Tie-Dyeing With Sharpies and Rubbing Alcohol

Updated on February 22, 2017
White on white printed pattern "colored" in minimally with Sharpies -- scrap of fabric I am going to turn into a scarf.
White on white printed pattern "colored" in minimally with Sharpies -- scrap of fabric I am going to turn into a scarf.

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. (Pinterest article is sited at end of tutorial).

Gathering Supplies

You will need some version of the following

  • 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 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). 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 of some sort. It can be a pipette or a straw, whatever you have on hand.
  • A non-porous flat item 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, 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. This part is extremely optional and not necessary at all. It does create a specific 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.

Getting Started

As mentioned in “Gathering Supplies” 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 complimentary 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 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 5 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 figure 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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Before - Blue and Yellow swirlsAfter -- Looks like a flowerBeforeAfterAfter -- Same as above without spots, just swirls and lines. Before -  yellow, oarange and reddish polka dots in a circular pattern.After -- looks like a mum or a firework.  One of my favorites. Before -  dots in circular pattern with lines.AfterBeforeAfter - looks like a firework
Before - Blue and Yellow swirls
Before - Blue and Yellow swirls
After -- Looks like a flower
After -- Looks like a flower
Before
Before
After
After
After -- Same as above without spots, just swirls and lines.
After -- Same as above without spots, just swirls and lines.
Before -  yellow, oarange and reddish polka dots in a circular pattern.
Before - yellow, oarange and reddish polka dots in a circular pattern.
After -- looks like a mum or a firework.  One of my favorites.
After -- looks like a mum or a firework. One of my favorites.
Before -  dots in circular pattern with lines.
Before - dots in circular pattern with lines.
After
After
Before
Before
After - looks like a firework
After - looks like a firework

I hope this inspires you to try some of your own. I am glad I did.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Sue Hall 5 months ago

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

        Really want to try this method.

      • LopezUnleashed profile image
        Author

        LopezUnleashed 3 years ago

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

      • profile image

        ideadesigns 3 years ago

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

      • LopezUnleashed profile image
        Author

        LopezUnleashed 5 years ago

        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!

      • galleryofgrace profile image

        galleryofgrace 5 years ago from Virginia

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

      • LopezUnleashed profile image
        Author

        LopezUnleashed 5 years ago

        You are welcome. It was a lot of fun.

      • jtrader profile image

        jtrader 5 years ago

        This is a cool idea. Thanks for sharing it.

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