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I'd like to stain a light-blue shirt to make it appear as I had been sweating a lot as naturally as possible without, you know, actually sweating in it. The end product is to be used in a cosplay event where I chose to appear as Steve Ballmer during his iconic speech from 2000s

I considered dyeing the shirt but I am afraid that it wouldn't look genuine enough from up close. I am also curious if this can be done with a cheap enough material that is readily available.

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In lieu of dye, consider inks. They'll spread like liquid (because they are) and will penetrate the fabric very well. Once dry, they're fairly stable, and can be set to make them more stable and less likely to stain you or other clothing, spread, transfer to others, and so on.

Google has a wealth of tutorials on various inks you can purchase, as well as ways to "make your own" using combinations of dye and isopropyl alcohol; I would recommend getting two base shirts and using one to experiment with multiple processes from multiple different tutorials. Be sure to test how well it spreads, how "realistic" it looks, how difficult it is to transfer to other materials (fabric, skin, hard surfaces, etc), and how well it holds up to being washed.

Making sure the process you choose is stable is extremely important; historically in cosplay events, there have been major issues caused by individuals using materials (body paints, fake blood, spray-in hair color, etc) that was not stable, and caused damage to the event facility (as well as other people's clothing and costumes) as a result. Many events now have rules about what you are and are not allowed to use, and if you use something that transfers to, for example, a chair you're sitting in or another person's clothing, you may be asked to remove the costume or even leave.

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  • And these inks will not transfer to skin, even after drying? I'd assume most will stain once they get a little moist again (with real sweat, for example).
    – Joachim
    Aug 27, 2023 at 12:20
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    @Joachim only a water-based, non-permanent ink (ex: Crayola markers) would run the risk of reactivating with any moisture; alcohol inks become permanent once heat-set, and oil-based inks likewise become very permanent. Inks for screen printing are designed to be highly permanent as well (though not suitable for this task as a thicker form of ink). Setting the ink is important in all processes, which is why I recommend consulting the wealth of tutorials out there.
    – Allison C
    Aug 28, 2023 at 14:27
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Wet with cooking oil looks a lot like wet with water (coincidentally I got oil on a light blue shirt recently, and only realised it wasn't water when it didn't evaporate), but I doubt it would be comfortable. There's also the risk of transferring the oil to other things.

I wasn't going to propose it as an answer, but it would look very effective, and people wear seriously uncomfortable costumes. You'd need very little oil, probably best applied by wetting a piece of scrap fabric the right shape, wringing it out then letting it soak into the shirt.

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    Please don't use anything that can transfer to other people or parts of the event facility.
    – Allison C
    Aug 21, 2023 at 22:27
  • @AllisonC when I did this by accident I didn't manage to blot any off onto a rag or tissue. That's how little you need and how unlikely it is to transfer. But I still don't recommend it for many situations (basically anything when you're not just standing)
    – Chris H
    Aug 22, 2023 at 15:41
  • Wiping or blotting, yes, you may not get anything off. Pressing against a surface for a length of time (i.e. seated in a chair leaning back during a presentation), you're much more likely to press oil out of the fabric and into the chair.
    – Allison C
    Aug 22, 2023 at 20:06
  • @AllisonC I tried blotting by pressing a tissue against it against a chair arm for some time against my body. So almost exactly what you'd do sitting in a chair. But maybe I was (un)lucky. The description of appearing as someone giving a presentation strongly suggests that the main event is standing, but who knows our the rest of the time
    – Chris H
    Aug 23, 2023 at 16:35
  • I typically cosplay a character who is frequently fighting or on the move. That doesn't mean that's what I'm doing when in the costume. :) I do walk around a fair amount, but I also sit down for hour-plus presentations, meals, or in vehicles to move to and from the event, and typically wear the costume for 8+ hours at a shot.
    – Allison C
    Aug 23, 2023 at 23:36

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