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What to know about wigs before you dye them
Since synthetic cosplay wigs are not the same as real hair, there are a few things to be aware of before you start:
- You can only dye a light wig to a darker color. Plastic wig fibers cannot be bleached, so you have to start with a light-colored wig. It can be white, pastel, blonde, or anything along those lines. As long as you are coloring it darker than it started.
- Be careful about using hair products and heat afterward. The first two methods on this list use rubbing alcohol to help dye the wig. Rubbing alcohol is highly flammable, so you need to be careful about using heat-styling techniques after the wig is dyed. In addition, some hair products will react with the color and cause it to run, so test out any products on small areas of the wig first.
- It’s difficult to dye a wig black. Most of the time, black dyes are going to end up looking like a very dark blue or brown.
- It’s difficult or impossible to un-dye a wig. For the most part, your colored wig is final. You can give the wig a bath of rubbing alcohol to remove some color, but you won’t be able to get it back to the original white or light-colored wig.
- Use a drop cloth to keep your work area clean. Coloring a wig can be a very messy process and the dye will stain. It’s best to use some kind of drop cloth (like one of these) to protect your floor and clean up any spills right away.
Using fabric dye to dye a wig
You can also dye a wig using fabric dye. This method will create the most uniform color throughout the wig compared to the other methods or you can create a basic gradient. However, it’s more difficult to get a vibrant color and you have the least amount of control over where the color goes.
A couple of other things to keep in mind when using fabric dye for wig coloring:
- Your wig must be heat resistant. You have to use boiling water for this method, so you risk melting a wig that is not heat resistant.
- You might not get as deep a color as you want. Since wigs are plastic, they don’t usually take on color very easily. Usually, this means they will be lighter and less vibrant than you might expect.
- Use dye for synthetic fabrics. Since synthetic fabrics are also part plastic, a dye made for these will perform better with plastic wigs.
- It’s safer to use products and heat styling techniques with this method. If you need to do any heavy wig styling after coloring your wig, this method is safest because the wig is not flammable, like with the other two methods.
Step 1: Boil water and mix the dye
Read and follow the instructions on your fabric dye. Most of the time, they will say to combine the dye with boiling water in a pot. However, you don’t want to use a pot that you also eat out of. To get around this, I boil water and then pour it into a large bucket. Then I’ll immediately add the dye and mix it while the water is still very hot. It should only take a few minutes for the dye to thoroughly mix into the water.
The instructions will give you a suggested dye to water ratio. While you don’t want to deviate too far from this, a little more water will create a lighter color and a little less water will create a slightly darker color.
Step 2: Submerge wig in the dye
After the dye is added and dispersed in the water, it’s time to add the wig. If you want a solid color, add the wig to the dye water and submerge it completely. From there you will need to stir it occasionally to make sure the dye is evenly distributed over the entire wig.
Typically this will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on how dark you want the final wig to be. The longer you leave it in, the darker the wig color will get.
If you want to make a gradient using this method, don’t add the entire wig to the pot. Instead, hang the section that you want to be dyed into the pot (in my case, it’s the bottom half of the wig). Swish it around so that you don’t end up with a line where the dye starts, and will instead create a feathered edge.
After 1-2 minutes, raise the wig out of the water an inch or two and continue to swish it around. Repeat the process every couple of minutes until you get to the end of the wig. If you realize that it’s a little lighter than you wanted, you can go back to the beginning too.
Step 3: Rinse off the wig and allow it to dry
When the wig is your desired color, remove it from the pot or bucket and rinse it off. Remember, the final color will be slightly lighter than the color of the wig when it’s wet. Run water over the wig until the water dripping off of it is clear. Then, leave the wig to dry overnight.
Once it’s dry you can comb and style it however you want. Fabric dye is usually not meant to be flammable (always check the product you’re using though), so you can still style your wig with heat. Other hair products typically don’t affect wigs dyed with this method either.