Inspired Art and Living with Fiona Stolze

Gutta For Silk Painting – What’s the Best Kind to Use?

When you’re starting out with silk painting it’s hard to know which materials to go for. Yes, there are many books and sites out there telling you which brands to go for but often they have a vested interest in promoting one over the other. So this post is just going to take a look at the pro’s and con’s of gutta for silk painting and leave the choice up to you.

I was just wondering how many of you actually know where the word gutta comes from. Well, it’s from the gutta percha tree which grows in Indonesia. The latex-like gutta from this tree was used in all sorts of industrial and medical applications

Gold gutta in plastic bottle with nib

Gold gutta in plastic bottle with nib

including the lining of golf balls. One of the types of gutta available to silk painters is solvent based and seemingly contains this gutta, which has a rubbery feel to it.

Serti or resist technique is a method used in silk painting to create boundaries which limit the free flow of silk. Gutta is applied in small bottles with nozzles on them to the silk so that it pentrates the fabric. As it dries, it hardens to form a barrier which gives form to your painting. This is my preferred method of silk painting and indeed, I wouldn’t be able to create these detailed mandalas without the resist technique.

So back to the different types of gutta for silk painting. Basically you can choose between solvent-based gutta and water-based resist. And what is the difference? Okay, let’s start with the solvent-based type. You always have to remember that when working with solvent, it’s really important to keep your working space well-ventilated. This type of gutta needs to be removed after your artwork is complete and the only way to do it is by dry-cleaning which some of you might find impractical. One big advantage is that you can paint your dyes on very quickly after applying this gutta.

The other type is water-based and technically isn’t called gutta, but resist. However, I still refer to it as gutta. What you need to watch out for is that it needs a bit longer to dry because the dyes can dissolve it a little if it is still too wet. One great way to speed up this process is to give your painting a blast with the hairdryer. I do that in my workshops so that we can get on with the colours. As to the question of dry-cleaning, this doesn’t apply to the water-based version.After you’ve fixed the dyes into your silk either by steaming or heat treatment (ironing), your can wash any clear gutta out by hand. One of the big advantages of the water-based version is that there are no fumes to contend with.

Now my preference is to use gold metallic gutta. The bad news is that you can’t dry-clean the solvent-based version. But I choose the water-based type because I want the lines to be a major feature of my finished work anyway.

However, I have had situations where I have tried to wash out gutta after I have changed my mind about the composition of my artwork. If you leave it too long, you might have a pretty hard job on your hands.

Now I wanted to address one particular point here. It is one which crops up again and again and I must admit that I have never had any difficulties with it. Many artists maintain that when they have completed their silk painting and then subsequently steam it, they never know how the finished work is going to end up because the lines tend to move and smear, letting the dyes blur at the edges.

I have never experienced this, either with iron-fixing or with steam-fixing but this appears to depend on the chosen brand.

In case you are interested in which brand I use, it is by Marabu Silk. I have used gold and silver gutta, as well as the clear version. All of these are the water-soluble types as I’m not keen on fumes and dry-cleaning.

I hope this helps. I am intending to post something on the art of resist technique itself so watch out for that soon. If you have any questions, please post them here and I’ll do my best to help out. Enjoy.


February 7, 2009 - Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , ,


  1. Hi can we use paraffin wax or bee wax that used in batik instead of gutta in silk painting. Thanks.

    Comment by aries | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for visiting the blog. I can only answer your question related to my personal experience.

    I have used special wax crayons designed for use with silk on my paintings. The drawback is that you have to go and get your artwork drycleaned to properly remove it as ironing doesn’t do the trick.

    Batik aims to cover up certain areas whereas the gutta technique in silk painting is intended to create a barrier between different sections of your painting and is applied in lines.

    I personally haven’t used paraffin wax as I don’t’ use anything that could potentially be harmful.

    Cotton is much more robust than silk in respect of wax and that is why it is particularly suited to batik with wax. Why not just have a go on a small piece of silk and see what you think of the results. Triall and error can sometimes bring unexpected images.

    At the end of the day, anything goes and it’s down to personal taste.

    Good luck.


    Comment by fionastolze | May 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hi there,

    I have just learnt about silk painting and have attended classes where finished work is steamed in a professional steamer at the class. The finished result is excellent. I have tried to steam a couple of small pieces of work at home in an old steamer. It is the type generally used for steaming vegetables and it is just a saucepan with holes in the bottom which fits over a larger saucepan with some water steaming away in the bottom.

    When I packed my work ready for steaming I was very careful to wrap the work well and seal it to make sure no steam or water penetrated to the work. I left it steaming on my cooker hob for about 3 hours. When I unwrapped the work I was very disappointed to find it had faded considerably. No colour had appeared to run out of the work onto the cotton napkin which protected it. As the work was only very small I wondered if I had steamed it for too long? Any help would be so appreciated as I am at a loss. Thank you

    Comment by Janet Walker | December 11, 2009 | Reply

    • Hi Janet

      Thank you very much for your question. I am posting an answer in the blog as the comments may be of use to other readers.

      Please reply to my post if you have further questions.

      Warm wishes



      Comment by Fiona | December 12, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hi Janet

    You have prompted me to write a separate article around the question of steaming with the question you have posted, so thank you for that pointer.

    Here, in the meantime, is a short answer with some possible indicators as to where the problem may lie.

    Firstly, although steaming silk in a package in a vegetable steamer is an easy and cheap way of doing things, I personally don’t find it really ideal. I will go into that in more detail in the article to follow.

    You asked whether you might have steamed your silk for too long. No, that is certainly not the case. Never be afraid of that.

    Something to consider is the quality of silk you have used. There could have been something impregnated in the fabric which meant it didn’t properly absorb your dye.

    Also, what type of silk dye did you use? Yes, you can paint on silk with any paints or dyes, however, those specifically created for silk painting work the best. On this note, any inferior silk paints could have the same effect.

    If you diluted the dyes, a combination of any of the above points may have led to your faded artwork.

    If you used quality dyes and silk and followed the guidelines correctly for steaming, there is always the possibility that the dyes haven’t worked for whatever reason. If you still have proof of purchase, it might be worthwhile contacting the manufacturers for a refund or replacement.

    My personal experience has been that whenever I use quality silk dyes on quality silk, the result after steaming is always excellent.

    Please feel free to post any further questions in response to what I’ve written.

    I hope my article on steaming will throw a bit of light on the subject in general.

    Warm wishes

    Comment by Fiona Stolze | December 12, 2009 | Reply

  5. Hi Fiona,

    Thanks for posting these informative articles! I’m actually curious about how long you steam your silk (on average) and what is your process for washing out the Marabu-Silk water-based resist? Do you do a rinse in warm water? I am using Sennelier clear water-based resist and it washes out with some effort after steaming for 1.5 hours… but lately I’ve been steaming for at least 3 hours (colors are much more intense!) and it seems like that extra time in the steamer makes it much more difficult to remove the resist and regain that soft feel of the silk – currently rinsing in dyeset concentrate, then Syntherapol, then water with a little white vinegar, all lukewarm to cold. I wonder if doing a final rinse in warm water with some mild conditioner would help with scrubbing the resist out? Any thoughts? Thanks!


    Comment by Joanna | January 12, 2010 | Reply

  6. Hi Joanna

    Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear you are enjoying reading the articles. I always steam my artwork for 3 hours and am always hugely satisfied with the results. Afterwards I gently wash silk in warm water with a little organic shampoo. The brands I use are Dupont and SilkArt/Marabu. For vibrant scarves and co. a little dash of vinegar in water afterwards can help.

    Yes, you’re right. Resist does resist being washed out easily. I work mostly with gold gutta which is a feature of the mandala paintings and doesn’t get washed out. But the clear resist is tricky to remove sometimes. That’s where the clear solvent-based ones have an advantage as they are removed effectively with dry-cleaning.

    My intuition suggests that maybe all these chemicals used when rinsing after the steaming might be making it more difficult for the resist to come out. If you’re using the dye set concentrate, then you probably don’t need the vinegar, too. But that’s down to personal choice.

    How about just using some cold water, then some hot water with shampoo and then rinse again in cold water with a splash of vinegar.

    Synthrapol is a detergent meant for washing out excess fibre reactive dyes. So if you are using these type of dyes, then that’s fine. If not, leave it out. It has isopropanol in it which isn’t all that healthy. However, water (lots of it) is the best medium for washing out excess dye.

    My personal approach is to leave out the chemicals where possible.

    I would suggest using some very gentle shampoo neat on the areas in question, rubbing it in gently with your fingertips to see if you can shift the last remains. You just have to be careful not to be too rough with the silk as it can look a bit ‘worn’ afterwards, especially if you have been using a silk quality with a sheen, such as satin silk.

    Let me know how you get on, Joanna. πŸ™‚

    Comment by Fiona | January 12, 2010 | Reply

  7. Thank you so much for your prompt and thorough response, Fiona. Your suggested method makes a lot of sense and I am going to try it out with my next piece – I’ll let you know how everything turns out!

    I was able to spend more time on your blog this evening as well as visit your website and I have to tell you I am so inspired by your exquisite mandalas! What a wonderful, meditative practice you have.

    Thank you again for sharing all of these tutorials with the world- this is by far one of the best resources I have found on the web that relates to silk painting and the serti method – I have you bookmarked and look forward to visiting again soon! Take care and happy painting! πŸ™‚ – Joanna

    Comment by Joanna | January 13, 2010 | Reply

  8. My pleasure, Joanna. I feel honoured by your comments and am delighted to be of service.

    Let me know if you would like to receive my newsletter.

    Warm wishes


    Comment by Fiona | January 13, 2010 | Reply

  9. Hallo Fiona – I’m after some tubes of gutta for a friend in Zimbabwe – she wants 20g or 30g tubes with the dispenser nozzle fixed in these colours Gold, copper, peach or salmon, blue and green but am having difficulty in finding suppliers – any recommendations? Best wishes Ted

    Comment by Ted | March 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Ted,

      I would recommend getting some Javana tubes of gutta as there is a wide range of them available with nozzles on. I’m sending you some details by private mail as the company I get my supplies from is German and the site is just a series of downloadable pdf’s in German which is not always very helpful. Luckily I speak fluent German. πŸ™‚

      Warm wishes


      Comment by Fiona | March 1, 2010 | Reply

  10. Hi Fionai
    I wish to draw people on silk using thin black outlines. Using gutta on both sides of my thin outlines is impossable, and without this barrier every thing runs…… what can I do ?
    Thanks Fiona

    Comment by peter clarke | July 2, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Peter
      Thanks for your question. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to remedy this issue. I don’t personally use the technique I am about to describe but know of other lovely artists who do.

      In order to get a lovely watercolour effect on your silk, it is recommended to spray it first with either starch (or magic sizing as they call it in the US). You can also buy bottles of a special liquid which specifically provides a base for silk painting in this technique.

      When you come to use the individual dyes, mix each one in a little pot with starch. When you apply the dye, it will not flow as it usually does. It will be more like using acrylics and you will need to lightly massage the dye into the silk.

      You will find that next to nothing flows and bloops and you’ll probably get the results you are looking for. When you steam the silk, the starch all just washes out again.

      Hope this helps. Let me know how you get on.

      Warm wishes


      Comment by Fiona | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  11. Hello Fiona,
    Thank you for this post.
    I have tried both resists and guttas,
    and I prefer gutta over water based resist.
    The paints doesn’t flow through line with gutta, but with water based resist it is mess.
    But I would like to work with water based resist, because it is better in terms of fumes.
    I will try to use starch technique you described here with resist, may be it will work for me.
    Thank you again for idea!


    Comment by Irina | November 16, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Irina and thanks for your comment. I just wanted to say a few words about using the resist as opposed to the gutta in the hope that you might have a better experience.

      I have always used the water-based resist as I don’t want to subject myself to the fumes from the gutta. And I don’t want to have to have all my work dry-cleaned. That doesn’t make sense to me.

      It’s a fact that the gutta lines hold better than the resist lines. However, I have worked for over 10 years using the resist and don’t really have any tragedies to report. πŸ™‚

      I think that the main thing you need to pay attention to is the amount of dye you use. Just make sure that whenever you are close to a line, you take much more care with your application of the dye so that it doesn’t get flooded. Another thing you can do is have a hairdryer on hand so that as soon as you have added the dye, switch it on and dry out the area next to the resist line so that the dye doesn’t even think about stepping over the line!

      Starch gives you a particular effect and isn’t used in the resist technique so this is not likely to be a solution. Resist technique is when you draw the lines and then apply the dye freely in the spaces inbetween. Using starch you inhibit the flow of the dye and can paint as you would with watercolours. I’m guessing you know this already.

      Hope this helps a bit. Do let me know how you get on, Irina. πŸ™‚

      Comment by Fiona | November 16, 2010 | Reply

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