How to Create Beautiful Effects with Sharpies and Rubbing Alcohol
Learn four simple Sharpie hacks that’ll change your adult coloring game for good.
By Thea Voutiritsas
Sharpie markers are a go-to for adult colorists for obvious reasons: They come in a variety of colors and tips, and the colors are long-lasting on most surfaces, but the reasons don’t have to end there. Thanks to their alcohol-based formula, basic rubbing alcohol can be used as a solvent with Sharpie ink, opening up a whole new world of Sharpie possibilities! To help get your inspiration flowing, here are four creative ways to combine Sharpies and rubbing alcohol. Just be sure to crack a window for some fresh air as you work—the fumes can get a bit overwhelming!
Sharpie Technique 1: Tie-Dye Drops
Adding droplets of rubbing alcohol (using a small paintbrush or cotton swab) to a freshly finished coloring page yields a cool tie-dye-esque look. This technique works best if you apply the alcohol drops shortly after coloring your page so that the Sharpie ink is still a bit damp. The drops of alcohol will diffuse the color as they dry, leaving little tie-dye style circles all over your design. For more control, you can touch your cotton swab directly to the page and create an organized pattern of dots. For something a bit more organic and abstract, try flinging or flicking motions to splatter rubbing alcohol across your page in a random pattern.
Sharpie Technique 2: Dots and Doodle
Adding a layer rubbing alcohol on top of polka dots or other doodle patterns creates a unique blurred effect. The alcohol will cause the pattern to bleed out and expand. Keep in mind that the more alcohol you use, the more your pattern will bleed across the paper. Paint it on generously to fill an area with pigment. Or, if you don’t want your dots to bleed into each other, dab the brush off on a paper towel first to remove any excess alcohol and create a more subtle diffused effect.
Sharpie Technique 3: Watercolor
First, a pro tip: This technique works best with highly pigmented Sharpies—think reds, pinks, blues, etc. (Lighter colors like orange and yellow won’t show up as well). Start by creating a swatch of Sharpie ink (one color, or mix your own with a few markers) on a smooth piece of plastic (like an old yogurt container top or watercolor paint palette). Next, dip your paintbrush in rubbing alcohol and swirl it together with the ink. This will make your Sharpie ink into a thin watercolor-like consistency which you can use just like you would watercolor paints. The more alcohol you use, the less pigmented your ink will become. A word to the wise: Work quickly! Alcohol dries much faster than water. For better blending, wet your coloring page with plain rubbing alcohol first before adding the thinned out ink on top. You can also add a little more rubbing alcohol on top to blend even more.
Sharpie Technique 4: Ombre Lines
Create a bold and blended look by outlining some of the lines in your coloring page with Sharpies. Before the ink dries, give the area a quick coat of rubbing alcohol. The Sharpie ink will bleed into the wet areas of the paper, creating a gradient effect. You can create smoother gradients by adding more alcohol, but keep in mind that it’ll be harder to control where the color flows.
While working with Sharpies and rubbing alcohol can be fun, it can also get pretty messy. Be sure to protect your work surface from any ink that might bleed through by lining it with a thick piece of cardstock or a disposable plastic tablecloth. And as long as you don’t over soak your paper, the quick-drying alcohol shouldn’t warp typical printer paper. We used a 28-pound digital copy paper in our examples, but feel free to use what you have at home. In the end, remember to have fun and don’t be afraid to color outside the lines! Relax, let loose, and get creative with your love for coloring.