The appearance of fabrics can be modified in many ways, but two of the most common are dyeing and printing. Dye alters the actual fibres of the fabric, while printing ink sits on top of the fabric and adheres to it using heat. There are differences in texture and appearance between the two, and some fabrics are naturally better suited to each process. There are also differences in the amount of time and equipment required. The ideal process is determined by the final result desired.
Dye is typically a coloured liquid consisting of pigment, an activator (such as soda ash or baking soda) and a binder (such as salt). Fabric is submerged in it for extended periods of time to alter its colour. Printing ink usually consists of pigment and an acrylic substance, which allows the pigment to be printed and adheres it to the fabric. The ink is applied to the surface of the fabric and allowed to dry.
Dye and ink affect fabric in very different ways. Fabric dye permeates the fibres that make up the weave of the fabric. The fabric is permanently coloured and can only be altered by dyeing a darker colour on top, submerging the fabric in bleach or applying discharge to the fabric to remove the dye. Ink, on the other hand, sits on top of the fabric. It is fused to the fabric using heat to melt the acrylic into the fibres. While it may bleed through thin fabrics, the actual structure of the fabric is not altered.
Liquid dye is placed into a container (usually a bucket, plastic bag or heated pot) with hot water, and fabric is submerged into the dye. Depending on whether the container is heated while the fabric is in the dye, the process can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. The fabric is then removed, drained and washed to remove excess dye. Printing ink is normally applied by forcing it through a fine mesh screen with an image burnt into it. The ink is allowed to dry, then heated with an iron or dryer to set the ink.
Dye and ink affect the fabric in different ways, and produce very different results. Dye soaks into the fabric and creates fairly soft patterns and lines, although the fabric can be folded and clamped (such as in Japanese shibori) or waxed (such as in Indonesian batik) to resist the dye and create sharp lines. Ink does not soak into the fabric and therefore produces crisp, sharp images on the fabric. Dye also results in a softer fabric with no discernible texture added, while ink is very slightly raised and can be felt before the fabric is washed.
Provided a quality dye has been used, fabric dye is not affected by washing and using the fabric normally. It will fade if left in the sun. Printing ink is more likely to wash out of the fabric and disappear, though it usually takes a great deal of washing. It will not fade as quickly in the sun, although it will fade eventually if exposed for prolonged periods.
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