Sharpie Pen Tie Dye

Some of my kids’ FAVORITE art supplies are Sharpie markers.  I can totally understand – the colors are so vibrant and fun.  Of course, they do always make me a little nervous — the PERMANENT aspect and all (especially in a house with a 20-month old who is eager to get his hands on everything!)  But I was excited to find a project that we could do together with these beautiful colors and learn something new about the cool properties of permanent markers.

I found great instructions for making tie dye with Sharpie pens here at Steve Spangler’s website (which is a great source for all kinds of great science projects.)

Sharpie Pen Tie Dye Supplies

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A squeeze bottle or dropper
  • Sharpies
  • Plastic cups
  • Rubber bands
  • Fabric to dye – we decided to tie dye some white cloth napkins we have

Getting Started

Place your fabric tautly over the cup and secure it with a rubber band (this is the area you will be decorating).

The directions I found suggest that you make about 6 dots of ink from one marker in a circle pattern about the size of a quarter, and then fill in the circle with dots using other colored markers. That approach definitely produced the best rainbow-like results, though my kids did not necessarily follow those guidelines (see previous post on Mom’s Vision vs. Kid’s Vision.)

Tie the Dye!

Then slowly drop about 20 drops of alcohol in the center of the pattern. (Note: if you are using a squeeze bottle, as I did, you may need to place your thumb over the end so it doesn’t come out too fast.)  You’ll see the molecules of ink spread outward to the rim of the glass from the center.  If your kid has used different colors, it does actually turn out like a rainbow!

We let the pattern dry for a few minutes, then moved the napkin to decorate another area.

After you’re all done decorating, you’ll need to set the colors by placing your fabric in the dryer for about 15 minutes.

How It Works

Steve Spangler has a great explanation for why this works on his blog: “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.”

So maybe I can rest a little easier when my kids are playing with the Sharpies, as long as I have rubbing alcohol around!

The finished product is a colorful napkin – one that I think H will be proud to take in his lunchbox to school!

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