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Fabric Painting with Fabric Markers or Paint Pens

How to use a fabric marker or fabric paint pen.

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Fabric painting with a marker pen or paint pen rather than brush and paint is particularly useful when it comes to painting thin lines. (And there's no brush to clean afterwards!) But that's hardly the only thing you can do with fabric markers or paint pens. They give you great control for "coloring in", work easily with stencils, and can be used with rubber stamps.

1. What Makes a Pen a Fabric Marker?

Fabric painting with fabric marker pens
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
A fabric marker contains permanent color (dye/paint/ink) that's designed to not wash out of clothing or fade with washing. A regular marker pen labeled "permanent" will likely not wash out either, but these don't come in as many colors as fabric markers do.

2. Thin and Thick Lines

Fabric markers
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
Fabric markers come in various sizes, from thin to thick to brush-style tips. The finer the tip on the marker, the thinner a line you'll be able to make. To get a wider line, don't press down on the tip as this can damage it. Rather tilt the pen so it's at a slight angle, so you're creating the line with the edge of the marker not just the tip.

Both these lines were created with the fabric marker shown in the photo.

3. Select Your Fabric Carefully

Fabric painting with marker pens
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
The grain of your fabric has an impact on how well a fabric marker works. A coarse grain or rough texture to a fabric means there are "lumps 'n bumps" the pen has to go over. A fine grain or smooth fabric is easier to work on. If in doubt, test the marker on a scrap bit of fabric or somewhere out of sight, such as an inside seam.

Be careful not to stop or pause with the tip of the marker resting on the fabric as the color will bleed out into it (as shown in the photo). If you find yourself hesitating, lift the marker off the fabric while you think about what you're doing.

4. Lettering with a Fabric Marker

Fabric painting with markers
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
I definitely prefer doing lettering with a fabric marker than a brush! Practice makes for neater letters, and a light pencil line helps getting the letters straight. Don't obsess about it though, as the irregularity is part of creating something by hand rather than machine. It's part of the character of the final item.

5. Large Areas of Color

Fabric markers
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
You can "color in" with a fabric marker, but it'll use up your markers quickly. It's cheaper to use fabric paint for large areas.

Be sure to let an area of color dry before using another, otherwise the colors may bleed (as the black has in the photo).

6. Stenciling with a Fabric Marker

Fabric painting with markers
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
Fabric markers work very well with stencils. For an outline, run the tip along the edge of a stencil, keeping the pen upright so it doesn't slip underneath.

To "color in" a stencil design, you can do it with the stencil in place or remove it. The former makes it easier to avoid accidentally going over the edge of the design, just be careful the stencil doesn't slip as you're working.

7. Stamping with a Fabric Marker

Fabric marker painting
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
Fabric markers work great for printing on fabric with rubber stamps, or any flattish, non-absorbent item. The technique is simple: add color to the stamp by running the fabric marker over it, turn stamp over and put on fabric, press down firmly, and the color comes off the stamp onto the fabric.

The 'tricky bit' is that you need to work quickly so the color doesn't dry on the stamp, but that's easy to do if it's a small stamp. You can, of course, use multiple colors on a stamp, not just one. Pressing the stamp down a second time will give you a lighter image as there'll be little color on it. Experiment on a scrap piece of fabric to get a feel for it before doing it "for real".

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