Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric? The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?
Maybe you’ve decided to spice up your denim jacket with a splash of color, jazz up a boring throw pillow, or turn a plain white t-shirt into a work of art. To add color to fabric, acrylic fabric paint, called textile paint, is usually the first thing that comes to mind. It’s durable, designed to withstand routine use, survive the washing machine and sunlight.
There's another option for painting fabric, which gives you access to an entire color wheel of options: standard acrylic paint. With a few simple tweaks discussed here, you can use it to paint many different types of fabrics and expect it to stand the test of time.
What kind of paint can I use on fabric?
When applied to fabric according to these instructions, acrylic paint is a great way to add color to any number of textiles. You may need to mix a fabric medium, like Liquitex Fabric Medium, into your acrylic paint for the best results. This addition will help you achieve a durable, soft, and stretchable finish.
Before you get to work on your next creative endeavor, make sure to follow these quick tips to make sure that you get the best results:
- Start with clean fabric. Before you begin painting, wash the fabric to remove any starches or co-polymers that might make it difficult for your paint to adhere to the material.
- Cover your work area with a protective plastic sheet before you begin painting. If you're painting a t-shirt, slip a piece of cardboard inside to separate the front from the back. This will keep the paint from seeping through each side.
- Use a piece of test material to see how the paint will look on your fabric. Different fabrics absorb more or less paint, which changes how you should apply your paint to it.
- Add fabric medium to adjust the paint consistency. If you want to thin your paint some more, add a bit of distilled water, but be careful not to add too much!
Why should you use a fabric medium?
- Fabric medium gives a softer, more flexible feel to acrylic paint on fabric. It also helps to prevent your colors from bleeding. They'll stay put once you've painted the material, especially if you've thinned your paint with water.
- Since you can use it with such a wide variety of acrylic paints and colors, fabric medium gives you access to so many more color combinations and textures than typical textile paints do.
- Fabric medium also lets you use your acrylic paints on fabric in other ways. Some artists achieve a watercolor effect with their acrylic paints and fabric medium. This addition helps the paint penetrate further and adhere to the fabric better than it would by itself.
When should you use fabric medium?
It is safe to use acrylic paint directly on some surfaces, like furniture, that isn't going to be exposed to daily wear and tear. Decorative tapestries and other art pieces that will not be regularly handled should also be fine without fabric medium.
On clothes, like t-shirts that will be regularly used, using acrylic paints without adding fabric medium will feel stiff with a rough texture. Since it lacks the flexibility and stretch that fabric medium provides, acrylic paint on its own is also more likely to crack and peel.
If you choose not to use fabric medium, make sure to do these things before you paint your fabric:
- Use a piece of medium-grit sandpaper to lightly rub the surface of the fabric that you plan to paint. Gently sanding the area will help the paint adhere to the material.
- Lightly spray the whole surface of your fabric with water in a spray bottle. When you apply paint to a wet cloth, it will adhere with a more even coating.
- Adding water to thin your paint will also help you apply the paint to the fabric more evenly.
Which fabric works best with acrylic paint?
Plenty of fabrics work well with acrylic paint, but your best bet will be silk or cotton fabrics with a fairly tight weave. Painting on those fabrics will give you the best colors. Otherwise, you can use cotton, flannel, cotton-poly blends, suede, knitted, leather, corduroy, woven, most synthetic, terry, velvet, felt, or velveteen fabrics. If you're unsure how well it will accept your acrylic paint, test it out on a swatch before painting.
Lightweight fabrics allow the paint to disperse evenly and quickly. It’s generally easier to paint these types of fabrics.
How to Paint on Fabric
Treat your fabric like you would a canvas, and paint away! Consider these tips for the best results:
- Apply a waxy substance, like wax resist, where you have hard edges on your fabric. You can dry clean it later to remove the wax.
- Use diluted Flow-Aid additive and wet the soft edges of your fabric.
- If your paint is too thick, add some gel medium.
- Use a cake decorating tip to use heavy body acrylic paint. Play around with various nozzle thicknesses to find the application that you want.
- When using soft body acrylic, add distilled water to thin your paint to the desired consistency.
- Allow your fabric to dry thoroughly between applying layers of paint. Painting on top of dry layers will keep colors from soaking through.
Is acrylic paint permanent on fabric?
Yes, but only if it dries and is set by heat! If you wash out acrylic paint while it’s wet, you may be able to get it out. If you follow the recommendations below, your acrylic design should last a really long time. That's why it's important to protect every surface you use while you work with acrylic paints.
How do you keep acrylic paint on fabric?
- Let it dry! This part is crucial! Before you wash or consider heat setting your beautiful fabric painting, allow at least 24 hours for the fabric to dry. You can save time by making sure that each layer of paint dries before applying another one on top of it.
- Heat set your acrylic painting on fabric. When stains go through the dryer, they’re a lot harder to get out than before they're heated up. The same principle applies to painting with acrylics. Since we want the color to stay on the fabric, apply a bit of heat using your iron after the paint has dried. This causes the paint to completely cure into the fabric fibers, making it more durable and waterproof. Here’s how to heat-set your acrylic paint to the fabric:
- Place a piece of cloth on top of your ironing board to protect it from any rogue paint since you’ll be ironing with the paint side facing down.
- Set your iron to an appropriate temperature for your fabric. Hotter is better, but you don’t want to burn delicate fabrics.
- Try not to iron directly on the painted fabric side—it’s best to iron the opposite side, like the back of a t-shirt that has been painted in front. If that’s not possible, take a clean piece of fabric and cover the painted area. Iron on top of this piece of fabric to heat set the painted fabric.
- Move the iron around your painted area for three to five minutes. If you're heat-setting a more delicate fabric, like silk, expect to iron it for longer than that on a lower temperature setting. Don't leave the iron in one spot, or else you might burn your fabric!
- Iron small sections at a time for the best results.
- Don't touch your fabric while you're ironing it to heat-set it. The material, especially the painted part, will be really hot!
- Properly caring for your painted fabrics will help your designs last longer.
- Wait at least four days before you wash your painted fabric to ensure that the paint has completely dried.
- If you can hand-wash your painted fabrics, do that! Then, let them drip dry.
- If you plan to wash your painted fabrics in a washer and dryer, use the gentle press wash and low heat settings for the gentlest wash.
- Avoid soaking your painted fabrics in hot water and spot cleaning if you can.
- For fabrics like suede, dry-cleaning is a great option. If you use a dry-cleaning machine, set it to spin-dry at room temperature.
- To iron your painted fabric, apply heat to the reverse side of the paint, and use a low-temperature setting.
- The less often you wash your painted fabric, the longer it will last. Washing it repeatedly will cause the paint to degrade over time. As the fabric's fibers expand and shrink every time you wash it, the paint will eventually begin to lose its adhesion and may peel off.
Have fun adding vibrant colors to your different fabrics! Treasure the memories that you create while employing these techniques. Checkout our acrylic paint sets to get started painting your next masterpiece on fabric.