How to Use Fabric Markers on T-Shirts (Step by Step)

Your clothes are a way to express yourself and show the world who you are.

That’s not always possible with clothing right off the rack. The style may be right, but something is missing that truly reflects your personality.

If you want to add flair and personalize your clothing, one of the best options is fabric markers. But do you know how to use it for decorating your own t-shirt?

Well, I’m here for you. In this article, you’ll learn about how to use fabric markers on t-shirts to customize them with proper instructions.

Let’s get started!

Custom T-Shirt Designs Using Fabric Markers

How to Use Fabric Markers

The great thing about fabric pens is that they are super easy to use. And you don’t need a lot of extra supplies or complicated steps to create personalized designs on t-shirts.

It’s essential to make sure that you choose permanent fabric markers to use on clothing. It ensures that you get permanent designs on your t-shirt.

And don’t pick just some other permanent markers because those will bleed or fade and not give you the desired effect. So, follow the instructions given below to design your own work projects.

Choose the Right Fabric

While some fabric paint pens claim to be good on any material, some fabrics are better than others for the best results when using them.

Fabric that is made of cotton or polyester are good choices for doing artwork using fabric marker paints. It’s because there is minimum bleeding of colors the cloth absorbs and sets the color so it won’t run or wash out.

That’s why it’s a good idea to choose washable fabric for doing any DIY art project. It ensures that there is no dust or chemicals from the manufacturing process or previous use.

It also makes sure you are drawing on clean and wrinkle-free fabric. It will make it easier for you to get the design you want to turn outright. But the technique is also important, so proceed to the next step.

Preparing For Your Masterpiece

After getting the right piece of cloth, plan the design you want to create and how you’re going to do it. It’s always better to make sure that you have a clean and uncluttered work area.

Ensure that there is nothing on the surface so that the fabric doesn’t get unwanted stains or dirt on it while creating your design.

Lay the material out so that it is flat and smooth. Taping down the corner edge and sides of the fabric so that it stays in one place while you’re drawing on it will help. You can also pin the edge instead of using tape. It helps to give the shapes accurately.

Keep all the tools needed for finishing the project near at hand. For example – pencil, freezer paper, stencil or stamp, and most importantly, the fabric markers. You can use as many colors as you want but make sure to have them just beside you while painting.

Make sure to have different tip types pens. It’ll help you to create both thick and thin lines.

Choose a Custom Design

There are limitless possibilities for what to do with fabric pens. Some people get all their friends to write a message or sign their name so that the material becomes a wearable autograph collection.

Again the easiest way is to search on google and print a picture from the web and cut out the outline you want to put on your cloth. You can always take help from your family and friends as it’s free. Lettering design is also superb. So, if you love to do calligraphy or hand lettering, then you can go for it.

However, if you are an artist and prefer to let your creativity just flow, you can always draw something freehand and see how your DIY project turns out. But drawing freehand is not recommended for beginners and kids.

How to Do It (Custom Design)

Another great option is finding a stencil or creating one with the desired outline or design so that it is easier to get the correct details and shape. You don’t want to be winging it and get halfway through when you realize it’s not the right shape.

Stencil is really a great tool to use, but if you can’t find a stencil with the design you want, you can always make one out of cardboard or plastic.

Using a rainbow stamp is also very popular among girls and school-going kids. It’s actually effortless to use, and the stamp also gives you an accurate pattern. That’s why child loves it more.

Transfer the Design on T-Shirt

Now that you’ve decided which technique to follow, it’s time to transfer the design pattern on your t-shirt. You may know how to use a stamp or stencil as it’s easy. Just fill it with paint and stamp on the cloth. So, I’m not explaining it in detail.

But if you have printed out a design, then you’ve to follow some steps. For decorating your t-shirt, first, insert cardboard and then put the design paper inside the cloth. 

Step 1: You can use freezer paper also instead of cardboard under the printed paper to avoid any ink bleeding. Though using a high-quality fabric pen won’t bleed, it’s better to be on the safe side.

Step 2: After that, use a soft pencil to trace the design. I’m recommending using a pencil so that you can erase any mistake and redo it. Make sure that the pencil lead is not too sharp as it may ruin the cloth.

You can follow another way also. If you have chosen a lettering design, then print it using the flipped version of the letters. Then use baking paper and a soft color pencil to trace it in that reversed way. 

Step 3: After tracing, hold the baking paper in the right way to read the letter in the correct order. Now, put the tracing side down toward the t-shirt and iron over it. In this way, you’ll be able to transfer the design to the fabric quickly.

Step 4: Now that you’ve penciled everything in and transfer the design entirely to the fabric, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Add Color to the Design

If you have followed all the above steps properly, you have to go for the main chapter of your t-shirt painting to color the art. It’s actually fun to play with colors while drawing. But for a fabric marker, you have to be careful since it contains dye-based ink.

First, take a small-sized tip fabric pen, and draw over the pencil outline. Just after outline everything with it, fill inside.

Now, use wide tips marker. It’ll help you to provide a wider line for painting quickly.

So, choosing the right tips marker is essential. Always keep or hold the marker pen upright to avoid any unwanted circumstances.

However, suppose you are a professional artist and very expert in drawing and painting. In that case, you can skip the pencil part and go directly to coloring.

Set the Design and Enjoy

Finally, you have to set the design properly to avoid any problems while washing it. Whether you’ve made a lettering design or floral, you need to dry it first before washing it. So, it’s a good idea that you throw the material in the dryer or use a hairdryer on the design to heat set the ink.

Some fabric markers also need to iron over it or from the backside after drying. This way, it won’t run or bleed when you wash it in the washing machine or get drenched in the rain.

After setting the design, wash the t-shirt in the washing machine and air dry it. Now, you are ready to make your friend’s jaw down wearing a customized piece.

You can also follow the same process for painting on pillow covers, bed covers, or curtains, whatever you want. Your children can also use fabric pens and create their own DIY projects as these contain safe dye-based ink.

Tips for Using Fabric Pen on Black T-Shirts

Whether you use fabric markers on your black or dark clothes, you must need white carbon paper to do it easily. It’s because you can’t see through the fabric to trace the design as you can while working on light-color material.

So, first, place the white carbon paper on your t-shirt with the whiter side down. Then tape the design paper to the fabric to trace the pattern. Now use your pencil and go over the design with firm pressure. You can add as many strokes as you want to transfer the design to the fabric surface.

After tracing everything, you are ready to use your fabric pen to color it. Remember to use freezer paper while using fabric pens to erase any part of your design by hand rubbing. At last, let the fabric paint dry for a few hours or, according to the manufacturers, and heat set it.

And yes! Your dark t-shirt is also ready to use. 🙂

A Word of Caution

While you prep for your art, don’t stretch or twirl the fabric to pin or tape it. It won’t let you do a smooth painting job.

Obviously, choose the washable fabric and also heat set it carefully. It’ll be best if you read out the label before you start working on it. Don’t keep your marker pen’s tip in one place over the t-shirt while coloring. It may smudge and ruin the art you are doing for so many hours. 

You can also practice using a fabric marker on a scrap piece of cloth to master it. Choose the markers that don’t overflow the ink and also wash proof.

If you notice any sign that the pen may supply more ink than necessary, don’t use it or waste your money buying it.

The whole process mentioned here is for white or light color t-shirts only. For those that you can place the design inside the shirt and trace it from outside.

But if you are planning to paint over your black or dark color t-shirt, follow the heading mentioned above named “Tips for Designing Black T-Shirt.”


Q: Does fabric marker washout?

Fabric markers are generally made with permanent dye-based paint or ink. After drying it properly and heat setting, the ink becomes permanent on the fabric.

So, whether you wash it in the washing machine or rub the cloth while cleaning, there’s no chance to come off the paint, ruining the art.

But there are some fabric pens from Crayola that may wash off or fade away over time. This type of pen is used mainly by the children so that if they mark on their clothes with it while playing, parents can easily wash it off clothes. These pens also contain non-toxic ink, making them safe for kids.

Q: What marker works best on fabric?

It’s actually difficult to recommend one name for fabric markers, to be honest. Still, among the thousands of brands, I can suggest a few options: Craft For All, Liquitex, Ohuhu, Crazy Colors, Crayola, Sharpie, and many more. These are the most trusted ones for fabric paint.

However, they provide fabric pens of different designs and styles. So, pick up the one that suits you.

Q: Can Sharpies be used as fabric markers?

Sharpies are mainly famous for their permanent markers for daily use. And these markers are not safe to use as fabric pens. These markers may bleed, smudge, and wash off, leaving a stain behind.

However, the good news is that Sharpie has introduced a fabric marker range specifically made to use on clothes. From them, I personally like the Sharpie Stained Fabric Pen.

The color quality is too good and won’t bleed at all. It won’t even fade away if you wash your clothes in the washing machine. So, if you want to use a Sharpie on your clothes, then go for this one.

Q: How do you stop a fabric marker from bleeding?

First, I would suggest grabbing a high-quality fabric pen and choose the fabric carefully. Still, if you face the bleeding problem, then one possible solution is to put freezer paper inside the t-shirt so that it won’t ruin the other part of it.

However, if you face the ink spreading out problem, then you can use aloe vera gel.

When you finish tracing the design with pencils, apply the aloe vera gel on the outside lines of the art design, mainly over the outlines. It’ll not let the ink spreading out and stop your fabric marker from bleeding or smudging.

A Whole New Wardrobe

Whether you want to know how to use fabric markers so you can decorate new t-shirts at camp or are looking to add some color to a boring wardrobe, you’re ready to start!

So grab some markers, let your creative juices flow, and your imagination go wild so you can be styling in your own unique designs.

Be sure to bookmark our site for easy access to all our tips and suggestions!

Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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