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Textile Color Science

Posted by Guilford of Maine on February 5, 2020

From Pleasantville to What Dreams May Come

If you saw the 1998 movie Pleasantville, you'll remember the dull, “lifeless” black-and-white world that Tobey Maguire's and Reese Witherspoon's characters were transported to through their television. That same year, moviegoers were also treated to What Dreams May Come, where Robin Williams' character found himself in an afterlife of color-saturated landscapes reminiscent of impressionist paintings. In both films, the absence and presence of color affected how we felt as spectators. That's because color is a powerful aspect of life that surrounds us constantly. Naturally, it's also a key element in the textile industry. But what exactly is color?

Nature's light show

In simple terms, color is an “aspect” of an object caused by differing qualities of light being reflected or emitted by the object. It’s not a fixed feature of that object.

To see color, then, we need to have light, which is electromagnetic waves coming from a source, like the sun. Different colors have different wavelengths. When the light shines on an object, some of the colors bounce off the object and others are absorbed by it. Our eyes see only the colors that are bounced off or reflected. So the colors seen result from this interaction of light, the object and the observer (keep in mind that some people are color blind, but that’s another topic altogether).

The textile industry ... more than one way to spin a colorful yarn

Unlike in Pleasantville, we live in a world where we use and enjoy colors. They affect us psychologically and we react to them spontaneously. In the textile industry, a fabric’s color is often one of its most important features. The industry uses color to segregate and market materials, products and product lines, and to drive sales.

Colors connect to emotion, inspiration and purpose as well as cultural trends and politics. Remember the famous Color Marketing Group statement color sells and the right colors sell better.®

Coloring fibers, yarn or fabrics involves applying dyes or pigments, and there are different methods for doing this. We’ll look at four main processes for producing color fabrics: solution dyeing, stock dyeing, yarn dyeing and piece dyeing.

Solution dyeing

Solution dyeing is used with synthetics, where color is added to the synthetic fiber components before the fiber is actually produced. Synthetic (filament) fibers are made of chemical compounds, or polymers, depending on the type of fiber, transformed into chips. Pellets of pigment or dye are combined with the polymer chips in a machine, and melted forming a thick, viscous liquid. Through polymer extrusion, that combined liquid is forced through tiny holes of a spinneret and converted into colored filament fibers.

Through solution dyeing, the filament fiber is already the desired color before it is transformed into synthetic yarn and later woven into fabric. The advantage is that the color is throughout the fiber, like a carrot, as opposed to a radish, which only has color on the outside. Because the color is continuous, this type of yarn has very good color and light fastness (resistance to fading or color bleeding) and increased stain resistance.

Stock dyeing

This is the most effective but most expensive dyeing method. It involves dyeing a natural (staple) fiber, or stock, before it’s spun into yarn. The fiber is compressed in a large tank, like a giant pressure cooker, and dye liquor is circulated through the mass of fiber at high temperatures. The high pressure and heat cause the color to penetrate into the fiber so that it does not bleed readily.

Once dyed, the fiber can be blended with other colors to create a multiple-color yarn. Because it loses some of its flexibility, stock-dyed fiber does not spin as readily as undyed fiber. However, this is mostly overcome with the addition of lubricants as the fiber is being baled just after the final blending pass.

Yarn dyeing

In this process, white yarn is dyed before being woven into fabric. The yarn is wound onto a spool and dyed in a chamber, resulting in a uniform color across the yarn. Multiple colors of yarn can be woven to create multi-colored patterns. Yarn dyeing produces a great depth of color and flexibility for fabric design.

Piece dyeing

In piece dyeing, the coloring occurs after the fabric has been woven with white yarn. With this method, whole pieces of fabric are dyed at the same time. It’s an efficient way to produce a saturated, solid color fabric. Any color can be achieved, ranging from white and beige to yellow, red and black. Yarns that either don’t absorb dye, or absorb it differently, can be used, but this process limits you mainly to solid colors and textured motifs, but not complex patterns.

A weave to “dye” for!

Now that our yarn has been dyed, it’s time to actually transform it into fabric. That’s where our next blog comes in, in which we’ll describe the warping and weaving phase. Watch for it soon!

And remember, Duvaltex’s annual two-day workshop—Textile Fundamentals—in St-Georges, Quebec, is your chance to learn much more about the history, design and manufacturing of textiles. This practical, hands-on experience is educational, fun, and a chance to let your creativity shine through!