How to dye plastic parts

How to dye plastic parts

Melendres, Nep

WELCOME TO R/C CarAction’s “House of Style.” In this episode, Cindy Crawford and I will go over what’s in and what’s out for this fall’s “on track” fashion. What’s out: white nylon parts, Day-Glo yellow wheels and fluorescent green antennas. What’s in: darker fall colors like basic black. OK, I haven’t got Cindy Crawford with me, but I do have some helpful fashion tips on how to keep your ride stylin’ down the track. With a little fabric dye, you can personalize your ride with no-chip color that’s actually part of the plastic. And it’s easy!


R/C enthusiasts have been dyeing nylon parts for years, although now that virtually all cars have black plastic parts, it is becoming something of a lost art. There are, however, still plenty of goodies ready to accept color. Want to stand out from the other off-road guys’ yellow or white wheels? Need to refurbish an aging favorite car? Dye can do it. There’s just one point to remember: you can always dye light to dark, but you can’t dye dark to light. For example, if you start with yellow parts, you can dye them black or maybe dark green. But you can’t dye red parts blue; when you combine those colors, the result is a hideous purple (which is OK, if you’re into that). You can dye anything made of nylon and many other plastics: antenna tubes, wheels, spur gears, chassis components, even servo-savers. If you’re in doubt about a part’s dye-ability, try dyeing a piece of the parts tree the part came from, or a scrap part, first. From experience, I can tell you that the plastic bulkhead caps on older Yokomo cars and Traxxas Rad 2 and Hawk 2 chassis are not dyeable; in fact, the required hotwater bath shrinks and distorts them!


Plastic parts are easily colored with fabric dye found at department stores, supermarkets, drugstores and fabric stores. “Rit”-brand clothing dye offers a good array of colors, and you can find it at most supermarkets. Rit makes liquid and powder dyes; both work well for our nu moses.

You will need an old cooking pot to mix and boil the dye in (don’t cook in it thereafter). If a suitable pot is not available, you could use a coffee can placed in a “good” pot, but the best bet is to buy a cheap pot to use just for dye. To easily remove small parts from the dye, just string them like an R/C necklace on a length of twine. Ever wonder what to do with those chopsticks you get with Chinese take-out or sushi? If you can’t eat with them, balance them across the top of the pot and hang the small-parts string from them; use them to stir the dye, too. When you’ve finishedtoss ’em!

You will need a heat source-typically the kitchen stove. I have been banned from the kitchen after spilling black dye on the stove and floor, so I use a hot plate in the workshop!

Start by getting your parts ready. Make sure they are clean and free of grease, oil and other contaminants. Tie the small parts together with a loose loop so that they move freely and the dye can get between each part. The string should be long enough to hang from the chopsticks that will rest across the top of the pot. For smaller parts and those you can’t string together, use the “foot” of an old pair of pantyhose to make a bag (you have pantyhose in your toolbox, right? Uh, me neither). Put the small parts in the nylon “bag,” and tie a knot on the end to prevent them from floating out.


Next, prepare the dye/water mixture in a pot or coffee can. For liquid black, use 2 to 4 ounces of dye to 3 or 4 cups of water. With powder black, use about 1/2 to a full tablespoon to 3 or 4 cups of water.

For any other color, start with about half as much dye or less. Test the color on a small part first. The more dye you use, the darker the color will be; and the longer you leave the part in the dye, the darker the color will be. Set the burner on “high,” stir the mixture while you bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to “medium high.”


Ease the nylon parts into the dye carefullydon’t splash. When you submerge large parts such as wheels and battery trays, don’t let any air bubbles accumulate because they cause uneven coloring. When you use black dye, leave the part in for about 5 minutes. With any other color, especially if you wish to keep it light, check the parts within the first 30 seconds. Check the small parts by pulling up the string. Use chopsticks, tongs or pliers to remove and check the large parts. When they’re the desired hue, carefully remove them (no splashing!) and rinse immediately in clean water or the color may be uneven.

After you’ve rinsed the parts, dry them with a paper towel. And remember, if you don’t like the color of your dyed parts, you can always dye them all black!


Carefully colored parts won’t get you on the next pole, but they may score you some extra style points at the pit table and will certainly help your car stand out from the rest.

That concludes this episode of RIC Car Action’s “House of Style”; stay tuned for the next episode, when Cindy, Vendela and I will review which hairsprays and suntan lotions work best as traction compounds!


Don’t fill the pan right up to the brim with dye. To avoid spills, use as little liquid as necessary in the deepest pan available.

Don’t put paper towels around the dye pot to catch spills; the paper could easily catch fire.

Whenever you use dye, wear an apron or old clothes. If you get a drop of dye on your clothes, it ain’t gonna wash out-no sir.

Keep a damp sponge handy to mop up any drips. Act quickly; fabric dye is designed to stain! It any drips leave stains on a countertop, liquid cleansers with bleach can remove them effectively.

Unless you live in a swingin’ bachelor pad (yeah, baby!), get permission from your mom, girlfriend, wife, roommate or whomever before you commandeer the stove. If at all possible, restrict the dyeing to a hot plate in the workshop.

Copyright Air Age Publishing Jul 1999

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