Silk painting techniques

Updated November 22, 2016

Painting on silk with dyes is not as difficult as you might think. There are three basic techniques, used alone or in combination. Use pre-washed silk, dried and stretched on a frame or stretcher for painting. When completed, the painted silk can be framed or sewn into a pillow or garment. You can also paint dyes on inexpensive silk tank tops or blouses by slipping the item over the frame and securing it before painting on it. The fun of silk painting is experimenting with techniques to create the image you want. Your imagination is your only limitation.

Gutta Serti

When dyes are painted on silk they will spread and bleed into unwanted areas. To prevent this, you use gutta. Gutta is made from the rubber tree and is similar to rubber cement. Apply gutta with a small nozzle tipped squeeze bottle around the area you want the dye to stay in. Once the gutta has dried you can paint with dyes within the gutta bordered area without worrying about bleeding or spreading. After the dyes have dried and you have set them, the gutta can be removed by having the silk dry cleaned.


Many times an artist does not want the outlined look the gutta technique leaves and will use an antifusant or a stop flow primer instead. Antifusants are painted on the stretched silk and left to dry. After the antifusant has dried, the silk can be painted on with dyes much the same way paints are painted on paper for watercoloring. The antifusant stiffens the silk and does not allow the dyes to spread and bleed. Once the dyes have been set, the antifusant can be rinsed out of the silk.


There are times or areas in your painting that you may want the dyes to bleed and blend together. You can paint on the silk with dyes without gutta or antifusants to produce this effect. Using a hair dryer while painting in the watercolour technique to quickly dry the dyes as they spread and blend can give you additional control.

Special Effects

There are techniques you can use to get special effects with the dyes. While the dye is still wet on the silk, sprinkle table salt or coarse salt onto the dye and let it stay until the dye dries, then brush it off. The salt will absorb the dye, leaving a speckled effect that is quite interesting in texture. If you brush rubbing alcohol into a dried dyed area, the dye will move away from the rubbing alcohol to give a lighter effect and a different texural look than salt.

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