How to Paint a Rainbow Tie-dye Design




Introduction: How to Paint a Rainbow Tie-dye Design

About: I live in Colorado, and love making things from stuff I have around :-D.

I love tie-dye, especially spiral rainbow tie-dye! It's so bright and cheery and great fun :-D. I have a rainbow tie-dye t-shirt; it's one of my favorites (photo included just 'cuz). So, why should it be limited to fabrics? I wanted to have the rainbow tie-dye design on other things, so I started thinking about how to go about painting it. This is what I came up with.

This is a pretty cool effect (if I do say so myself XD), but it's really, really easy to make. You don't even have to be good at coloring in the lines; in fact, going out of the lines is an essential part of the technique! :-D

I'm using acrylic paints, which are excellent for use on wood, cardboard, and paper-mache, and cost 50 cents a bottle at Walmart. But I'm sure the process can be easily adapted for other materials.

(More photos and project ideas in last step)

Step 1: What You Need

All you need is:

  • Paint in desired colors (I used Apple Barrel's Bright Yellow, Bright Blue, and Diva Pink), as well as white for painting the background if needed
  • A paintbrush for each color (the size of the brush depends on the scale of the project, of course)
  • A pencil
  • Whatever you're wanting to paint (in most of these photos, I was just experimenting on the back of an old notebook)
  • Varnish or sealant, if needed
  • Something to use as a palette (a saucer or something); not strictly necessary, but makes things easier

Step 2: Draw Your Design

For brightest color, paint the background white. Whatever you're painting on will show through the colored paint, so it's good to start with a consistent background. The natural brown background of wood or cardboard could be a nice effect too, depending on the look you're after.

Then, you'll need to draw your desired design lightly with a pencil. In my case, I wanted a spiral. To make this spiral, you'll need to have three lines that each spiral out from the center, and you'll want the distance between them to gradually increase as they go outward. This can be a bit tricky; I looked at the back of the t-shirt for a guide (third pic). In the second picture I've drawn over the lines in three different colors, to clearly show the three different lines coming from the center. You can use my spiral as a guide, or find a spiral design online and trace it, if you don't want to figure it out freehand.

Of course, you can do a different tie-dye design, such as stripes or concentric circles, if you prefer.

Try to draw the lines as lightly as you can, as the paint won't necessarily hide them.

Step 3: Get Painting!

I took the first two pictures at my desk, at night, and the lighting was horrible. But I hope you can clearly see what is going on.

Starting with the darkest color, in my case blue, begin painting one of the spiral sections. I know the photo shows starting with pink, but I found that the colors came out best when I started with the darkest color and worked to the lightest (so blue, pink, then yellow). Paint across the spiral, not along it. Don't worry about staying in the lines, in fact, you want to go out of the lines. If you stayed neatly in the lines, all you'd have would be a colored spiral, not a tie-dye effect. Just splat the paint back and forth across the spiral section, filling that section, and somewhat overlapping the adjacent sections. With this first darkest color, try to cover the pencil lines of that section. Notice that on the t-shirt there are a lot of little "jetties" of color sticking into the adjacent section. The more of that you get, the more realistic the effect will be. This test on the back of the notebook came out a bit too neat.

Once you finish with the darkest color, paint another section with the second darkest color. Proceed in the same way as with the previous color; side to side, splatting freely into the adjacent sections (see flower example for a better demonstration of how this looks). Finally, repeat with the lightest color. Note that the overlapping colors produce new colors (blue + yellow = green; pink + yellow = orange; blue + pink = purple).

I strongly recommend trying this on a test piece first, so you know how well the paint covers the pencil lines. I found that they showed through the pink and yellow, so when I did the flower, after I painted the blue part, I erased the remaining pencil line, and just "eyeballed it" to paint pink in about half of the remaining space. I did accidentally paint pink where it was supposed to be yellow, but since I had painted a white background, it was easy to just rub off as much as I could, paint white over the messed-up part, and repaint it how I wanted.

When you're satisfied with your design, let it dry (usually takes just a few minutes for me), and finish with varnish or sealant if needed (whether it needs it, and what sealant, depends on the individual project).

Step 4: "Tie-dye" ALL THE THINGS!!!

This is easy to adapt to a wide variety of projects! I have here a little paper-mache flower (still not totally sure what I'll do with it, but it could be made into a magnet, a barrette, or a pendant, among other things), a hair stick (the spiral goes down the stick instead of around on a flat surface, but the basic technique is the same), and the notebook I tested on, in recognition of the fact that this would be great for decorating a notebook cover. Other possibilities include boxes, furniture (tie-dye chairs, anyone?), picture frames (just figure out the spiral, and project it out onto the frame), and anything else you want! Obviously it doesn't have to be fluorescent rainbow colors; try different color schemes to suit your project!

More photos will be added, as I do more things :-). Have fun!

Be the First to Share


    • Big and Small Contest

      Big and Small Contest
    • For the Home Contest

      For the Home Contest
    • Make It Bridge

      Make It Bridge



    5 years ago

    Hi Christa! I create and sell pallet signs and was looking for another unique way to paint my backgrounds. I came across your tutorial and thought what a great idea this would be for one! So, thank you very much for the idea!! When I use this method in the next couple of weeks, I'll share a picture with you so you can see how it turned out! Also, if you could somehow do it (I don't know how thick or sturdy your flower is) your flower would look really cute if you turned it into a clock, I think! Have a great day! ~Tami


    Reply 5 years ago

    I'd love to see how it turns out!

    And a rainbow tie-dye flower clock would be super awesome! That particular flower is too small (only a few inches wide), but now I want to make a bigger one and try it :-D