because of the molecular attraction between the specific dye and the specific textile fiber; dyes are classified as being fiber specific. That is, dyes that work on cotton will not work on polyester, nylon, acrylic, wool, and many other commonly used textile fibers.

However, because the basic structure of cotton is cellulose, the dyes which work on cotton will also work on other cellulose-based fibers such as linen, ramie, rayon, and lyocell. It should be noted that the color actually produced on cotton by any single dye or combination of dyes will not necessarily match the color produced when these same dyes are used on linen or ramie or rayon. Many unique factors contribute to the color produced by textile dyeing including fiber properties. This situation will be discussed in more detail later in this document.

The other colorant used on textile fibers is pigmented. Pigments unlike dyes have no natural affinity for textile fibers. In order to produce permanent color on textile products, pigments are bound to the surface of the textile fibers using adhesives or glues which are known as binders. There is a wide variety of binder systems available with various properties. Their specific advantages and limitations will be discussed later.   However, it is important to note that pigment colorants have no permanence on textile fibers without using some type of binder system. Additionally, many of the binders work on many different types of fibers. Unlike dyes, pigments are not fiber-specific. The same pigment binder combination can work on both cotton and polyester at the same time.

Historically, textile dyeing predates written history. There is evidence that indigo and other plant-based dyes were known and in use around 4000 BC. Modern countries such as Egypt, India, and China have archeological evidence of highly developed ancient textile products and processes. Mixing existing dyes to produce multiple shades in a wide color gamut was a common practice over 2000 years ago.

Natural Dyes

Until 1856, all textiles used throughout the world were natural dyes. That is, these dyes were obtained directly from the natural environment in one way or another. The vast majority of the natural dyes came from either plants or animals. For example, a major dye discovered by the Aztec or Mayan Indians was ‘cochineal’. It is a relatively bright red that is obtained from the body of the cochineal insect. The insect must be crushed and the dye is refined from the remains of the insect. Reportedly, 70,000 insects are required to produce one pound of dye. Cochineal is still used today as a natural commercial product in both textile dyeing and in food coloring.

Another natural animal dye that had a tremendous impact in the ancient world was ‘Tyrian Purple’. This dye was discovered near the ancient city of Tyre, which is in Lebanon. It was discovered that when a sea mollusk native to the Tyre coastal region was crushed and refined, an extremely bright purple dye was produced.

This dye exhibited very good fastness properties compared to other natural dyes. However, this dye was also very rare and difficult to produce. It took approximately 12,000 sea mollusks to produce one gram of dye. It should be noted that there are approximately 454 grams in one pound.   Because of the brightness and rarity, Tyrian Purple was highly prized but also extremely expensive.   Only the wealthiest in society, such as kings and queens, could afford this dye. From ancient times until today, the monarchies surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have purple robes as part of the royal heritage. Today, the Tyrian Purple sea mollusk is extinct, but the dye can be made synthetically.

The most well-known and most used dye of all time is ‘indigo’.   This dye is obtained from the leaves, stems, and beans of a variety of plants, including one variety known as the indigo plant. In order to obtain the dye, the harvested plant matter is fermented over several weeks time. The dye itself is the major product of the fermentation process.

Figure 1 shows the indigo plants and beans, as well as, the fermentation process. After fermentation, the water-insoluble solid indigo is washed to remove impurities and dried. This results in a powdery solid dye.   In order to dye textile fibers, especially cotton, the indigo must be made water-soluble by a chemical process known as reduction. The water-soluble reduced indigo is rapidly absorbed by the cotton fibers.

Once inside the fiber structure, oxygen in the air converts the indigo back to its original, water-insoluble form, as is illustrated above.

Figure 1a – Indigo Dye Preparation – the Old Way.


Figure 1b – Oxidizing, Drying, and Dyeing


Modern indigo dyeing will be discussed in more detail later in this document. Although indigo was known by many ancient groups, the art of indigo dyeing of textiles was developed by the ancient Chinese and Indian cultures. Indigo-dyed cotton fabric was one of the major items of trade that prompted Columbus and others to search for new and better trade routes to India in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, the modern textile industry uses synthetically produced indigo due to the high volume of dye required for current denim production. The natural indigo dye is too cumbersome to produce and requires enormous amounts of farmland. However, from the dyeing standpoint, synthetic indigo and naturally grown indigo are identical.

Synthetic Dyes

In 1856, Sir William Henry Perkin of England discovered the first synthetic dye, a purple known as ’mauveine’. His discovery not only revolutionized the textile dyeing industry, but it led to the development of the synthetic organic chemical industry. Indirectly, Perkin is responsible for modern medicines, plastics, paints, synthetic textile fibers, and many other modern products. Compared to modern synthetic dyes, natural dyes have poor color intensity and limited color durability. Also, these dyes can be very difficult to obtain, as well as cumbersome to apply to textile fibers.

Additionally, many of the natural dyes require metallic salts known as ‘mordants’ in order to produce some minimally acceptable degree of colorfastness. Many of these mordants are very toxic. Because of this fact, and other reasons, the use of natural dyes can actually be more damaging to the environment than the use of synthetic dyes. In terms of color performance and dyeing process control, synthetic dyes are fiber selective which, in part, accounts for their superior properties. However, the overall color quality of the final product can be influenced by a number of factors including fiber type and quality, dye selection and quality, purity of process water, and dyeing process control. These as well as other factors will be discussed in this document.

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1 Comment
  1. Shamika Laudermilk says

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