Friday, May 16, 2014

Fabric Pens Review

A few months ago, I was contacted by a family member to make a signature quilt for her wedding that was last weekend. Once we settled on the design or the quilt and picked out the fabric, the next step was figuring out which pens would give the best results. I set to the web to do some research.

And I didn't find a whole lot.

The one blog post that I found that was the most helpful was from Ebony of Love Bug Studios. I took her suggestions to test the ink on the fabrics, I bought several pens and I went to work.

I had gotten some reviews about ZIG pens and was told that these pens could be found at Michael's in the scrapbooking section so I headed there to shop. I was surprised to see a wide range of open stock pens in a variety of colors. I wanted to go with brown or gold ink because I knew that the black would be very harsh on the color palette that Gretchen had chosen.

Bella and Kona fabrics for a wedding quilt

I found several pens that I though could work so they all came home with me to test. (As a side note, the prices were all reasonable for the individual pens as well.)

Before I started, I washed all of the fabric to remove all of the sizing. In everything that I read, this was very important. Of course, I also read that the worst fabrics to use are solids because of the weave, but I didn't read this until after we had the fabric picked and purchased.

For each pen, I made 2 test squares. To write on the squares, I ironed freezer paper to the back of each square of fabric (shiny side towards the fabric) and then wrote on the fabric with each pen. The freezer paper stays on the fabric until you remove it and it gives the fabric stability to be able to write without pulling the fabric at all.

For each pen, one test square was just written on and washed and the other square was heat set. Ebony recommended heat setting with a piece of aluminum foil shiny side up, fabric with the writing side down and the iron on the highest heat setting with no steam.


These pens were not recommended by anyone, but they were in the pen section at Michael's so I thought I would try them. We were thinking that a gold ink would look really nice with the fabric colors so I thought it would hurt to try them. You can see that the heat set pieces are just a tiny bit brighter than the pieces not heat set.


The Pigma and the ZIG pens. These were the two recommended for this purpose. There are many colors of these pens available at Michael's. I've used the black Pigma pens from JoAnn's for my labels for years and I have always used interfacing on the back of the fabric in order to write, but I have still had to go back over the letters to make them dark enough. With the freezer paper, I used the thinner point and didn't have any trouble.

And you can see that the heat set squares are just a tad brighter again.


Lastly, I used the Pentel Gel Roller because I saw a recommendation on Marie Elkins site. I love how this pen wrote, but it only as black ink which wouldn't work for this quilt. But since I was testing all of the other pens and inks, I thought I should test this one, too.

After I made all of the test squares, I zig zagged the edges and started washing them. I just threw them in with my laundry for a few loads. Then, I decided to sew all the squares together and hung them in several windows for several days to see how they stood up to sun exposure. And then I washed them in a couple of more loads of laundry.

Here's the results!

The Pentech pen was out. The ink looks washed out and it is no longer gold.


The Recollections Copper turned out pretty well. The Gold looked green. Also, this proves that the heat set is best. I did make a line on the Copper heat set square after all the washes to show how much the color fades after washes.


The Pigma stood up, but again, heat set is best.


And the ZIG pen washed well. Even the bold side of the pen turned out well.


The Pentel Gel Roller is fantastic in both heat set and no heat set.


Gretchen decided to go with the Pigma in Sepia and the ZIG pen in brown. While we liked the Copper Recollections, we didn't want to chance it with this pen that might end up fading even more after more washes.

So if I ever need to make another signature quilt, I know what pens to use. And for my labels, I think I will be sticking with the Pigma and Pentel pens.


Ted and Donna said...

You would make a great scientist or detective.

Regina said...

Awesome review!!!

Jennifer said...

This is a great review! I have been using the gel ink ones for a while on my labels (the last one in your test) and I have also found them in red and blue. Glad to see they hold up!

Annie said...

I just found your blog. (Saw a video about binding by Cassandra Plott, found the CMQG Facebook page looking for a write-up of Cassandra's binding method, then saw your Facebook post about pen testing - what a fun trip!)
I've heard good things about Fabrico Markers (Tsukineko ink) and tried one in a purple color (it was on clearance when I was buying some fabric online). I haven't been able to find them locally, though (central MI area). If you continue your pen research, it would be interesting to see how they compare. said...

I wonder if you know if it makes a difference which ink is used when printing out a label from your computer. I did this, washed fabric first, dried it wrote on it and used freeszer paper, all looked well until I washed it, faded to where you could barely see it! I did it in "Black" What did I do wrong? So, I thought that maybe the brand of ink for the printer may be the problem!
Thank you for any response,
Vivian Bellini