Do Inktense Pencils Fade?

Do Inktense Pencils Fade?

After using Inktense pencils for a few years I asked myself: ‘do they fade?’ Textile practitioners often use Derwent’s Inktense product range to colour small areas of fabric. The range has been popular since their release a few years ago. This product take-up is mainly because Inktense pencils work well on cotton, are permanent when dry and are easy to use.

To use Inktense pencils, you simply draw or colour the area and then ‘activate’ them with water. In other words, paint the area with water. Once dry they are permanent. A key advantage of this product is that you do not have to pre-prepare the fabric for them to work. I love that I can decide to add colour and do so quickly. I don’t have to pre-plan and set aside a block of time to do it. In short, Derwent’s Inktense pencils allow creative people to be spontaneous responding to the fabric as part of the creative process. By the way, I am not affiliated in any way Derwent or gain from this post. 

Although there is information about the permanence of Inktense products online, when I started to use them I could not find much about how lightfast Inktense pencils were on fabric. I wanted to know if they fade? If so, how quickly? Do some colours fade quicker than others? On the Derwent website, they now host this information and say that  90% of colours within the Inktense range are lightfast. But all the information I could find made reference to paper, not fabric. I wanted to know more about this product on fabric. So just over a year ago, I set up a fade test or what the industry calls a lightfast test. Obviously this is not a professional scientific test, but it provided me with the answers I wanted. It is quite simple to do. If you work with different mediums it is worth doing, so that you understand the products you use.

How to do a lightfast test at home?

A lightfast test is very simple. Take two pieces of the same fabric. On each piece, you mark what you want to test. Place one piece of fabric in your studio journal, where it will not be exposed to the light because it sits between the pages. Place the other on a window sill that gets full sun. This will not work if your windows are of UV protected glass.  Leave the sample there 6 months to a year. After the time has passed, compare the two samples and make a note of significant changes between the two. The idea is that a year in full sun is approximate to 50 in normal indoor lighting conditions. Sitting in full sun speeds up the process.   

inktense pencils lightfast test done on cottonThis is what I did in March 2019. As you can see, I took 5 colours of the Inktense pencil range and marked the fabric with lines and a block of colour. I used two lots of lines for each colour. I left one set of lines dry, and activated the other with water. Then I activated the block of colour with water. 

Doing this on 2 strips of 100% cotton, I kept the first one in my studio journal and taped the second to the window. The second is a bit yellowed as a result. As you can see the Chilli Red faded quite a bit in 12 months. Yellow Sun and Midnight Blue faded slightly. This is not a bad result, but enough to make me think about using not a lot of red! But it is not enough to make me stop using Derwent’s Inktense products.

At the time, I just tested the pencils, as I only had the pencils,  but I think I will repeat this with a full swatch chart on fabric. In the meanwhile, I thought I would share the results as I am sure other people who use Inktense pencils on fabric will find it interesting.     

The Inktense range is made by Derwent and comes in pencils, blocks and paint all of which are activated with water. I now have all 3 as each product allows me to make different marks on the fabric. The pencils are good for detailed work. The blocks are good for larger areas, and the paint is good for painting larger washes over areas where you want colours to merge and mix in a soft manner.

Tips for using Inktense pencils on fabric

If you have not used Inktense products on fabric before, test them first until you understand what they do. Always test them on a small swatch of the fabric you plan to use to see how absorbent the fabric is and how the colour sits. 

Select a natural fabric such as cotton, ramie, silk and linen or mixes of these. So a ramie-linen mix is fine. You can do the same for linen-cotton mixes and so on.

Choose a fine fabric if you want detail. If you are looking to create detailed work the higher the thread count the better.

Prewash the fabric so that if it shrinks, it happens before you start your project instead of after you have finished it. It is important that you remove all starches and finishing substances from the fabric, as these will block the take up of the colour. 

Keep your swatch test in a studio journal so that you can refer to the information for future projects as relying on memory is not always dependable.


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  1. Hi, Sharon: Is there a difference if the Inktense pencils are used on fabric that is dye-ready versus standard quilters cotton? I am also wondering if the red would perform better (and all colors faded less) if a fixative were used on the fabric after the ink sets. I don’t dye or ink my own fabrics so I am just collecting this information for future consideration. Thanks.

    1. Bernadette usually dye ready means all sizing and starch has been washed out – standard quilters cotton would have some sizing not a lot but I always toss it in the machine out of habit. I heat set the samples next time I will use fabric medium on some

  2. I was so excited to see this article! I use Inkintense pencils a lot in my textile work- I like to ‘make’ my own fabrics using paints and inks and dyes- I just did a piece where my design blended into the background, and I’ve been trying to think how to ‘fix’ it. Time to get my pencils out! As always- you helped me solve my problem! Looking forward to the new book!!

    Mary Buchanan
  3. Hi Sharon, thanks for sharing your experience, I love them and the results are so rewarding, but I didn’t think about light fasting before. I will be more conscious in the future and I may try to do my own test to see how they react here in Ireland as we don’t have many hours of sunlight.

  4. Hi Sharon, I have used Inktense for a good number of years now. The art shop where I used to live gave full day workshops on all the new products they had in as and when they first came on to the market. So I was fascinated by the Inktense pencils. We learnt an awful lot about the product and I have used them successfully on fabrics and paper since then. As a hand embroiderer it makes sense to colour the background before stitching and they are just perfect for that. This is a very interesting article, so thank you.


    Jan Haines
  5. Sharon you are so professional and thank you for sharing so much over the years. I’m blessed for being your crazy friend. Did I send a message earlier? I thought I had. Age is catching up.

    Margaret Roberts
  6. I have been using Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks as well as many other major brands from European companies for over 15 years for my art quilts. The amount of bleeding is controlled by how much water you use when applying the water to the fabric. I paint on a very wide variety of fabrics from kinds of cotton, silks, linens, wools, (natural fibers only) as well as fabric content combinations. I have always used textile mediums including aloe vera gel. I often may add a certain amount of water depending on the project and the painterly look I want. There several commercial textile mediums I use regularly either full strength or diluted. I use brushes for watercolor and acrylic with quality bristles. I tend to use various kinds of smaller sizes rather than big brush strokes unless I’m doing a large-size color wash background. I have noticed very little loss of color on the older quilts. Although they do not hang full time on a wall. So they do not have a long time. I even paint the threads for my embroidery work after I’ve finished the stitching if needed. Have fun playing with watercolor pencils.

    Stephania L Bommarito
  7. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiments. You have been so professional over all the years I have known you and your sharing and friendship have been a blessing. Thanks

    Margaret Roberts
  8. This is great information about Inktense Pencils. In discussions about their use, some people use pure aloe vera gel to control the colour flow, rather than textile medium. They still heat set after colouring. I used Derwent Artists with textile medium, years ago, to softly shade an embroidery. I am now wondering how the colour fastness is going with that piece.

    I am looking forward to your new book at the end of the year.

    Melissa Butterworth
    1. Hi Melissa I have heard of the Aloe Vera gel idea but not ever tried it – since you mention it I will track it down and try it – I think I will try a whole product range test mixing colours and things like the fabric medium , aloe vera gel etc and see what happens. Hope you enjoy the new book – it will be available in Novemeber

  9. I was told to use fabric medium to wet the pencil marks. It is easier than water because it will not bleed as easy as the water. I never thought thought about it bleeding but I will be long gone before it does since I am on Medicare already.

    Carol Kettlewell
    1. Hi Carol yes fabric medium will help control the bleed but that was not what I was concerned about as often I want it to bleed and blend a little. You don’t need fabric medium if you just want to colour an area to use as a background for contemporary embroidery.

    1. I used the blocks to colour several patches on a cotton sheet. I used an iron to press them, hoping that the colour would be permanent. Many of the colours disapeared. Some were faintly visible. I had not used aloe or a fixative.

        1. The fabric was, actually, old bleached linen which had been “brightened” with Oxi Clean in the past.. Perhaps that interfered with the colours. The process of painting patches was so relaxing and fun, I hope to paint again. As always, Sharon, you and your followers are such an inspiration. Thank you everybody. You keep me in stitches!

          1. Hi Anne for sure it would have been the combination of the fact it was linen and it had been treated with Oxi Clean as I had not heard of someone having trouble with them washing out.

  10. Thanks so much for this information. We have had Desiree Habicth (desireesdesigns.com) teach classes on the use of Derwent pencils at our city’s annual quilt show. Your test results are so useful.

    1. Hi Kim thanks for buying my book the next one is out in November it is a book on Creative stitches – 120 stitches and how to use them in interesting ways.

    1. Hi Renee great to hear from you – yes I was too I plan to try full fade tests with the whole range ie blocks, paints and pencils and mix them too. I want to see what happens


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