Color & Finish 105 – Dye with a Brush

Oil based dye with a brush
For this mini tutorial, oil based dye is being applied with a brush. The same technique would be used with alcohol (spirit) based dyes. The background of an inverted carving is being dyed – the design is left natural.

Take note how the fully loaded brush is never set down right next to the edge of the area to be dyed – this is to prevent the dye from bleeding into the area that has to remain dye free. Because the black dye in this case is quite forgiving, mere application of the dye will ensure even coverage. So as the dye in the brush is used up, the brush is brought closer and closer to the edge of the design.

This little MINI MOVIE has no sound yet.

Color & Finish 104 – All-in-One

Use of All-in-One

All-in-One is a product sold by Tandy Leather Factory. It is both a dye and a finish all in one!

It works very well in situations where you want to dye a complete piece of leather. It also has a darkening effect in tool impressions. The finish is much like Super Sheen, a water based acrylic finish. There is therfore no fumes to sniff or worry about.

In the MINI MOVIE you will see how this product is applied and how the excess is wiped off. Take care to wipe off very lightly so that the All-in-One that is in the tool impressions, do not get wipes out of those depressons – you want it to dry there to have the eventual darker effect.

The photo below show the finshed piece of leather incorporated into a card holder.

(The back part of the card holder was done in the frog skin pattern shown else where in this blog and then it was colored with acrylic paint.)

Finished Card Holder

Color & Finish 103 – Antique Stain

Applying Antique Finishes

  • This step can be left out so that your dye job remains clean and fresh looking.
  • Antique Finish is supposed to be used only after you have dyed leather, not on un-dyed leather.
  • Although antique finish is water based, it is not an acrylic, so it is not very permanent and will wear off. It has to be sealed with a finish.

The intended use of antique finish is as follows:

  1. Let your project dry completely after applying water-based, spirit-based or oil-based dye.
  2. Cover the project with a resist, which can be any of the following : Neatlac, Supersheen, Block-out or RTC.
  3. Let the resist dry, as in overnight.
  4. Now apply the antique paste or liquid with a damp sponge very liberally, so that it gets into all your tooling impressions and cracks.
  5. Have a clean damp sponge handy and start wiping off the excess finish from the non-tooled areas. You do not want this to dry streaky on the leather where there is no tooling. Gradually work towards the tooled areas and wipe the excess finish off there as well, leaving only the accentuated tooled areas with finish in.
  6. Let the finish dry overnight again and then apply the finish of your choice to seal the antique.

Please send any questions you might have, to leatherworker at gmail.com – that way I can expand these instructions to be more complete!

Color & Finish 102 – Dye

As these instructional postings are still a work in progress, you can check back often – as soon as the basic skeleton is in place, I will be adding visual instructions with photos and mini videos.

Leather can be left natural and not dyed – in time it will turn a beautiful honey color. This natural darkening will be accelerated if some oil is put on the leather as a dressing. (See the posting about dressings and finishes.)

The oil and spirit (alcohol) based dyes sold by Tandy and Fiebings are meant for dyeing veg-tan leather only. Although it might look successful on any other leather, it will most likely bleed off or rub off on clothing. In other words, it is not meant for leather fibers that has some sort of finish on already.

Clean Leather
In order for the dye to take evenly on the leather, the surface of the leather has to be clean and free of oily marks. I prefer to keep the leather surface clean from the start of the project. If I have to lean on the leather or rest my hand on the leather, I rest it on a piece of off-cut leather to reduce the possibility of natural oil from my hand or arm to cause marks on the leather.

If you want to, you can clean the leather with a damp sponge or rag with some diluted saddle soap on. Then rinse it and let it dry.

Dye Even
Give this a thought: Perfectly evenly dyed leather will look like factory produced leather or vinyl. Leather is a natural product and uneven in nature.

Getting an acceptable even dye job pivots around one key factor: the surface of the leather has to be saturated with the dye.
Using the dye out of the bottle full strength might end in a too dark effect, especially if you put so much dye on as to get an evenly saturated surface. You can dilute the spirit based dyes with the solvents sold for the purpose, or with rubbing alcohol. You can always dye in two or more “layers” to get the color darker, but by working with diluted dyes, you can saturate the leather and not get it so very dark.

There are experienced leathercrafters that believe in lightly oiling the leather and letting it stand a day or two and then applying the dye. The oil is supposed to resist the dye so that it spreads around a bit more before it actually gets to the fibers to color them. My opinion is that you then place a barrier around the fibers and some of the dye pigments will not penetrate the fibers, but sit on top of the fibers and later rub off on your clothes.

My suggestion is that you might try the following to get the color even: First saturate the leather just with clean rubbing alcohol or solvent and while it is still good and wet, apply the dye – this will allow the dye to bleed and spread more evenly on the leather.

Deliberately uneven
Some of the best leatherwork I have seen, have been where the dye was applied uneven on purpose – say darker around the edge.

One of the foremost leather artist in the world, uses this technique very well – do yourself a favor and go and look at the work of Peter Main . Peter’s new book on coloring is also a must-buy!

Whether you are trying to color evenly or not, I have found that long lengthwise strokes with the applicator is more successful and gives a more natural effect than working in small little circles.

In General

  • You can dye on damp leather.
  • When you apply dye to leather, the leather thinks it is wet, and it will show darker – as the solvent in the dye evaporates, the color will lighten considerably. It is a good idea to let the project sit for a while to dry before you judge whether you dyed dark enough or not.
  • Bright colors like turquios will loose their brilliance as the leather turns naturally darker with exposure to light.
  • White is not a leather color. White can only successfully achieved on leather if it is applied as part of the tanning process. Basically you can dye leather darker, but never lighter.
  • To dye veg tan leather black, you might consider first dyeing it in a dark shade of brown or navy blue or even purple. If the dye then fades a bit, it will not show the natural light brown underneath. However, nowadays the new black dyes come so strongly pigmented that two coats or a dark undercoat are hardly necessary.
  • Make yourself a base of sponge, or layered leather or wood to set the dye bottle in to make sure it does not tip over while you are working – the spirit based dye is evil and WILL climb out of the bottle at every opportunity! For the same reason, always close the lid of the bottle when you are taking a breather – an unattended open dye bottle WILL fall over and spoil your project, the tablecloth, the chair upholstery, your pants and the cat and the carpet…!

Hope This Helps!

Color & Finish 101

This is probably the aspect of leathercraft where there are as many opinions as there are crafters, and most of them will swear by their own methods as gospel truth. So, I want to give you my opinion as well, but with the hope that it will clarify some of the confusion that exist around dyes, stains, finishes, dressings and oils.This whole discussion will center around vegetable-tan (treebark tanned) leather. This is the only leather to be treated with the products I will discuss.


The basic sequence in any project will more than likely be as follows:

  1. The project is cut out and tooling / stamping is done.
  2. The leather is dyed – either completely or selectively.
  3. A choice is made between a) not using an antique stain, b) lightly using an antique stain just to highlight tooling or c) making heavy use of an antique stain in such a way as to drastically add to the color of the leather.
  4. A finish or dressing is added to the leather to waterproof and lubricate the leather fibers.
  5. The project is assembled.

Step 2 above, dyeing, can be left out if you want the natural color to remain, but remember that antique stains over un-dyed leather might not be successful at all.

Step 3 can be left out all together.

Step 4 can never be left out! You always have to feed leather! Putting a dressing on leather will bring out the color of the dyes (make it glow), waterproof the leather (your best defence against stains) and make the leather softer (if you have not treated it for the making of armor.
OK, more soon! If you have any questions, please e-mail me and I will add to this blog as fast as I can! My e-mail address is leatherworker at gmail.com