TVF Resource Center

Cotton Dyeing and Finishing

Cotton Dyeing and Finishing


By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid foundation in the most common cotton dyeing and finishing processes and will know why selecting specific dyes and finishing processes could make or break the finished product. After the PFD processes, it’s onto dyeing and finishing. The dyeing and finishing processes play integral roles in producing your ideal product and understanding the different types of dyes, pigment applications, and finishes needed.

Cotton Dyeing & Pigments

Reactive Cotton Dyes

Reactive dyes have the best color-to-washfastness and are the best dying option for apparel – as long as you don’t want a washed down vintage look. (Colors do not break down easily.)

Direct Cotton Dyes

Direct dyes have good color-to-lightfastness and are known for fading on tone to create a unique vintage look. Direct dyes are commonly used for garment dyeing and draperies.

Cotton Pigments

Pigments have superior color-to-lightfastness. They can be used with cottons and all blends. Pigments can be applied to fabric through several methods including the traditional pad batch system, which pads the pigments on both sides of the fabric. Pigments can also be applied through rotary and flatbed printing and with digital pigment printers.

Fun Fact: Today, most fabric is printed using pigments rather than dyes.

Now, you may be asking, what’s the difference between dyes and pigments?
Aside from chemical differences, the main difference is that dyes fully penetrate the fabric and pigments sit on the surface of the fabric

Cotton Finishing

There are numerous finishes that can be applied to fabric to alter the hand, increase durability, repel water, etc. We’ll dive into some of the most important finishes in future articles. For now, suffice it to say that preventing shrinkage is of the utmost importance.

Preventing Fabric Shrinkage

There are many ways to prevent shrinkage – both mechanically, chemically, by tumbling, or permanent press. TVF focuses on mechanical shrinkage that won’t harm you or the fabric.

Why is preventing shrinkage important?

It’s simple, nobody likes buying clothes that dramatically shrink after the first wash! Aside from the fabric shrinking after the first wash, if it’s sewn (i.e. all clothes) the garment is at risk of skewing. Not only will the fit be off from the original pattern, you’ll likely have an unhappy customer.


Each cotton dyeing and pigment type (reactive, direct, vat, and pigment) uniquely impact the fabric. That’s why it’s critical to understand each one. If you are in search of a fabric with superior color-to-lightfastness, reactive dyes will be out of the question. Likewise, if you are interested in a short run, forget about vat dyes and try pigments or direct dyes. Furthermore, if you or your customer plans on sewing, mechanically preshrunk fabric ensures a top-notch product.