Friday, July 15, 2011

Frixion Pens Evaluated

Frixion pens by Pilot have been showing up in quilt stores, usually priced well higher than the 6$ per three-pack you can get them for at Staples or Office Depot.  The way they work, they flow on like any ink ball pen, but when heat is applied (like from the friction of the eraser or from an iron) the ink magically disappears.  Sounds too good to be true.

It might be.

When you read the fine print, the manufacturer states that the ink will go transparent when the pen gets too hot, but temperatures below 14° F will revive the ink.  Aha!  So sticking whatever you wrote on in the freezer will revive the ink.  Yes, it does.

BUT, if the ink is ultimately washable there’s hope.  Well, it is and it isn’t washable.  I conducted a series of tests with a test quilt sandwich.  Here are the results.

The sandwich had plain white fabric on one side, a god-awful print on the other and some scrap cotton batting in the middle.  I sewed around the edges and then across two times to form three equal sized rectangles.  All the rectangles were marked with several colors of Frixion pens.  The left most square had nothing more done to it.  The middle was starched prior to marking it and the right most square had starch applied after marking.  Each rectangle was labeled with a Frixion pen as such.  I did the same on the print side, but used a Frixion highlighter so it would stand out more.  (Photo 1)
Photo 1: Prepared sandwich

I then ironed both sides of the quilt and the ink disappeared.  I then placed the swatch in the refrigerator along with a thermometer.  After a few hours at 38°F, the ink returned on both sides (Photo 2).  Thus, the temperature does not really have to be very cold for the ink to show up again.
Photo 2: After being in the fridge at 38 degrees F

Sticking it in the freezer at 8°F (Photo 3) makes the ink come back faster and darker.
Photo 3: after being in the freezer at 8 degrees F

I put the swatch in the dryer on high by itself for a long time.  The ink was gone from untreated rectangle, but still very visible on the other rectangles.  Dryer heat is not enough. (Photo 4)
Photo 4: after being in the dryer.

I washed it along with a load of regular wash.  When I pulled out the swatch, the ink appeared gone from the untreated and prestarched rectangles but was still very visible in the rectangle that had starch applied afterwards on the white side.  On the print side, all the markings were gone. I sent the swatch through the dryer with the rest of the clothes.  When I pulled out the swatch, all the marking was gone.

Then I stuck it in the freezer again.  The markings that had showed when I first pulled it out of the wash were back. (Photo 5) 
Photo 5: After washing, drying and recooled.

Conclusions: it’s a great pen that makes a fine line and flows nicely onto all but the darkest of fabrics.  Unfortunately it becomes visible in what I would call normal winter weather and needs to be ironed to make it disappear again.  It does wash out if you don’t apply starch after marking, but if you are creating an art quilt not intended to be washed you need to be certain it will never get cold. I would be really hesitant to use it on a quilt I was considering for a show. I have no idea if different fabrics and dyes might also interfere with its ability to be washed out. I also noticed that the orange color was more persistent than the black.  The other colors may also have different characteristics, as do the highlighters.

It’s a good idea that needs more work.  I think I will stick to using chalk.

25 comments:

Leah Day said...

Wow Monica, what a thorough evaluation! I've seen these myself and was wondering about them, but now I think it's a better bet to stick to water soluble or erasable pens.

I have to wonder about the long term effects of those inks in fabric. It's weird that it disappears under heat and reappears in cold. I can't image that will do good things for the longevity of the fabric long term.

Can't wait to see if you evaluate more markers and tools!

Leah

Martha Walker said...

Thank you so much for your very thorough testing! I was concerned, as well,as to whether these pens were archival, and you have possibly proven they are not. Perhaps the Int'l Quilt Study Center can do some testing as they did with fusibles (another product I won't use) so that the matter can be settled. Thanks again!

coolquilter said...

Great study on these pens. I just bought one yesterday and I will be careful where/when I use it because of your conclusions. Thanks

Joanie said...

Thanks for all the hard work. I think I will stick to chalk also.

Jenny said...

Thanks for this. I bought some but haven't used them yet. Looks like they might be only good for embroidery drawings that you're sure you will cover.

Have you tried The Fine Line air soluble? It is my go-to pen! You just have to work fast sometimes . . . .

Monica said...

I have been using the air soluble and really like it - it has its limits on what color fabrics it shows up on. It seems to work and since it disappears with just humidity you would think it washes out. I don't think there's any easy way to test that.

Martha said...

Wow! Great tests! I used mine on a medium blue fabric the first time and when I ironed it to remove it, the formerly black mark turned WHITE! and did not wash out. So I am now using it for my grocery list. I'm with you on the chalk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your scientific proofs ! Helps to know the limits of any of our potential tools.

Katie said...

Thank you so much for this - I really appreciate when my fellow quilts to tests like this. . because like you, I am a firm believer in white chalk ONLY. (I have had problems with the colored chalks especially yellow and orange)

CindyB said...

I did a test too, starching before marking then ironing. Washed and dried the fabric. Stuck it in my sub zero freezer for 48 hours and not one mark reappeared. I use all the ink colors in the Frixion package. I used a sampler of sewn squares of Moda Bella Solids, Kona, premium muslin, and other light colored fabrics. I think the detergent could make a difference in washing out the ink? I used Tide with stain remover.

Marlene @ KISSed Quilts . com said...

I used one on Cotton Sateen and when ironing you can still see the residual of the mark. You have to wash it to get it completely out.

Thank you for your thorough documentation of your experiments.

Quilter Kathy said...

Excellent post! I will link to it on my blog one of these days if that's ok with you.

Moni said...

Yes, please do link it. I think people need to be aware of problems with these markers - I see them sold in quilt stores still.

I am still looking for markers that last longer than the air pen as well as for dark fabrics. I love the Fine Line air pen, but can't use it if I want to premark a quilt that won't get quilted right away.

White chalk is good on most darks, but colored chalk doesn't always come out.
Fine Line makes a ceramic mechanical pencil, but I have a hard time seeing it.

The Clover white marker takes a long time to show.

Recently I recently bought some Clover marking pencils, that as long as you go lightly with them, will erase or disappear with a damp rag on dark fabrics. Not so on white, however.

So I am still looking.

Lynne Williams said...

Heat from an iron will generally set a color. When I use these pens, I am careful to wash the item prior to ironing and have not seen the marks reappear. Appreciate your testing and warning of their use as forewarned is always forearmed:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your evaluation. I had never heard of that pen and wondered how good it would work. Now I know thanks to you.
Joyce Penninger

Jodi said...

I wish I knew this BEFORE I used it on my hand appliqued quilt in the quilting of it! Now it is ruined unless I give it to someone who lives where it will not go below 14 degrees and that will not be someone here in NH

Moni said...

Jodi, your quilt is not necessarily ruined. As seen in some of the comments, people have had luck washing it out. Tide seems to do the trick. You could also try handwashing it in Dawn dishwashing detergent - it gets stuff out that other cleaners won't and is gentle. It's basically the same thing as synthrapol. I need to test this theory.

Anonymous said...

Help!!! I marked small feather wreaths on a community quilt and I tested it with the brown frixon marker and it ironed off instantly so I used it. Now I am finished the quilting and its not coming off. It did on the pretests. Is it possible that since it took over a week to do it that it won't iron off. This is the first ever problem that I have had with them. I am also wondering if maybe the consistency of the product is a factory problem. Maybe some of them are lemons and some are not.?

keetje

Moni said...

OH, Keetje, what a bummer. It may be something you have applied to the quilt (starch) or if you did not prewash the fabric that is preventing the stuff from coming off. However, I do think leaving it on for a long time before ironing can also set the dyes in the ink. I have been told washing in Tide detergent will get it off. Good luck - let me know what you get to work.

Handywoman said...

The quilt store I shop at said never to use the bright or neon pens for quilting because they are not the same ink. I've found the red works best for not coming back. Thanks for the test! much appreciated.
Janet

Anonymous said...

So glad I read this before I marked my linen top. I spent a couple of years on embroidery and don't want any unwanted marks on my quilt. Thanks for the thorough testing.
Ann

Anonymous said...

I saw another post that said they're actually gel pens. I don't know about the rest of you but I use gel pens to make labels because they heat set and become permanent. That would explain why on some fabrics there's a faint white line after you iron the fabric.

Anonymous said...

Pilot, the maker of friction pens now recommends they NOT be used on fabric. My concern, has always been.... What is the long term effect of the ink going to be on the fabric? Think about some of the dyes used a hundred years ago that completely rotted the fabric over time. I'll stick with a pencil.

Unknown said...

My favorite go to for dark fabric marking is the Bohin marker which is very fine point. I also like to use Taylor's chalk by Colonial which I buy in a big box for a small price. Bohin will wipe off but Taylor's chalk will come off with heat and I have not had a problem with it coming back. If I am doing a wholecloth I use blue water soluable and I can immerse it in water. For customers, I only use the purple air erase. Thank you so much for the wonderful product test. I have seen these pens and thought maybe there was a different one for marking textile, but now I know they are all the same. Your information is great.

Cynthia Lanahan said...

Thank you, I knew the pens left a white line on darker fabrics when pressed so I would not recommend on hand quilted pieces. Also, just used on a red Christmas fabric and the white lines were there so remade the table runner top.