How to Tie Dye with Sharpie Markers

Tie Dye look with Sharpie Markers and rubbing alcohol

It’s not too late for a fun Fourth of July project experiment to study the effect of a solvent on permanent markers. Rubbing alcohol + Sharpies = simple and cool faux tie dye. The faux tie-dye is great way to make faux fireworks full of inspiring bursts of color.

All you need is:

  •  a bottle of rubbing alcohol
  •  a handful of Sharpie or other permanent markers
  •  a t-shirt or two that you’re willing to alter

It’s also handy to have:

  •  an eye dropper or spray bottle to disperse the rubbing alcohol
  •  an aluminum tray or pie tin to separate the sides of the shirt

Watch the video or read below for instructions.

To make a Sharpie tie-dye, stretch the dry t-shirt over the pan/bowl (or put aluminum foil covered cardboard inside the shirt). Make a series of dots using the Sharpie markers and use an eyedropper or spray bottle to gently apply the rubbing alcohol over the dots. (With young kids, the eye droppers always felt like a much safer option.)

As the shirt soaks up the alcohol, the color spreads, creating a tie-dye effect as pictured above.

Allow the shirt to dry and then iron or put it in the dryer on high for 15 minutes to set the design. (Note! Fabric drenched in combustible liquid + intense heat = danger, so let the shirt dry before setting the design in the dryer.) Wash as normal.

Although permanent ink does not dissolve in water, it will dissolve in alcohol. As the alcohol gets absorbed into the fabric of the shirt, it carries molecules of color with it. When the ink evaporates, the color is left behind.

It’s especially interesting to apply the rubbing alcohol to secondary colors and watch them spread out into their primary constituents.

It’s fun to experiment with creating different intensities, shapes and lines (i.e. a circle of small light dots vs. heavy ones vs. a square made up of lines or dots, etc.) and the resulting shirts are quite interesting. Also, this project is so much easier to do than traditional tie-dying.

This is a great outdoor project, but keep away from holiday grills and fire pits. If you do this inside, maker sure you’re in a well-ventilated area to avoid a build-up of fumes from the alcohol.

Have a fun and safe holiday!

Note the boys and I made that video three summers ago; I can’t believe how young they look and sound!

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Edited 7/5/12 to add this crazy photo which Google reminded me I took years ago.

How to Sharpie tie-dye


  1. Daisy says

    This is great fun! I’ve used a similar chromatography technique to “solve” mysteries with my elementary science students. I’ll share it with you if you’re interested. Paper chromatography is another fun way to combine science and art, too.

  2. Anonymous says

    I did this project and really enjoyed it. However, when I washed the shirt, the ink washed out and the patterns were very faded. Is there something else I need to do to set the ink besides the 15 minutes in the dryer?

    • Kim Moldofsky says

      Are you sure you used permanent markers? That’s the only thing that comes to mind. We’ve never had a problem with this.

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