sharpie tie dye: my first try, how-to with pics!

Thank you, RAIN!  It’s all my friend Rain’s fault that I had to go and try yet another style of tie dye.

Let me tell you how this all came about.  It’s been kind of a blah-ish day; I’ve been sick all weekend, so today was a stay-at-home, take-it-easy, kinda day.   I was Skype-ing with Rain, my dear pal, and she mentioned this new “sharpie tie dye” technique.  She’s throwing one of her girls a tie dye themed birthday party, and she’s wondering if this style would be cleaner, easier, cheaper, less hassle then doing traditional tie dye with dozens of kids.

Shaprie Tie Dye – My First Try

my finished product... pretty neato, huh?

According to the internet, it’s all the rage.  It’s evolved past mere artwork and it’s being touted as science.  Science!  That’s so fancy.  (I’m such a scientist now. Eeps!!).

Rain gave me a couple links to show me.  And as we continued to discuss the idea, I realized I had all of the needed supplies on hand.  So here we go!


I’m not gonna lie, some of the kids on these other links have done a cracker jack job with this technique!  I think I did okay for my first try.  Matthew is going to get some more sharpies/better colors tonight on his way home, and perhaps my next try will be even better or brighter.

What  you need: a garment to dye, rubber bands, plastic cups, rubbing alcohol, and Sharpie markers in a variety of colors.

my supplies, all ready to go!


According to – it goes like this:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Place about 6 dots 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 youSharpie Pen Science are finished.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 3 to 5 minutes before moving on to a new area of the shirt.
  5. 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.

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.

I essentially followed these steps, but ended up getting bored and jazzing it up a bit.  I used WAY more rubbing alcohol than he said to use!   I added dots in weird places and not just a little cluster in the center.  I also did lines and some squiggles.   Sometimes they worked, sometimes I think they just kinda fell flat and the ink didn’t travel the way I thought it would.

A couple tips:

  • the tighter you had the section of the shirt over the cup, the better it seemed to work
  • the darker and more concentrated the color dots, the better
  • open a window, your house will reek!
Photo How-To:

my first attempt, before i dropped any alcohol on

the only dropper i had

my little dots starting to spread out

go colors, go!

I only had three cups (old MikeyD’s big plastic cups I use as water cups when I paint), so I could only on three little spots at a time.  This is a craft that requires patience.
So I just kinda went up the shirt, doing the front first, and then the back.  I actually like how much white space I left untouched on this one.  It would be fun to do a super intense shirt, full of tons of little sharpie spots.  But I liked being restrained on this specific tank.  It looks pretty, subtle.
My first little sharpie bud flower was in the bottom right corner of the shirt, and I just kept working my way up.  After I would do two buds, and I’d take off the rubber bands and un-do it, I’d go in and do a little bud in between.  Rubber banding around the mouth of the cup puts an automatic distance between each one you can do at the same time, so you have to go back in and fill that space in.
Does what I just typed make any sense to anyone? Haha.  Hopefully you know what I mean… the cups put space between the designs, so you have to go and fill it in on your next turn.

so far, so good

three at a time = my primo setup

finished product!

Rain had the very clever idea to connect the “flowers” with a vine.  So I made a teeny green vine with a fine point green sharpie and I dripped alcohol over it so it would be all blurry and in the same style as the whole shirt.

the front, you can see the vine that i made

It came out so cute, and I lurve the vine idear!
The shirt has been hanging up drying for the past few hours, and it hasn’t changed at all.  I’m going to wash it soon, and hopefully washing it doesn’t change it too much.  I like how it looks now!
Thanks for reading – love, happyhippierose
P.S. – This specific shirt is already taken, Rain called dibs on it. Sorry! But if you’re interested in purchasing one, you can always email me at or go to my FB page,

8 responses

  1. Hi Rosie! I do this with my students at the end of the year and it’s lots of fun. Some hints/suggestions: use DARK Sharpies: the chartreuse ones might look cool on paper, but they’re not really good for this. Be sure to ‘set’ the designs with vinegar before washing. And you can re-draw3 detail after the bled-sections have dried; just go over them with a darker marker. I’ve done scribbly lines/outlines/details in a solid color over the bled-colors; just be sure you give the bled colors a chance to dry.

    Cottony things like sheets and pillowcases hold color differently from stretchy things like t-shirts.

    Also- if you’re doing t-shirts, be sure to put the design section over a can or jar, and not on a flat surface. Even if you put a paperbord or cork board inside the t-shirt, people tend to over-saturate the area with alcoho and it ends up just smearing around. You’ll get a different effect depending on the size and shape of the container you use to hold your farbic up. I used kitchen pans, small jars, jello molds, whatever I could find. It changes the way the colors bleed, and the jello mold one came out really neat (of course I have no pictures). Rubber bands are your friend: secure the fabric over the container with the rubber band.

    This is a klot of fun in my classroom. I hope you have as much fun playing around with it.

    • oh!! thanks for all the tips. it’s really fun. i was telling rain that i remember doing this on coffee filters when i was in school, but now doing it on a shirt was much more fun. i totes need to experiment and play around with sizes of the containers/cups and that kinda stuff. thanks for the input and advice! i love it!

    • it’s just rubbing alcohol… i don’t know what you mean by washable? off what? your hands? it evaporates very quickly. permanent markers aren’t washable, and when they mix with the alcohol, they’re still permanent. but yeah, i’m not sure what you mean. did my reply help you out?

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