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How to Tie-Dye With Sharpies and Rubbing Alcohol

Crafter, quilter, budding DIY diva. I'm also a homeschooling mom of two wonderful children.

White-on-white printed pattern "colored" in minimally with Sharpies. I plan to turn this scrap of fabric into a scarf.

White-on-white printed pattern "colored" in minimally with Sharpies. I plan to turn this scrap of fabric into a scarf.

Tie-Dye With Sharpies and Rubbing Alcohol

I saw this super-cool idea on Pinterest, and of course, I had to try it. Tie-dye is always fun, and you always end up with a one-of-a-kind pattern that is uniquely yours. But this technique allows for even more creativity and design. Hopefully, you will find this tutorial as inspiring as the original blog I discovered (the Pinterest article is linked at the end of this tutorial).

Necessary Supplies

  • Permanent markers: I personally used the Sharpie brand, and I have heard of others using the Bic brand with success.
  • Isopropyl alcohol (also known as your basic rubbing alcohol): You will need a 91% alcohol solution for the best results.
  • Plain item of clothing: White makes awesome results, but any other plain light color would probably work just as well (light blue, light pink, cream, etc.). A T-shirt is the most obvious go-to for this project, but anything will work. A plain white strip of fabric to make a scarf, a pair of socks, a white fabric headband, ribbon, shoelaces, the list is really almost endless.
  • Dropper: It can be a pipette or a straw, whatever you have on hand.
  • Non-porous flat item: Something that can go between layers of fabric: a cookie sheet, any sized Ziploc bag depending on project size, a sheet of plastic wrap, a piece of foil, or an old plastic placemat. It is going to be used to keep the front from transferring to the back, but you can skip this part if you want to see what happens when the colors bleed from one side to the other.
  • Plastic cup or bowl and rubber bands: These materials are optional and not at all necessary. It does create a specifically sized bleed if that is what you are looking for. For those who are new at this or are not as confident in their creative abilities and all that blank white space makes you nervous, then I recommend using the cup and rubber band method.


The first step is optional but will be outlined for those who wish to employ this method.

  1. Place plastic cup or bowl under fabric and place rubber band around the lip of the cup/bowl. This will give you a canvas to start with.
  2. Inside this circle, draw your design. Remember to stick with like colors (red and purple, red and blue, blue and green, green and yellow, etc.) at first, and then you can venture into other color combinations. Sometimes placing complementary colors together (blue and orange) will make brown, but sometimes it doesn’t. It really depends on how much you saturate the area with rubbing alcohol later. This will be something that will simply have to be figured out by trial and error.
  3. Take your dropper and place a few drops of rubbing alcohol in the center of the design and let it soak in. Continue to place drops of alcohol around the design working outward from the center. Placing drops close together allows the colors to spread and blend quickly. Placing drops farther apart allows for more individual groups of blending.
  4. If there are hard lines in your pattern, follow the hard lines dropping alcohol every inch or so. This will allow the main design to remain intact while still spreading the color in a tie-dye manner. This is extremely awesome if you have a white-on-white printed fabric and you choose to "color" in the pattern.
  5. Do not go super crazy with the rubbing alcohol. Start with a maximum of five drops in the center and spread the rest out. It is probably safe to assume that most designs will not need more than 15 drops total. The alcohol will continue to spread long after you think it won't. You can always come back and add a few more drops around the edges if the design did not spread enough, but you can't take it back if it went too far.

I did not take pictures of the step-by-step process; I figured it is pretty easy to understand. But I did want to include several before and after pictures so you can get some inspirational ideas on what to try on your own shirts.
The picture at the top of the article is a scrap of fabric with a white-on-white printed pattern that I colored in sparingly. I then took the dropper and followed the lines and dropped alcohol to make the ink spread. It looks amazing!

The rest of these pictures are before and after pictures of what I drew with the Sharpie and what it turned into after I added the drops of rubbing alcohol. Since I did not think to take pictures while I was making my T-shirt, I re-drew the basic shape on paper.

Happy Tie-Dyeing!

I hope this inspires you to try some tie-dye of your own. I am glad I did!



Sue Hall on January 10, 2018:

Can't get rubbing alcohol here in manchester.Can I use anything else.

Really want to try this method.

LopezUnleashed (author) on September 13, 2014:

Ideadesigns - yrs it is great for kids, they love to watch the colors spread & blend

ideadesigns on September 11, 2014:

This is a very good idea for a kids craft. Always looking for something kinda easy. Thanks!

LopezUnleashed (author) on February 22, 2013:

Yes, regular tie-dyeing can be very messy. I love that this a project that even my littlest (4 & 6) can do with ease and no messy clean up. They loveto watch the colors spread and change. Have fun!

Gracie L Sprouse from Virginia on February 22, 2013:

Absolutely awesome idea. I have to try it. Regular tie-dying can get really messy sometimes. This is great.

LopezUnleashed (author) on February 22, 2013:

You are welcome. It was a lot of fun.

jtrader on February 22, 2013:

This is a cool idea. Thanks for sharing it.