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Reviving Old Markers

Sara Ottomano
In the Art Studio, we try to reuse materials as much as possible. Although we are able to recycle some of our markers through a Terracycle program, we still strive to reuse them multiple times before recycling or throwing away. When we recently tested our markers after two years of not using them, we learned that a significant number of them were dried out. When we drew with them, the pigment was spotty and not vibrant at all. So, it was time to try and revive them, I.e., bring back the flow of ink and the colors. 
Cups of markers sorted by color soaking in water.

Why Revive Markers? 

When we were looking to reuse our markers in the past, we learned that you could use them as liquid watercolors. Following instructions we found online, we removed the ink cylinders from the marker barrels and soaked them in cups of water. We quickly realized though, that the ink cylinders were still full of vibrant color. In only a short time, the ink cylinders dyed the water a deep, vibrant color. This meant that even though the tip of the marker was “dry,” there was still a lot of pigment to use in the barrel.  

We thought that the next time the markers were “dry,” we could try to revive the markers by wetting the writing tip. This would presumably wick the ink back to the tip and allow the ink in the barrel to flow again. 

Process to Revive 

Several years after making the liquid watercolor, our markers began to dry out again. Two Work-Study students in the Art Studio developed a process to revive the markers. 

Thicker-Barreled Markers 

The students found that the markers with thicker barrels needed to soak, tips facing down in a shallow cup of water for 5 minutes. After that time, they could be tested. 

Blue markers soaking in a shallow cup of water.

If the marker didn’t come back to full vibrancy and wetness, they would need to be soaked for another minute then tested. This process could be repeated several times if needed. 

Thinner-Barreled Markers 

For the markers with thinner barrels, the students found that the ink ran out too quickly if soaked. Simply swishing the markers in water was enough to bring the colors back. This can be repeated as often as needed. 

We were really surprised and happy by how many markers could be revived! And even the papers we tested the markers on became collage papers for future projects.  

Out of 140 markers, only 17 were put aside to be recycled. And even one month later, they are still writing well. We put tape and a note on the markers to remind us of when they were revived so we can keep track and see how long they last. But for now, we are happy that 123 markers were returned to our collection, ready to use in a future studio project!  


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.

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