How to Dye Leather - For All Smooth Leathers

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Dying leather is an art, not a science. Variations in materials, conditions and artists touch will have a direct effect on the result.

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Zelikovitz Leather and Crafts

There are three main steps to any leather dyeing project:

1. Preparing the Leather for Dying.

2. Applying the Dye.

3. Finishing with a Top Coat.

There are several types of dyes available on the market today. The two most popular are water-based Pigment and solvent based. Zelikovitz Leathers manufactures both.

For the purpose of this guide we will begin with Zelikovitz Professional Pigment Dye. This product is currently available in 20 colors. And finish up with a brief note on our solvent dyes at the end of the guide.

Zelikovitz Professional Water-Based Pigment Dyes$_57.JPG

Leather is a substance of nature and varying composition, which differs from piece to piece. No two leathers will always accept a given dye giving uniform results. Therefore, it is suggested that the colour chart be used as a guide only and that you should always test a swatch before attempting your finished product.

Zelikovitz Professional Leather dye is a water based pigment. Think of it much as you would a water based house paint. You can wash your hands and tools with water, and once dried it is colour fast.

1. Preparing the Leather for Dying.

In the tanning process, various protective surface finishes are given to leather hides. Over the course of the life of the project, you may have applied conditioners and protectors and no doubt dirt has accumulated on the surface of the leather. You must remove all of this prior to any dye job. This will give you a clean surface and create the byte required for the dye to attach to the leather properly. The best product to use for this is ZeliPREP leather preparer/deglazer.

This is applied with a damp sponge or rag. You will notice that the finish will be removed as well as some of the color. If you are not sure if you have taken all of the existing sealant off (and it can be difficult to tell when you are removing a clear coat with a clear liquid), you can test if you have adequately removed it by running a damp sponge over the leather once the product has dried. If you see any shiny areas, it means that the water is not absorbing into the leather, and it needs to be deglazed again.

2. Applying the Dye.

After the leather has been cleaned and prepared as recommended above, you need to make sure you mix the dye well before use.  Try turning the bottle upside down and shaking. You may have to give it a little stir with a stick to loosen the pigment at the bottom of the bottle. You can apply with a cloth, however a sponge brush works best. Work in thin, even strokes, all in one direction. An alternate method for covering large areas evenly is to spray with a spray-gun or air brush. A second coat of dye may be applied if required, once the first coat has dried. For the second coat, work in the opposite direction. If your first coat is done using vertical strokes, the second coat should be done in horizontal strokes. Do not use a wool dauber or shearling, as they tend to hold back the pigments. Allow to dry between coats. If you want a lighter shade, try a coat of white first. If you want a darker shade, apply a coat of black. You can change the colour of leather and some vinyl. It is best to try a test in a small area first.
Note: When using yellow dye, due to the light and slightly translucent nature of the formula, it is best to first put down a coat of white. This allows the yellow to go on smoothly and vibrantly.

Dye Mixing: Because Zelikovitz Professional Pigment Dye is water based, it is very easy to mix colours. The dye applied full strength will go on opaque. If you want a translucent finish or stain you can mix with 50% water and 50% dye. You should do some trials on a swatch first. You can comfortably do a 75% water and 25% dye mixture. An infinite number of colours and shades are possible by combining existing dyes to create your own colours. The basic rules of any colour mixing apply.

For example:

Yellow and Blue = varying shades of Green, 

Yellow and  Red = varying shades of Orange to Red, 

Red and Blue = shades of Deep Purple to Lavender

Red and Purple = Wine

Brown and Yellow = Golden Brown or Tan,

Grown and Red = Maroon to Dark Brown

An infinite number of color shades are possible. Mixtures should always be tested on swatches until the desired color is achieved.

3. Finishing with a Top Coat

After you finished the first two steps and the dye is completely dry, it is recommended that you finish the project with some sort of top coat. This protects the finish and keeps the project from flaking or peeling.

Zelikovitz Professional  Leather Top Coat is available in the following formats: Acrylic Matte Finish, Acrylic Satin Finish, Gloss Finish with Carnauba Wax.
Matte is very subtle and looks like no sealant at all has been added.
Satin is a semi-shine, popular for furniture finishes.
Gloss is a high shine, which can be buffed up to a patent-like finish once dry.

Zelikovitz Professional Pigment Dye... For dyeing leather shoes, boots, handbags, belts, furniture, and any smooth leather you may have.


Solvent Based Dyes

1. Preparing the Leather for Dying.

The process for preparing the leather is the same as above for Zelikovitz Professional Water-Based Pigment Dyes.

2. Applying the Dye.

For solvent based dye you will need to apply evenly using a piece of woolskin, cloth or a dauber. As with the pigment dye, larger areas should be done with the spray method. After dying, remove excess surface dye by rubbing briskly with a soft cloth. Unlike our waterbased pigment dye, you will need to be very careful and watch where you put the dye. Clean up is not as easy so wear rubber or latex gloves.

Color Control:

When changing from a previously dyed color, it is best to do it in two steps.

First, neutralize the original color with an intermediate color.

Then repeat the dying process with the final color desired. For example:

To dye white leather black, dye it green or blue and then black.

For white into dark blue, first weak black (4 to 1) then dark blue

For white into brown, first dye light green, then brown.

For red into black, first green then black.

For green into black, first red, then black

For white into bright red, first yellow, then red.

For white into dark red, first tan, then dark red.

Always let the first color dry before applying the second.

3. Finishing with a Top Coat.

Because the solvent dye leaves a flat haze on the surface of the leather and the color will transfer if not sealed, you will need to apply a top coat as mentioned above. It is also a good idea to buff off any excess dye to ensure the chemicals do not rise to the surface and leave a metallic, uneven residue.

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Zelikovitz Leathers and Crafts - Since 1890

We Know Leather

by: Jamie Melamed


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