So, just how permanent *is* a Sharpie™?
September 30, 2016 9:06 AM   Subscribe

As in, if I color the buttons on a shirt with a Sharpie, will I eff-up a shirt through multiple washings?

Here's the deal...I bought this really gorgeous shirt at my local big-box (I know "gorgeous shirt" and "big box" don't usually go together, but this time, it does.) One minor issue, though...the buttons.

It's a solid wine-color, long-sleeve, button-down collar. But, because they can get them for something like 5¢ per shipping container, it has white buttons. For...reasons...this has continued to offend my design sense.

Now, I know I could simply get some nice buttons and replace the white ones, but 1.) I'm good with emergency button replacement, but not so much making eight buttons all look factory-placed. 2.) Getting a seamstress to replace them would probably cost more than the damned shirt. But...can they be permanently colored?

My go-to would probably be Sharpies. They come in a bajillion colors now, so I'm pretty sure I could find something appropriate for the shirt. I'm thinking something approximating a wood-like tone of some sort. However, as a graphic artist, I've used Sharpies many, many, many times over the years and have noticed that, while bullet-proof-permanent on porous substrates, hard surfaces (like plastic buttons) are more hit-and-miss.

But, what if I try and heat-set the color by running the shirt through the dryer after applying the Sharpie? Would that work? Or, am I simply looking at a miserable future where the Sharpie rubs-off onto my fingers and/or bleeds into the shirt, leaving me in tears?

Sharpie makes an Industrial marker, but I think they come only in black and red.

But, what of metallic Sharpies? I have a copper Sharpie that might look spiffy as a button color.

Please hope me, oh MeFite fashion-on-the-cheap-mavens!
posted by Thorzdad to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Sharpie will most likely rub off the buttons not in the wash but when you button the shirt. (And as you may know, will probably then transfer from your fingers to the buttonhole side of the shirt.)

Have you considered nail polish?
posted by maryr at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

a) this will look bad. Are you going to color the threads too? How do you expect that to work? How will you get down in the holes without getting any Sharpie on the shirt?

b) Sharpie is not permanent to the level you want it to be. It will chip and rub off over time.

c) replacing buttons is so so easy. When you pull off a button there will even be little holes you can use to guide the placement!

Seriously, just replace the buttons. If you actually like this shirt and want it to look nice, replace the buttons.
posted by brainmouse at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2016 [36 favorites]

I've done exactly this, and it didn't work.
posted by aramaic at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wouldn't polish eventually chip off, even with a clear coat?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2016

Spray paint?
posted by meemzi at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2016

I think a thin coat of nail polish would be more lasting than a Sharpie. Yes, it would chip off some, but you could re-paint. And when it chips off it will be far less likely to stain the shirt.

(I do agree that your best bet would be replacing the buttons.)
posted by maryr at 9:11 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

For reasons of mainly stupidity, I had a plastic nametag with on it go through the washer and dryer. The hand drawn sharpied on name faded materially. Cannot say if it got on the clothes as I washed it with darks.

If it were me, I would go to your local dry cleaners and negotiate a deal to replace the 8 buttons. $4? 50 cents a button?
posted by AugustWest at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ask a local dry cleaner how much to replace the buttons. The Sharpie and whatever else will look uneven.
posted by effluvia at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: The shirt may have an extra replacement button sewn inside, near the bottom corner seam. Try Sharpie-ing this and wearing it for a day? I don't think Sharpie transfer would show through material of this color.
posted by maryr at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2016

You say that a seamstress would "probably cost more than the damned shirt." Does that mean you don't know the actual cost? If so, I would call around to actually get some prices, then ask yourself if that's more than the cost of your time and effort touching up/retouching periodically the buttons.
posted by Bromius at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Any tailor worth their wight isn't going to charge you much for that. As a couple other folks have mentioned, even a drycleaner would probably do this (cheap).

If you don't already have a tailor, you should have one. Because then you can save up a couple 'jobs' for them, and send them to them all at once. You'll get a much better price for 'buttons on this shirt, hemming these pants and taking in this shirt' than each of those separately.

My tailor doesn't even charge me for little stuff like that if I'm doing anything else sizable.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:23 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

As someone who was once responsible for making sure that Sharpied-on ID codes for biological field samples remained legible long enough to get the samples back to the lab, I'm definitely on team "don't do this." Sharpie, even "industrial" Sharpie, rubs off of plastic and other non-porous materials very easily. Once it's dried, it just forms a thin coating on the surface of whatever you're writing on, which will smear onto whatever they rub against. It will never totally rub off though (any grooves or scratches will retain the color; that's actually how we got our labels to stay on, we would scratch the ID codes into the sample tubes and then Sharpie over the scratches) and will end up looking like smeary garbage.

A better solution would be to use some kind of paint, like the nail polish suggested above. This still wouldn't be permanent though, and you'd run the risk of ruining the shirt by getting nail polish on it, and it probably would never look quite right.

The correct solution is to replace the buttons, which would not take much more time than nail polish and which would look much better and be permanent. If I were you I would think of it as an opportunity to improve my button-sewing skills.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:32 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending on how many buttons there are, you may well be able to pick up this skill. I've not done this, myself, but replacing buttons doesn't seem like a complicated skill, and I'd be willing to bet that a shirt-worth of buttons would probably get you up the learning curve. You might find, after the final button that you have done a better job and want to re-do the first button. (I'd also start at the bottom, where buttons go from least-noticed to most noticed bottom to top.)

Do you have any friends or acquaintances who have this skill and can walk you through it?

Also, do you have replacement buttons? Finding the right ones could require a little legwork.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:37 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You go buy the buttons you want. Take each old button off one at a time. The thread from the old buttons should leave holes in the fabric. Use those holes to sew the new buttons on. Easy peasy.
posted by PJMoore at 9:38 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's too much risk of getting sharpie on the shirt _while you are applying it_.

Just make sure the new buttons you get are _exactly_ the same size (and thickness), or maybe a teeny bit smaller, as the current buttons. You can do this.
posted by amtho at 9:47 AM on September 30, 2016

Okey doke, folks. I've come to my senses. I'm off to JoAnne in search of some nice wood/nut buttons.

Danke, y'all!
posted by Thorzdad at 9:53 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

You probably know this, but make sure you have the right color thread. That matters too. It should match the buttons.
posted by amtho at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

To match the button or the shirt?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:45 AM on September 30, 2016

I've had my local clothing repair place change the buttons for free in the past when I brought the buttons in, to give you some sense of the low cost.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:41 PM on September 30, 2016

Here's how to sew a button. From The Art of Manliness of all places. Once you snip the buttons off you'll see where the stitches were for sure. Get thread to match the buttons. Be sure to use the spacing method with a toothpick or extra needle so you can actually button the shirt (otherwise the button will be too close to the base fabric.) Take off and restitch one button at a time so you can have a reference point for the factory buttons. Be sure you buy buttons of the same size. You can take the shirt to the store with you or measure the buttons.

Or see if you have a family member or friend who sews. Seriously. If I were near you I would do this for you. It's super easy.

Sharpie will definitely rub off and possibly permanent stain your shirt, not to mention not staying on the button.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would also replace your buttons for you were I within your vicinity. I've done it on my mom's coat.

posted by jenfullmoon at 6:09 PM on September 30, 2016

To match the button or the shirt?

Your call. You could even add a new color if you think the shirt could use the accent.
posted by she's not there at 7:45 PM on September 30, 2016

Years ago my grandmother was passing down some of her clothes to me -- she had exquisite taste -- and suggested one item and I enthused about it and added that I couldn't wait to change the buttons. "Hmm. I'm not sure if you're...old enough for that one," she said, and set it aside.

I was a bit taken aback but years later realised I had threatened to remove beautiful, expensive buttons (shell or horn, can't recall) to replace them with plastic in the same colour, and this would have changed and cheapened an expensive (skirt? shirt? one of the two) and she was right to hold it on reserve until I had come to my senses.

White buttons on any colour of shirt are a very timeless look and I would urge you to slow your roll here for a bit and make sure you can't live with it as is. If they are the grade of button you get in hotel sewing kits, ditch them; anything will be an improvement. But if they are nice enough buttons, see if you can pause here for a bit and find out if time will change your mind. See? It looks smart. Kinda matching or wooden-ish, not so much.

(Also: wooden/wood-look buttons have not been in style for ages, and real wood/nut ones do not hold up well in the wash.)
posted by kmennie at 12:38 AM on October 1, 2016

Years ago my family rented a partially furnished apartment from a guy who was "restoring" an old, threadbare, Persian-style (in design at least) rug in the living room... by coloring in the threadbare/faded areas with marker. Don't do this to your buttons. It is noticeable, and it looks terrible.
posted by eviemath at 4:50 AM on October 1, 2016

Thanks, all. Went with regular, dark-ish turtle-shell buttons and it looks great. Much better than the stock white.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:28 AM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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