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I've run across this a lot in my travels, a customer asks "Can you dye my cloth seats?" my answer to them is, "No I can't really dye your seats, what I can do is paint your seats."
Dyeing and painting cloth are two very different things.
Dyeing cloth consists of immersing the entire fabric in a dye solution, soaking it through and through for a period of time, then rinsing the excess dye away. Rinsing removes any excess dye left so not to transfer onto something that you don't want dyed like your clothes. Dyeing cloth is a more permanent way to change a color. The dyes actually penetrate the fibers of the fabric.
Painting cloth consists of spraying a solution of colored pigments and a binder of some sort onto the cloth. This process is usually used to rejuvenate an existing color or slightly change a color. When trying to change a color you usually will have to go darker not lighter. If you have a dark gray and want to go light gray, won't work. Painting cloth can be tricky, but can yield some really nice jobs. Painting cloth can be a semi-permanent way to change the color of fabric. Usually the paint will eventually wear off on high traffic areas. The paint lays on top of the fibers. Designs can also be done by the paint method, usually with an airbrush.
So with that said painting cloth seats can be done. Dyeing a cloth seats, well.... if your willing to tear your seats apart and hope the fabric doesn't shrink while washing it in the dye solution, which most fabric dyes require hot water, then dyeing a cloth seat can be done too, but with a lot of work. I guess it could save a little on reupholstering, but with all that effort you might as well go ahead and go all the way and just add new fabric the color you want. But to each his own, I guess if you have a new car and want it different color then maybe, that's new fabric.
I got into a job today that you almost had to laugh at. This was a lot of time and effort put into a vehicle that if finished probably could have been a show car if...and I mean if....it were a different car. It was a 2006 Suzuki Forenza, that someone had put custom crushed velvet silver with emerald green inserts. Tucked, quilted, molded and sewn just right. The job was done really well, just didn't really match anything. The car was white with a two tone gray interior. They had done all four seats, headliner, door panels and trunk area only.Kinda looked like someone just wasn't quite done. I don't know it didn't match and needed to get sold.
So my job was to turn the green to black.
Doing this took some prep time, I thought of just going in with a blocking card and paint and going to town but then I thought again, too many curves and just too much area. Masking was my only way. Now masking cloth can be a pain, usually tape just really doesn't stick that well and I was a little worried, but this material held tape very well, thank God. Not really sure what it was, surely some sort of synthetic. If ever you run into a problem with your tape not sticking to cloth, I've found if you heat the tape a little with a hair dryer while applying it, it will stick better. The tape from 3M and from Scotch Tape, work the best I think. Anyways I taped off the entire areas using a 1.5" tape. This took about an hour, paying close attention not to tape over the green or exposing any of the silver. I used my blocking card for the rest. Papering it off too is just a waste to me, I can use a blocking card most of the time and tape and get the same effect. Less material cost....
Now mixing up your paint solution. I used my water based vinyl paints to do this. Vinyl paints are dye pigments mixed with resins, or your binder. Water based works best for cloth, solvents seem to leave the cloth stiff and hard looking where water based paints are more flexible leaving the cloth feeling and looking more natural. And I see your questions flying, "Water Based?" "Will it wash off on my clothes?" Water based means the pigments and resins are water soluble, basically meaning when the water evaporates the paint is permanent. It won't come off on your clothing once done, if done correctly.
I mixed my paint with about 2 oz. paint to 1 oz. water, with a dab of slip additive for a softer feel, and rubbing alcohol to help evaporate the water faster boosting dry time. I watered it down to help it absorb into the fabric better. Doing it this way helps to give you that softer feel in the end, more time, but worth the effort.
I laid around two coats on each panel before moving onto the next, then went back after wards and laid another coat to deepen the black. The darker designs on the fabric showed through giving it a pretty cool effect. It worked out really well.
I did this job today and will probably have to go back tomorrow to touch it up and brush the fabric, this will remove any excess left over and give the cloth a softer feel. Touching it up will consist of either having to dye the seats again or just laying a light coat over them. Sometimes the dye will soak into the fabric and lighten as it dries basically the other color will bleed back through. You really can't tell if your really done until they are completely dry. So there's where the time thing come in.
Painting your cloth seats can give you a revive to your ride or give you a new look all together. Just remember when doing so to use a water based paint to give you the feel and look your looking for.
Talk to ya soon,
Mike " TIG"