Guide - Buying and Working with Wigs
Obviously you should always try to buy a wig in the colour you need, but wigs aren’t made in all infinite variations of colour, so sometimes you will need to colour them yourself.
Wig fibre is plastic, so cannot be bleached or dyed like real hair. The colour is part of the fibre, so it cannot be removed or made lighter – just like you can’t get the red colour out of a red plastic cup. What you can do is add colour on top through various methods.
As an aside, wigs can be made lighter by exposure to sunlight over several weeks, but the bleaching is uneven, unpredictable, and may spoil the lustre of the wig. As well as being unreliable, it doesn’t seem to have a dramatic effect unless exposed over a very long period of time, so the best you could hope for is a slight lightening.
Colouring a wig follows the basic rules of colour – if you colour a yellow wig blue, it’ll come out green. Think about that when figuring out how to colour it, and test things out first on some fibre that won’t be seen. If you know you’ll have to colour a wig to start with, then buy a white or pale blonde one. Furthermore, when colouring a wig, colour it before styling it.
Hairspray and other products can affect the ink once it’s on the wig. When the hairspray is still wet, if you touch the wig the ink will come off. Using vast amounts of hairspray may also cause the ink to streak. However, you shouldn’t touch hairspray when it’s wet anyway, because it affects the appearance (like having comb marks solidify in…) If you must fiddle with it, don’t use a comb or anything; carefully use your fingers. That shouldn’t greatly affect the ink either. Furthermore, you shouldn’t spray on lots at once – several thin layers are preferable to one thick one. So long as you leave it alone until it’s dry, the ink colouring will be fine. The alternative of colouring after hairspraying isn’t so viable since the ink won’t adhere to the wig correctly.
Methods of Colouring
The first method, which should be avoided, is paint. That spray-on hair colour you get, or just about any sort of paint will work on wigs, but it won’t look good. Just as if you spray-colour your own hair, the colour will bleed onto your clothes, flake off, harden the hair, and generally look awful. However, it can be helpful for a slight tint, and since wigs cannot be made lighter, then sprays are about the only option.
Another option, which isn’t particularly good, is to use fabric dye. Most dyes aren’t designed for synthetics and require very hot water, so they’re not ideal for wigs. However, certain dyes can tint a wig – they’re unlikely to give a dramatic colour change though, and they will dye the fabric mesh of the wig more than the fibre, meaning it may show through.
In some cases, sewing in wefts of a different colour fibre can work, such as for creating streaks, or other small coloured sections. Wefts are the easiest option for whenever you start with a dark wig yet have to have lighter sections. Say you want a wig which is mostly black, but with white parts. You could try colouring a white wig to black leaving out some white bits, but that’s the long way round. Buying a black wig and adding white wefts would be far simpler. You can even remove wefts or cut them very short, then replace them with your own ones if necessary.
Another viable option is permanent markers. It takes a lot of patience if you’re colouring a whole wig, but they’re particularly useful for streaks or small areas. Simply work through strands of fibre, colouring it in. Rinse out the excess ink with cold water, and that’s it. The ink will be permanent, won’t rub off or anything. You can remove it using rubbing alcohol, and this will also allow you to create gradient effects when used carefully. Not all types of pens will necessarily work, so be careful to test them first. Similarly, certain colours don’t work too well – black, other very dark shades and metallic inks won’t always come out properly. Sharpies are the more reliable brand, and even their metallic pens have a reasonable effect – keep shaking them to get the metallic pieces onto the wig fibre. I use LetraSet ProMarkers which come in a huge range of colours and have broad nibs.
It is possible to speed up this method by cracking open a pen and adding the ink to rubbing alcohol. You can then dunk-dye the wig or decant the dye into a spray bottle to spray on. This isn’t a guaranteed method though, and getting the proportions of ink to alcohol is down to trial and error.
A superior method similar to cracking open a pen is to use artists' acrylic ink. Mixed in correct proportions to rubbing alcohol then sprayed on, it acts the same as using permanent markers, but is faster and easier to use. FW ink is the preferred brand.
More details can be found here: http://forums.cosplay.com/showthread.php?t=57484&
The best method (provided you can afford it) which is by far the easiest, is wig dye, made and sold by Katie Bair. The dye comes with instructions, but basically, you just spray it on the wig. Like permanent markers, it stays unless you use rubbing alcohol. Because it’s a spray, it’s easier to create gradients, mix colours and use generally, but it’s not so useful for colouring small specific sections.
Wig dye and samples can be purchased here: http://www.katiebair.com/wigsupplies.html
There is more information and a colour chart here: http://www.katiebair.com/wigs_dyeinfo.html
The disadvantage is its price, but it’s certainly the most reliable and effective method, as well as being quicker and convenient.
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