Decorating a T-shirt with Sharpie markers is a fun art project for all ages. It's a great way to create a wearable keepsake or to show off your own creativity in the form of fashion. Not all Sharpies are fully permanent on fabric, though, so it's important to include some extra steps to prevent the ink from fading, bleeding or washing out of your T-shirt. To effectively preserve Sharpie on a T-shirt, there are a few different methods to consider.
Start With the Right Sharpies
Standard Sharpie markers are permanent on paper and some other surfaces, but they are not specifically designed for use on fabric. You can successfully draw on fabric with these markers, but preserving Sharpie on a T-shirt requires extra steps to set the ink.
You can skip these steps altogether and ensure great results by starting with Sharpie markers that are formulated for use on fabric: the Stained by Sharpie line, available in many colors, and the Rub-a-Dub laundry marker, which only comes in black. These types of Sharpie along with other brands of fabric markers are permanent on fabric immediately upon use and will withstand regular laundry cycles as well.
Prepare the T-Shirt
If you are drawing with Sharpie on a brand-new T-shirt, be sure to wash and dry the shirt with a regular laundry cycle beforehand. New clothing items are often treated with a product called sizing, which helps them resist staining. Unless you wash out the sizing, it will prevent the Sharpie ink from penetrating the fabric and will make it harder to preserve the Sharpie on the T-shirt.
Use Heat to Set the Ink
The easiest way to preserve regular Sharpie ink on a T-shirt is to use heat. Make sure the Sharpie ink has dried completely before proceeding with one of the heat-setting methods.
Set an iron to the hottest setting suitable for your T-shirt. If the shirt is 100-percent cotton, this will be the highest heat setting available. Press the inked areas of the T-shirt on both the front and back of the fabric for approximately five minutes on each side. Alternatively, place the T-shirt in a clothes drier on the hottest-possible setting for about 15 minutes.
Apply Clear Fabric Paint
Another effective way to permanently preserve Sharpie ink on a T-shirt is to paint over the design with transparent, colorless fabric paint. Simply paint a thin coating of the paint over all the Sharpie lines and let the paint dry. For the most long-lasting results, paint both the front and back of the fabric. Note that this method might stiffen the T-shirt fabric somewhat.
Use a Fixative to Preserve Sharpie on a T-Shirt
Fixative products designed for DIY fabric dyeing can also be useful for setting Sharpie ink on a T-shirt. Look for a fixative that can be used with cold water and follow the manufacturer's instructions. These will generally tell you to mix the product with water and either spray the fabric or soak it in the solution for a set amount of time before letting it dry.
Launder With Care
When it comes to washing and drying a T-shirt with a Sharpie design, avoid the temptation to just throw the shirt in a regular load. To prevent the ink from fading or washing out over time, always wash the T-shirt on a delicate cycle or hand wash it and then line-dry. Careful laundering is not a substitute for setting the ink, but it will help preserve the ink for as long as possible after using one or more setting techniques.