I'll go ahead and say that some of the credit for this "tutorial" goes to the folks at cosplay.com since I got the idea from a popular method of dying wigs.
Many faux furs are made of synthetic fabrics that won't take to traditional fabric dyes. I guarantee nothing, but this technique worked fabulously for me, and I took photos along the way to see if maybe someone else would find it just as useful!
This is the stuff that I started with in the first place (the white, not the red...well to be fair it's "ivory" but you can't really tell the difference unless you see them side-by-side...)
Anyway! This is JoAnn's Furry Fleece. 100% polyester, synthetic fibers. Not your "traditional" faux fur but on the "hard to dye" scale, polyester is approximately "you're lucky this even comes in colors other than white." The process of actually dying polyester involves intense heat and other nasty things that make it extremely unsafe to attempt at home.
That said, this is the first thing to point out about this technique: You are not dying the fabric. You are staining it. What's the difference? I'm glad you asked!
Dying involves the material actually soaking up the color and becoming that color. You can dye natural fibers like cotton very, very easily because it's porous and will soak up the color and retain it.
Staining just puts the color on top of the fibers and stains the surface of it. Synthetic fabrics are non-porous and will not take regular dyes that are designed to be absorbed because it simply won't absorb anything at all.
Sharpies, though, are designed to 'stain' surfaces with permanent ink, which makes them ideal to 'stain' synthetic fibers!
Materials and Supplies you will need:
70% Isopropyl Alcohol - AKA "rubbing alcohol." Now this is just on hearsay from experienced wig-dying aficionados, but apparently 90% isopropyl alcohol is too strong to hold the ink, but 70% works great. I have not tried both, but using 70% worked great for me, and at about $2 for a 16oz bottle, it's not as though picking it up should be a problem.
Sharpies! - In your chosen color, of course. You can buy them individually in craft and fine art stores.
2-3 sharpies per 8oz of alcohol for a light or pastel color
3-4 sharpies per 8oz of alcohol for a medium color
4-5 sharpies per 8oz of alcohol for a dark or rich color
I personally used 9 yellow sharpies in 16 oz of alcohol for mine.
Razor Blade - Or box cutter. One you don't really care about much. Cheap. It will get sharpie-stained, so don't use your mother's nice steak knife.
Gloves - Wear rubber, latex, or other disposable gloves to keep from turning your fingers funny colors for days.
Paper Towels - Not pictured, but handy for sopping up the mess if the alcohol decides to run over the side of the bottle or something.
Important note: Sharpies stain everything, and both alcohol and sharpies smell bad and have strong fumes that are unlikely to kill you, but likely to give you a headache and stink up a room something awful. Work outside if possible, and wear gloves and old clothes.
Step one: Pop open those sharpies!
Sharpies pop open on their barrel where the colored part meets the gray part. I find it easier to leave the cap on for this step, grasp both sides of it, and bend it until it "pops" a bit. Then bend it the opposite way and it should come apart fairly easily. It requires a bit of pressure, but not a bone-breaking amount.
Once you pop open the sharpies, take out the ink stick inside.
Step two: Slit the ink sticks
Sharpie ink sticks are basically felt in a thin plastic casing. To help release the ink, take your razor blade and carefully slit down the side of the plastic casing on one side, all the way, lengthwise. This is why the gloves are necessary! :3
Step three: Drop the ink sticks in your bottle of alcohol
It's very likely that with multiple ink sticks, you'll need a little more room in your alcohol bottle. Pour out a small amount of it (down the sink is fine) first.
Then simply drop your slitted ink sticks in as you go.
Step four: Shake it up!
Put the cap back on your alcohol - TIGHT - and give it a good shake to distribute the ink from the sharpies. Then set it aside.
Step five: Clean up.
Step six: Let it sit!
The sharpie inks need a while to soak into the alcohol. I did this on a Sunday night and had to go to work all week, so mine had a generous 7 days to sit and soak up ink.
I can tell you that it got it's darkest color after about 48 hours. Allow yours at least 24, I would say, for good results. Darker inks may take less time, bear in mind that yellow isn't a very strong pigment.
Step seven: Dunk it, or spray it!
Option one: Dunk-dying
I had a fairly small piece of fabric to dye (a couple of square feet) so I just dropped it into a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Then I poured some of my sharpie dye/stain over it until it saturated the fabric, sealed it, and squished it around to get it into the fibers. I let that marinate for a few minutes, then I squeezed out the excess dye by cutting a small hole in the corner of the bag and squeezing hard (into my bottle, so I saved the excess dye!) I transferred the squeezed-out pieces of fur to a new gallon bag and let them sit overnight.
Option two: Spray-dying
Be advised I did not use this technique, but it's often used for sharpie-dying wigs. Put your dye in a pump-action spray bottle and spray it over your fur. It may take several coats to get a good color. Just like with the dunk dying, allow it to sit and dry.
Drying shouldn't take long, since alcohol evaporates very quickly! (I let mine sit overnight mostly because I did it late at night and waited until morning, it probably won't take overnight)
Step eight: Rinsing!
Do not rinse your fur in a ceramic or kitchen sink. The sharpie ink will stain it! ONLY rinse these out in a deep utility sink (like those in some basements or hardware workshops, where it's already horribly stained and no one cares) or, as I did, go out back and use the hose.
You'll want to rinse the fur until the water runs clear. This gets rid of the excess ink that would otherwise rub off on your hands, clothes, and very unhappy bystanders!
My boyfriend helped with this. He placed the fur pieces in a metal basket, held it at arms length, and fired at it with the hose. The metal grating let the water run through and rinse out the fur without having to rinse it in his hands and risk getting sharpie all over himself.
Lay out your fur pieces to dry just as you would if you were washing them otherwise. Be sure to brush them frequently to keep them soft, and when they're almost dry, you may want to hang them up to let the wind fluff them up and dry the rest of the way. (Don't hang sopping wet fur, the weight of the water will stretch it out and deform it)
You may notice as you rinse out your fur that some of the color washes away. That happens, and if it does, then simply repeat the dying process until you get a good color.
A gorgeous yellow color, murdered by that evil flash in the first picture, admittedly, but trust me, is grand. :3 The smell of sharpie faded very, very quickly (I left mine to dry outside in fresh air) and it doesn't rub off at all. I may have noticed an extremely slight yellow coloring on my fingers as I was sewing with it, but even that may have just been the color reflecting onto my hands. (Point is, mine does not rub of perceptibly, and with proper rinsing, yours shouldn't either, but I will not stand here and guarantee that yours will not run or fade, ever)
Important things to note:
Black sharpies are not a true black. They are a very, very concentrated blue, brown, or purple color. I do not recommend using this method to color fur black, as if it starts to fade, you may get some very strange colors...
Red sharpies and indeed, most red pigments, are extremely strong pigments. I have not tried this method with red, but I've experienced red dyes and pigments that run and rub off no matter HOW much you rinse. There's a reason you don't wash red clothes with other clothing, it is a notoriously strong color.
Fading may occur, just as with any other dye. You can slow or prevent this by keeping your fur out of prolonged, direct sunlight, and by being careful to only hand-wash. Water should not wash off your dye.
If you want to strip off dye use alcohol. You may not be able to get all the color out, but if you dye it too dark or want to take some of the pigment out, rinse your fur with clean isopropyl alcohol.
It worked for me, I hope some of you out there find this useful, as well!
EDIT: In response to many of the comments:
- This technique is recommended for markings or smallish areas on suits that will see mostly indoor use. Sunlight fades sharpies, so I do not recommend using this technique for suits that are going to see heavy outdoor use.
- You can wash pieces that are dyed with this technique, but only with water-based gentle soaps, and washing by hand. Do not use any cleaners or products that have alcohol in them! That said, see above: I recommend it for markings and small areas, not for whole suits or large areas of a bodysuit.
- It works well and will not damage the fur, the suit, or anything around you in most cases (see above about black and red), but this is not a perfectly permanent solution. With proper care and light to moderate use, this could last a very long time. If you're looking to use a suit heavily and more often than "once in a while for cons and Halloween" then you may want to look into other options.