How to Dye a Synthetic Wig for Cosplay (gradient colors too!)

how to dye a wig

Sometimes the color wig you want for your cosplay is not available. Sometimes you don’t want a single-color wig and need a gradient for your costume. In both cases, you’ll need to take the time to color your wig on your own. However, synthetic wig fibers are very different from real hair. You cannot use hair dye and expect it to work properly on the plastic fibers.

The most common method used to dye a wig is using liquid acrylic paint. This method is the most likely to give you a vibrant color and control over the final look of the wig. For cheaper and easier methods, you can also use sharpies or synthetic fabric dye.

Unless you are trying to sharpie-dye an entire wig (rather than just the roots or tips), all of these methods can be accomplished within one day. You just need to make sure you give the wig time to dry overnight.

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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. Your best bet for trying to get a black wig color is using the first method below with acrylic ink.
  • 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.
acrylic ink wig dye with a gradient

Method 1: Using acrylic ink to dye a wig

You can use acrylic ink combined with rubbing alcohol to dye wigs. This method is the most expensive since you will use up whole bottles of acrylic ink, but it gives you more control over the outcome and the most vibrant colors compared to the other techniques. 

Supplies needed:

tools for creating the acrylic dye
Mix your acrylic ink with rubbing alcohol. Add more for a lighter color and less for a darker color.

Step 1: Mix your dyes

Pour the whole bottle of acrylic ink into your spray bottle. You can also mix more than one color together. If you’re using more than one color to create a gradient effect, make sure you have more than one spray bottle so you don’t risk contaminating the colors.

Add the rubbing alcohol to the spray bottle. Make sure it’s 70% because the 90% rubbing alcohol doesn’t work very well, making the color more likely to run. The more rubbing alcohol you add, the lighter the final color will be. If you’re unsure how much you want, add about equal parts ink and rubbing alcohol.

After that, shake the mixture to combine the ingredients. Make sure the nozzle on the spray bottle is set to a mist setting, not a jet spray. This way you’ll be able to cover more area.

Making a sharpie-based dye

If you don’t want to get acrylic ink or only have sharpies available, you can also create a dye using the marker ink. Pry open the marker and remove the ink tube from the inside. Then you will need to slice open the plastic casing on the tube, add it to the rubbing alcohol, and let it sit overnight. 

spraying the wig with acrylic ink
Go section by section to make sure you cover the entire wig. Don’t forget to get the fibers underneath as well.

Step 2: Spray the ink onto the wig

After you’ve mixed your dyes, it’s time to start spraying them onto the wig. 

Start at the top of the wig and work your way down section by section. If you want a little variation in the color of the wig strands, you can start using a concentrated wig dye, then slowly add more rubbing alcohol to dilute the solution and create a lighter color to add. 

Spray a section of the wig, then massage it into the fibers with your hands. This is where the gloves come in handy. If you don’t use gloves, you will end up with dyed hands for a few days. Once the color is more saturated, you can also use a wide-toothed comb to help distribute the dye through the wig.

If you are creating a gradient, you generally want to use the lighter color first. It’s also a lot easier if you use the lighter color at the top of the wig and the darker color at the bottom because you won’t have to worry about the darker color dripping down.

Make sure that you don’t miss any parts of the wig before moving on. Check underneath the back of the hair and on the lower layers so that you don’t have to go back and do it all over again just for that one missing spot.

checking for missing spots
Before letting your wig sit to dry, check to make sure there are no areas that you missed.

Step 3: Allow the wig to dry

After you’re happy with the result, you want to leave your wig to dry before proceeding. I live in a place that’s pretty humid a lot of the time, so this can take 4-5 hours, but go back and check every hour or so to see if it’s finished drying yet.

The wig will probably feel a little stiff and crunchy when it dries. Don’t worry, this is normal and the texture will return to normal after you rinse it off in the next step.

rinsing the wig
When rinsing, make sure to keep the lighter color at the top so that the darker color won’t drip down into it.

Step 4: Rinse off the wig

After the dye dries on the wig, you need to rinse the wig in running water. Ideally, you’ll be able to use a shower or bathtub, because the water will initially have a lot of dye in it that will easily stain. Continue to rinse off the wig until the water coming off of it is clear. Make sure to also rinse off the wig cap on the inside of the wig, so the color doesn’t rub off on your hair later.

Then you will leave the wig to dry again. This time you will probably have to leave the wig to dry overnight. This step should prevent your wig color from rubbing off onto your costume or clothing.

After it’s dried, you can comb it and the texture of the wig fibers should return to normal. You can not style it, but be wary of any heat styling tools and test any other products you use on a small area first.

sharpie dying wig roots
If you want you can just dye the more visible parts of the wig roots at the top, but for a cooler and more realistic effect, go through the roots of the entire wig.

Method 2: Using a sharpie to dye a wig

You can use sharpies to color a wig and dye it. This is the method that takes the most time, but also gives you the most control over where the color appears, if you need to make a specific pattern. It’s also very useful if you only want to color the roots or the tips of the wig.

Sharpie marks are going to be the cheapest option for you. Other alcohol-based markers are also okay to use (such as Copics) if you can’t find the color you want in a sharpie. But remember, even just coloring the roots of a wig will take all the ink in 1-2 markers, so Copics and other artist markers will make the process much more expensive.

Supplies needed:

revealing the bottom layer of the wig
Use large clips to pin up the hair from the wig so you can go layer by layer.

Step 1: Pin the wig up to expose the bottom layer

Start by using your large clips to pin back the fibers and expose the bottom layer. For this method to be successful, you’ll have to go one layer at a time so that you don’t miss any of the wig fibers.

If you are only coloring the tips of the wig, you can skip this step. Instead, section off small portions of hair and go through one little area at a time, making sure to get color underneath the fibers as well as on top.

coloring with sharpie
Use whatever color Sharpie you want to dye the wig. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, Copic markers are also okay to use.

Step 2: Color the fibers with a sharpie

Take your sharpie and color the fibers. If you’re only coloring the roots of the wig, you really only need to use the sharpie on the top of the fibers. However, if you are doing full strands, make sure to color them on all sides. Test it by looking at the wig from the front to see if there are still any white spots (or any original wig color).

You might also want to use a sheet of paper or cardboard to place behind the fibers and make coloring easier. Again, this probably isn’t necessary if you’re just doing the roots, but otherwise, it can be very helpful.

using a q-tip with rubbing alcohol
Feather the edges of the colored section using a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Step 3: Use a Q-tip with rubbing alcohol

After you’ve colored the areas you want, dip a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and gently smudge the color. This is especially useful if you’re coloring just the roots or the tips because it makes a more feathered gradient effect. It’s also useful if you’re coloring the entire wig so you can make sure you don’t miss any areas.

coloring the top section of the wig
If the top does not have layers, take a small clump in your hand and go section by section. Make sure to color the front and back of the fibers.

Step 4: Continue through all the layers of the wig

Go one layer at a time (or one section at a time) through the wig, coloring, and smudging as you go. This is a time-consuming process, so you might want to put on a movie or two in the background to help you pass the time. It took me about 2-3 hours to just color the roots of a wig.

The top of some wigs will have a skin top or lace front. These areas don’t have layers of wefts like the rest of the wig, so you’ll have to color a small section at a time until you’ve covered the whole thing.

Step 5: Rinse the wig

After you’ve finished, it’s a good idea to rinse off the wig. Run water over the wig until it drops off clear. This will ensure that the color doesn’t bleed onto your costume or clothing later. Wait for the wig to dry overnight and then you can comb and style it however you like, but be careful with heat tools and test any hair products on a small section first.

If you’ve only colored the roots, this isn’t strictly necessary. It’s unlikely that the root area will ever touch your costume, so you can probably skip this step.

Method 3: 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. 

fabric dye for a wig

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.

Supplies needed:

mixing the fabric dye
If you don’t want to use a cooking pot, pour boiling water into a bucket and immediately mix in the dye.

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.

dipping a wig for a gradient effect
When creating a gradient effect for a wig, turn the top inside out and hold it at the top of the wig cap while swishing it around in the water.

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.

rinse off a wig
Rinse off the wig and let it dry overnight. After you comb out any knots, the wig is ready for styling.

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.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been Cosplaying Since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years I've learned a lot of new skills that have helped me become better and making cosplay and looking good for the camera.

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