Testing fabric markers

Testing fabric markers: I know, exciting stuff right! But how you choose to mark your fabric can be a contentious issue, particularly in the quilting community, where some commentators see the use of Frixion pens as making some sort of colourful pact with the Stationery Devil. There isn’t as much written about fabric markers for garment sewing, so I decided to test the fabric markers I had on hand (Frixion Erasable Gel Pens and Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers).

Packet of Crayola Ultra Clean Washable Markers and several Pilot Frixion pens.
Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers Fine Line, from KMart. Pilot Frixion Ball Erasable Gel Pens, purchased on eBay. The middle two (pink & orange in a slightly different style to the others) are 0.7mm width; the others 0.5mm.

I’ve used other markers in the past, but these are the ones I’ve found most useful: they both produce a fine line without much effort, and come away with either the touch of an iron (Frixion pens) or in the wash (Crayola Markers). Chalk, whether in pen, pencil or block form, is always touchy to apply and I’ve had bad experiences with it staining fabric (Chaco Liner, I’m looking at you). Those fabric markers from Spotlight make a very thick, imprecise line, fade quickly once on the fabric and dry out in about 2.5 seconds. Not great results for $10 / pop.

Frixion pens are my mainstay, but they are the subject of a lot of criticism online. Quilters accuse them of not fully disappearing with either heat or a wash, and horror stories abound of people sending quilts to a show via air, only to find their pen marks reappeared in the cold temperatures of the aircraft! Pilot also maintain that they are designed for paper, not fabric.

Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers are often suggested as a safer alternative, so when I found a pack for $3 at KMart (woohoo!), I decided to test both. The fabric used is Robert Kaufman Ivy Pinpoint Oxford – White, an absolutely divine 100% cotton shirting fabric which I’ll use to make a button up shirt once my missing sewjo comes back.

1. Marked

White cloth, marked with colourful markers and pens. Markings outlined in large black square.

Crayola markers above, Frixion below. If you wondering about the black square, I marked out a 20 x 20cm square on a scrap of fabric in permanent marker, so I could throw it in the wash and test for fabric shrinkage (as per Sheryl’s excellent post on Pattern Scissors Cloth). Since learning this technique, I’ve saved myself so much hassle in not prewashing whole lots of fabric, making it far easier to sew with. (For the record, this fabric didn’t shrink at all.)

2. Ironed

White cloth, marked with colourful markers. Pen marks have disappeared with heat.

I ironed the Frixion pen marks, and the colours completely disappeared. You can see they left very faint “ghost marks” (below), which are the subject of some complaint.

White cloth, showing faint "ghost marks" of pens removed with heat.

3. Washed

Blank white cloth.

Fresh off the line, and not a pen mark in sight. Even the ghost marks disappeared! (For the record, I use a sensitive laundry detergent on a warm wash).

4. Frozen

Blank white cloth.

Another topic of concern is Frixion pen marks reappearing in the cold. They certainly do come back, albeit faintly, if exposed to cold temperatures pre-washing, but it seems the washing process completely removed the pen marks as none reappeared after a few days in the freezer. (I may have put it in there and forgot about it until I went to get some bread!)


After this test, I am confident in using either marker in my sewing. Of course, I always test Frixion pens on a scrap of whatever fabric I’m using to see if they’ll come off with the iron before attacking my garment. And these results are just mine, on this particular fabric, using my particular (quite crap-tastic) washing machine and iron – please make sure to test your fabric markers before use, particularly if using a different substrate.

What are you favourite types of fabric markers?



Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

17 thoughts on “Testing fabric markers”

  1. For me it’s horses for courses. Not every marker works on every fabric. I use the Frixion pens, but sometimes I find it difficult to get a good mark when the fabric weave gets in the way. My favourite is slivers of soap, which I find way more effective than tailors chalk, and it washes out no worries. The only drawback is that most soaps are light coloured which isn’t so effective on lighter colours. If neither of these is suitable, I’ll make tailor’s tacks.
    I’ll have to look out for those washable markers. They look worth trying.
    I agree with your assessment of Spotlight pens. I’ve found them pretty disappointing really.


    1. Absolutely. It just so happens that 90% of the time I’m sewing with a light-coloured cotton, so Frixion works for me. If I ever get around to sewing something black, I’ll have to try a soap sliver!
      Spotlight markers are expensive rubbish. I can’t believe the amount of money I spent on them in the past. The Crayola markers are in the KMart children’s section – took me a while to find them!


  2. I am another soap sliver fan. I promptly lost my frixion pen after I bought it. I have never thought about Crayola Markers. Also a pencil is something I use sometimes.


    1. I hadn’t heard of Crayola Markers either until I started doing some reading on Frixion pens. I probably won’t use them as much but I like that they are cheap and readily available. Do you find pencil comes out easily in the wash, or do you just use it to trace patterns then cut within the lines? I have used it in the past but it was a bugger to get out.


  3. I tried to comment yesterday but I think WordPress ate my comment? Or maybe I did it wrong. Anyway it was a long ramble about how I have used crayola markers in the past and they worked ok although I found if it took me too long to complete a make sometimes they didn’t wash out completely. These days I use chaco markers for some things but mostly I use an awl to mark darts and pleats. It works really well, it’s simple, more precise because I can do it straight through the pattern, and I like that I can feel it on both sides so it helps me be sure I’m sewing accurately. I have two – one I bought for $2 on ebay that is a bit blunt but fine for thicker fabrics (probably not ideal for rayon or silk. Not that I sew with silk!) and one clover one which was more expensive but still reasonable, and is very sharp. I see you can buy one on ebay for about $10. I use whichever one is closest to hand, and I’m a definite convert to this method!

    I love that pre-washing test! So smart. It would save so much time – although probably take more executive function which is what I’m short on these days. Thanks for posting these reviews, it was really enlightening!


    1. Your previous comment got lost in the spam filter…silly thing. I didn’t think of the markers setting in after a time. I might reserve them for use in seam allowances.

      The awl method looks really good! I do something similar, but using a pin at the tip of the dart that I can just take out as I sew.

      The pre wash test works for me cos it saves a heap of energy washing and ironing yardage. And I can just throw the swatch in with the regular swatch. It seemed like too much hassle to begin with so I’m glad it saves me energy (though I get how it’s not for everyone).


      1. It must have been all the jargon I used 😛 I was having A Day and I wondered if I just hadn’t actually pressed ‘submit’ so I’m glad it wasn’t me having a brain fart! I’ve used the yellow crayola one and not had a problem – the light green was the one that stained, but I do mostly reserve them for things in the seam allowances rather than darts.

        I’m definitely putting the pre wash test in my arsenal because there are some fabrics it would be so handy for, or if I buy >4 metres at a time for example. It’s nice to have different ways of doing things so you can use whatever works at the time! I bet if it was just the way I did things always it would quickly become easier.


  4. I’ve had a hard time finding a fabric marker /chalk to do the trick and I am equally sick of shelling out loads of money to buy fabric markers at Spotlight. The last one I purchased (a direct replacement) had obviously dried out in the packaging as I could barely get it to make any mark at all despite significant friction. I am definitely going to hunt out some of these Crayola markers. Thanks for the great idea!


      1. Most recently I just gave up with fabric markers, pens and chalk when making a heavy dark sweatshirt and just used a gold metallic sharpie inside the seam allowance. On the inside of finished garment there is one little gold mark at the back of the neckband, but I don’t mind because I love gold metallic! Ha ha, wouldn’t work for most garments though. I am definitely going to get some of the Crayola markers.


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