Color Tips to Best Match Dyes for Leather

There are endless color variations. Even this year, a new color came into the mix. Enhancing, combining, manipulating their values – it’s an endless art of adjusting the spectrum.

Colors we may deem as “orange,” could all be slightly different variations of a true orange – redder, yellower, darker, brighter. Just think of the fashion world. You could look at the shelf of fall colored leather bags this season and see a variety of orange colors. One’s a bright fluorescent, one’s a deep, rust orange, and one’s a pumpkin orange. Each color will speak of the potential owner, but we can categorize them all as “orange.”

Where do all of these variations come from? When manufacturers look to color leather for next season, they undergo an intensive period of color selection and creation. Designers pick the colors. Color technicians need to develop a formula to create the color.

The most practical way to go about this is to revert back to color theory 101. Evaluating a color’s hue will alert a color technician of the basic additives they’ll need to create a shade according to the designer’s specifications.

Combining Colors to Change the Hue

It is rare that we can match a shade by using a single colorant. Usually, two or more colors combine to create a specific color. The strength of the dye is vital, too, as variations in strength can produce different colors as well.

Evaluating Strength and Concentration Levels

Strength is often considered one of the most important characteristics of a hue. Let’s take an example.

If we apply a low strength, let’s say 0.1%, of a red dye to wet blue leather, the resulting color is light and almost pink. If, however, we use a higher strength, like 1.0%, of a dyeing it becomes more red in color as expected from a red dye.

The difference between the two is a matter of concentration. The higher the concentration (1%), the bolder the dye. The lower the concentration (0.1%), the lighter the dye shade. An increase in the dye concentration brings variations in colors toward stronger, deeper colors.

This is useful information when trying to match a dye. If one sample is lighter than another, you can conclude there is a variation in dye concentration in the formula. It’s a good start for color matching. It gives you the highest quality result since you can adjust one dye versus adding another.

When using only one dye in a formula, a strength difference is the percentage of variation in the dye. When using a formula with multiple dyes, the strength is a change in the total concentration of all the dyes. The ratio of each dye in the total formula is what determines the percentage of each dye to use.

Adjusting Shades & Hues to Create New Colors

You can also use two other characteristics to create color variations: shade and hue. Shading is adjusting the dullness or hue. The infographic below displays typical hue variation examples by adjusting different color ratios. Like our orange example earlier, a simple tweak yellower or redder can give us a completely different orange value.

Black and white are unique, as they can be altered by all color values to produce different hues. This is why when you go to a paint store to get white paint for your walls, it’s not as simple as picking a pure white. There are usually many variations with different hue adjustments available.

color and hue infographic by fsw


Along with the hue changes shown in the above infographic, all the values (except for white and black) can be made duller or brighter. Duller means they tend towards a gray side. Brighter means they appear less gray.

Using the Color Characteristics to Match Dyes for Leather

The range of dyes within each color group is expansive enough to find the dye you need and shade it as necessary. Using this method, the quality of the dyeing is easier to control.

Today, most tanners want complete penetration into the leather. Consequently, it is also desirable to have a full penetration and a surface color. For this reason, it is often necessary to make two blends to meet the goal. One blend of the surface dyeing types, and another of only penetrating types. Then, combine them for application. When working with blends like this, it usually will involve four or more separate dyes.

It’s obvious one of the most important selection factors is the visible, true hue of a color. Selecting an orange when orange is the desired result on leather will always be the best starting place. Having a library or a reference of visual color standards is a great aid to a colorist. This method will tend to save hours of experimentation, and leave leathers with quality dyeings.



By |September 13th, 2016|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Jesus Medina is Technical Manager Americas for First Source Worldwide with vast experience in colorants and the leather industry. His persistence helps him excel at solving customer problems and identifying application opportunities. You can usually find him in the lab, enthusiastically whistling while he works.