Dyeing Pointe Shoes

From handcrafting tutus, dresses, jackets and headpieces to wig stylings, custume fittings and costume repairs, the PBT Costume Shop has a long list of duties throughout each season. One of these duties includes hand-dyeing pointe shoes. PBT Costume Assistant Kaylee Hansberry explains what goes into dyeing the artists’ pointe shoes. Pointe shoe dyeing ranges from bold, colorful shoes as part of costumes for ballet performances to the science of matching dyes to skin tones.

Grace Rookstool as Cinderella’s Step-sister in pink dyed pointe shoes.

What do you use to dye pointe shoes?

Most of the time I use a product specifically designed for dying pointe shoes from a brand called Pointe People. Depending on how dark or saturated we want the shoe to be, I will often mix the dye with an alcohol base. This allows me to layer the dye on the shoe and adjust the color if needed. If I need a color that is not in the Pointe People line, I will either mix Pointe People dyes together to make a custom color, or I will use a mix of Rite dyes to create a custom color.

Is there a different technique when dyeing vibrant colors vs for matching skin tones?

The only big difference between dyeing vibrant colors and matching skin tones is that I will always use the alcohol base mixed with dye to color the skin tone pointes. This allows me to adjust color if I need to so I can make sure it is as close to the dancer’s skin tone as possible. When it comes to dyeing the vibrant colors, we want to get the shoe as saturated with color as possible. This often means I will apply the dye directly on the shoe without mixing in an alcohol base.

How do you apply dye to a pointe shoe?

An up-close look at the process of dyeing a pointe shoe to match an artist’s skin tone.

When applying the color, I simply brush it on with a sponge as I have found this to give me a smooth and even finish. When adding a colored texture, I may use a different means to apply the dye such as a paint brush, a towel, or simply my hands.

How long does it take to mix the paints to perfectly match an artists’ skin tone?

It took me a little while to develop my dye recipes for the dancers. I probably spent a week working out different test dyes on shoes. Once we find a color that fits the dancer well, all I have to do is follow that recipe to make more. It only takes me about 5 minutes to whip up a batch of dye when I have the recipe worked out already.

How long does it take to dye a pointe shoe?

It only takes a few seconds to transform a pink pointe shoe into a beautiful dyed pointe shoe! Once I brush the color on to the shoe, I typically like the shoe to sit untouched for a minimum of 4-6 hours, 24 hours is preferred. That way the shoe fully dries before the dancer breaks it in or wears it for class/rehearsal/performances. It is very important that the dancer doesn’t wear wet shoes as it can impact the life of the shoe and cause it to die quicker.


Madeline Gradle as the Wicked Witch in black dyed pointe shoes.

How does painting a pointe shoe differ from the pancake method?

What is great about the dye methods I use, is that it allows for the pointe shoe to keep the shine of the satin. We can then add a translucent powder or rosin to the shoe to mattify it. Dyeing the pointe shoe this way opens us up to both options. When using the pancake method, a dancer is able to match their skin tone, however; the shoe only becomes matte and usually appears darker on stage than the actual skin tone due to how the pancake dries. I often recommend dancers to go a shade or two lighter than the foundation they usually wear due to this change.

Is the dye waterproof?

It is! Because a dancer’s foot will sweat inside the shoe, it is important for the dye to be waterproof so the color stays through multiple uses. This is also another reason I really like the Pointe People brand: their dyes are made exactly for this kind of usage.

On average, how many pointe shoes do you dye per season?

On average I dye around 350 pairs of pointe shoes a season.

Do you have any tips for dancers who are thinking about dyeing their shoes themselves?

My tips if you are looking to dye your own pointe shoes –

1. Go with the highest alcohol base you can find. I typically do 91% rubbing alcohol. This way the alcohol evaporates quickly off the shoe. We want to limit the amount of time the shoe is in contact with anything wet as much as possible.

2. Start with dying the vamp of the shoe first and make long quick strokes to cover the box. This helps the dye be applied evenly.

3. If you aren’t sure how the color is going to take and you don’t have a spare pointe shoe to practice on, apply a bit of the dye to the underside of the box. This way you can see what it will look like without ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes.

4. Get some disposable gloves.

Happy Dyeing!