Can I Mix Iron Fix Paints and Steam Fix Dyes…???

Believe it or not, this is one of the most common questions I get asked. It’s really important to know what you can and cant’ do with silk paints and dyes so it’s good that this question has been raised yet again as it can’t be said often enough.

So what is the answer? Well, it’s yes and no. Depending on what you are doing.

First of all, a quick definition of what iron fix paints are. They are bottles of paints for the hobby silk artist, made of pigments. You apply them with your brush, dilute them with water and fix them using a warm/hot iron from the reverse for 3 minutes. The paints sit on top of the fabric, leaving a matt finish. The silk loses some of its softness and sheen.

The steam fix dyes are acid-based, can be diluted ad infinitum and are steam fixed so that they bond with the silk, allowiing the fabric to retain its silky sheen and drape.

So basically the paints give you a quick fix. 🙂 If you dont’ have a steamer, or someone who can steam for you, then you need to opt for these.

And can you combine the two types? If you are painting with the acid-based dyes and then steam them, it is possible to add some iron fix paints afterwards which you would then iron to fix. So create your artwork with the dyes, steam it, and then add highlights with some favourite iron fix paints but don’t put it near the steamer, whatever you do!

What you musn’t do is paint with both the iron fix paints and the acid-based dyes and then try to steam the silk. This will just get really messy. And ruin your artwork into the bargain. The paints cannot bond with the silk and so leak all over the paper and down through the layers.  They will also leak over your artwork and mess it up. You will get pale and blotchy patches where the paint was originally applied.

And remember that you cannot iron steam fix dyes into the silk. They will wash out in water as I found out much to my surprise in the very early days.  I had a couple of bottles of what I thought was paint. I lovingly painted a picture and carefully ironed it for 3 minutes, thinking I was fixing the colours. When I held it under the tap, a constant stream of vibrant colour gushed out of the silk and rushed down the plughole. Lesson learnt.

Please always check at your supply store what you are buying. Read the bottle label or ask for assistance in buying the right kind if you are unsure.

And don’t worry if things do go wrong. It happens to us all.  And you won’t be so quick to do it again so it’s a very effective way oflearning.

Happy painting. 🙂

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6 Responses to Can I Mix Iron Fix Paints and Steam Fix Dyes…???

  1. Joanna says:

    Hi Fiona! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with both dyes and paints – it was helpful to read about the differences between the two, and the idea of using paints as a quick touch-up for a steamed piece is brilliant, I would have never thought it was possible! I just finished ironing four satin pieces that had been steam fixed and rinsed – and to try and speed up the drying process I quickly blotted and left to hang before ironing, and to my dismay the colors all leaked downwards! Not something I thought would happen after fixing, but you’re absolutely right that when things go “wrong”, it’s a very effective way of learning!!! 🙂 With all the unknowns and surprises that come with silk painting, I find it to be an incredibly grounding and humbling medium. Wishing you the very best and lots of joy in your painting 🙂


  2. Fiona says:

    Hi Joanna! Thanks for your comments and great to hear that this has been a useful post. 🙂 One thing that does concern me though, is to hear that your colours are running. If you have properly steamed your silk, no colours should be running afterwards. Blotting steamed silk to dry it more quickly shouldn’t cause this. When the colours have been fixed and the silk thoroughlyr insed, there will be no more dye leakage.

    After steaming and rinsing, I normally roll my silk in a towel to blot out all the dampness and then hang the piece up in a well-aired room to dry.

    Joanna, how do you actually steam your work? Do you have a professional steamer or do you have a home-made one? Let’s see if we can work this one out.

    Looking forward to hearing from you. 🙂 x

  3. Joanna says:

    Hi Fiona! I am using one of those horizontal stove-top steamers and recently have started steaming 4 pieces at a time – lay two pieces on clean newsprint, then another layer of newsprint with two more pieces, roll up, then another layer of newsprint just long enough to roll around 2 or 3 times. The directions on my steamer say that the colors are fixed after 2 hours, so any extra steam time is unnecessary. I steam for just over 3 hours and am allowing plenty of rest time in between painting, steaming and rinsing. I’ve ruined a lot of work over the past few weeks, including those neck ties I had posted on my fb page a few weeks ago. The steaming had been working out great until recently when I started steaming more things at once – just from writing this I feel like that could be the problem… I’d love to be able to continue steaming four long scarves to help conserve energy, what are your thoughts? I can’t thank you enough for your help, you’ve been so wonderful ever since I first asked you a steaming question on your blog months ago! 🙂 Take care 🙂


  4. Fiona says:

    Hi Joanna

    You know, I think you first asked me a question many months ago…:-) I’m glad to be of help.

    I steam up to several metres of silk at a time. These steamers are built to do that easily so that quantity is most probably not the issue. Mine takes 10 metres.

    You say it’s just recently that you started having this problem. So one factor has changed in the process. It sounds tome like the steam is not penetrating the package enough to allow the dyes to bond properly with the silk. I use paper that is sold especially for silk steaming. It has no print on it and is just the right thickness.

    I don’t roll up a lot of extra paper onto the package at the end. Maybe just one handspan and a wee bit more. I don’t seal the ends of the roll either. So my gut feeling is to not put in another layer of the newspaper. It could just be that it is stopping the steaming from being effective.

    And what dyes do you use Joanna? I have always used the Dupont dyes and have never had any difficulties with them. That is why I stick with them. Have your dyes gone rancid? Have they been standing in the heat? Are you mixing anytihng in with them? Has this been happening since you have started using the soy wax???

    Think about any of these. Feel free to keep this dialogue going Joanna. We’ll find the reason. 🙂 x

  5. Joanna says:

    Hi again Fiona!

    “It sounds tome like the steam is not penetrating the package enough to allow the dyes to bond properly with the silk. I use paper that is sold especially for silk steaming. It has no print on it and is just the right thickness.”

    I think you are absolutely right here! Ever since I’ve been doubling the amount that I steam at once I’ve been using twice as much paper, and I’ve even been using extra paper to wrap around the final roll because I’ve been so nervous about repeating a past mistake of getting watermarks from just that very problem – not having enough paper!

    I will need to put some sacrificial pieces into the steamer this week to try and get to the root of the problem.

    What I will try is keep the paper rolling pretty much the same, but increase the steam time from 3 to at least 4 hours. I can’t imagine that much extra condensation would occur in the last hour of steaming, and my hope is with the extra time, the steam and heat can really penetrate everything in the roll.

    I can’t thank you enough for all your help. It’s such a joy to be connected with you!

    Happy painting, take care!!


  6. Fiona says:

    Hi Joanna

    My feeling is that more steaming time is not going to improve the effectiveness of the process. 3 hours are more than enough for the bonding process to take place. Why not try less paper and use a bit of masking tape at either end wrapped around once to close off the ends.

    I also wanted to ask you this: does your silk come out of the steamer wet? Mine is steamy and slightly damp but that is all. The silk should not be wet with colours running. This means that the colours are not set.

    It would be great to see you doing it. Could you video yourself wrapping up your silks?

    The temperature needs to be constantly high enough to allow the steam to bring about the chemical bonding. Is the heat high enough and constant?

    There are so many things that could be responsible for the results you are having at the moment, Joanna. But start with less paper and seal the ends as described above. See how you get one.

    Good luck to you. And let me know how it goes.

    Enjoying being connected to you, too. Love your work.

    Warm wishes

    Fiona 🙂 x

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