I get questions pretty frequently through Instagram about printing with inkodye. The problem is, it’s really not the best format for long-form advice and answers. So I decided to do an update of the tutorial I made last summer, just to more thoroughly explain the process and pass along some tips I’ve picked up over the last few months of printing with this awesome stuff.
First, a brief explanation of what inkodye is, and how it works. Inkodye is a UV reactive dye that you can develop out in the sun, or under a UV lamp. Unlike screen printing or block printing, the fabric is actually dyed, instead of left with a layer of ink sitting on top of it. You can print with inkodye with photo negatives, found objects, anything that will cast a shadow. The Hey Gurl above was printed with plastic alphabet magnets. Wherever the shadow is cast, the fabric will be left it’s original color. Wherever the sunlight touches it, the dye will develop and change the color of the fabric.
Ooh! Aah! Fancy photo of the dye. The dye comes in 9 colors – red, orange, copper, magenta, plum, blue, navy, black, and sepia. The colors are all mixable too; I prefer to mix the colors to get something one of a kind every time I print. Unlike silkscreening, this is the beauty of inkodye. You can get something wildly different every time, instead of the exact same thing over and over again.
So! Pretty cool, right? Are you ready to get started? Here’s what you’ll need, besides the dye of course:
The object you’re printing with (in my case, a negative), fabric to print, something sturdy and flat (I have a 2×2 foot plywood board sealed with Minwax to prevent the board from absorbing moisture), something clear to press your negative to the fabric while still allowing light in (I have a small glass tabletop I grabbed at Ikea for $10). You’ll also need something to spread the ink with (I use a paintbrush, but foam craft brushes also work well). Also, keep some paper towels on hand. We’ll be needing them too, and you’ll want to clean up any spills right away.
Now, use your paper towels to do some serious blotting. You want your fabric to just be a little damp, not wet. If there’s too much dye on the fabric, just the dye on the very top will develop, while the dye underneath it that’s actually soaked into the fabric will be left undeveloped. And you’ll end up with a splotchy, faded looking print. And that would be a damn shame.
For this next part, I went with a better looking negative. A note on negatives – they can be temperamental, and easily offended. What I mean by this is, if the front of the negative gets wet (not the back, which is the part that makes contact with your fabric and is totally chill) the negative will be ruined. The ink will just wash right off of it. To prevent this from happening, I usually take a day or so to give my negatives a few coats of a clear spray acrylic, like this one. This will help seal the negative and make it more water resistant. Still treat them carefully though, just in case.
Now that you’ve thoroughly blotted your fabric (right?) place your negative where you want it, and put your piece of glass on top to hold it in place. If your hard surface is something a little softer than wood, like cardboard or foam core, you can pin the negative down with sewing pins instead of using the glass.
Now take it outside! I have a little side table I take outside to set it on, but the ground is fine too. You can see here why it’s important to coat the fabric in dye in a room with no sunlight – this has only been outside for about 10 seconds and it’s already starting to develop. A bright, cloud free day is best, but you can still print on a slightly overcast day. It’ll just take a little longer. The only time I’ve had trouble printing was in the middle of “winter” (I live in Los Angeles so it’s never really winter winter) when the sunlight was at it’s weakest.
Set a timer! It can take anywhere from 8-25 minutes, depending on the color. Darker colors (plum, navy, blue, black) will take a little longer to develop. The best time of day to print is from 10am – 2pm, when the sunlight is strongest and right overhead; the time of year will also affect the amount of time printing will take.
25 minutes have passed, and hey! Look at that! It developed! This color is a mix of blue and sepia. See all that condensation built up under the glass? That’s why we sealed out negative with the acrylic spray. If we didn’t do that, it would’ve been ruined.
Take it inside to your sunlight-free room, and take off the glass and negative. Now admire your final product!
We’re not done yet though. If you took your fabric back outside now, the dye would just keep developing and ruin your print. We need to wash that excess dye out. I usually let my prints soak in hot soapy water while I continue printing, then hand wash them all for a few minutes when I’m done. I use either the official inkowash, made just for inkodye, or synthrapol, which is a heavy duty detergent used to rinse out regular fabric dye. I then toss the prints in the washing machine (along with an old towel for extra agitation) and wash the prints twice, first with the inkowash, then with a regular detergent.
Then you’re done! If you printed on a t-shirt, go wear it! If you printed on a piece of fabric, go make something with it!
If anything didn’t make sense, or you have any questions, please ask! I love printing with this stuff, and want to help other people print with it too.