Updated November 8, 2019.
Several years ago I did an extensive test of pens for marking needlepoint canvas. This article goes into the testing method, talks about different brands of threads, and updates the information.
I tested three types of pens by marking them on canvas, wetting them, rubbing the wet canvas, blotting it and then repeating the whole process 24 hours later, after the pens had dried. The first round of testing is the method recommended for needlepointers for years.
I added the second round because in my research about pens and their inks I discovered that many pens are made to be blendable, drying more slowly, so that you can mix colors. This got me thinking about what would make these dyes fast and I tried heat setting, waiting 24 hours, and both. Waiting did the trick. Heat setting didn’t make a difference if done either immediately or after waiting, so I discarded it as unnecessary.
The pens I tried fell into three categories:
- markers labelled for fabric – ZIG textile marker, FabricMate, DecoFabric Marker, Marvy Fabric Marker
- permanent markers not labeled for fabric – PIGMA microns, Extra Fine Sharpies, COPIC markers
- plain old pens from my desk, in this case a gel pen from Pilot
Newer than the tests are dye and paint pens. These pens have material you find in bottles, dye and acrylic paint, in pen form. If the material in the pen is suitable for canvas, the pen will be as well. Acrylic paint pens are no problem. Dye pens are usually OK as well, but you need to be sure the dye is for plant fibers (i.e. cotton).
The gel pen, as I expected, failed every test. Many of the pens, including several fabric markers, failed the initial blotting test, leaving residue on the paper towel.
However, when I waited for 24 hours or overnight, the results were significantly different. All the permanent markers worked as did the fabric markers.
There are markers I didn’t test for this. I have had excellent results using SCA-UF from Pilot, a fined marker used for outlines. These are the pens preferred by most designers I know. I have also used metallic markers successfully, but being more like spray paints, these need to dry several days, so I don’t recommend them.
In the past, I have also tried BIC permanent markers and regular Sharpies, but I found they ran. But I didn’t let them dry first, so I need to test them again.
I found the most consistent results with markers specifically for fabric, Pigma Microns, and Copic markers. I use Pigmas for transferring designs, for marking the outside of the design area, and for very fine lines. I use fabric markers (there are also some metallic colors of these) for larger areas when the correct color is available. Otherwise, I use Copic markers.
Also very new are pens you fill yourself with dyes to make a dye marker (COPICS use dye instead of ink). I haven’t used them, although I have used dyes on canvas. Some dyes and inks are alcohol-based instead of water-based. Although dyes should be permanent, their job is to permanently color items, alcohol-based inks and dyrs are preferrable.
If you have tried or want to know about different pens for marking, let me know in the comments, I want to try them out.