Sharpie on engraved ceramic tile -- field test for outdoor colorfastness

Hi-- Last year I was commissioned to do a tile project for an outdoor setting. I engraved ceramic tiles with table numbers for a pub, to go in their outdoor beer garden area on each table. I hadn’t subjected engraved, colored tiles to outdoor conditions for a long time before this, and after a few months only, some of the color had faded almost entirely-- certain colors did so more than others. I had used a lacquer/varnish, but clearly that didn’t work well enough. I decided to conduct a test with a number of different coatings, as well as a control with no coating, and one also exposed to sun but from inside (no rain and other elements). I am sorta sad to share the results-- nothing really held up well… and, the control inside, while considerably better, still has faded quite a bit. These were put out around the second week of January 2020, and brought in a week or so ago… But, even a month or two ago they were fairly faded. No snow or ice here (London), and had a very wet Feb but very dry April-May. You can see in the photo what product each was coated with. I went through any and every thread I could find here or elsewhere around coatings/varnishes/sealants/lacquers and acquired as many different ones as I could to test. The one I did not try-- because the product was expensive and only sold in a large container-- is a sealant at a tile store made for outdoor ceramic tiles-- not meant to seal in sharpie, but just as a general sealant. I might go ahead and try that. Would love any thoughts or additional types of products or insight people have.

I have tried the oil paint version of sharpies but the color selection is not brilliant and I don’t like working with them-- but, I may give in and spend more time and investment in those. I’ve also not yet tried acrylic paints (or a class/ceramic paint I just discovered I have), so I may try something like that, next.


Did you use a UV sealant? You coat with a regular sealer and then topcoat with something meant to block UV rays.

In the US we have Krylon.


I’ll need to look back to see if any of them had a UV sealant as part (some were for exterior use specifically so might have)-- besides the Crystal Clear Protective Coat (a Rustoleum product) which says it’s specifically UV resistant (but clearly wasn’t) …but no, I didn’t coat with a separate product on top of any of these. I’m actually from the US and have been in UK for a year-- and had to donate all my random collections of sealants, etc before moving because I couldn’t ship them here or store in the US… It’s been interesting seeing what products are available here, and not. That’s a great idea to find a UV-specific sealant. I used to use one to coat anodized aluminum I was engraving into outdoor educational signs. I’ll look to see what UV topcoats are available here-- good idea!

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I did a lot of research on sealing alcohol inks and fading is a big problem. I figured Sharpies are in the same family. :wink:


The Sharpies are the problem I believe, they’re dye based and not really light fast.
You should be able to get pigment based markers in London at an art supply store, here’s one common brand:

Plus a good UV clear coat as @ChristyM suggests you should get better archival performance.


Thanks for posting this, the different shades and fading are interesting…


Thanks for that re: dye vs pigment-based. I’m surprised the one I tested that is a clear coat that has UV protection didn’t perform well, but maybe the combo with pigment will make the difference!

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The “UV” claim on Kryon is marketing. It offers no more protection from direct sun than any other clear acrylic or polyurethane. It likely does protect compared to nothing at all, but one season is enough for colors to fade.

After reading a number of interesting FAQs from Sharpie, I see that they have a pigment-based highlighter collection.

Also, I learned from those FAQs that the black is slightly different that the colored Sharpies.

"The black ink in the Fine, Ultra-Fine, Twin Tip, Chisel, Retractable, Mini and Super is permanent ink. The principle solvents are alcohols, but they also contain ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. All other Sharpie ink colors are Permchrome ink. For these the principle solvents are also alcohols, but no glycol ethers are used. "

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Is there a product/brand you’d recommend for UV coating that is made for and works for that purpose? I bought a small can of a liquid product years ago that was recommended to coat anodized aluminum for this purpose, after having experienced fading of outdoor education signs after a few years. I can’t so far remember or locate what that was called or where I got it from.


The Kryon made no difference, specifically on anodized aluminum (motorcycle parts.) Black parts turned purple, red parts turned pink.

Did you use the archival spray (as opposed to the regular UV spray? ) The info I’ve gotten from several sources is completely different than what you’re saying… wondering if you’re using a different product entirely.

FWIW, I think there is spar urethane that has UV protection, intended for boats and such. Could try that, but it’s probably pricey.

Not the archival stuff.

It was originally recommended for coating headlights after correcting haze/yellowing. I used it for subsequent projects including a barn hex sign my daughter painted.

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Just a suggestion and I’m not sure it would work. Instead of sharpies have you considered paint? then use the laser to take off instead of filling in? then coating with a UV sealant.


Interesting-- is that what you did in this image? It’s gorgeous.

I do love the Sharpies and it’s what everyone was using so successfully-- myself included-- for engraved tile coloring for inside use, so I was trying to give it a go and see what would work for those outside. I love how easy it is to wipe the excess off with water/spit/alcohol/magic eraser, and really love blending colors and doing coats (an inside tile I did early on shown below). But, the point that @ekla made about dye versus pigment in Sharpies makes me ready to try something new-- I did just order a set of Winsor Newton pigment markets as a result (always happy for an excuse to accumulate more art supplies) and will see how those do. I may also try acrylic paint.

And, I just found someone who has some tile and stone sealer and is going to give me some (I’ve just resisted buying a big thing of it for such a small test needed) and it’ll be interesting, too, to play with that-- to see if it lifts color at all… It’s meant for porous ceramic… Stay tuned!IMG_1693


Going to have to just test the archival stuff and see how it goes. I’m not going to be making a lot of outdoor stuff, but it works OK for that, it should be perfect for things that have normal exposure (jewelry, etc.)

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