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How to Tie Dye with Sharpie Markers

This fun project works any time of year, but it’s best done outdoors or in a room with good ventilation. And Sharpie Tie-Dye is great for summer celebrations like July 4. In addition to making a cool t-shirt, it’s also a study of 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.

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Sharpie Tie-Dye

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!

7 thoughts on “How to Tie Dye with Sharpie Markers”

  1. 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. 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?

  3. I did one of these shirts with my son. We put it outside in 101 heat to dry. When it was completely dry we washed it on cold with no detergent. The red in the shirt still got all over the white and turned it pink. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix that issue? Leary of putting the garment in the dryer before washing.

  4. I’m not sure if vinegar would help “fix” the dye, as one does in traditional tie-dye. I’ve always let the shirts air dry to allow the fumes to dissipate and then put them in the dryer and have not had problems with running colors.

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