You can use fabric markers to create intricate detail in hand-drawn art, or hand these versatile tools to a kindergartner for a colorful project! Before you or your kids spend hours perfecting your fabric art, you probably want to know exactly how permanent your artwork will be. Do fabric markers wash off?
Fabric markers do not wash out because they use permanent ink or dye. They work like Sharpies, though fabric pens usually come in a wider range of colors. Most fabric markers are labeled as “waterproof” to indicate that they will hold up during washing.
In this article we’ll look at different markers, tips for using them, and the best markers to use for your project.
What is a Fabric Marker?
Fabric markers are pens filled with permanent ink or dye that will not wash out of cloth. These pens allow you to draw precise, smooth detail on most kinds of material. They come in a wide range of colors and designs; like Sharpies, you can buy them with both fine and wide tips, or even with brush tips for extra artistic flair.
Fabric pens offer a fun, easy way to add splashes of color to your clothes, bags, and home without the potential mess of dyes or paints. Because fabric pens are such a precise drawing tool, you can also use them for quick touch-up jobs like filling in a faded bit of lettering on your favorite t-shirt.
To use a fabric pen, arrange the cloth item you want to decorate so that you are drawing on a flat, single layer of material. Then uncap your marker and draw your design, just like you would on paper!
Types of Fabric Markers
Most of the time, when people talk about fabric markers, they are referring to permanent markers. However, you can also find washable fabric pens, so let’s take a quick look at these two different kinds of tools and consider the pros and cons of each type.
Permanent markers use a different kind of ink or dye than washable markers. This ink does not dissolve in water. That’s what makes it safe to wash your fabric art.
You are probably familiar with Sharpies, one of the most popular kinds of permanent markers out there. Do you remember scribbling a Sharpie design on your hand during a boring class in school? It probably took a while for that design to wash off.
This is because Sharpies use the same kind of ink as fabric markers (more or less), and it doesn’t dissolve in water. For this reason, you can actually use Sharpies on cloth as well, though they usually don’t come in as many colors and shapes as fabric pens.
Why would you want to use a permanent fabric pen? Fabric markers are the tool of choice for many projects, from t-shirt designs to rubber-stamping fabric to crafting cool journal covers.
You can use fabric pens to create a permanent, lasting, colorful work of art on most kinds of cloth!
The biggest advantage to using permanent fabric pens is that you can wash the cloth item you decorated later without losing the lovely art you worked so hard on! We’ll look at tips for washing fabric art a bit later, but the main thing to keep in mind is that these pens do create permanent designs.
Fabric markers also give you the precision and control you need for some art projects. You can decorate cloth with many different mediums, but each has advantages and disadvantages. Fabric paints, for instance, are great for covering a large surface area but not so great for fine detail work. That’s where fabric pens shine!
Fabric pens also provide a relatively mess-free option compared to paints or dyes. This makes this tool an excellent choice for any art project involving kiddos!
Of course, as with any artistic medium, permanent fabric markers do have their disadvantages as well.
First, once you touch the tip of that pen to the material, whatever you draw is there to stay. You’ll want to carefully think through your design before you begin, and maybe even sketch it out in pencil to help you avoid any permanent mistakes in your project. That said, you can erase an error with care and a special secret ingredient, which we’ll look at later.
Secondly, most fabric pens don’t work as well on darker cloth. Imagine using a forest-green pen to draw on a piece of black construction paper; the green ink won’t show up against the black paper, will it? Because of that, fabric pens stand out best against lighter-colored fabrics.
Finally, as with most things, the quality of your tools impacts the quality of your final product. Not all fabric pens are created equal; some create higher-quality art than others.
Wash-Out Fabric Marker
Wash-out fabric markers use ink that dissolves when the cloth is washed in warm water. One washing machine cycle using warm water should entirely erase a design drawn with these pens.
Why do you need wash-out fabric markers if the big advantage to most fabric pens is that they do not wash out?
Well, some textile art projects will never need washing. Wall tapestries, for example, should never need to get wet. For those projects, you may find it easier to use washable markers for easy clean-up and mistake correction.
Washable fabric pens are also extremely useful for marking patterns and sewing directions to help while you do a project because once you wash the finished project, those helpful marks will disappear!
Water-soluble fabric pens offer a practical solution for many crafting needs.
You may want to consider using washable markers with your kids, for example. This way, you won’t have to worry about any “accidental” designs scribbled on whatever your kids are wearing that day! (Or on the walls, floor, or tablecloth, for that matter!).
Washable fabric pens also come in handy for notating helpful guides you want to see while working on a project. Sewists often use these pens to mark the cloth while cutting out pattern pieces for a sewing project. This is an easy way to notate where to place darts, pleats, or buttons.
You can also use washable fabric pens to draw an embroidery design. Then you can see where to stitch your design. Once it is completed, you can wash away the inked design and only the embroidery will remain!
While washable fabric pens work perfectly in certain situations, for most fabric art projects–especially any involving clothing–you need an ink that will not disappear in the wash. You certainly don’t want to spend hours creating a fabulous geometric design on your jeans, only to have it vanish in the wash!
Do Fabric Markers Wash Off?
The simple answer is that permanent fabric markers do not wash out. The ink used in these pens is not water-soluble. This means that water does not dissolve the ink and cannot remove it from the material.
If you want to know how this works, here’s some science for you: the ink in permanent markers consists of a resin, a colorant, and a solvent.
The colorant in these pens is usually an incredibly finely ground pigment that gives the ink that vibrant color. The solvent is a liquid that carries the pigment, usually some type of alcohol. Finally, the resin is a polymer that binds the color pigment to the surface when you write or draw with the pen.
The key difference between washable and non-washable markers is the resin used in ink. Permanent link contains a resin that does not dissolve in water.
Here is the secret cleaning ingredient hinted at a moment ago: permanent ink will dissolve in rubbing alcohol, should you ever need to scrub it off yourself, your artwork, or your child!
Most fabric pen manufacturers recommend taking a few special steps to ensure that the ink remains vibrant and colorful after washing. Keep reading to find out more about this!
How Long Do Fabric Markers Take to Dry?
Most fabric marker designs require at least 30 minutes of resting time before moving, touching, or heat-setting the fabric. It is a good idea to allow these designs to rest for 24 hours before washing.
You should always follow the manufacturer’s directions, as this could vary from pen to pen. For example, some fabric pens recommend that you iron the finished artwork to heat-set the ink before washing the material, and others recommend air drying instead.
How Long Do Fabric Markers Last?
The lifetime of a fabric marker depends on several things. First, if you put the cap on tightly after every use, the pen will last longer. Second, the marker only lasts until the ink runs out, so its lifetime depends on how much ink the manufacturers put inside its plastic cartridge, to begin with.
Manufacturers will sometimes indicate how long you can expect their brand of marker to last by using language like “you can color 15 t-shirts before the ink runs out.”
Like any pen, the more you use it, the shorter it will last. You may have a set of fabric markers stashed away in your craft room that you only use once or twice a year. They will probably last quite a while!
If you use your markers every day, though, they will run out of ink very quickly.
While fabric pens will eventually run out of ink, their designs are permanent. They should not wash out or fade over time, even after multiple washings.
How Can You Get Washable Marker Out of Fabric?
Most washable markers use ink that will come out of most kinds of cloth in one warm-water wash cycle in a washing machine. Many manufacturers take this as a point of pride and mention it in their product descriptions.
That said, you can take the following steps to treat a difficult washable marker stain.
- Rinse the fabric in hot water. Then put it in the washer by itself–you don’t want the ink to transfer to unstained items!
- Pause after the first rinse cycle, remove the item from the wash, and soak it in Clorox for one hour.
- Return the item to the washing machine and resume the cycle.
These tips should help with washable marker stains. Most fabric pens are permanent, though, and that ink will not come out in the wash. If you need to remove permanent ink from the cloth, try dabbing at it with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. This is also handy if you smear ink on yourself or your drawing surface while working!
How to Keep Fabric Markers From Bleeding
Because of their permanent ink, fabric markers should never bleed in the wash. They are prone to bleeding during use, though.
First, the loosely woven cloth can catch at pen nibs, causing the pen to catch, stutter, and blot your design. Ink is also more likely to spread along loosely woven fabrics. Some artists recommend using gel pens to edge your design to prevent this type of bleeding.
Selecting a smooth, tightly woven material will cut down on any bleeding in your design. Your pen will glide across the surface instead of snagging on every other thread.
Ironing your material before you begin will also cut down on any bumps that you could catch your pen. (But do make sure that the fabric is iron-friendly first!)
You’ll also want to keep the big picture in mind every time you touch your pen to the fabric. Make a whole stroke of the pen at once, rather than pausing with the pen resting on the material, as this will also cause blots.
How to Use Fabric Markers
Pretty much anything you can draw on paper with a pen you can draw on fabric with a fabric marker. These tips and suggestions might give you some inspiration!
- Wash, dry, and iron your cloth before drawing on it (so long as the kind of material you selected is safe to iron–do check on that first).
- Unless the manufacturer says otherwise, give your marker a shake before use to make sure ink has saturated the pen nib.
- Try to arrange your cloth so it creates a flat drawing surface, if possible. If you plan to decorate a pillow or stuffed animal, do your best to hold it still while drawing!
Once you have that down, consider a few fun ways you can use your fabric pens.
Many artists use fabric pens for detailed work, such as lettering. You may want to write in pencil first, depending on your skill level. Brush-tip fabric markers can add a fun hand-lettered flair to this as well!
Fabric markers also do very well with stamps and stencils. You can color over the surface of a rubber stamp with your marker, then press the stamp to the fabric to create a mess-free stamped design. When using a stencil, try to hold the pen upright, so it doesn’t sneak under the stencil and blur the edge of your design.
To ensure the continuing quality of your design, it’s usually a good idea to heat-set your fabric before washing. You can do this by ironing it lightly or throwing it in the dryer for a few minutes. Some artists also recommend allowing your artwork to sit for 24 hours before washing.
How to Use Fabric Markers on T-Shirts
In general, you can draw on a t-shirt just as you would on any other cloth surface. Here are a couple of tips specifically for t-shirts, though, since t-shirts are such a popular canvas for fabric-marker art!
Since t-shirts have a double layer (the front and back of the shirt), you will want to prevent any ink from seeping through to the reverse layer. To prevent bleed-through, you can iron freezer paper to the inside of the shirt before you begin drawing. The paper will peel off easily when you are done.
If you are in a hurry, you can also slide a piece of cardboard between the layers, though this can shift around while you are drawing.
T-shirt material can be rough and loosely woven, which sometimes causes pens to catch on the weave. Some artists suggest using special gel pens to outline your designs on t-shirts, preventing any bleeding along the coarser threads of the weave.
How Do You Wash Clothes After Using Fabric Markers?
When you finish your lovely artwork on a piece of clothing, you may hesitate to throw it in the wash. What if the ink bleeds? What if the ink spreads to other items in the wash?
The good news is, neither of those things should happen! It is perfectly safe to wash fabric marker designs.
Most importantly, before washing your fabric-markered-clothing, you should read the manufacturer’s instructions. These typically come on the pen package. If you can’t spot this, try googling the brand to see if you can find directions online.
Most brands recommend allowing a finished product to sit for at least 24 hours. Many (but not all) manufacturers also recommend heat-setting the ink after 24 hours.
To heat-set your design, turn your iron to medium-low heat without any steam. Iron gently on the wrong side of the garment for approximately 3-5 minutes (though you will want to follow the manufacturer’s directions on this!).
If your product is not flat enough to iron–for example, if it is a sneaker or stuffed animal–try throwing it in the dryer for ten minutes to heat set it instead of ironing it.
Some artists suggest washing the product in cool water, or even hand-washing it, for its first wash. However, most manufacturers state that the ink is safe to wash in warm water.
All that said, your design should be permanent the moment you draw it on the fabric, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful!
What to Look for When Buying Fabric Markers
How do you know which marker best suits your particular art project? Here are a few key qualities to consider.
- Color Assortment. You can buy single fabric pens from some arts and craft stores, but typically these pens are sold as a set. You’ll want to consider the variety and kinds of colors in the set before making a purchase.
- Ink Quality. This one is a bit trickier because naturally, all sellers want you to believe that the ink in their pens is high-quality! Your best option is to test several popular brands and find a pen with ink that is smooth but not too runny.
- Drying Process (air dry or heat set). The manufacturer’s instructions should indicate whether or not the markers require heat-setting.
- Size and Style of Pen Tip. If you plan to draw intricate mandalas all over your white shoelaces, you’re going to want a very fine-tipped fabric marker! Consider the size and shape of the pen tips before making a purchase.
Best Fabric Markers
Here are a couple of products to give you an idea of what the market has to offer.
Crafts 4 ALL Permanent Fabric Markers PensThis professional-grade set of 12 pens works well on fabrics.
The dual tips on each pen allow for broader or finer pen strokes, perfect for both calligraphy and detailed drawing.
These tried-and-tested pens will not bleed in the wash.
The ink is non-toxic and safe for children to use.
Non-Toxic Machine Washable Fabric MarkersThis affordable option features a set of 24 bullet-point-tip pens. The colors range from the rainbow to neon, which gives you a lot of variety to choose from!
The ink in these pens is permanent, safe to wash, and nontoxic.
The bullet tips do mean these fun drawing tools are not best suited to highly detailed work, but the variety of colors make these a great starter pack.
Temporary Fabric Markers
Eatsleepdoodle Wash-Out Fabric MarkerThis set of 12 double-tipped pens works well on any number of surfaces, from cloth to paper. The ink will wash out in just one machine cycle!
This set has been tested to Toy Standard, which means that everything included is safe for kids; it does not present a choking hazard and the ink is nontoxic.
These pens are super kid-friendly!
Splat Planet Magic PensThis fun Splat Planet Magic kit comes with a color-in t-shirt and a set of markers!
This excellent gift idea allows kids the option to re-color the t-shirt after every wash.
The set comes complete with ten rainbow-colored, washable, non-toxic pens that are perfect for small hands.
Fabric markers are a great way to touch up a favorite t-shirt or create your own work of art! Fabric pens work just like pens that draw on paper, but they can be permanently set into cloth to make them safe for washing.
These versatile tools give artists a way to provide fine detail in fabric art. They are so easy to use that they are also a great way for kids to explore art.
What kind of fabric art are you working on? Do you have a favorite brand of fabric pen? Leave a comment below to let us know!