Tutorial: Dye a Synthetic Wig With Bold Colors for Costumes (gradient colors too!)

how to dye a wig

If you’ve got a synthetic wig and you’re looking to switch up its color, consider using acrylic ink rather than traditional dye. It’s a popular method among DIY enthusiasts and cosplay fans for its flexibility and the vivid color results it can achieve. While synthetic fibers don’t take to conventional hair dye the way human hair does, acrylic ink can add that burst of color to your wig without the same level of damage or unpredictability.

Before you dive into the dyeing process, understand the difference between working with synthetic fibers and natural hair. Synthetic wigs are often made from plastic fibers that react differently to chemicals and substances. That’s why acrylic ink, which binds to the plastic, can be an excellent medium for changing the color of your wig. 

The process involves a mixture of alcohol and ink, allowing the color to seep into the wig without leaving it crunchy or damaged. This method can allow you to achieve everything from a subtle tint to a complete color overhaul, giving your synthetic wig a fresh, custom look.

This method 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 a wig

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

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.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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