Seeking the Uber-Sharpie
October 12, 2009 10:32 PM   Subscribe

Ultra-permanent marker (more permanent than Sharpie Industrial, on soft rubbery plastic)? Alternately: paint or coating that's very strong AND very soft-thin-flexible?

What kind of marker or paint or coating would permanently change Apple headphone cables from white to black, yet still leave them almost as soft, as thin and as flexible as they naturally are?

I want to do this right because, aside from the white color, I've got my perfect Frankenphones now (the stock Apple phones with in-line mic/clicker plus the earpieces from my high-quality sealing earphones, via my friend's soldering magic).

Things that wouldn't work:
• electrical tape wrapped around the cable (inflexibility and bulk).
• Sharpie (tried both standard and Industrial as recommended in another AskMe; both are solid black at first but soon start to rub away in daily use).
• anything liquid that couldn't be delicately spot-applied (I need to preserve the clicker's mic hole and its ability to click, by carefully hand-painting).

I have to end up with black headphones, not white, so please help me figure out how to get there. Thanks!
posted by kalapierson to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A paint pen?
posted by flaterik at 10:37 PM on October 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks! Can you be any more specific? (Are there any paint pens you know to be MUCH more permanent than Industrial Sharpie?)
posted by kalapierson at 10:39 PM on October 12, 2009

Anything is going to rub off or chip because the coating of the cables is nonporous, and the surface is so flexible, combined with the oils of your skin and so-on. No matter what you use, you'll need to coat it with some kind of fixative or varnish, to form a seal. Could you experiment with flexible artist's varnishes and see if any of them would work? I don't know about you but among my friends and I we have something like 6 sets of unused ipod headphones lying around taking up space. I imagine you would have to set up a rig to suspend the cables, mask off the bits you don't want varnished, and spray. There are hundreds of varnishes on the market, but some are considered more flexible than others. has, upon a quick glance, at least 20 to consider.
posted by Mizu at 10:55 PM on October 12, 2009

You could also try a vinyl dye— while I haven't personally used it, it's a product specifically designed to recolour flexible plastics, especially light colours. You might try your auto store or online— they seem to be popular among case modders.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:03 PM on October 12, 2009

I realized after I posted it that a paint pen is likely to flake with flex, as it's just applying a pretty normal paint. Vinyl dye sounds like a much more viable option.
posted by flaterik at 11:05 PM on October 12, 2009

I would try a spray paint for plastic like the one rustoleum advertises.

You could just tape off anything you are worried about spraying. After to do hand touch ups you could spray directly into a plastic cup and hand paint with the pooled paint.

A light clear coat could help add to the longevity of the finish.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:08 PM on October 12, 2009

This is the kind of stuff I do for a living- painting things that shouldn't be painted. A rubber surface is my archenemy.

I'm putting my bet against the Rustoleum plastic spray paint. I've had terrible luck with it- it stays sticky in some cases, and chips off in big flakes sometimes too.

Agree with flaterik that the paint pen will chip with flexing. You may try dye-based artists markers. Two brands I like are Prismacolor and Tria. Be aware that dye based markers will fade over time to a deep reddish or greenish cast, but not in the same messy way a Sharpie will.

Vinyl dye and its cousin, shoe spray, sound like good ideas. (try a good local shoe repair place for spray paints indicated for vinyl shoes and handbags) Carefully mask off your clickers and such with tiny cut pieces of masking tape first.

Another thing to try: Plasti-Dip, a smelly rubbery goo used for making a new grip on your shop tools. You can pick it up at Home Depot, and it comes in Black, Blue, and Red. Rubber sticks to rubber, but it will tend to be a bit thicker in consistancy than you may want.

Good luck.
posted by alight at 1:04 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

I also suggest trying Prismacolor markers. At least as a cheap first option, since you can buy them individually for a few bucks. I "enhanced" a plain white silicon iPod skin with them and it has held up 3 years later, remarkably.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 1:25 AM on October 13, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thank you everyone! I'm really happy to see all these ideas.

If this is useful to know, the Industrial Sharpie actually didn't fade in a messy way at all; the cable's now back to almost perfect white again, after a couple weeks of wear. So it's possible these phones might be specifically formulated to shed coloring-attempts (not that we've *ever* seen Apple specifically interested in keeping people from diluting their aesthetic....).
posted by kalapierson at 2:03 AM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: Dykem. we use these in machine shops to mark metal. very thick and durable.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:28 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Another way to do this is plastic dye, which can be had from auto parts stores. Unlike markers, which coat the surface and can rub off, dyes penetrate the surface and are very permanent. Hobbyists have been using these for years on models, RC cars, paint-gun accessories, computer cases, etc...

Here's a typical set of instructions for application.
posted by bonehead at 8:50 AM on October 13, 2009

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