Shop Talk

How to Revive Dried Out Markers

If you’ve been doodling since before you could form full sentences, chances are you have a range of markers and felt tips lying around your home. Somehow these drawing companions breed in my studio space, and I seem to have a small army of Copics, Sharpies, and Touch markers constantly within arm’s reach. These markers tend to dry out before they fully die out, and it can be frustrating and expensive to keep replacing struggling tools.

This tutorial covers two different techniques for reviving water-based markers as well as non-water soluble or paint markers. The first method uses submersion in water to try and invigorate dried out ink that is sitting where the marker felt (or fibre) meets the inner tube ink cartridge. The second method uses vinegar to try and dab at the markers’ ink to break through built up and dried out marker debris inside the top of the tip.

You can usually tell if your marker is water-based by reading the label, otherwise often non-water based markers have an overwhelming sharp chemical smell that gives them away.

For this tutorial you will need: 

  • Water-based markers that are drying out
  • One small bowl, glass, or cup
  • One small dish or jar lid
  • A sheet of paper
  • White household vinegar
  • Water just below boiling point

Start by sorting through your markers and checking their status. If any markers are clearly beyond repair and are totally dried out, chuck them in the bin. When the tip of a marker has totally dried out, or feels like it’s fossilised when touching paper, it’s probably beyond the point of repair. This exercise is to save your markers before they get to that point.

When you’re done ensure all the caps and lids are fitted snugly back on your markers.

The water submersion method:

  1. Heat water to just below boiling and pour it into a small bowl, glass or cup. Leave your hot water for about two minutes to let it cool slightly, to prevent the water being too hot and melting any plastic parts of your markers.
  2. Once you’ve got your bowl of hot water, submerge the whole tip of your water-based marker for five minutes. Make sure you have submerged the part of your marker where the felt tip meets the casing of the marker.
  3. After about a minute you should notice ink from your marker beginning to bleed into your water. This is a good sign, and indicates that the warmth of the water has got your marker running freely again. You can see in my photos below the black ink is moving through my glass of water, and it looks similar to the way a drop of food dye spreads in water.
  4. Shake off any excess water and replace your marker lid. Leave your marker to dry off in a cool dry place for 24 hours before testing it again.

The vinegar method:

  1. Pour ordinary white household vinegar into a small dish or jar lid .
  2. Very carefully, dip the tip lightly and quickly into the vinegar. You don’t want to submerge the tip as it can be too corrosive for some markers and ruin them.
  3. Dab the marker tip swiftly in and out of the vinegar 5-10 times, in the hopes that the vinegar will penetrate the pen tip and cut through any granulated chunks of ink. By using this method, you’re essentially lightly cleaning the marker felt.
  4. Once you’ve dabbed your marker with vinegar, replace the cap and leave it to dry off in a cool place for 24 hours before testing it again.

You can see in the photo below how little of the marker tip needs to be in contact with vinegar to be effective. Work slowly and gently to make sure you don’t accidentally drown your marker in vinegar.

Another method I ended up using was flicking some drops of vinegar directly onto a chopping board (or any other work surface) and rolling the tips of my green marker in the vinegar. This eliminated any accidental submersion and gave me more control over how much vinegar I let onto my marker.

Lastly, come back the next day and see the results of your work. This is my water-based marker the day after the water submersion method and it’s bought it back to life.

Tips for preserving the life of your markers:

  • Always store your markers in a cool, dry place, like you would tubes of acrylic paint.
  • If you can, store your markers upside down with the lid downwards, so the ink runs towards the tip.
  • If you live in an extremely hot climate, consider refrigerating your markers.
  • Ensure you always replace the lid of your markers and double check they are on securely. This is the single most important tip for improving the lifespan of markers.

Let us know your own tips and tricks for bringing back markers to life in the comments.