Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen (Tutorial)

by Rena Klingenberg.

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Marker Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Now we’re going to use a simple patina resist with ammonia and a Sharpie pen on the copper or brass earring blanks we made in Part 1 of this tutorial.

Above you can see the stages going from bare copper to finished surface embellishment.

In the “resist” area, covered by black Sharpie marker, the metal will stay bare of any patina.

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

And as always when working with homemade patinas, we have the thrill of mystery as to exactly what color(s) our metal will turn out to be!

Patinas made with ordinary household products may be harmful if ingested, inhaled, or worn against the skin. Use in well ventilated area, preferably outdoors.

Before starting this project, see Homemade Patina Precautions for safety guidelines.


  • The copper or brass earring blanks we made in Part 1 of this tutorial, Rustic Picture Patina Earrings.

    (Or other copper or brass item that has NOT been varnished. Many commercially-available jewelry and hardware metals have been varnished).

    These are the earring blanks we made in Part 1:

    Making brass and copper earring blanks

  • Liquid dish soap (such as Dawn or whatever brand).
  • Baking soda.
  • #0000 steel wool – a few small pieces.
  • Black Sharpie marker (black works best for the patina resist).
  • Wear appropriate protection – gloves, goggles, and breathing protection.
  • Empty plastic grocery container such as the kind used for sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. The lid should fit pretty tightly.

    This should be a container you will NOT use for food again.

    Also, this container needs to be tall enough so that when the lid is closed, there’s plenty of room inside for your earrings to hang down from the wire without touching the folded paper towel on the bottom.

    I used this 32-ounce yogurt container that conveniently has a clear plastic lid, so I can peek in on the process without opening the lid:

    Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

  • A piece of craft wire / Artistic wire about 24 inches (61 cm) long, for hanging your earrings over the ammonia.
  • Several paper towels.
  • Regular household ammonia.
    Warning: Due to the ammonia fumes, I highly recommend doing this project outdoors if at all possible!
    If you can’t go outdoors, please work quickly, safely, and in a VERY well-ventilated area.
  • Rubbing alcohol for removing the Sharpie ink from your metal.
  • Cotton swabs or other item for applying the rubbing alcohol (I used a plastic knitting needle – swabs were too wide for the area I had).
  • Sealant – I use a clear, matte-finish, spray-on sealant called “Tree House Studio” Clear Acrylic Matte Coating, from Hobby Lobby.
    Krylon also has a product that’s pretty much the same thing, and about the same price.

Start with Super-Clean Metal:

Note: It’s important to clean your metal to remove all traces of skin oils and anything else that may resist the patina.

The first step is to wash both sides of your metal thoroughly with a generous amount of liquid dish soap.

After washing off all of the dish soap, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda onto both sides of your metal, and scrub it well with your steel wool.

Scrub in the same direction as the grain of your metal.

Wash off all traces of baking soda – and then without letting your skin touch the newly cleaned metal, dry it thoroughly with paper towels.

How to Create the Patina Resist:

Note: Try not to touch the freshly-cleaned metal with your skin while you draw your designs. I held my earring blanks with a paper towel while drawing on them.

Use your black Sharpie marker to draw whatever design you wish on your metal.

The areas that are covered with black ink will resist the patina – so when we remove the ink at the end of the patina process, the design you drew will show as bare metal.

For your first time with this procedure, I recommend drawing something simple:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Then draw a design on the other earring.

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Now we’re going to get our container ready for the patina process.

We’ll be using a “fuming” process, which means the ammonia will be in the bottom of the container, with the fumes rising and surrounding the earrings that are hanging down from the top of the container.

First, fold a paper towel and place it in the bottom of your plastic container:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

And then bend your piece of craft wire / Artistic wire into this shape, to make a hanger for your earrings:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Now string your earrings onto the wire, and hang the wire on the rim of your container:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

(If possible I recommend you do this next step outside, and while wearing safety goggles, gloves, and breathing protection):

When you have the wire and earrings settled just right, pour ammonia into the bottom of the container – enough to thoroughly soak your paper towel.

Avoid breathing the fumes.

Then place the lid tightly on the container:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Now put the closed container in a safe place, where it can’t be accessed by children, animals, or hungry people who might mistake it for a food container. 🙂

You can check on the progress of your patina as often as you like, but avoid breathing the fumes.

In anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours, your patina should start showing some color change.

My copper looked like this in 24 hours, but yours might also look black or any other color:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Looking down into the container while holding my breath:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

I added a bit more ammonia, and closed up the container for another 12 hours – for a total processing time of 36 hours.

(Yours may be faster or slower.)

When I opened the container after a total of 36 hours, the copper was almost solidly black – but as soon as I removed the lid and put the metal in the open air, it quickly changed to this blue as I watched:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

After the metal had completely air dried, I washed it gently in running water to remove any ammonia residue, and then air dried it again.

Now it was a slightly lighter blue:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Next I used rubbing alcohol to remove the black Sharpie ink from the metal.

I first tried applying the alcohol with a cotton swab, but the swab was too wide and spread alcohol to the areas where I wanted to keep the patina intact.

So I finally wound up using a plastic knitting needle and dipped it in the alcohol at regular intervals to gently scrub the black ink off the metal.

Then I used a piece of damp steel wool to gently wear off some of the patina for a rustic look:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

And here’s the final result – nothing like what I had originally imagined, but interesting anyway:

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

Sealing Your Finished Patina

If you don’t use some sort of sealant, your patina will naturally continue to darken or tarnish – which eventually will change or cover your original patina finish.

And because the finished patina surface itself may be harmful, always seal any items that have undergone a patina procedure.

When the patina is finished and dry, seal the patina using a clear spray lacquer.

Apply at least three light coats of lacquer on every patina surface of the metal, drying each coat thoroughly before applying the next coat.

I use a clear, matte-finish, spray-on sealant called “Tree House Studio” Clear Acrylic Matte Coating, from Hobby Lobby.

Krylon also has a product that’s pretty much the same thing, and about the same price.

Patina Resist with Ammonia and Sharpie Pen - Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

The Finished Earrings!

And here are the finished earrings that we started in Part 1 of this tutorial, Rustic Picture Patina Earrings:

Rustic Picture Patina Earrings Tutorial by Rena Klingenberg

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  • Wow – awesome tutorial! I can not wait to try this. When trying to patina with home remedies in the past, I lacked the patience to wait for the desired results – this has inspired me to become more patient. Thank you for sharing this, Rena!

  • Helen says:

    Lovely tutorial Rena. Thanks for sharing. It’s on my long list of things I want to try now – I have to wait for cooler weather though. At the moment I dread to work with something as smelly:)

  • Barbara says:

    The comment above about waiting for cooler weather — do you, Rena, or does anyone know if hotter or cooler weather would have an effect on how well or how quickly the ammonia would work?

  • Pam says:

    Love this! I’ve done patina, but have never seen this resist technique before! Can’t wait to try it!

  • Thank you all for the lovely feedback! 🙂
    Barbara, I have no idea how temperature might affect the ammonia process. Small variables in temperature, humidity, etc. may affect the timing or even the color of homemade patinas – but I haven’t experimented with that to figure out causes and effects.

  • zoraida says:

    Great tutorial! I love the way the earrings turned out. I’ve never tried an ammonia based patina. I’m sure it is smelly, but so is LOS. That rustic look is beautiful.

  • KOKO says:

    How kind and very generous of you to take the time and willingness to share your ideas and experience with all of us. I love your journal.

  • Patti Adcock says:

    Thank you so much, Rena, for all that you share and how you help us so much. I would love to see a photo of how this turned out on the brass. Do commercial-use metals, such as brass, steel, copper washers and other hardware have a lacquer surface? Will this patina formula work on those items or do they need to be stripped first?

  • Nancy says:

    Love this tutorial, Rena. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to try it.

    I just pinned it on one of my Pinterest boards…hope that is ok?

  • Thanks to all for your enthusiasm about this project! I’d love to see your results with it.

    And Nancy, thanks also for pinning – I appreciate it! 🙂

  • Hi Patti! Yes, some commercially available brass and copper sheet and components have a lacquer finish. I have not experimented with lacquered components, but from everything I’ve read, they would need to be stripped (if possible) before starting the patina process.

  • I’m wondering if cutting stickers and placing them on as resist might work. Has anybody tried that approach?

  • Hi Sonya! I did read something about that, but I don’t recall the details. I think it turned out that as long as the patina solution didn’t penetrate through the adhesive, it works. And if you use a fuming method like I did above, I think most adhesives would hold OK. If you try it, will you let us know what happens?

  • Lori Young says:

    love this tutorial? Rena, I wonder if you have a favorite lacquer? I have tried many many different brands and still haven’t found one that I truly love. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful ideas.

  • Hi Lori! I’ve had good results with “Tree House Studio” Clear Acrylic Matte Coating, from Hobby Lobby. Krylon also has a product that’s pretty much the same thing, and about the same price ($5 – $6).

  • Sheila Davis says:

    This is great! I can’t wait to try it.

  • Jo says:

    I love copper jewelry! :0) Just out of curiosity would the Sharpie resist work with the salt and vinegar patina process? I watched my grandmother almost die from ammonia inhalation and I won’t have it in my house. If this technique won’t resist salt and vinegar do you know a process that will?

  • Hi Jo, I can certainly understand your feeling about not using ammonia.

    I have only ever used the Sharpie resist technique with the ammonia fume method. I don’t know whether other patina methods would work with the resist.

    The best way to find out is to experiment on a scrap of the kind of metal you want to use – and see what happens. I always test a new procedure on scraps first so I won’t ruin any components I care about.

  • Katie Lynn says:

    I love this patina resist project and I can’t wait to try it with the copper and brass sheet I’ve recently gathered and want to up-cycle into earrings and pendants. I wonder if this patina resist method will work on stainless steel as well or if there’s another method I can try.

  • Hi Katie Lynn, I have not tried this method on stainless steel. However, the best way to find out is to test it out on a scrap of stainless steel that you wouldn’t mind messing up (if it turns out that this process ruins it). Be sure to use adequate ventilation, eye protection, and gloves when experimenting with ammonia and other homemade patinas.

  • Gina says:

    Do you happen to know if the copper sheet metal sold at Hobby Lobby has been lacquered? I just bought some, excited to try this awesome project, but might have to look elsewhere. How can I know? Are there key words to look for on the packaging?

  • Hi Gina, I don’t know whether Hobby Lobby metals have been lacquered. I recommend contacting the product manufacturer and asking them. Most product packaging has the manufacturing company’s website address – and if it doesn’t, you can probably find their website with a quick online search. The manufacturer’s website should have a contact form and / or phone number where you can get in touch with them and ask questions about the product. Good luck with your patina resist project! 🙂

  • Annie says:

    Thanks so much for posting your tutorials! I am currently using this one, and I used the ammonia & salt fuming method on a beautiful brass piece, yesterday. *thumbs up*

    If I might offer a strange but effective method that we found in our metalworking class to remove Sharpie from metal: dry erase markers. O.o Oddly enough, if you color over the Sharpie area with the dry erase marker and then immediately rub it with a cloth or paper towel or q-tip, and the Sharpie marks will just wipe right away. I do not know how this works, but I have used it on silver, brass, bronze, and copper, and I have used it on metals that I have soldered, put into a kiln, done patinas on, etc etc etc. I have never had any kind of adverse effect happen, but I do clean my metal thoroughly. I am going to try it on the resist area of my pendant once it is out of the patina process.

    I hope folks will try my tip and find it an easy way to get rid of Sharpie marks! ^_^

  • Annie, thanks for sharing this wonderfully handy tip! I will try it on my next metalwork project. 🙂

  • Claire says:

    Love this technique! I will be trying this soon. Thanks, Rena for sharing.

  • Carolyn Ward says:

    This will be extremely helpful for me. Thanks so much for sharing.


  • Jo Bradway says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tutorial! Since I’m extremely challenged in my drawing abilities and can barely even draw stick figures, I tried an alternative to the hand-drawn spiral. I colored a stamper using my Sharpie and stamped the copper. The stamped picture was flawless. Then, I tried dipping the copper in liver of sulphur to see if the stamped picture would remain intact long enough to serve as a resist. It worked perfectly! I can’t wait to try it using your wonderful patina technique!

  • What an awesome tutorial! I work with glossy and coated copper wire. But I am bookmarking this for the future.

    Thanks, Rena!

  • Blanche Nonken says:

    I tried this on a copper cuff bracelet, and the sharpie resist didn’t give enough contrast. I tried just the patina on some other copper, and it wasn’t anywhere near as powerful results as I see in other references to this method.

    I live at around 4000′ above sea level, so I wonder if the difference in altitude has an effect on the ammonia fume concentration. (how different? whenever we buy snack bags, for example, sealed closer to sea level, when they get here they’re often puffed out like flappy balloons.)

    I tried again with a wax coating, scribed through the wax and dabbed with vinegar to enhance the effect. That didn’t work either.

    So with a combination of grinding in the runes, buffing with rouge, black lacquer nail polish in the engraved lines (and the black lacquer enhanced where the patina stuck, in a way I wasn’t expecting!) and clear lacquer to seal wherever I liked the effect with buffing over that as it set, I got this:

    The little girl who got it just plain loved it, and I hope I can duplicate it – as there are spots where it actually looks Camo, and that’s a popular look for this ranching and farming town. 🙂

  • Diana/Mermaid says:

    Hi Rena!
    Thanks so much for sharing this technique! My concern is that I deal with Asthma and COPD, and this causes me grave concern. I might consider it by using a mask, which is used for this and hope for the best. Well ventilated is the answer too! I’ve been affected by fumes in the past! So, I hope that if anyone has problems as I do, that they will be careful!

    Thanks so much for all that you share! I’m looking at your classes, and they look like something I’d be interested in. Was also interested with the work tables you shared! When I do this, I will definitely share my design. I believe that it’s so important for all of us to share! As for you, you are phenomenal and also very generous with everybody. I happen to be one, whom believes “We can never lose when it comes to sharing.”

    Thanks again! You are a keeper!

  • Diana/Mermaid, Thank you for your lovely thoughts! And about exposure to fumes – you might ask your doctor what would be the best breathing protection for your particular situation. Looking forward to seeing your jewelry! 🙂

  • In one of your “Coffee with Rena” videos, you’d ask how was it with too many ideas I can’t remember the exact name,(sorry – oh, let me apologize for saying sorry so often).

    Bob Marley was once asked where he lived. In his brilliant way (most people didn’t get the real Marley) he replied, “in my head”.

    Well, I’ve watched this patina video twice with much eagerness to try out. I, too, live in my head in a sea of floating ideas of beauty and projects. On top of that, I adore Pinerest (which adds to the visuals in my head) and then I study your tutorials over and over. I am so full of ideas that it’s as though they (ideas) and I are jumping from branch to branch like a jungle monkey.

    But these earrings (and your patinaed – is that a real word? – bracelets) are so full of depth, color, design and so lovely. The process has been so simplified by you (again, thanx) that I can approach this project with vigor and be able to finish.

    I lost a beautiful wrist mandrel from Rio grande some time ago and really don’t want to spend the money for another. Again, I can make a cuff with your instructions. And the fact, as you said, that one never knows how the patina will come out has me delighted (I’m easily amused) that were I to make these earrings and a bracelet, they don’t have to match (which is preferable to me).

    Two quick questions (as she goes on and on and speaks in the third person): if I were to make smaller cuffs (is that a contradiction of terms?)/bracelets so they could be staked (sp?) and each were, say, 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch, will the patina still be seen enough to see the beauty of it?

    And, how does one know if a piece of brass or copper has been varnished, say, from the hardware store and even they don’t know?

    Again, thanx you !!
    oh ya, “I’m sorry” (this has become a joke between my husband and me)

  • Jean pSmith says:

    Great project! I have a thought regarding the Sharpie, and the issues it presents in removing the ink. What about using a clear varnish or thinned clear nail enamel to paint on a design? Then the metal underneath will remain clear, and once the patina is set, the clear resist could be left in place. Since I imagine most people would use a clear coat to protect the finish, the resist would not be apparent once the piece is completed.

  • Jean, great idea! The ink can be a bit difficult to remove, and your alternatives are definitely worth experimenting.

  • Catherine says:

    I’ve also read of putting salt on your pieces, laying them flat (on a screen, for example) over the ammonia, and you get a beautiful blue color. My experience, however is that the blue salt falls off with the slightest touch. I’m thinking about experimenting with salt water and brushing it on. It only takes about an hour to get a patina. Then I suppose you could spray with acrylic gloss (or matte) paint. This couldn’t be used for very intricate types of designs, I suppose, as removing the “resist” would be incredibly time consuming. Thanks so much for sharing this really interesting idea!

  • Catherine, thanks for sharing your experiences with the salt method!

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