Color and Textile Dyes – An Overview

Color and Textile Dyes – An Overview

Yusuf Maigari
B.Sc. in Textile Science and Technology
Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria


Color is a very important property of materials around us but we often neglect its study socially and scientifically. We perceive color just as we perceive things like taste, smell, and touch etc. Color can influence our emotions, actions and how we respond to various things, people and ideas. Color is extremely versatile in its uses. It can be used to make a statement, create an atmosphere, or call forth a response. Color expresses outwards towards the world, but it also helps us to travel inwards towards spiritual states, towards our true self. We can use color to get what we want from the world, or we can use it to find something in ourselves.

color chart
Figure 1: Color chart

Color provides a vial enhancement to the world in which we live. Every day materials we use – Textiles, paints, plastics, paper, and foodstuffs – are especially appealing if they are colorful. So, imagine a world where all the materials are black, white or grey; how will that world look like? Nature too presents a kaleidoscope of colors around our lives; various shades of green in the forest, various colors of flowers around our houses and even the differing color of our skins.

Concept of Color:
Color is the bye-product of the spectrum of light, as it is reflected or absorbed, as received by the Human eye and processed by the human brain. The world is full of light. Visible light is made of seven wavelength groups. These are the color we see in the rainbow. When light hits an object, some of the wavelength are absorbed while others reflected, depending on materials in the object. The reflected wavelength is what we see as the object color.

Newton’s prism experiment
Figure 2: Newton’s prism experiment

Newton’s prism experiment proves to be very helpful in understanding color. Newton realized that colors other than those in the spectral sequence do exist, but he noted that all the colors in the universe which are made by light, and depend not on the power of imagination, are either the colors of homogeneal lights [i.e., spectral colors], or compounded of these.

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Newton also recognized that: rays, to speak properly, are not colored. In them there is nothing else than a certain power to stir up a sensation of this or that color.

Table 1: The table below gives a summary of the color perception by human eye

S/NWavelength (nm)Color AbsorbedColor Observed
1400 – 435VioletYellow-Green
2435 – 480BlueYellow
3480 – 490Green-blueOrange
4490 – 500Blue-greenRed
5500 – 560GreenPurple
6560 – 580Yellow-GreenViolet
7580 – 595YellowBlue
8595 – 605OrangeGreen-Blue
9605 – 700RedBlue-Green

Textile Dyes:
Color is obtained in textiles and other materials by the use of colorants (Dyes and pigments). Indigo and alizarin obtained from the tree Tinctoria indigofera and the root of Madder respectively, were used by the ancients for dyeing since the beginning of recorded history. However, from the year 1856 when William Perkin produced Mauviene from simple organic compounds obtained from petroleum and coal tar distillates, the use of these natural pigments was jeopardized.

A dye can be referred as a water-soluble colored organic compound that has affinity for the substrate whereas pigments are usually water insoluble. For a compound to be a dye, it must fulfill the following conditions:

  1. Must be soluble in aqueous either permanently or during application.
  2. Must be intensely colored
  3. Must have substantivity (ability to be absorbed by the substrate) or be able to react with the substrate chemically.
  4. Must possess reasonable fastness properties.

Classification of Textile Dyes:
There are various criteria used in the classification of dyes. These include: Origin, chemical structure, methods of application, nuclear structure and industrial classification. However, it should be noted that each class of dye has a very unique chemistry, structure and particular way of bonding. While some textile dyes can react chemically with the substrates forming strong bonds in the process, others can be held by physical forces. The table below gives a summary of textile dyes and their suitable substrates/area of application.

Table 2: Textile dyes and their suitable substrates/area of application

DirectCotton, Cellulosic and Blends
Vat dyesCotton, Cellulosic and Blends
SulphurCotton, Cellulosic fibers
Organic pigmentsCotton, Cellulosic, Blended Fabrics, paper
ReactiveCellulosic fibers and fabric
Dispersed dyesSynthetic fibers
Acid DyesWool, Silk, Synthetic fibers, leather
AzoicPrinting inks and pigments
BasicSilk, wool, cotton
Oxidation dyesHair
Developed DyesCellulosic fibers and Fabric
Mordant dyesCellulosic fibers and Fabric, Silk, Wool
Optical/Fluorescent BrightenersSynthetic fibers, leather, cotton, sports goods
Solvent dyesWood Staining, solvent inks, waxes, coloring oils

Techniques of Dyeing:

1) Bale Dyeing: This is a low cost method to dye cotton cloth. The material is sent without scouring or singeing, through a cold water bath where the sized warp has affinity for the dye. Imitation chambray and comparable fabrics are often dyed this way.

2) Batik Dyeing: This is one of the oldest forms known to man. It originated in Java. Portions of the fabric are coated with wax so that only un-waxed areas will take on the dye matter. The operation may be repeated several times and several colors may use for the bizarre effects. Motifs show a melange, mottled or streaked effect, imitated in machine printing.

3) Beam Dyeing: In this method the warp is dyed prior to weaving. It is wound onto a perforated beam and the dye is forced through the perforations thereby saturating the yarn with color.

4) Burl or speck Dyeing: This is done mostly on woolens or worsteds, colored specks and blemishes are covered by the use of special colored links which come in many colors and shades. It is a hand operation.

5) Chain Dyeing: This is used when yarns and cloth are low in tensile strength. Several cuts or pieces of cloth are tacked end-to-end and run through in a continuous chain in the dye color. This method affords high production.

6) Cross Dyeing: This is a very popular method in which varied color effects are obtained in the one dye bath for a cloth which contains fibers with varying affinities for the dye used. For example, a blue dyestuff might give nylon 6 a dark blue shade, nylon 6, 6 a light blue shade, and have no affinity for polyester area unscathed or white.

7) Jigger Dyeing: This is done in a jig, kier, vat, beck or vessel in an open formation of the goods. The fabric goes from one roller to another through a deep dye bath until the desired shade is achieved.

8) Piece Dyeing: The dyeing of fabrics in the cut, bolt or piece form is called piece dyeing. It follows the weaving of the goods and provides a single color for the material, such as blue serge, a green organdy.

9) Random Dyeing: Coloring only certain designated portions of the yarn. There are three ways of doing this type of coloring.

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Skeins may be tightly dyed in two or more places and dyed at one side of the dye with one color and at the other side with another one. Color may be printed onto the skeins which are spread out on the blanket fabric of the printing machine.

Adsorption of Dye from the Dyebath:
Several distinct and identifiable events take place in the dyeing of a textile material. The events are as follows:

a) Diffusion in Solution – Dye must move or diffuse through the dyebath in order to establish contact with the textile material being dyed.

b) Adsorption on fiber surface – dye molecules are attracted to the fiber and are initially deposited on the fiber surface.

c) Diffusion into the fiber – dye deposited on the surface creates a concentration gradient which is the driving force for movement of dye from the surface towards the interior of the fiber. During diffusion, dye molecules migrate from place to place on the fiber. This migration tends to have a levelling effect on the dye application. Textile dyes which migrate readily are easy to apply uniformly. However, dyes which migrate and level easily also tends to have poorer wash fastness than dyes which do not level easily.

d) Dissolution of the dye in the dyebath – dyes which are only sparingly soluble in water may have to dissolve from a dispersion of highly aggregated particles in order to be small enough to diffuse into the fiber.

Fastness of Textile Dyes:
Color fastness is defined as the resistance of colored materials to fading or running during processing or in subsequent useful life. The term is usually used in the context of clothes. The fading or color running is brought about by Washing, rubbing, action of light, hot pressing and perspiration. Therefore, fastness tests include: washing fastness, rubbing fastness, light fastness, fastness to hot pressing and perspiration fastness.

In the test, the material is treated with/under the influence of the agent under consideration for a specific time and the effect assessed using the grey scale for assessing change in color. The extent of staining can also be assessed using the grey scale for assessing staining.

Color Measurement:
The color of textile dyes is measured using the spectrophotometer. There are different spectrophotometers for different types of light e.g. Infrared spectrometer, ultraviolet- visible spectrometer etc. but the working principle is almost the same.

A white source such as the tungsten lamp usually provides the light for the spectrophotometer. The monochrometer is a prism, spectrum filter, or diffraction grating which spreads the light from the source into a spectrum. Although, the word “monochromatic” means one color or one wavelength, the monochrometer and slit select a narrow band of light rather a single wavelength to be measured. The slit scans across the spectrum selecting the band of light to be measured. The monochrometer and slit may be placed either before the sample position giving the monochromatic illumination or after the sample position, giving polychromatic illumination. However, only polychromatic illumination followed by separation the separation of the reflected light by a monochrometer gives an accurate spectrophotometric curve if the sample is fluorescent. The detector is a photoelectric device which converts the transmitted or reflected light to an electrical signal in a chart or computer records.

UV – visible spectrophotometer
Figure 3: UV – visible spectrophotometer

An abridged spectrophotometer measures a few narrow bands across the spectrum rather than scanning wavelength by wavelength. Typically about 16 bands each about 20 nm wide are measured. These instruments use series of filters to select the bands to be measured or may use a series of detectors to measure the reflectance at all of the wavelengths simultaneously. Abridged spectrophotometers are simpler and less expensive than scanning spectrophotometers, but provide less information.


  1. Warren S.P., Textile Coloration and Finishing, Carolina Academic Press, 700 Kent Street, Durham, North Carolina.
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1994

You may also like:

  1. Basic Concepts of Light and Color
  2. Application of Color and Light Theory in Textile Dyeing
  3. Basic Concepts of Colour Measurement
  4. Psychology of Colour in Branding and Marketing
  5. Coloring of Textile Materials without Wet Processing
  6. Perception of Color and Its Importance in Textiles

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2 thoughts on “Color and Textile Dyes – An Overview”

  1. Textile learner site is more helpful for all Textile Engineer’s Students, and also for professional persons who involved with textile sector. Most of time I learn textile dyes and chemicals knowledge from this sites. So I wishes best for owner of this sites.


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