How to Mark on Black Fabric

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Marking on light-colored fabric offers numerous options for both temporary or permanent purposes. But many of these same materials, such as most fabric-marking pens and markers, doesn't work as well on black fabric. Instead, use white fabric pens, chalk or soap for temporary solutions or an assortment of fabric paints and paint pens for a more permanent solution.

Temporary Treatments

  • Water-soluble fabric marking pens typically are manufactured in dark or bright colors that do not show up well on black. Select a white fabric marking pen instead. Make sure the packaging says water soluble, so the marks can be washed out later.

  • Sharpened chalk offers the ultimate temporary solution for black fabric; it shows up quite well and can be wiped away in most cases without even washing the fabric. Sharpen regular chalkboard chalk slowly in a pencil sharpener, or use specialty chalks such as chalk pencils, mechanical pencils and pens specifically designed for fabrics. Tailor's chalk also works well. Do not iron over chalk marks, as it may make them more difficult to remove.
  • Soap slivers such as small pieces of bar soap or tiny travel-sized bars can also be used to mark black fabric. The soap must be washed out, so make sure the fabric is washable before using soap on it.

Permanent Options

Fabrics paints and fabric paint pens are specially formulated to adhere to most fabrics, so they offer the most readily available option when leaving permanent writing or designs on black fabric. Place corrugated cardboard or sheets of paper beneath the fabric before using paints. If painting on black clothing, place cardboard inside the item of clothing before painting, leaving it in until after the paint dries, to ensure the paint does not soak through to another part of the clothing.

  • Fabric paints with applicator tips can be used straight out of the bottle, thanks to a narrow opening on the top of the bottle. Shake the bottle while the cap is on; then remove the cap, flip the bottle upside-down and write or draw on the fabric. Light or bright colors show up best on black material; colors such as navy blue or dark brown may not show up well at all. Fabric paints can be layered, so if you're creating a colorful design, such as a smiling sun wearing sunglasses, black fabric paint can be used atop the yellow paint once the yellow dries. These are also sold in a version that puffs up as it dries, adding a bit of dimension. Brush-on fabric paints are also available.

  • Spray-on fabric paints spritz the paint onto the fabric. These are usually sold in small bottles and work well with stencils taped or pressed in place; otherwise, the spray is a bit difficult to control. Spray works best for filling in areas and does not show up as well as other fabric paints on dark fabrics because of its thinner composition.
  • Fabric paint pens or markers allow you to write directly upon the fabric, much as you would on paper. Stretch the fabric flat and hold it down with one hand as you write on it to ensure the pen doesn't jump or the fabric doesn't ripple as you write. Like other paints, you'll need a light- or bright-colored paint pen for your work to show up against the black fabric. 
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