Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric? (Best Way to Paint Cloth)

by Charlie
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric

Whether it’s to add a pop of color to your wardrobe or to brighten up your living space you may be wondering how to use paint on fabric. More than that you may be wondering if it’s even possible.

If you’ve tried to use acrylic paint on fabric before you likely ended up with unsatisfactory results. Is there some crucial step you’re missing or is it just not possible to use acrylic paint on cloth?

Can you use acrylic paint on fabric? You can use acrylic paint on fabric. The problem is that it’s not as simple as applying paint to a brush and creating art. Since acrylic paint is not designed for fabric use you need to modify the paint before anything you do will be permanent.

Why Doesn’t Regular Acrylic Paint Work on Fabric?

When acrylic paint is applied to fabric, unaltered, it will stay for a time. However, after several rounds through the wash, the paint will begin to crack and peel off. Even before this point, the paint will provide a subpar experience as it will be quite stiff.

Unaltered acrylic paint doesn’t bond very well with fabric whether it’s denim, cotton, polyester, or any other common clothing material. It will essentially act as a separate layer on top of the fabric. Ideally, it would bond better and act as if it were always part of the fabric.

That said, it does work, just not as permanently as it would with fabric medium. So regular acrylic paint works great for temporary paint jobs on fabric. 

It would last longer if you don’t wash the fabric. If you paint a decorative cloth such as a tapestry you could get away with unaltered acrylic paint. Though this still wouldn’t be ideal as the paint still wouldn’t bind as well as it could.

What Do You Need to Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

To paint fabric effectively using acrylic paint you need a fabric medium. This is a liquid that you mix into the paint before application. It thins the paint and ensures that it will bind to the fabric properly.

That’s it for the most part. Aside from the obvious painting supplies, the only extra thing you’ll need is the fabric medium. You can find fabric medium in fabric or craft stores. Bottles of fabric medium don’t cost much. Different brands and sizes range from $3 to $12.

The only other consideration in regard to materials is how thick the fabric is. If you are painting a thin fabric it is a good idea to put a barrier between two layers of the fabric and beneath it. Any thick barrier you don’t mind getting paint on will work. Cardboard is a great option.

Are There Any Alternatives to Store-bought Fabric Medium?

If you don’t want to buy fabric medium, you can make it! All you need is glycerin, white vinegar, and water. Mix together equal parts glycerin and white vinegar with two parts water. 

Once you have mixed a sufficient amount of this DIY fabric medium you mix it as you would a store-bought fabric medium: one part fabric medium to two parts paint. After this point, everything is the same as if you were using the store-bought product.

If you are unsure where to find glycerin it is quite simple. Glycerin can be found in drug stores and beauty stores.

The Best Way to Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric

When you have your acrylic paint, fabric medium, painting tools, a paint-safe environment, and the fabric to be painted you can begin. Here are the steps to follow when using acrylic paint on fabric:

  1. Start by setting up your painting space. Set up an area bigger than the cloth you’ll be painting where any accidents won’t be a problem. Old cardboard boxes work well when flattened. Be sure to have all of your tools on hand.
  2. Continue by mixing your chosen paint with the fabric medium. The bottle should have instructions on the preferred ratio. If it does not, mix one part fabric medium with two parts acrylic paint. 
  3. Set up your fabric. If you’re painting a design it can help to create an outline before you start painting. 
  4. Begin painting! Start with dark colors and large swaths. Mix more paint and fabric medium as needed.
  5. Let the paint dry. Give your newly painted fabric roughly one full day to dry on its own. Don’t place it under a fan as this can prevent a smooth finish.
  6. Optional: heat cure the paint. Place a pressing cloth on top of your art. Then with an iron on low, go over the art for about 10 seconds. Do not use the steam option.

After following these steps your painted fabric will be as permanent as it’s going to get. Enjoy your newly decorated clothing or decorative piece.

How to Care for Your Painted Fabric

Here are the best ways to protect your painted project. First, try to reduce how often you wash it. Then, when you do wash it, wash on gentle settings. Even better is to wash it by hand. After washing, don’t use a dryer. Instead, hang it up to dry.

The best way to ensure that your painted project lasts as long as possible is to not wear it. Since that defeats the purpose of painting clothes, the above advice is your best chance to extend their longevity.

Of course, if you painted a tapestry or similar decorative fabric you won’t have to wash it. Since this project is less exposed to everyday wear and tear it should last a long time with minimal care.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know where to buy and how to make fabric medium you can unleash your creativity! No matter the method you take you now have the power to make acrylic paint work on fabric. 

Be sure to plan out what you’re painting ahead of time as the acrylic paint can be difficult to remove if you make a mistake.

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