Dyes Substances used to impart colour to textiles, leather, paper, etc. Compounds used for dyeing (dyestuffs) are generally organic compounds containing conjugated double bonds. The group producing the colour is the chromophore; other noncoloured groups that influence or intensify the colour are called auxochromes. Dyes can be classified according to the chemical structure of the dye molecule. For example, azo dyes contain the –N=N– group (see azo compounds). In practice, they are classified according to the way in which the dye is applied or is held on the substrate.

Acid dyes are compounds in which the chromophore is part of a negative ion (usually an organic sulphonate RSO2O−). They can be used for protein fibres (e.g. wool and silk) and for polyamide and acrylic fibres. Originally, they were applied from an acidic bath. Metallized dyes are forms of acid dyes in which the negative ion contains a chelated metal atom. Basic dyes have chromophores that are part of a positive ion (usually an amine salt or ionized imino group). They are used for acrylic fibres and also for wool and silk, although they have only moderate fastness with these materials.

Direct dyes are dyes that have a high affinity for cotton, rayon, and other cellulose fibres. They are applied directly from a neutral bath containing sodium chloride or sodium sulphate. Like acid dyes, they are usually sulphonic acid salts but are distinguished by their greater substantivity (affinity for the substrate), hence the alternative name substantive dyes.

Vat dyes are insoluble substances used for cotton dyeing. They usually contain keto groups, C=O, which are reduced to C-OH groups, rendering the dye soluble (the leuco form of the dye). The dye is applied in this form, then oxidized by air or oxidizing agents to precipitate the pigment in the fibres. Indigo and anthroquinone dyes are examples of vat dyes. Sulphur dyes are dyes applied by this technique using sodium sulphide solution to reduce and dissolve the dye. Sulphur dyes are used for cellulose fibres.

Disperse dyes are insoluble dyes applied in the form of a fine dispersion in water. They are used for cellulose acetate and other synthetic fibres.

Reactive dyes are compounds that contain groups capable of reacting with the substrate to form covalent bonds. They have high substantivity and are used particularly for cellulose fibres.