Dyes for Feathers?

New to the site and my first post! Been out of Fly Fishing for a long time but got an invite to fish on the Dean last September before the flood. Had a blast and never spey casted before, but was instantly hooked and bought a setup after I returned. I am now tying like crazy for this seasons Steelhead returns. Prices on material is astronomical compared to 10-15 yrs ago. I thought I would purchase natural material...cheaper, and dye it myself. Was wondering if someone could share what brand ,type, or where to purchase dye that will hold up? Will RIT dye work? I used to use it but I imagine their is something new and better available now. Looking forward to playing around with the popular Intruder patterns I have been seeing. Thanks for any advice!

Rick Todd

Active Member
RIT dye still works great. Ed Engle has a very good book out about using dye. He has a lot of formulas for different colors, mixing different RIT colors. Can't remember the name, but worth a look. Rick


Joe from PA
I've had my best results with Jacquard acid dyes. The Weaving Works in Seattle as a good selection. Here's some more info some a 2003 post...

When dying, use about a 1/8 teaspoon of dye to a quart to a quart and a half of water that is not quite boiling and make sure you use a stainless steel bowl, pan or pot to prevent the dye from reacting with the dye pot, which would change the color or create blotchiness. Add the dye to the water then put some Syntrapol (about a 1/4 teaspoon) into the dye solution. Lastly, add a cup or so of white vinegar as the acid for setting the dye. Put your tails or whatever hair or feathers you wish to dye in the above described dye bath and let them steep in it for about 15 to 20 minutes to thoroughly dye them. Once they are the color you wish, simply dump the whole thing into an old colundar and rinse with luke warm water.
What colors are you going to use? An easy way to dye feathers is with cool-aid. I died some grizzly hackle orange for Denny Rickard's Stillwater nymph with orange cool-aid, a small glass bowl and about 20 seconds of so in the micro wave. Once the desired color is met, rinse feathers off with cold water, dry and tie! Lime cool-aid makes a dark green, cherry is a nice red. 25 cents a package or so. Give it a try.---Steve


Active Member
I've been dying fly tying hair, tails, and feathers for 30 years, and have learned a lot about how to do it and what type of dye to use in those years. First off, although some folks have recommended RIT dye (including a rather famous trout fly tyer from Colorado), it is a very poor choice for dying fly tying materials. RIT is a so-called "union dye", which means it is composed of different types of dyes, most of which don't work at all on protein-based materials used in fly tying. RIT dye includes dyes that work on cotton, polpropolene, polyester, linen, ect, that either don't work or work very poorly on fly tying materials. In other words, most of the dye in RIT dye is useless for dying fly tying materials and simply goes down the drain. RIT dye does not produce good, bright, vibrant colors on many fly tying materials. RIT was the first dye I used when I started dyeing, but I very quickly became unsatified with it and quit using it completely once I found acid dyes about 25 years ago.

Kool-Aid, the unsweetened kind, is an acid dye (yes acid dyes can be injested in small quantities with no ill effects. In fact, food dyes are acid dyes) and can be used to dye fly tying materials. However, you have limited colors available and has already been mentioned, the color you get is not always the color you expect from the color on the package. Also, there is flavoring in Kool-Aid, which serves absolutely no purpose at all in dying. And the colors of Kool-Aid have some variation from package to package of the same color, which means the resulting color is not always what you expect. Additionally, you cannot mix the colors of Kool-Aid together with any predictability in order to get colors not available in it.

Acid dyes are the absolute best dyes to use for dying fly tying materials. Jacquard's, which has been mentioned, makes an excellent acid dye that is available in 1/2 screw top bottles in a fairly large number of different colors, and all of them sell for about $5.00 a bottle. I use Jacquard's Scarlet exclusively for getting a bright (not florescent) red.

WashFast Dyes (available from Pro Chemical & Dye, yes they have a website, Google them) are also excellent and available in virtually any color you would ever need to tie flies. WashFast makes what I consider to be the best bright purple available. Fly Dye is another excellent acid dye made by Orco Dye Co. that has its colors listed as normal fly tying colors. Angler's Workshop carries Fly Dye. Kiton has some good acid dyes too, and they can by gotten through Pro Chemical & Dye.

I can't emphasize the following enough: DON'T USE VENIARD DYE!!!!! Although Veniard Dye is an acid dye, nearly all the colors (including most of its yellows, blues, reds) is a mixture of different colors and even types of acid dyes (there are different types of acid dye and each one sets in different times and some displace the dye of a different type as well, which is not good unless you are after a particular effect) in each vial of their dye. This makes it nearly impossible to get the same color twice (not good to say the least), something you will want to do with fly tying materials you dye.

In addition to a good acid dye as mentioned above, you also need to use white vinegar to set the dye and make it colorfast and washfast (i.e. keep it from washing out when wet, just slightly important with fly tying materials). And you also need to get a bottle of Synthrapol, a magic elixor of dying. It is both a detergent (needed in the dye bath to keep grease and oils found in the feathers, fur, tails from screwing up the color by preventing the dye from properly penetrating) and a dye dispersent (needed to keep the colors from becoming "splotchy", i.e., one part of a feather, tail, neck, ect, is a different color from the rest).

A 1/4 teaspoon of dye to a couple of quarts of hot (not boiling, about 130 degrees) water, a cup of white vinegar, and a 1/4 teaspoon of Synthrapol will easily dye 1-2 oz. of material in about 10-15 minutes. Use less dye for smaller quantities. Check the color by pulling the material out of the dye bath and rinsing it, as soon as you get the color you want, dump the whole thing into a old colunder and rinse with warm water until it runs clear. Set the material on old newspaper to dry, preferably overnight.

Black requires a doubling of the amount of dye uses and a doubling of the time in the dye bath. Black often comes out with a blue or purple tint. Don't worry, this tint is very easy to take care of. After dying and rinsing, put the newly dyed black material into a dye bath of orange (not florescent or hot orange, but rather burnt orange or light orange) for 10 minutes, dump it, and rinse it. Voila! the blue or purple tint is gone.

Here is another warning, eventhough once again someone posted using it: DON'T USE THE MICROWAVE TO HEAT THE WATER, DYE POWDER, SYNTHRAPOL, WHITE VINEGAR, AND MATERIALS you are trying to dye. There are several reasons for not doing this: 1) you can't control the temperature from getting too hot and ruining your materials; 2) because you can't control the temperature, it is very easy to boil the water and make a rather nasty mess in your microwave; 3) the lack of being able to really control the temperature, means you can't ensure it is not hot enough to dye the material in the 10-15 minutes it should take; and 4) you run the risk of having your microwave impart a rather unpleasant vinegary, detergenty, chemically taste and smell to any food you zap in it after using it to dye.
First post for me.... although I was a member many moons ago before I went to the darkside...

I was curious to know the best way to dye Artic Fox. I have tried Fly Dye with a warm bath, but the pelt still falls a part. So I am conveniently stuck with a lifetime of dubbing. Which I might say is awesome stuff!

I have several tanned tails and pelts that I would like to dye in "Steelie" colors.. I can only assume a cold bath, but to get the vibrant colors I desire...? Any guidance would be appreciated.

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