Pigment dyeing is a process for coloring textiles which uses ground pigments, rather than a true dye. Strictly speaking, it is not actually dyeing at all, since it only coats the outside of the material, rather than fully penetrating it like a dye would. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this method, as is the case with any type of coloring technique.
One of the primary advantages of pigment dyeing is its ability to adhere to a wide range of textiles, not just natural fabrics. This is especially important with synthetics or blends, which often cannot be dyed with conventional dyes. In some cases, the fabric may require special treatment for the pigment dye to take, such as an outer layer of resin coating. Some companies make resin dyes specifically for this purpose, with the adhering resin blended with the pigment dye.
The process of pigment dyeing can also be relatively cheap, depending on what type of dye is used and how it is applied. In some cases, the use of toxic pretreatment chemicals can be avoided, which makes pigment dyeing cheaper and more environmentally sound. Environmentally friendly pigment dyes can sometimes be more expensive, since companies may need to invest some time in developing gentle ingredients.
Pigment-dyed garments tend to be less colorfast, since the pigment dye is a layer on the surface of a textile. As a result, the dye will start to fade much more quickly. This can be a disadvantage if it is not a desired effect, but it can also be used to create a specific “look” as is the case with fabrics like the denim used in jeans. Many pre-faded and “worn” garments are colored with pigment dyes to achieve this deliberately. When this look is not desired, a resin treatment can help to keep the fabric bright and colorfast. Resin-based fixers for pigment dyeing are available in some craft stores, as well as resin pre-treatments to condition the fabric.
Many fabric supply stores sell pigment dyes in a variety of colors, for crafters who want to experiment with pigment dyeing. As a general rule, protective gear for the face and hands should be worn while working with dyes, in addition to old clothing which is not immensely valued, as the dye can splash and stain. Since pigment dyeing can dye a wide range of materials, it is a good dye for basic starting projects, such as tie-dye on poly-blend shirts.