Can You Use Copic Markers on Fabric?

You can use Copic Markers on fabric in a fairly straightforward manner, and there are ways to make your drawings more permanent too. Your main watch out will be how the inks bleed on the fabric. In this particular Copic marker tutorial we have examples of the behaviours of different types of fabric below.

You might want to use your Copics on fabric to add details to your clothes or maybe add a bit of decoration around the home (wall hangings, pillows, tablecloths etc.) If you are thinking of working on to canvas shoes, we’ve already experimented working Copics into Canvas, so that might be useful reading.

This is a bit of a beast of an article, so we’re signposting you to information you might need up front:

Working with different types of fabric:
Coloured Cotton
Unbleached Calico
Cotton Muslin
Polyester Cotton
Pure Silk

Securing your work:
How to make sure your fabric based Copic work lasts

Can You Use Copic Markers on the Most Common Fabric, Cotton?

Cotton was one of the simplest to apply ink to, although not without some pains. The theme here is bleeding. While you might feel perfectly in control applying your Copic Marker to paper (so long as your are using the best paper for your own Copic style), going on to fabric lends an air of unpredictability. With each stroke ink will wick away on both the warp and weft of the fabric – putting neat finishes in jeopardy. That said, you can use Copic markers on fabric, ti just takes a little practice.

As you will see below, laying the outline with a Copic Multiliner was fairly straightforward. I found it easy to achieve the lines I was after and everything looked quite neat.

Applying copic multiliner to cotton fabric

The next stage was to bring colour into the mix. A quick test stroke left me thinking this would be fairly straight forward. The stroke was as intended, dynamic and well defined. It gave no indication of the bleeding to come.

Testing colour on canvas

When I started to fill the space the bleeding became evident. My approach was to define the edges first and then use more expressive strokes to colour the centre. However, the warp and weft started siphoning the ink off with each touch, resulting in scrappy edges. I started from the right, which you will see is the scruffiest of lines.

Away from the line and let it bleed

By the time I had worked my way across to the left of the cup I’d learned to leave myself a little buffer for the pen to leak in to. With a little practice I could accurately have the bleed run right up to the line but no further. This works to an extent, but leaves gappy white spaces due to the lack of saturation.

Lightness of touch

To combat the white gaps while maintaining crisp lines, i had to go really light on my strokes. Eventually, by moving slowly and lightly, I could fill the gaps without too much bleed. This took a deal of trial and error however, as you will see below.

Use copic pens on canvas

I didn’t get it right 100% of the time but it is possible. If I were to do this for a complete project I would leave plenty of time for trial and error and make sure there was spare cotton to practise on.

Using colourless blender on fabric

Do not use a colourless blender on fabric. Once I had finished colouring I was dissatisfied with the scrappy edges. Knowing how well Copic colourless blender can work to remove errant lines on paper, I thought I would try it on the cotton. It was a big mistake.

All the colourless blender resulted in was more bleeding and even scrappier lines. It reactivates the existing ink in more fluid, and travels along the fabric in unpredictable ways.

Coloured Cotton

Using Copic Markers on coloured cotton is unsurprisingly similar to using them on plain cotton (see above). As with the plain counterpart, cotton will force you to be gentle around any hard lines at the risk of bleeding past your edges. It also will not forgive your use of a colourless blender. With a gentle hand, the multiliner is easy enough to lay down.

Copic multiliner showing clean lines on coloured cotton.

Where coloured cotton varies in behaviour is how it interacts with the palette of pens you have selected. You need to know how the colours you have picked will show up. Just as if you were drawing on red card, a red cotton will darken and shift your colours. Take, for instance, the below. The colours used on the cup are the same used on the cup on plain cotton, however you can barely tell the tones are blue. As a result, detail can be lost and outcomes unpredictable. It is best to experiment with colours on a scrap of representative fabric before getting stuck in.

using copic markers on dark fabric is difficult as the inks show darker.

One unexpected outcome from working on fabric in this way is the almost painterly stroke that can be achieved if the fabric isn’t fully saturated. This is similar to the effect you can get when using Copics on canvas.

Unbleached Calico

ln terms of laying ink down, the unbleached calico behaved much like cotton. The tight weave of the fabric made laying down the multiliner a breeze.

Copic multiliner is easy to apply to unbleached calico

The colouring of the fabric felt slightly easier to pull off that it did with the cotton. That may have just been my hand becoming more used to the subtitles of colouring on fabric.

finished cup using copic markers on fabric (cotton)

With calico it felt like there was simply more fabric than when working with the cotton. The down side of this is it is thirsty on the ink, and could drain your supply more quickly. Remember, those Copics will dry out and you might want to think about lining up some replacement inks if you go down the fabric route. The upside is that it takes more before the fabric becomes fully saturated, and so allows even more for sketch like lines.

Cotton Muslin

By far the loosest weave I worked with belonged to the cotton muslin, and that sure made it a pig to get the multiliner on to. I thought this would be the ultimate test when finding out if I could use Copic Markers on fabric. The pen snagged on loose threads, rather than dropping ink on the fabric it would pull the fabric in what ever direction the stroke was going.

Proof that getting smooth lines on cotton muslin is hard

As further proof of this, I can show you the card which sat underneath the muslin as I sketched. You can quite clearly see where the pen has dropped through the weave and instead drawn full lines on the surface below.

Evidence of line work on the surface beneath the muslin I was drawing on.

I had read that the looser the weave, the quicker inks were to bleed.

For the most part, I found this not to be the case. The ink would stay on the threads I applied it too. That spacing which caused so much issue when laying an outline meant that the way Copic ink spreads becomes much more predictable. Not the case, found it stayed within the threads applied to.

Effective use of copic inks on muslin

When the pen did snag, it would get messy, so the brush tip is the ideal tool for muslin. By pulling the fabric taught it becomes a much more workable surface.

Polyester Cotton

Working with the polyester cotton felt different again, with more bleed than standard cotton. Getting the line work down was fine, with the multiliner nib not snagging at any point in the process.

Copic multiliner on polyester cottton

However when it came time to fill the spaces with colour, it was the most difficult process yet to stay within the lines. No matter my approach, the bleeding was too unpredictable to maintain a neat finish. The end result was smudgy and dissatisfying.

Copic on Polyster Cotton

Can you Use Copic Markers on Pure Silk?

Drawing on pure silk was very similar to using cotton: too much pressure will cause a bleed. At the same time, it is very quick to develop a technique which protects your lines, so a little practice before you commence is recommended.

Getting the mutiliner down felt even smoother than using the cotton with a tight weave. It was the closest feel to the control you have when line making on paper.

Smooth lines achieved using a Copic Multiliner on pure silk

It depends on the colour of pure silk you are working with, but using a lighter colour like this allows for more detail when you start apply your coloured inks. When you compare it to the red cottons used elsewhere in this article, you can see the more painterly strokes showing through.

As with all other fabrics in this article, the key was to not rush, take some time and understand how the ink will bleed so that you can develop techniques to protect your lines. As you will see below, I suffered some bleed – but in taking more time this get like it would have been easier to keep neat.

Copic markers on fabric - pure silk fabric

Making sure your use of Copic Markers on fabric lasts

The best way I have found to secure the alcohol ink to the fabric in a permanent fashion is with heat, much like you would when printing on to fabric. To protect the design, I covered the inks with a piece of fabric before ironing on relatively hot temperature.

Ironing to secure copic inks to fabric

After this, I popped the fabrics in for a quick wash on 30 degrees centigrade (around 86 Fahrenheit) and noticed no obvious further bleeding. It remains to be seen how many washes these designs could take before they start to fade, but the certainly fared better from the first wash than I had expected.

The finished product of using copic markers on different fabrics