How to set dyes and color after Printing clothes & fabric {5 methods to keep the colors permanently fresh}

Answer to the question" How to make paint or printing permanent on fabric" : These 5 methods will ensure that the prints never wash out.

For a novice in fabric painting or printing, spending even more time on fixing the paint after all that effort you have already spent on the work may seem overkill. But believe me, it is not. After hours of painting on your fabric, it is nothing short of heartbreak if you find that the colors wash out. But if you set the dye and color properly before and after printing or painting, nothing will happen. 

All the paints and dyes available in the market applied after the fabric is made will fade with time. Exposure to detergent, water, and light fastens this process. But if the material is not prepared and the paint is not set with the paint, this fading is speeded.

But don’t worry. There are some easy methods through which you will get long-lasting results for your hardwork

If you are printing the fabric with sublimation dyes, you can apply a commercially available spray to make it more receptive to the dye.
If the paint or dye is not set properly it can fade out fast. The following methods are good for this, but you have to ensure that the paint you are using is suitable for the setting method you will be using.

How to make printing and painting permanent

set colors in fabric painting

Using Prepared-for-Printing Fabric or prepare your fabric

Prepared-for-Printing-fabrics – this term refers to the commercially available fabric which has been properly scoured and washed to remove all the finish, gums, starch, sizing, and anything which will interfere with the absorption of colors.These are ready-made fabrics which you can print, dye or paint without any care about whether the paint or dye will last or not.

Preparing your fabric correctly

If you are not using these commercial fabrics prepare your fabric properly so that they are ready to absorb paint/dyes.

First and foremost choose the right kind of fabric. You can paint /print natural animal fabrics like silk, and wool or natural plant fabrics like cotton, and linen or artificial fabrics like polyester. Each of them calls for different treatments for fixing paints.

Silk – If you want to paint on silk, no problem but just remember that real permanent color fastness is not possible. It will fade somewhat.

Cotton is a good surface as it can be cleaned thoroughly but remember that cotton is treated the most with all kinds of finishes. So pre-washing is a necessity, not an option.

You should take every effort to remove all the fillers, sizing etc when washing. These things take on the paint you are applying and when you wash the fabric later, they will wash out leaving your artwork looking patched, and with empty spaces.

Some even boil their fabric with detergent for 2 or more hours for thorough cleaning. If you want real color fastness this is something you can consider. Wash with detergent and washing soda for removing all impurities.

Heat transfer with inkjet-printed transfer paper is made on fabrics with 50% or more synthetic fiber content. These cannot be boiled. Synthetic fabrics can be damaged with heat. You can just wash them thoroughly with a detergent.

Cold water wash

After the paint is fully dry (after resting it for 3-4 days), wash the fabric with cold water. Mix a little vinegar into this water. Vinegar will act as a fixative and the rinsing will remove the excess unnecessary paint.

 Hot water can cause fading. 
Ironing / Heat press

Use your iron box or a heat press to set the paints. The heat application is done on the back of the fabric. 

If you are using synthetic fabrics you can heat press to set the paint but use only as much heat as a synthetic fabric can tolerate.

How to heat set with an iron

Press a moderately hot iron on the back side of the design for 2 to 3 minutes.

Steam fixing 

This is by far the best method for setting colors. You can use your kitchen pressure cooker to highly specialized steamers for this.

If you are a hobby painter I guess you would not have the special steamer; a kitchen pressure cooker is your only solace.

How to do the steaming in the pressure cooker

Keep some water in the pressure cooker. Place a stand inside to keep the fabric away from water. The painted or printed fabric is then rolled up and kept sandwiched between absorbent paper and placed inside a fitting vessel. Cover the vessel with aluminum foil. Keep on the stand inside the cooker. Close the lid of the cooker and keep it on a moderate flame for about half an hour to 45 minutes.

After the steaming, immediately open up the fabric and lay it flat, and try to remove the wrinkles from rolling. Wash in cold water after some time. Iron when a little damp to remove all the wrinkles.


This refers to using a fixative for the dye or paint. This is the best method for fabric that you do not want to heat set – like a more than 50% synthetic blend fabric, silk. This is also preferred when you want to use the fabric immediately after the painting or printing. You just have to spread the fixative over the paint and wait for about 1 hr (depends on the manufacturer) and then wash it off. The fabric is ready to use. But this method is not popularly preferred as it can displace the paint.

Another method is to use the fixative as a rinsing solution. You can use a commercially available rinse solution for this. Use as per the instructions on the bottle. It involves putting the printed or painted fabric inside a solution with the chemical. Use a big vessel to move the fabric easily inside. The fabric is agitated inside and then take it out and rinse in cold water. You can wash in detergent again to thoroughly clean the fabric. Rinse thoroughly and then dry.


Leave the painted or printed fabric as it is before doing anything with it. Ideally, it should be left alone for 3-4 days (or a week)- away from water and light (or anything for that matter)

Printing, painting and dyeing gives spectacular results. But for these results to last, in all their vividness and detail, you should do some prior and post works as well as take care of the printed/painted material properly.


Which fabrics are not suitable for color fast printing or painting or dyeing?

Do not choose fabrics with special finishes like water resistance, permanent press finish, wrinkle-resistance, etc – these finishes are somewhat permanent. So do not expect them to wash out. Use them as they are.
Fabric treated with fabric softeners – if you are going to dye or paint something, do not use fabric softener on your fabric – the fabric softeners deposit a polish on the fabric surface – this will impede your painting/printing.

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Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

3 thoughts on “How to set dyes and color after Printing clothes & fabric {5 methods to keep the colors permanently fresh}”

    • I’m interested but I will get more understanding if you make a video so we can see exactly what you’re trying to explain or share your skills. Thanks

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