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How to Tie Dye

John C.


John C.


August 14, 2023

Oct 4, 2023

How to Tie Dye

Learning how to tie-dye your own shirts is simple! This fun and easy technique involves twisting or folding a piece of fabric, then securing it with string or rubber bands before applying dye to create a series of colorful, irregular patterns. You can apply dye by either squirting it directly onto fabric, or dipping your fabric into a pan or bucket of dye. The folds in the fabric prevent the dye from saturating into those areas, adhering only to the portions that aren’t folded over. The end result is an eye-catching, one-of-a-kind pattern on your garment. 

If you want to try your hand at tie-dye, we’ll walk you through a list of items you’ll need for your tie-dye project, steps involved, and techniques to produce your own tie-dye apparel. 

Tie dye supplies 

Before getting started on your own DIY tie-dye creations, it’s helpful to gather all of your supplies, including:

  • Fiber reactive dye (one or more colors of your choosing)
  • A blank t-shirt (Pro tip: White or light colors work best for tie-dye. You’ll also want to choose an 100% cotton t-shirt or a t-shirt with a mostly cotton or natural fiber blend, as synthetics like polyester do not easily absorb dye.)
  • Laundry detergent
  • Rubber bands
  • Buckets
  • Squeeze bottles
  • Plastic tablecloths (or plastic trash bags, laid out flat)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mask
  • Ziplock bags

Steps to tie dye 

Regardless of technique you apply to your sweet new tee, there are a few basic steps to follow when tie-dyeing. A few quick tips before starting: It’s best to wear old clothing in case any dye splatters. Also consider wearing a mask and rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands. Lastly, it’s best to work outside while tie-dyeing to avoid any stains and to avoid any fumes.

1. Prepare the materials 

Before you start tie-dyeing your shirt (or any other type of apparel), be sure to pre-wash it first. This will help the dye more readily absorb into the fibers. Do not dry your t-shirt completely after washing. Make sure your t-shirt is still slightly damp, as this helps your fabric more easily stick together when using the twist-dye method.

In addition to prepping your garment itself, you’ll also want to set up your work space. You can work indoors – in your garage or basement, but working outside is preferable. Be sure to gather your materials – including dye bottles, buckets, rubber bands, and plastic table cloths or garbage bags to prevent staining your work surface. 

2. Mix your dyes

Depending on the type of dye you use, there are a few ways to mix dyes:

  • One-step dyes: These dyes usually are concentrated and come in their own bottle. Simply add water based on manufacturer instructions and shake! These dyes typically lose their potency after 24 hours, so be sure to discard them after using. 
  • Powdered dyes: Break out your mask for this type of dye to avoid accidentally inhaling powder. Follow directions on packaging to add the proper ratio of lukewarm water to teaspoons of dye. Mix them together in a bucket, taking care to stir completely to get rid of any clumps of powder to ensure a smooth, even finish on your design. Once your mixture is completed, you can use a funnel to transfer your dye into squeeze bottles. 

3. Fold and tie up your garment

Whether you’re tie-dyeing a long-sleeve tee or a more traditional short-sleeved heavy cotton tee, there are a variety of ways to fold and tie your shirt to get cool patterns. (More on shirt-folding techniques later!) You can tie knots in your shirt itself, twist portions of your shirt and bind them with rubber bands, or simply scrunch your t-shirt into a ball and secure it with a series of rubber bands. 

4. Apply dye 

Wearing your plastic gloves, apply dye directly to your shirt.

  • If you’re only doing one or two colors and using the bucket method, simply dunk your folded-and-tied shirt into the mixture. 
  • If you’re applying multiple colors to your tee, you can use your squeeze bottle to squirt dye directly onto portions of your shirt, making a random pattern and alternating your choice of colors. 
  • Pro tip: Don’t forget to flip your folded-and-tied shirt over and apply dye to the back, too!

5. Allow the dye to set 

Take your freshly-dyed t-shirt and carefully place it inside a plastic bag and allow it to sit for a minimum of six to eight hours, allowing the dye to process. Do not remove any rubber bands or ties in order to keep your pattern intact. You can leave your shirt to sit for as long as 24 hours to get the most vivid colors from your dye. 

6. Rinse and wash 

Once your dye has set, it’s time to rinse, wash, and wear! Rinse your shirt under cold water in a sink until the water runs clear. Be sure to leave any rubber bands or fabric ties on. Next, wash your shirt on a warm / hot setting with a dye-friendly detergent. 

Pro tip: Wash only one tie-dyed shirt at a time on this initial wash. If you have shirts that use similar colors, you can put them in the same cycle. However, if you’ve used different colors or darker dyes on other shirts, washing them all at the same time can cause colors to bleed and create a dingy effect instead of the vibrant masterpiece you created. 

Tie dying patterns and techniques 

Part of the fun and beauty of tie-dye is that there are a variety of different techniques you can use to produce different patterns. Simply follow these tie-dye directions to create a truly unique garment. 


To create a stripe-effect on your tie-dye shirt, start by laying your shirt flat. Moving from the bottom to the top, make a series of accordion-style pleats in your shirt. You can do this either vertically or horizontally. Once your shirt looks like a folded fan, secure it tightly with rubber bands or ties at intervals – such as every one to to inches. 


To create a bullseye tie-dye effect, lay your shirt flat and pinch the center of your shirt. Create a cone shape with your shirt, pulling from the pinched section upward and allowing the rest of the shirt to cascade downward. Secure this cone shape with rubber bands, with the first one sitting roughly one inch below the tip of your cone. Continue adding rubber bands at regular – or irregular – intervals to create more sections. 


The scrunch tie-dye method can give you a fun, random pattern with a hypnotic effect. To scrunch your t-shirt, start by laying the shirt flat. Scrunch it up into a disc shape, then secure it with rubber bands. 

Pro tip: A tighter scrunch will create more areas where the dye won’t penetrate. So if you want a more open design with less color and more white space, give your shirt a tight scrunching. If you want more color deposited on your shirt, go for a looser scrunch. 


A tie-dye classic, the swirl technique produces a gorgeous spiral pattern once your dye has set. To create this style of tee, lay your shirt flat and pinch a tiny area at the center between your thumb and forefinger. Twist the rest of the shirt around that pinched area to form a spiral, “cinnamon roll” disc. Hold your tee-shirt disc in-place by securing it with three to five rubber bands. Your rubber bands should criss-cross each other over the center of your shirt disc.

Pro tip: The more rubber bands you use, the more easily you can “section” your tee and add various colors to your shirt. Similarly, the tighter your spiral, the more white areas you’ll have on your shirt. For a more colorful tee, opt for a looser spiral. 

Tie dye FAQs

Do you tie dye wet or dry fabric?

While you can certainly use a dry (pre-washed) t-shirt, it’s often best to tie-dye using damp fabric. You do not want your tee to be sopping wet when you go to dye it. Rather, be sure it’s still damp, as this can help your fabric more easily stick together when you fold or twist it to create cool patterns. 

Do you need to pre-wash the fabric before tie-dyeing?

Yes! You should always pre-wash any fabric before tie-dyeing. Pre-washing your shirt can remove any dirt, oil, or residue that can prevent your tie-dye from setting properly. 

How long should tie-dye sit before rinsing?

While it can be tempting to want to wear your DIY creation immediately… Resist the urge! Your tie-dye project should sit for a minimum of six to eight hours. If you want an even brighter finished product, allow your dye to sit for up to 24 hours before rinsing and washing. 

Explore our wide selection of blank t-shirts perfect for your tie-dyeing projects.

Tie-dyeing your own t-shirts, tank tops, and more is an easy and fun way to add one-of-a-kind DIY apparel to your wardrobe. Try your hand at tie-dyeing with comfy and cool cotton tees that you can personalize your way. Clothing Shop Online carries a wide array of blank apparel to give you a great starting point for your next tie-dye project. Check out our selection and start shopping today!

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