Sharpie Pen Color Science
Mess-free tie dye with Sharpies markers makes a great handmade craft or gift that's easy and fun
When we think of tie dye, we are often reminded of a shirt that is fun to make, but can take a long time. We did some research and found out there's a fun, easy, and quick way to create tie dye patterns in an instant using markers. It's a brand new tie dye technique without the mess... and the results are amazing! This activity combines chemistry and art to create a designer t-shirt that is sure to get lots of attention whenever you wear it.
- Sharpie® permanent markers (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
- Plastic cup
- Rubber band
- Rubbing alcohol (70% from the drug store)
- Dropper bottle or medicine dropper
Pre-washed white t-shirt
You don't need to stick to just t-shirts. You can decorate anything made out of fabric - pot holders, aprons, bandanas... use your imagination.
You can also try our Sharpie Pen Science Kit, which includes all of the supplies you need except t-shirts. Or...
If you want to do real tie dye...check out our Tie Dye Kit for a truly original handmade gift
Warning: Rubbing alcohol is very flammable and must be kept away from any open flames or heat. This experiment must be conducted in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors or in a room with open windows.
- Place the plastic cup inside the middle of the t-shirt. Position the opening of the cup directly under the section of the shirt that you want to decorate. Stretch the rubber band over the t-shirt and the cup to secure the shirt in place.
- Place dots or circles of ink from one marker in a circle pattern about the size of a quarter in the center of the stretched out fabric. If you like, use another color marker to fill in spaces in between the first dots. There should be a quarter size circle of dots in the middle of the plastic cup opening when you are finished.
- Slowly squeeze approximately 20 drops of rubbing alcohol into the center of the circle of dots. DO NOT flood the design area with rubbing alcohol. The key is to drip the rubbing alcohol slowly in the center of the design and allow the molecules of ink to spread outward from the center. As the rubbing alcohol absorbs into the fabric, the ink spreads in a circular pattern. The result is a beautiful flower-like pattern. Students often remark, however, that the design looks like the colorful surface of a compact disc.
- Apply as much or as little rubbing alcohol as desired, but do not let the pattern spread beyond the edges of the cup. Allow the developed design to dry for three to five minutes before moving on to a new area of the shirt.
- It is important to heat set the colors by placing the shirt in the laundry dryer for approximately 15 minutes. Teachers have also suggested rinsing the shirt in a solution of vinegar and water as a means of setting the colors.
Take It Further!
Enjoy experimenting with various patterns, dot sizes, and color combinations. Instead of using dots, try drawing a small square with each side being a different color, or use primary colors to draw a geometric shape and accent it with dots of secondary colors. Half circles, wavy lines, and polygons all make unique patterns when rubbing alcohol travels across the ink. Your designs are only limited by your imagination. Try as many different patterns as you like. The secret is to keep your patterns small and in the center of the design area on the shirt.
Who hasn't colored on themselves with marker at some point, just to find out it doesn't always come off very well? Teachers and parents, if you want a great way to tie science to children's literature while showing what happens when your body becomes an art canvas, read a story called Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch. In the story, the main character colors on herself and everyone around her using "super indelible never come off till you're dead and maybe even later" markers. Sharpie markers fit that description, unless you know the rubbing alcohol secret. Combine the story with the magic of color science to create an engaging learning experience for kids.
How does it work?
This is really a lesson in the concepts of solubility, color mixing, and the movement of molecules. The Sharpie markers contain permanent ink, which will not wash away with water. Permanent ink is hydrophobic, meaning it is not soluble in water. However, the molecules of ink are soluble in another solvent called rubbing alcohol. This solvent carries the different colors of ink with it as it spreads in a circular pattern from the center of the shirt.
Reference: This activity is the creation of Bob Becker, a chemistry teacher in Kirkwood, Missouri.
Sharpie Pen Color Science
September 4th, 2012
Click the thumbnail below to see the video.
Smelly but FUN!
Shareeni - November 5, 2012
My friend and I did this project for a class project and it was totally cool. We used different types of markers to experiment with too. Really fun!
Kayla - September 6, 2012
Really really fun! But it didn't change my mind about the smell of rubbing alcohol. :O) Thanks for figuring that out though. Like i said really really cool, and awesome!
Not just for t-shirts
Debbe Clegg - May 26, 2012
I did this with t-shirts 2 years ago with third graders and the kids loved and were still talking about it this year. I taught 5th grade this year and had several of the same students as 2 years ago. On our next to last day of school I was trying to think of something to do that would be fun and memorable, but didn't want to do t-shirts. I found cheap white baseball caps at Michaels and tried it out. It worked perfectly. You don't have to put the caps over cups - just draw the design, add the drops of alcohol and you get some very interesting designs. Needless to say they had fun and it was memorable even for those who had done t-shirts.
Kara S - July 23, 2011
Best art-science project EVER!!! Children are amazed and delighted with this. I would highly recommend this.
saved the boring shirts!
Miss Kim - July 19, 2011
We received our shipment of vacation Bible school t-shirts to hand out to the kids. Well, they were boring white tees with black graphics. I only had sharpies on hand so I googled "sharpie on t shirt". When I saw this web page with awesome directions I knew we had to do this! I grabbed the rest of the supplies needed and I tried it out on an old tee then three hours later our kids were doing it on their tees and loving it! Thank you so much! I plan on doing this with my nieces this summer.
Tie Dye with Permanent Marker Science fair project
Suzanne - May 10, 2011
Just wanted to let you know this was a hit! We did this for my 1st grade daughter as her science fair project; my 9 yr old son also enjoyed it a lot as well. This was very fun, little mess and took very little time to set up or clean up. We did white t-shirts as well as a white cotton dress; they really were amazed at how different each circle came out. Thanks for the great ideas!
Fun! Fun! Fun!
Debbe Clegg - July 8, 2010
I have done this twice with my class and had great results. The kids really loved it. Everyone was successful and each shirt was unique. We had some awesome looking tshirts!
Sharpie Pen Science
Sandy Beaudoin - March 17, 2010
We did this experiment in the science club that I teach at my son's elementary school. The kids loved it and there were no messes!!
Life Saving Experiment
Ann Anderson United States - July 30, 2009
I just wanted to let you know that an experiment I got on tye dying with permanent markers saved my beige carpet. I am a second grade teacher and I just started receiving your emails this year...I was home this past weekend...painting my toenails (after a very loooonng winter) and I accidentally spilled some pink nail polish on my beige carpet!!! I was frantic. I tried some nail polish remover, but I didn't have much of it (and it was already tinted) it was in one of those nail polish removing tubs...and I didn't have much luck. Then I remembered the tie dye experiment with markers. I thought if the rubbing alcohol could dissipate the permanent markers, it might work for the nail polish... and TA DA...it worked!! You can't even tell there was a spill. Thank you so much