Nothing brightens up an outfit like a splash of vibrant, colorful tie-dye! Everyone from kids to adults loves to create tie-dye t-shirts. Before you start your fun art project, it’s important to find the best shirts for tie-dye.
The best shirts for tie-dye contain 100% cotton or blended fabric with a high cotton content. Plant-based fabrics like bamboo, linen, and rayon can also tie-dye quite easily. Other key factors include the material’s softness, the shirt’s cut, and whether or not it will shrink in the wash.
In this article, you will find out what makes fabrics work well for tie-dye. You will learn the key characteristics of the best shirts for tie-dye. Finally, you will discover tips for choosing the best blended fabric shirts for tie-dye projects.
- What Fabric Works for Tie-Dye?
- Best Shirts for Tie Dye
- Cotton Shirts for Tie-Dye
- Can You Tie-Dye 95% Cotton 5% Spandex?
- Tie-Dye Polyester Shirts
- Cheap White T-Shirts for Tie-Dye and Where to Find Them
- Soft White T-Shirts for Tie-Dye and Where to Find Them
- Plain T-Shirts for Tie-dye
What Fabric Works for Tie-Dye?
Cotton fabric works best for tie-dye, but other plant-based fabrics like linen, hemp, and even bamboo cloth can also hold bright tie-dye colors.
When you think of what “works” for tie-dye, what you mean is how well a fabric can absorb and hold onto the color, if it maintains crisp, sharp lines in the design, and if the dyeing process will damage the material by causing it to shrink or weaken.
Cotton has an extremely high absorbency rate, quickly soaking up as much as 25 times its weight in water, allowing it to quickly consume the dye as well! For this reason, you don’t need any special tricks like using a boiling dye bath or adding a color intensifier when you tie-dye cotton.
Plus, cotton fabrics remain one of the most popular materials used in clothing like t-shirts because it feels so soft, making it an easy and affordable option for your next tie-dye project.
The type of cotton you see most often in tie-dye is called jersey knit, which uses a looped thread construction to form a soft, stretchy material that you might think of as t-shirt cloth. This material holds well to the folding, twisting, or tieing necessary to form unique patterns in your tie-dye.
But if you want to expand your horizons, you can also easily tie-dye plain-weave cotton such as bed sheets or other kinds of cotton cloth like denim. Of course, many denim garments already contain dye, so you may want to try a bleach tie-dye technique if you want to color jeans or a jean jacket.
Plant-based fabrics that contain fibers made out of cellulose like cotton, hemp, linen, and bamboo typically hold tie-dye colors the best. Of these plant fibers, cotton does the absolute best job and also usually costs the least.
Can you tie-dye other types of fabric? Yes, but with mixed results.
For example, you can dye a protein-based fabric like wool if you use acid dyes, but you will find that the thicker texture of this fabric creates more muted colors and less contrast in the design. You can also color silk using acid dyes with lovely results because silk holds crisp, vivid colors in a beautiful fashion. Of course, the downside is that authentic silk costs quite a lot!
Synthetic fabric like polyester does not dye easily. You can tie-dye polyester, but only if you use disperse dyes applied in a boiling dye bath. This hot and smelly process is usually not worth the effort when you can color cotton much more easily!
The exception to the “no synthetics” rule is blended fabrics, as you will see later in this article.
Another exception is a type of fabric called rayon that looks and feels silky but comes from semi-synthetic tree pulp. Because it originally comes from plant matter, this manmade fabric actually can dye quite easily and will make really good tie-dye items. So if you want to tied-ye a silky blouse, dress, or scar, try using rayon!
Best Shirts for Tie Dye
The best shirts for tie-dye contain a fabric like cotton that can easily hold dye, but they also offer other essential characteristics such as a soft hand and a minimal shrink rate.
As you now know, the best materials to tie-dye include cotton, rayon, and silk. Of these, cotton wins the popularity contest hands-down. This is because cotton can easily hold onto the bright colors and bold contrasts of tie-dye patterns, but also costs less than silk and has many versatile uses.
Blended fabrics, such as polycotton or tri-blends, can also provide a good material for tie-dye in some cases. This depends on the percentage of cotton in the mix. A high percentage of cotton in a polyblend will accept dye decently well, though the polyester fibers in the fabric will not hold dye.
A tri-blend with a lot of cotton fibers, a small amount of rayon, and a small amount of polyester may also hold tie-dye colors well because both the cotton and the rayon will accept the dye.
The softness of a shirt also matters a lot as you select the best shirt for tie-dye. When you visit your favorite clothing store, you do not just pick a shirt because it looks good–you also touch the fabric to find out if it feels comfortable! You should consider the softness of the fabric when you pick shirts to tie-dye, too.
The softness of the fabric is called the hand, which means how the fabric feels when you touch it. Fabrics with an extra-soft hand include types of cloth like cotton, cashmere, or silk. Rayon and bamboo also have a relatively soft hand, though not quite as soft as cotton or silk.
In contrast, polyester has a fairly coarse hand, though this does depend somewhat on how it is manufactured. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect cotton shirts to feel much softer than polyester.
Plain white shirts make the best backdrop for almost all tie-dye projects. In some cases, you can also use light-colored shirts such as a light rose pink or a pale yellow.
White is almost always your best choice because if you dye on top of another shade of dye, you could end up with interestingly mixed colors. For example, suppose you use red dye to make a tie-dye pattern on a blue shirt. Instead of ending up with a red design, you will probably get a blurry purple pattern as the red and blue dye bleeds together in the fabric!
The exception to the white-shirt rule is bleach tie-dye. If you want to create galaxy-style swirls and stars using bleach and dye, you will want to start with a dark shirt to contrast the bleached splatters. In this case, you could wear a deep black shirt or even a rich navy blue.
You also want to find a shirt with a low shrink rate before you begin tie-dyeing. Some fabrics tend to shrink in the wash, ruining all the work you put into your tie-dye shirt.
Unfortunately, cotton does have a high shrink rate. But since cotton works best for tie-dye in all other ways, you can use several strategies to avoid ruining your shirt by shrinking it.
First, you should always wash shirts in your washer and dryer before beginning the dyeing process. This will show you if the shirt will shrink in the future or not. If you take a cotton tee out of the dryer and discover that it has shrunk a size smaller, it might not work well for tie-dye!
Second, you can purchase preshrunk cotton shirts these days. Preshrunk shirts go through a special manufacturing process that causes the fibers inside the cotton to do almost all of the shrinking they ever will before the fabric gets cut and sewn into a shirt. This way, you do not have to worry about the garment shrinking in the wash later on!
If you don’t like the idea of worrying about a shrinking shirt, you could also seek out other types of material that do not shrink, such as silk, for your tie-dye projects.
The cost of a shirt will also play a role in determining how well it works for tie-dye. Generally speaking, you probably do not want to purchase super pricey clothing when you plan to dye it yourself. Instead, look for good-quality blank shirts.
You can easily find a good assortment on Amazon, or you can purchase through a craft store or a dye vendor’s online store. For example, Dharma and Addair have famous dye and printing supplies but also provide blank shirts for their customers.
You can typically find plain white cotton tees online for between $10-$15. If you want to buy in bulk and order twenty or more tees at once, the price may drop significantly to as little as $2 or $3.
Another good option is to visit your local thrift store and look for white cotton shirts in good condition. After all, you plan to upcycle the shirt anyway when you dye it, so why not go the more sustainable route and buy a second-hand garment?
The cheapest white shirts you can buy typically contain 100% polyester. While this would save you a lot of money, polyester does not dye well using regular tie-dye methods, so you should avoid that option.
Another important characteristic of the best tie-dye shirt is the style options it presents. Of course, you need a shirt that comes in the sizes you need. If you want to host a tie-dye party for your family, for instance, you will need white shirts that fit your kids as well as men’s sizes and women’s sizes for the adults in the group.
But you may also want to consider other style features as well. For example, do you want curvier fitted shirts for women’s tie-dye shirts or the more rectangular regular-cut tees for everyone? Do you want long-sleeve tees or short sleeves? You could also go with V-neck, crewneck, or scoop neck tees for more stylistic variation.
Cotton Shirts for Tie-Dye
Some of the most popular brands for tie-dye shirts include Hanes, Gildan, Fruit of the Loom, Bella Canvas, and City Threads. Many other brands also feature shirts in 100% cotton that has a soft hand, affordable price, and come in a variety of styles, though! Just keep those key characteristics in mind as you shop.
The brands most popular for tie-dyeing at home often include these best-sellers.
- Launched in 1901, Hanes has a long history of offering undershirts and t-shirts made of comfy cotton. This historic brand offers many different style options, such as tagless tees or tubular tees without itchy side seams. Plus, the brand sells plain white cotton tees in men’s, women’s, and children’s sizes.
- Founded in the 1980s, Gildan also has a long history of providing undershirts and undergarments, though today, it also has a reputation for heavy-duty tees. Gildan has an especially good reputation for tie-dye or t-shirt printing because it offers blanks quite affordably in a variety of sizes. The brand famously uses good-quality, sturdy cotton in its shirts.
- Fruit of the Loom holds the honor of remaining one of the oldest shirt sellers in America, founded way back in the 1850s! This brand features 100% cotton tees in all different shapes and sizes. Despite the long history of the brand, you can find many modern cuts and fits from this brand, as well as handily pre-shrunk fabrics that won’t shrink in the wash.
- Bella + Canvas is a newer brand launched primarily to serve t-shirt printing and dyeing businesses. Though you can buy a variety of shirt styles from this brand, it does specialize in higher-end tees made from ringspun and extra-soft cotton. The shirts often cost a tad more than a basic Gildan tee, but many tie-dyers consider the extra dollars worth it for such a soft shirt!
- City Threads has a popular line of blanks for sale in children’s sizes. This brand deserves mention because it offers a wide range of styles, such as blank white cotton shirts with a Peter pan collar or a smocked top. If you want to tie-dye cotton clothing for children, this line is worth looking into!
Can You Tie-Dye 95% Cotton 5% Spandex?
You can tie-dye 95% cotton and 5% spandex with great success. Most tie-dye kits that contain all-purpose dyes or fiber-reactive dyes will get absorbed into the cotton in the fabric. While the spandex fibers will not hold the dye, this small fraction of colorlessness will not show enough to significantly mute the colors in the clothing.
This leads to another interesting option for selecting your t-shirt fabric: blended fabrics. A blended fabric means that the material contains two or more different types of fabric fibers, such as polyester and cotton. During the fabric manufacturing process, a combination of cotton and polyester fibers twine together to form the yarns of the material.
You can find all kinds of blended fabric. Stretch denim, for example, combines cotton fibers and spandex fibers to make the expandable jeans we all love so much.
Triblend fabric combines three different types of fabric fibers instead of three. Typically a tri-blend will feature cotton for softness, polyester for durability, and a silkier option such as rayon to add a hint of smoothness to the texture.
Can you tie-dye blended fabrics? You can if the blend contains a high percentage of cotton. A 50/50 polycotton does not typically do well because it contains too much polyester, which will not hold the color well. But a 70/30 blend with 70% cotton in the mix will look more vibrant.
Tie-Dye Polyester Shirts
You can tie-dye polyester shirts using synthetic dyes applied through a boiling dye bath. This process takes more time and money than using a regular tie-dye kit on cotton shirts, but it does allow you to use cheaper polyester tees if you prefer that option.
Polyester shirts do come with some other advantages besides a lower price tag. The synthetic fabric lasts a long time and can resist wrinkling and staining. It also does not shrink like cotton, so you do not have to worry about buying preshrunk shirts.
On the other hand, polyester does not feel as soft as cotton. It also does not provide great breathability, which may concern you if you want a cool tie-dye shirt to wear in the summer. And, of course, the biggest drawback to tie-dyeing polyester shirts is that regular tie-dye kits will not work on this kind of cloth.
Cheap White T-Shirts for Tie-Dye and Where to Find Them
You can find cheap white shirts for tie-dye most easily by shopping online at places like Amazon.com or Walmart.com. You can also buy blanks (another word for an undyed or unprinted shirt) available from companies like Dharma Trading or The Addair Group.
Check out these tips to help you get a good deal on cheap white t-shirts:
- The more you buy, the cheaper you will get each shirt. If you can afford to buy in bulk, fifty shirts will cost a lot less per shirt than one shirt. Use terms like “in bulk” or “wholesale” as you search for these deals.
- Read the product description carefully to make sure the shirts actually contain 100% cotton. Sometimes sellers get tricky and label something a “cotton shirt” when it may just contain some cotton, along with a good dose of polyester!
- If possible, read product reviews to get a sense of the quality of the shirts. If other customers report that the shirts shrink easily, for example, you may want to avoid that seller.
- If you only want one or two cheap white shirts, look for deals or coupons at craft stores such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Often these stores have a deal that pops up every few months, allowing you to purchase blank shirts for just a few dollars.
Soft White T-Shirts for Tie-Dye and Where to Find Them
You can find soft white shirts for tie-dye by shopping in person or looking for keywords in the product description such as “ringspun cotton.”
Even cheap cotton shirts will feel pretty soft, and if they feel slightly stiff at first, the cotton will quickly wear down to a comfortable softness over time.
You can seek out especially soft cotton tees if you like more luxurious tie-dye tees. One of the best ways to do this is to shop in person and touch the shirts to compare the hand, or softness, of the material.
If you need to shop online instead, look for terms like “ringspun cotton” or even Pima cotton. Ringspun refers to the method used to manufacture the cotton fabric, which creates softer material than regular production methods.
Pima, Supima, or Egyptian cotton all come from a different variety of cotton plants that have extra-long fibers. This makes the softest kind of cotton in the world!
Plain T-Shirts for Tie-dye
If you need help getting started on your shirt, check out these plain t-shirts for tie-dye!
The best shirts for tie-dye contain 100% cotton or a high percentage of cotton in a blended material. Cotton fibers hold tie-dye colors better than any other kind of fabric. The best cotton shirts for tie-dye also come in a white or light shade, offer a soft texture, and do not cost too much.
You can find white cotton shirts for tie-dye most cheaply when you purchase them in bulk. Good places to look for affordable tie-dye shirts include Amazon, thrift stores, or craft stores having a sale. Though polyester tees cost less, it is hard to tie-dye this synthetic material.