Silk Painting Dyes: Testing Shelf Life

Yesterday I found some dyes that I bought five years ago.  Before throwing them out I decided to try a test to see if, by some miracle, any of them were still useable.  Surprisingly, several of them were absolutely fine!  I’ll show you how to test any dyes you have in question, and give you the results of my test down at the end of this blog post.  These were mostly Tinfix silk-painting dyes and had been stored inside my house in a dark, temperature-controlled environment.

My first word of advice is to write the purchase date on the lid or label of each dye bottle as soon as you buy it (a fine-tip permanent marker works great for this).  Do this for gutta as well; just a note for you, Jacquard black gutta seems to last a little less than a year for me.  It might be different for you depending on your studio/storage environment, and what condition the gutta is in when you buy it.  Okay now, back to dye…

Make a color swatch of each new dye color as soon as you buy it (see my blog from May 2013 “Silk Painting Dyes:  Making New Colors and Keeping Records).  That way, you’ll have something to compare your test piece with to see if the color has stayed the same.  Swatches are also useful when picking out the colors you want to use when planning a silk painting.

Here’s the testing process:

1.  On a scrap piece of silk, outline some shapes with resist that are at least 4 x 6 inches or so.  You need a shape big enough to give the dyes an opportunity to “misbehave” if they’re going to.  I like rectangles or squares because that’s the simplest and most efficient use of space.  Leave some white silk showing between shapes so you can tell if the colors run after steaming.  I left one inch of space between rectangles.

2.  Shake all the dye bottles you are testing.

3.  Number each bottle of dye you’re testing.  You can do this by writing on a piece of masking tape and sticking it to the bottle, or by writing directly on the bottle or lid with permanent marker.

4.  Number the shapes on your scrap silk to correspond with each dye bottle.  I used gutta for this, but you could also use permanent marker.  If using marker, write the numbers somewhere outside the shapes so the marker won’t effect the dye in any way.

5.  Paint the shapes on your silk with the appropriate dyes.

6.  Steam the silk the same amount time you usually do (I steam for 3 hours).  Wash out the silk and hang it to dry.

7.  Iron the silk and look closely at each color sample to see how well it steamed.  Any unevenness, blotchiness, or change in color quality means the dye is no longer viable.  If any of the colors ran during the drying process, they must be thrown out as well.

Just in case you’re interested, here are the test results:

1.  Tinfix          Ebony Black 104            OK

2.  Jacquard    Magenta 715                 Color ran after steaming

3.  Tinfix           Celadon 60                    OK

4.  Tinfix           Turquoise Light 57          OK

5.  Tinfix           Brazil Green 61               Uneven color after steaming

6.  Tinfix            Violet 41                   Color ran after steaming, accumulated solids in bottle

7.  Tinfix            Opera Purple 39             OK

8.  Tinfix             Celadon 60                    OK

9.  Tinfix             Bright Orange 15            OK

10. Tinfix            Lacquer Orange 13         OK

11. Dupont         Cuivre 426                      OK

12. Tinfix             Pearl Red  18                 Color ran after steaming

13. Tinfix             Helios Brown 83            Uneven color after steaming

14.  Tinfix            Olive Green 74               OK

15.  Tinfix           French Blue/Primary Blue 54  OK

16.  Tinfix           Copper Brown 77            OK

17.  Tinfix           Copper Brown 77             OK

18.  Tinfix           Burnt Sienna 88               Uneven color after steaming

All of the above colors matched their original color swatches, so there were no changes in dye colors.  A word about yellows:  I’ve found that Jacquard Yellow dye runs after just a couple of years on the shelf.  Tinfix Canary Yellow will change to a watery brownish color after a couple of years.  If you have any kind of yellow dye that you aren’t sure about, definitely test it before using it on a painting.

Jacquard Black also runs after a couple of years on the shelf.  Test it to be sure.

A couple more notes:  Some colors are repeated in the above test results because I had more than one bottle of dye in that color.  Results seemed unaffected by whether the dyes had been opened or were still factory-sealed.


  • Jennie Digs

    How convenient for us – that you already tested so many dyes. Thanks!

  • pglose

    You’re welcome! You should still test any of your dyes you have in question, as the shelf-life might be different for you due to differing storage conditions, etc. :)

  • TechGenie

    Thank you so much! I am new o silk painting and will make a swatch for all of my dyes. Is this something that needs to be done on a yearly basis?

    • pglose

      If you haven’t used your dyes in a year, you might want to consider testing them just to be safe. Make a note of your results and keep them on file so you can get to know your dyes and how long they last. This will save you from having to do so many tests in the future. Your swatch color box is a great place to keep your dye test records–see my blog “Silk Painting Dyes: Making New Colors and Keeping Records” at this link:
      Thanks for your comment, and enjoy exploring the joys of silk painting!

  • Terri Van Gorp

    Thanks for sharing your test results with us! Three great ideas in your video! A simple label on the dye at the date of purchase as well as making a color swatch when the dye is brand new will be very helpful when testing them at a much later date! Testing many at one time is a time saver for sure!

    • pglose

      You’ll find that those color swatches are also useful when you’re picking out colors for your next silk painting. Thanks for your comment, Terri!

  • Evey


    I love your blog and find it very informative. I am presently attempting to stretch a silk scarf with a stretcher that has an extender and uses claw hooks. It is not working for me. I would love to purchase the adjustable stretcher frame that appeared in your video. I am not able to construct it. Is there a way that it can be purchased? Thank you for yourhelp.


  • Teresa Crawley

    Hi Pamela, first off, thank you for the very informative videos! They have renewed my interest after many years, well, 22, to be precise. I was interested in this one, as I have a dozen jars of Tinfix dating from that time, and have been using them, in all innocence, without thinking they might not be any good. They were stored in a dark, cool part of the house, which must have helped. And of course, as they had not seen the light of day for many years, the lids were a little tricky to unscrew. But overall, the colours have worked fine. Mainly pinks and blues, but also the yellow, just as bright as before! Some of them would be around 25 years, not including time before purchase. Oh, and the price tags make for interesting reading….. Thanks again! Terri

    • pglose

      Wow, Terri, that’s amazing about those dyes! I like Tinfix also, and especially now that I’ve heard they can last 22 years. Thanks so much for sharing that info. I’m so glad the videos have helped inspire you to get back into silk painting! Thanks for your input. Sometimes I feel like taking a break on the monthly video production, then I get a comment like yours and have a renewed sense of purpose. –Pamela

  • Aku-Sika Attipoe-Kepomey

    Hi there Pamela, thanks for sharing this information. I have several dozen bottles of Dupont, Sennelier, and Pebeo dyes that I bought between 1996 and 2008, and i am still using them. I wondered about their shelf life. I also have Super Tinfix and Tinfix that i hardly use, because I find them too concentrated for me. I am almost scared to use them..:) Only a few of the Pebeo dyes have gone bad, so I just threw them out. They had grainy deposits in the bottle. They have always been sitting on my shelf in my studios when I’m not in the country, away from sunlight, so maybe that has helped. Thanks so much for shedding some light on this. I am currently trying to soften up Pebeo Setacolor to see if they are any good. I have added water, and hoping for the best.

    • pglose

      Thanks so much for sharing that info with us. That is very good input for anyone who might be wondering about shelf-life.