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Sharpie to Tie-Dye for …

Groovy, Baby

CRAFTY GIRL SCOUTS AND ’60′S HIPPIES have known about it forever, but using Sharpie markers to tie dye clothing and other items has remained pretty much under wraps.

Now you can uncover the secrets and learn how to create some of the most brilliant designs in the boldest and brightest colors with Sharpie markers. Easy and affordable (important in these trying economic times!).

To get started, see details below from

Sharpie Pen Tie-Dye:  Use Science to Create Wearable Art

By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.,

Normal tie dying can be messy and time-consuming. You can get a really cool tie dye effect using colored Sharpie pens on a t-shirt. This is a fun project that even young kids can try. You’ll get wearable art and may learn something about diffusion and solvents. Let’s get started!

Sharpie Pen Tie Dye Materials

  • colored Sharpie pens (permanent ink pens)
  • rubbing alcohol (e.g., 70% or 90% isopropyl alcohol)
  • white or light-colored cotton t-shirt
  • plastic cup

Let’s Do Tie Dye!

… except you don’t have to tie anything.

  1. Smooth a section of the shirt over your plastic cup. You can secure it with a rubber band if you want.
  2. Dot a Sharpie to form a circle in the center of the area formed by the cup. You are aiming for a dotted ring about 1″ in diameter. You can use more than one color.
  3. Drip rubbing alcohol on the blank center of the circle. I used the extremely low-tech method of dipping a pencil in the alcohol and dotting it on the shirt. After a few drops, you will see the alcohol spread outward from the center of the ring, taking the Sharpie ink with it.
  4. Continue adding drops of alcohol until you are satisfied with the size of the pattern.

  5. Allow a couple of minutes for the alcohol to evaporate before moving on to a clean section of the shirt.
  6. It doesn’t have to be a circle. You can make stars, triangles, squares, lines… be creative!
  7. After your shirt is completely dry (alcohol is flammable, so don’t use heat on a damp shirt), set the colors by tumbling the shirt in a hot clothes dryer for ~15 minutes.
  8. You can wear and wash your new shirt like other clothes now.

How It Works

The ink in a Sharpie pen dissolves in alcohol but not in water. As the shirt absorbs the alcohol, the alcohol picks up the ink. You can get new colors when different colors of ink mix together. The wet ink will diffuse, or move from areas of higher concentration to lower concentration. When the alcohol evaporates, the ink dries. Sharpie pen ink doesn’t dissolve in water, so the shirt can be washed.

39 thoughts on “Sharpie to Tie-Dye for …

  1. nice art. wish I had a younger sister on whose Tshirts I could try all these wonderful designs.

  2. Hey, can you use the old-fashioned sharpie markers as well? I’ve literally got over five pounds of the damn things just DYING to be put to good use ((sorry, bad pun!)).
    Also, have you tried any other brands of permanent ink? I like having an option like that available.. it greatly widens the range of colors you’ll have at your disposal for future projects.

  3. And I wish I have a time machine, go back to the 60′s and get really groovy. I have 4 grandchildren though who think I am. Thanks for the idea.

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  6. We did this today in our one-room school with 12 children in grades Kindergarten to 6th. It was a great project–we created “lab coats” for science class! Non-messy and Super Easy! Thanks Sharpie!

  7. this is really cool, and i had no idea you could do that. i like to buy essential shirts from clothing stores (blank colored t-shirts in a virety of colors and styles) and screen print my own designs on them. i’m totally trying this soon.

  8. I have always used alcohol to get the ink out of my kids clothes. I never thought of using it this way. Now I know what to do with that huge package of Sharpies my mom bought for the kids. (Yes, it is in the closet – hidden from them because it is permanent ink.)

  9. we did this last summer but the sharpie washed out when we washed the shirts. the only step we didn’t do that you mention was the dryer, but the shirts sat for days before washing and were dry (looking beautiful at the time). Any thoughts on how to preserve the beauty.
    Also we just drew designs on the shirts and used alcohol in spray bottles to disperse the color. It was so beautiful, but such a bummer when it washed out. Thoughts please?

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  13. We made these shirts and followed through with the dryer setting and the color still washed out!! Anyone have any tips on how to make it stay?

  14. We did this with the dryer step, and everything washed out of ours as well. My girls are soooo disappointed. Need to figure out how to make this work….

  15. I’m nervous about putting this alcohol dried shirt in the dryer (in case of fire.) Has anyone had a bad experience “setting” the colors in the dryer??

    Do you leave on the drive way flat to dry first?

    Thank you!!

  16. Were doing this project at our school, West Side :) cant wait and definitely cant wait for the end of the school year XD

    if u g2 west side comment with your first and last name!!!!

  17. I love this project! I’ve been doing it now for a while for craft fairs. You can use any brand of permanent marker. I’ve used anything from Sharpies to Dollar General brand permanent markers for a wide span of color variation. Recommend this for all ages. It’s cheap, fun, easy, and virtually mess free!

  18. I have got 1 idea for your webpage. It appears like there are a few cascading stylesheet issues when opening a selection of webpages inside google chrome and firefox. It is running alright in internet explorer. Possibly you can double check this.

  19. I’ve had the same problem with colors running. Does anyone have a fix for this??? I have 5 t-shirts waiting for the answer!

  20. For a more traditional tie-dye effect: (1) Start the same way traditional tie dye does — bunch shirt up and secure with a few rubber bands. This is easy to search for on the web if you have never done traditional tie-dye. (2) Color each section of the shirt with Sharpies in your choice of colors; no need to be neat or thorough as the ink will bleed. (3) Place the colored shirt in a plastic bin, and saturate the shirt with alcohol. (4) Move the saturated shirt to a thick pad of newspaper, and allow it to dry. The color WILL bleed onto the newspapers (make sure they are stacked up thick!) as well as on the shirt (making the tie dye effect). (5) When the top of the shirt is pretty dry, roll the shirt to expose the underside, and allow the underside to dry. (6) When the shirt is completely dry, remove the rubber bands. Voila! Traditional tie-dye style pattern instead of small circles!! (Follow the recommendations for setting the ink and washing the shirt as listed above to maintain the effect.)

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  23. For those of you with the washing out issue maybe try ironing the shirt after drying instead of setting the colors in the dryer. I don’t know if they washed out immediately or after many washes. Also, it is supposed to bleed so if you are adding a bleach when you clean the clothes that maybe washing it out. Just a thought. For the one with the problem with bleeding there is a product that is supposed to help keep it from bleeding into other clothes. That might be a solution to your issue. Hope that helps.

  24. I know with traditional tie-dying, I set colors with a vinegar rinse. Would this work with the sharpie method a well?

  25. I just washed the great looking shirt that I made and the colors washed out. I did three dryer sessions for a total of an hour worth of heat. I am so bummed!

    My daughter wore it ONCE. One washing and it’s all gone.

  26. when i was younger and my family would do tie dye partys we would dip the finished product in a huge pot of vinegar to set the colors. its worth a shot on some samples. i still have one of those shirts and it close to 18 years old and still very vibrent. we did use Rit though.

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