Anyone familiar with Sharpies, a popular brand of permanent markers, knows that they work on a wide variety of surfaces, fabric included. While they are not specifically designed for use on fabric, Sharpies can be used in place of fabric markers with success. However, there are some best practices that you need to follow to properly prepare the fabric, to execute your design idea and to make sure it lasts. It is best to experiment on scrap fabric before moving on to items such as clothing, home decor and more.
Preparing Your Sharpie-on-Fabric Project
If the fabric item on which you are going to draw with Sharpies is washable, then wash, dry and iron it before you start the project. New fabrics are often treated with sizing, which will prevent the Sharpie ink from penetrating the fabric and needing to be washed away.
For the best results when drawing with a Sharpie on fabric, the fabric should be held taut. You also need to make sure the ink doesn't bleed through to a second layer of fabric underneath the one on which you are drawing – for example, the back of a T-shirt or pillowcase. One way to keep your fabric taut and prevent bleed-through is to attach it around a piece of heavy cardboard using binder clips or clothespins. Another is to secure the fabric inside an embroidery hoop.
Drawing Your Design
Depending on your artistic skill, confidence level and the complexity of your design, you can either draw freehand directly on the fabric with Sharpies, or you can start with a pencil or fabric-pencil outline. Either way, it is a good idea to perfect your Sharpie design on paper before working on fabric.
For design transfer, you can trace the design onto fabric using a light box or window and placing a paper copy of the design behind the fabric. Stencils, whether purchased or homemade, are a great option too. For simple geometric designs, use easily removable painters' tape as a guide.
Create Special Effects
You can create some beautiful effects on fabric by applying rubbing alcohol over Sharpie ink. The rubbing alcohol dilutes the ink, causing it to bleed. With a single Sharpie color, this technique results in softened, feathery lines; with different colors, the inks blend together and create a tie-dye or watercolor-like effect. Draw your design first and then use a paintbrush or eye dropper to apply the rubbing alcohol to the fabric.
Make it Last
Sharpies are permanent, but there are no guarantees that a Sharpie design on fabric will last with laundering. If your design doesn't need to be washable – for example, if you made a piece of wall art or decorated a pencil case – simply press the fabric with a hot iron after your design is complete. This will set the ink sufficiently for those kinds of items, although some fading over time is still likely. If you want to be able to wash the fabric multiple times, purchase a color-fixative product and follow the manufacturer's instructions.