How Do Leather Crafters Dye Leather?

July 25, 2022 5 min read

How Do Leather Crafters Dye Leather?

When you see the wide variety of colored leather bags, have you ever wondered, "How do they dye leather handbags to get these colors?" With such a wide variety of shades, it's natural to be curious!

In all reality, unless you're buying strictly tanned leather, every leather you buy- dark/light brown, black, beige, etc. is dyed! When someone hears of dyeing leather, they might think of dyeing their leather goods at home, but the leather dyeing technique occurs alongside the tanning process.

We'll discuss how leather makers dye leather in the creation process and how some dye leather at home as well. The method of dyeing leather at home is actually quite simple, though it has many steps, and we'll explain that in a bit. 

Let's discuss the leather dyeing basics to start.

Can Leather Be Dyed?

Yes, leather can be dyed, and it very often is. Before you purchase a leather good, the leather is dyed using large drums and aniline dye. Another way leather can be dyed is through the use of pigments.

Leather can also be dyed at home with an alcohol-based dye, water-based dye, or oil-based dye.

An alcohol-based dye is suitable for small projects like dying shoes because it won't raise the grain of the leather and dries faster. Water-based dyes are ideal for large projects, like furniture, and they're also great for light colors because they won't darken the leather as much as an oil-based dye would. Water-based is good for subtly dyeing leather. Lastly, oil-based dyes are good for darkening the leather and getting a rich, deep color.


Dying Leather


What Are The Different Types of Dye?

The two main types of dye used on leather after the tanning process are aniline dye and pigment dye.

What Is Aniline Dye? 

Aniline dye is a type of dye that is derived from coal tar and used to color leather. It penetrates the surface of the hide and doesn't leave a coating behind like other dyes (like pigmented dyes).

Most high-quality leather goods are dyed with aniline dye because it creates a natural look. Aniline dye is a clear dye that soaks into the leather, which allows the natural grain pattern to show through. The downside to aniline dye is that it can fade in sunlight and easily be damaged by water.

What Is Pigment Dye?

Pigment dye is a type of dye that leaves a coating on the surface of the leather. It doesn't penetrate the hide as aniline dye does, so it doesn't allow the grain to show through.

Pigment dye is available in a wide variety of colors, and it's more durable than aniline dye in the sense that it won't fade in sunlight and it's more resistant to water damage. However, it can crack and peel over time.

Is Leather Hard To Dye?

If you're trying to do a DIY project and dye leather at home, it is not very hard at all. However, we're leaving the aniline and pigment dyeing to the professional leather makers because that is far more intricate and, well, simply put- harder.

Let's examine the process of how leather makers dye leather.

Drum dyeing is used for suede, nubuck, and aniline leather, which essentially is a top-grain porous leather with a good absorbency level. This type of dye will make the leather darker.

First, the leather is placed into huge drums that spin the leather around in an aniline dye or a mixture of water and colorants. The colorants used are usually natural substances like bark, leaves, and roots, which have been boiled to create a concentrated dye. This dyeing process can take up to two days.

After the leather has been in the dyeing drums, it is removed and hung up to dry. Once it's dry, it is placed into a second set of dyeing drums with a different colorant. This second round of dyeing is usually done to create a more even color or to add depth to the color.

After the second round of dyeing, the leather is again removed and hung up to dry.

Leather needs to be sealed after it is dyed, or the color will bleed and rub off on clothing and other objects. This is done with a mordant. In a nutshell, a mordant is a substance that helps the dye adhere to the leather. The most common mordant used on leather is alum, which is a type of salt.

After the leather has been sealed with a mordant, it is ready to be used to create leather goods!

Dye Leather At Home

To dye leather at home, you need to follow a few simple steps:

  1. Wipe any dirt or debris off of the leather with a damp cloth.
  2. Choose the color you want to dye the leather. You can use aniline dye, water-based dye, or oil-based dye.
  3. Mix the chosen dye with water (for aniline or water-based dyes), alcohol (for alcohol-based dyes), or mineral oil (for oil-based dyes) according to the instructions on the dye package.
  4. Oil the leather with olive oil or jojoba oil to hydrate the leather. (Properly hydrated leather will take the dye better.)
  5. Test the dye color on a small, inconspicuous area of the leather to make sure you like it.
  6. Dip a soft cloth into the dye mixture and apply it to the leather. Work in small sections, and be sure to saturate the leather evenly.
  7. Allow the dye to dry completely.
  8. Apply another layer of dye if needed or preferred and let dry again.
  9. Condition your leather with a waxed-based conditioner to re-hydrate and seal the dye.

How To Dye Leather Naturally?

Leather makers and tanneries can dye the leather naturally by using plant extracts, which are boiled to create a concentrated dye. The leather is then placed into huge drums that spin the leather around in a mixture of water and colorants. This is an alternative to using more synthetic aniline and pigment dyes.

Some leather crafters and home DIYers will use natural items like coffee, black walnut shells, and even rust(!) to dye their leather naturally.

How To Dye Leather White

To create white leather, the leather is generally tanned with oxidizing agents that do not contain chromium and then is also treated with chemicals like aluminum and zirconium. 

So, in order to achieve white leather, the coloring process needs to begin with the tanning procedure rather than just simply dyeing the leather afterward like other colors.

In Summary

Leather goods, especially handbags, come in various colors and shades. To accomplish this, leather must be dyed. 

The dyeing process at a leather tannery involves drum dyeing and aniline dye. This type of dye darkens the leather, leaves the beautiful texture and grain of the leather intact, but does allow for long-term fading from the sun.

Another alternative dye is pigment dye which does not penetrate the leather, leaving a coat on top and taking away the natural grain look of leather.

Some may choose to do their own leather crafting at home or dye previously purchased leather goods to fit their current color preferences. If this is the case, dyeing leather at home is not challenging but needs to be done delicately and carefully not to ruin the product entirely.

Overall, MAYKO handmade handbags have various shades of leather to accommodate everyone's style choices! Next time you choose shades like pinkcharcoal grey, or bright red for your newest leather handbag, we know your admiration and appreciation will soar to new heights understanding how much detail goes into creating your fabulous leather bag!

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