The bottom line here is that there is no right or wrong answer. It’s important for you to know the difference between the two and then be able to make your own decision on which to use.
I’m sure you’ve heard that only the professionals use the silk dyes and the beginners use the paints. Well, that’s no really true. There are many so-called professionals who heat-fix their paints on silk, just as there are many starting out who prefer to use the dyes and fix them in a steaming pot.
So let’s get right down to brass tacks and see what the difference between the two is.
The first ones are the paints. These are sold in bottles and have very matt looking colours. They are made from pigments and are applied to the silk using watercolour brushes. If you need to dilute them, they can be mixed with water to give lighter shades. If you don’t want them to run, then you can apply watercolour base to your silk before painting to give you more control over the process.
To make the colours permanent, you have to fix the paints into the silk using heat, normally applying an iron on the reverse for 3 minutes. Afterwards you are able to wash the silk without the paints washing out. The paints ‘stick’ to the silk, forming a layer on top. This means that the silk loses a bit of its softness and original tetxture, resulting in the fabric being a bit stiffer.
The dyes, often called professional dyes, are acid-based and are very transluscent. It’s difficult to tell from looking at the bottle what colour the dye will be when painted on the silk. These dyes can also be diluted, either with water or with a special dilutant, which helps the dyes to flow better on the silk as well as allowing you to create any shades you choose.
These dyes have to be steam fixed so that they chemically bond with the silk. When the process is complete, the silk retains its original softness and takes on an incredibly beautiful sheen. The dyes are now light and water resistent.
Always check with the retailer that you have the correct type you are looking for. Iron fix paints cannot be steam fixed. If you try to do so, the colours will smear and mess the silk. Likewise you cannot ironfix the dyes. They will just wash out of the silk afterwards.
So why choose one over the other? If you want things to be quick and simple, go for the iron fix. You don’t need any special equipment and so it’s more cost-effective if you want to have some fun. However, if you make your own steaming device (and there are plenty of tutorials on the web), then by all means treat yourself to some dyes .
As I’ve mentioned before, don’t try to paint a picture mixing paints and dyes as you will only have a mess in the end. The one thing you can do, however, is to paint with dyes, steam fix them and then later add some details with paints which you then iron fix. If you have to. 🙂
The most important thing is to give it a go if you want to get started. Don’t worry about what’s better. If your local supplier only has paints, then paints it is.
Whatever you do, enjoy.