Coloring shingles: dye, stain, or paint?

Shingle Dye:

We color the shingles with a reactive dye for the display models we make here in our workshop.  It is easy to use, doesn’t have fumes or irritant vapors, and gives a warm color.  The color variations you see in the photos on the Real Good Toys website are from the process I’ll lay out later in the post.  There are two colors of dye that we have formulated for us: Dye-1 (redish-brown) and Dye-3 (grey), and they should be available from your local miniatures shop or in  the “Bargain Basement” on this site.  Don’t use fabric dye on wood; it reacts differently from the way it dyes fabric.  I got a lovely purple from brown Rit dye – but not really what I had in mind for a dollhouse.

We batch-dye shingles well ahead of gluing them to a dollhouse.  Batch-dying is quick and much less messy than dying shingles after they have been attached to a dollhouse (I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded in dying (or staining) shingles after attaching them without dribbling some stain in inconvenient places on a dollhouse… down the front, onto the top-floor, into the grooves in a window… never a good time!).  Batch-dying also gives a variety of color-tone that is very nice on a dollhouse.

Staining Shingles:

We used penetrating stain for a lot of years until the concern for the long-term exposure to the vapors led us to find something else.  We still use it occasionally for a different color from our dyes.  If you do choose to use stain instead of dye make sure you have good ventilation and that no-one in the house has sensitivity to the fumes.  The stain must be “penetrating” stain.  Don’t use latex stain or any one-step product that has stain and urethane mixed together if you are going to stain before attaching the shingles.  All the shingles will stick together in a big lump and you’ll have a gloppy mess!  Penetrating stains are easy to find and there are lots of color choices.  I have used Minwax Early American and Dark Walnut often, but make sure it says “penetrating”.  I do not like the results of “Redwood” stain on dollhouse shingles.

Painting Shingles:

This is best done after attaching the shingles, and letting the glue dry thoroughly.  Mix the paint in a wash with water, 50/50.  Turn the house up-side-down so the paint wash will flow up the shingle into the seam to the next shingle.  This step gives the extra darkness at the top of each shingle that is characteristic of shingles on a house, and it keeps the wash from running down the roof (exactly what shingles are supposed to do.. you bet they will!).  Brush the paint wash onto the roof; start with skimpy amounts of paint until you have a sense for the behavior of the wash.  Keep the amount to a minimum – the moisture in the wash will make the shingles expand and warp, and less paint means less moisture.

The process for either Shingle Dye or penetrating stain:


  • shingles
  • dye or stain
  • empty gallon jug and a 1-pint bowl (co-op peanut butter container… perfect)
  • at least 2 sheets of cardboard or lots of newspapers
  • apron, rubber gloves, a big sheet of plastic or a safe place to work

Cut a gallon milk jug in half; the top half becomes a strainer and funnel, and the bottom half becomes a tub.

A half pint of shingle dye (don't use fabric dye - it turns purple on wood), a gallon jug cut in half (the bottom half is the bucket, the top half is the drain), and up to 1000 shingles (here I have 1085)

Give yourself extra protection from dyed skin by rubbing petroleum jelly on your hands, particularly your nails and cuticles, then put on rubber gloves (the dye comes with one glove which is enough, but a plastic bag over your other hand will keep you from accidentally splashing stain on that hand).  Mix up 1 cup of dye or stain per 1000 or so shingles (one package of dye makes this amount).  I’ve done a few more with one package, but it gets iffy toward the end, and I do like to have a little bit left over for roof edges and touch-up (I keep the extra in a labeled medicine jar in the refrigerator).  Pour the stain in the soaking tub.

Mix and stir the shingles in the dye   Put a handfull of shingles into the tub and stir them around until no surface is free of stain. 

Pour the shingles into the drain so the dye will drip into the cup   Put the funnel/strainer in the bowl and dump in the contents of the tub. 

Leave the shingles in the drain and pour the dye back into the bucket   The shingles will stay in the funnel and the dye will drain into the bowl.  Let the shingles drip and pour the dye back into the tub.

Leave the dyed shingles in the drain.  The last batch will take extra mixing and stirring to get the dwindling dye on every surface, but stick to it.  Save the leftover dribble of dye in a sealed container in the refrigerator for shingle touchups on the house (brown markers work for touchup too)   1000 shingles takes me 4 handfulls (one at-a-time).  The last handfull often takes extra rubbing and stirring to make the dye get to every surface.  Dump the shingles onto the cardboard

 Dump the shingles in a shallow heap on a thick pile of newspaper or corregated cardboard  Now all the dyed shingles are in a heap on the cardboard.  Mix them around a bit and spread them out into a pile about 1 inch deep.  Let them rest for 1 to 2 hours

After an hour, stir them up; rub the shingles between your hands so they won't stick together   Stirr the shingles and rub them between your hands so they don’t stick together.  Coax them back into a 1″ deep heap and let them rest for 4 hours or overnight.

Stir the shingles again and pour them onto a fresh piece of cardboard, again, a 1-inch heap.  Leave them ’till tomorrow.

One final stir, let them rest for 2 days or until you need them.

Clean-up.  There is no substitute for protecting every surface before you begin.  I have gotten dye and stain on my hands, and even with a bleach wash, I had the cast of dye with me for four days.  The precautions are easy, but they are important.

That’s what I do,  it’s easy and gives great results.

31 Responses to “Coloring shingles: dye, stain, or paint?”

  1. Jim Larson Says:

    I built one of your kits for my granddaughter and used the reddish brown dye…It could not have been easier…The color really accents the color of the dollhouse..I used Williamsburg Blue..With the white trim the house is really beautiful..Also appreciate all the help from Jennifer at Real Good Toys..Thanks

  2. Mickey Keyser Says:

    I have found an easier way to stain the shingles. I put all my shingles on and let glue dry for 24 hours, then I apply my stain with a 1/2′ brush making sure not use to much stain and it works great. I have never had a shingle come loose.

  3. Dena Francia Says:

    I stained my shingles by using tweezers and dipping each in stain then setting out on wax paper. took a while but they look great and did not stick together at all. I used Minwax wood stain. thanks, Dena

  4. Colleen Broughton Says:

    I wanted a special look for a special house (the Bostonian), which I wanted to look nice, but a little weathered, since it’s a nautical house. This is time consuming and a pain, but the end product is well worth it! Using an old card table, I laid rows of masking tape out (sticky side up) and secured them to the table using a small cut of tape. I layed them out on the masking tape, back to back, two each (all 1200+ of them!). Using oil based stain, I dyed them one color and let dry for 1 day. Then I dyed another color and dried for 3 days. That result was a transluscent mixture of the two colors that blended very nicely. I pulled them off of the tape and got a brown ink pad and rolled each and every shingle on the edges and slightly down the front. The end result is striking! Everyone who sees it in person raves about the house, especially the roof!

  5. Leslie Weekley Says:

    This method was developed through trial an error but is a VERY attractive alternative to the stained look.

    I first attempted to stain my shingles according to the directions above. I used a Minwax penetrating stain in a dark gray/soft black. I was diligent about spreading the shingles out and stirring them often. Yet somehow (maybe humidity or temperature conditions in my garage?) the stain job came out awful. My shingles were uneven. Some were streaky, and many had thick layers of bright, shiny stain that didn’t match the muted look of the rest of the shingles.

    I came up with the following solution to avoid wasting my shingles, and I LOVE the results:

    I went to Wal-mart and purchased Rust-Oleum textured multi-color spray paint in color 223525 – Aged Iron. It looks and feels just like an asphalt shingle. I also bought a can of all-purpose spray adhesive and a box of wax paper.

    I tore big sheets of wax paper and laid them out on my work surface (which happened to be the garage floor). Then I sprayed a light coat of the all-purpose spray adhesive all over the wax paper. I then took all my “ruined” shingles and laid them out, close but not touching, on the now slightly-tacky wax paper. It goes much faster to have a second person help with this part.

    Last, but not least, I sprayed all the shingles with the textured spray paint. If you leave enough room between the shingles when you lay them down on the wax paper, the spray paint will coat the front face as well as the edges of your shingles. The shingles will easily lift off the wax paper when they are dry (spray adhesive is not strong).

    It’s absolutely essential to use the all-purpose spray adhesive. If you just plunk the shingles down on wax paper without adhesive, you will find that the aerosol spray paint, even used gently, blasts strongly enough to scatter your shingles far and wide.

    I have gotten so many compliments on the look of my shingles. Because this gave my Vermont Farmhouse Jr. a more modern look, I also finished this particular dollhouse without the gingerbread.

    Hope you like the technique.

  6. chris_abrams Says:

    Wow!This shingle technique sounds terrific and very unique. Would you mind posting it on our Facebook page? Do you have a photo too? I know that our fans would just love to know about it. Thanks so much.
    Chris for RGT



  8. gary_r Says:

    Hello Sully
    Making MDF (the wall material of the RR-29) look like wood takes a technique called “faux-wood”, which I use routinely for a wood-flooring look as described in this blog:

    I have not used this technique to get an “aged and weathered” look, but I think I’d try a thin coat of barn red that was brushed out with a stiff brush so the MDF shows through, then some brushed-thin highlights of dark grey, then a topcoat of light grey stain + urethane. A further lightening and layering would be some “lite” spackle rubbed on the lower section of each clapboard, and scraped away when dry. It would be a layering challenge, and the area at the tops of the walls would be a different effect from the bottoms of the walls. Look at some old-barn photos and see the colors that they show.

  9. Ken Goad Says:

    I have a question concerning stains…
    I want to use minwax water based stain. I will attempt to stain after I glue on the shingles.
    I know that it is said that water based stuff will curl the shingles.

    Has anyone tried this? I want to use because it offers colors, and I want a deep darker blue shade.

    Appreciate any insight.


  10. gary_r Says:

    When I use water-based stain or paint on shingles, I shingle the house with the bare shingles and I make sure they are thoroughly glued down! When the water hits the shingle they really move and I don’t want them popping off.
    Then, when it’s time to do the dying, I tip the house back so the shingles are up-side-down. This lets me use a much dryer sponge-brush for applying the dye. When the house is upright you have to really drench the shingles to get color up under the next course which is a lot of extra water that makes the shingles move more. It also dribbles everywhere which is a mess and puts dye down the front, on the porch… lots of cleanup and repair. With the shingles up-side-down, I can use a minimum of dye for less warpage and less mess.

  11. Jason A. Butler Says:

    I’m on the last day for dyeing my shingles, but it seems like some of the dye has dried white. Is this normal? It almost gives some of the shingles a look like they are crusted with salt.

  12. gary_r Says:

    Hi Jason
    If the Grey dye is too consentrated, some of the shingles will have a powder leftover on the surface. You can rinse them to get that off. I have also used the shingles and wiped them with a sponge and brush afterward, but I prefer to have my shingles “all done” beforehand.

  13. ron nath Says:

    one of the photos on the “Princess Anne” page shows a completed house with shingles that are bluish in color. (i have a bit of a color blindness problem and they look blue to me)

    what did you use to get that color?

  14. diana Polimerou Says:

    Hello! I am making the Vermont Farmhouse junior and would like to stain the shingles green like the example on the box. Can you tell me what dye color you used? Thanks, in advance, for your help! Diana

  15. gary_r Says:

    That was done with the 50/50 paint wash technique using Benjamin Moore’s “Pitty Pat” color #567

  16. Chris Hasser Says:


    We are looking for a very light color stain or dye for our Front-Opening Victorian, and are worried that the red-brown from RGT will be too dark. Do you have any recommendations for a light stain or dye that will go well with this house (we are painting the body a light blue)?



  17. Anon Says:

    Just wanted to point out that the suggestion about the textured-look spray paint requires a ton of patience and is expensive. I had shingles flying everywhere even using adhesive.

  18. dianne Says:

    Can I use “Aleene’s Tacky Glue” to attach shingles or will it cause them to warp?
    Also… why can’t I comment on your facebook “real good toys” page?.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

  19. Brandy Says:

    I am in the very early stages of putting together my birthday present (at 49!) of the Harborside Mansion. I want to keep the house paint color very light, and on your regular facebook page, there is a picture of a fan’s beautiful cream-colored house with what looks like a bluish/gray roof. Would the regular gray dye come out like this, or would this be a sort of custom color, since the dye pack looks as if the shingles would come out the typical dark gray color.

  20. Susan Says:

    The directions for the beachside bungalow say to buy two colors of dye. I have ordered the dye but cannot figure out what I am supposed to do with it. Do I mix them together? Or, do I dye the shingles with one color and then the other? And, if so, which color first? Thanks for any help.

  21. jennifer_fitzgerald Says:

    Hi Susan – These are options for you to choose from. You shouldn’t purchase both colors but simply the color that suits your project best. I hope this helps to clarify the situation. Have fun with your build! Mini wishes – Jennifer

  22. Leslie Weekley Says:

    Anon, I’m sorry you had a bad experience with my method. My shingles came out beautifully and cost be about 10 bucks. But I admit to being extremely patient… aren’t most of us who work on miniatures??

  23. gary_r Says:

    Leslie, your shingle treatment is indeed stunning, and is a very different look from stained shingles. I value the varied appearance of the batch-dyed shingles, and prefer their textured effect on the roof, but I know that many folks wish for a flatter or more modern look. Offering a choice of techniques is what is great about the comments here (including the comments by those who had shingles flying everywhere… imagine the chagrin!).

  24. Kathy H Says:

    Concerning shingle dye: Back in May of 2009 there was a comment made about glueing the shingles on first, then brushing on the dye. This seems like it would be easier. I’m wondering though why others don’t do this. Why is it better (or is it better?) to dye the shingles according to the package instructions?

  25. gary_r Says:

    Dying or staining shingles is messy no matter where it’s done. I prefer to have the mess happen in the sink instead of on the dollhouse with the risk of dripping dye or stain on the house, on the floor, or on other things near by. I also like the color variation that I get from batch dying shingles, and you don’t get as much variation when they are stained on the house. There are times when it is necessary to do the work on the house, using a latex stain or paint, for instance. When I do that, I tip the house back to do the front roof so I can keep the dye lean in the brush to minimize dripping.

  26. Perry Says:

    Hi everyone,
    Is it possible to stain my shingles that is already attached to my single family home? Can black ones be painted or stained from charcoal to redish- brown? Thanks for your response and time.

  27. Mark Says:

    I have a stainless steel sink and am thinking about just dyeing the shingles in it. I can mix up the dye in the sink, toss in the shingles, stir them about a bit, drain the sink (if there’s any dye left), and catch the shingles with the sink catcher thingamabobber. They could even dry in the sink or on wax paper on the counter next to the sink. Lickity split, no muss no fuss. Or will the dye ruin my sink and this isn’t the great idea I think it is?

  28. Denise Says:

    Why are my grey dye shingles coming out greenish?

  29. Wayne from NYC Says:

    Getting ready to prepare my shingles for the roof of our Newport dollhouse. After reading RGT’s construction advice, i delved a little deeper into other ways of coloring the shingles. Not only would I like to have other color options, but I am also concerned about warped shingles. I eventually ended up reading about TransTint dyes from Homewood Finishing Products, where I read about the distinction between pigments and dyes, but also that dyes can be mixed with alcohol or a combination of water and alcohol.

    Is the RGT Shingle Dye a dye as they mean it? Could I use alcohol to dissolve RGT Shingle Dye? What are your thoughts about this alteration to your instructions?

  30. Kenneth aubrey Says:

    Hi; I am building a’ Painted Lady’ and the instructions item 24 states ‘glue a bay vertical, side to the front edge ofeach side wall and to the top of the base bay wall, lined up on the inside. repeat for the inset walls… 4 bay vertical sides.

    when I glued the bay vertical to the side wall the mid bay walls will not fit. the bay vertical is too long. should I sand it down to make it fit?? I have checked and everything is level and stright.

    Do you have any ideas. Thanks for the help. By the way this is my third doll house from Real Good Toys.


  31. jodi_towne Says:

    Ken, I will have Gary take a look at your request. I’m sure he can help. Thanks for your patience.