We know about painting on canvases, since technically it is a form of fabric, but what about painting on other types of fabrics? If your next project includes painting on fabric, fabric pillows or shoes, then you’re in luck! You can definitely use acrylic paint on fabric. Some common examples are pillows, shirts, and shoes.
I have personally done a few acrylic painting projects on fabric, and I’m happy to share all my knowledge in this article. We will go over everything you need to know to get your painting project going.
There are many new specially formulated fabric paints on the market that changed the fabric painting game. I highly recommend this Arteza Fabric Paint Set, it’s made for fabrics, clothes, and even canvases. Plus, it doesn’t require any heating!
Acrylics not formulated for fabric painting will leave the fabric a bit stiffer than dye or fabric paint. If that’s important to your work, you can purchase textile medium to mix with acrylic craft paint. Another great paint that works well on fabric is gouache. It’s similar to acrylics, but the texture is a bit different.
Check out this cool article for everything you need to know about using gouache paint on fabric.
My personal recommendation for a fabric medium is this Liquitex Professional Fabric Effects Medium. This will give you results much like fabric paint and I’ll explain more on that in a bit. If you are set on using acrylics on fabric without adding fabric medium read on to find out what you can expect.
If you’ve never painted on fabric before or have had problems, here are some fabric painting tips:
Wash your fabric first. This will remove any sizing and help the paint adhere. Also, if you’re going to wash the fabric after painting it (a garment, for example) the fabric is less likely to shrink and pucker around the painted areas.
Protect a porous work surface (such as wood) and wear old clothes. You can wash acrylic paint off your clothes and table if you get to it right away while it is still wet. Once it has dried, not so much. If you are painting clothing like a t-shirt, make sure you place a sheet of plastic or cardboard between the layers of fabric so the paint doesn’t bleed through.
Practice and test. Take a sample of the fabric and apply the paint as you intend to use it in your artwork. Heat set it, rinse, and see what you get. You’ll thank me.
Mix thoroughly. If you are mixing paint and medium or paint and water, be sure to mix them completely, otherwise you will get uneven color on the fabric.
You can also use acrylic paint for screen printing, stenciling, and stamping on fabric–give it a try!
What is Fabric Medium?
It basically turns your acrylic paint into fabric paint. Acrylic fabric medium is a liquid acrylic polymer emulsion that you can mix with acrylic paints, which offer a very soft feel and the stability to be laundered without damaging the designs. Additionally, when added to acrylic paint, fabric medium improves the work-ability and flow of the paint when applying to fabric.
It can also control the bleeding of colors when they are thinned with water. Some other very useful attributes of fabric medium is the ability to achieve watercolor-like effects on fabric and blending directly on the fabric itself giving the artist more versatility.
Fabric medium will also allow artists to take advantage of an expanded color palette and many different paint techniques beyond paint and brush. I know some artists that add fabric medium to the paints and thinned with a bit of water so they can airbrush fabrics.
One of the most important effects of fabric medium on acrylic paint is to allow the dried paint to maintain a certain level of flexibility and elasticity. Without medium mixed into the acrylic paint, the paint will typically quite stiff and have a bit of a rough texture depending on the fabrics texture. The medium also makes the dried and set paint a bit more durable since it can flex with the fabric, resisting cracking and peeling.
When deciding whether or not you should go the extra step in acquiring fabric medium, just consider the project and whether or not it requires the added durability or work-ability. Will the fabric you are painting be worn as clothing, or do you intend to paint a piece of fabric that will experience a good bit of wear like furniture?
Acrylic paint without medium is an excellent option for decorative tapestry projects since these pieces are usually on display and not subject to the same wear and tear of clothing and furniture.
Really any fabric or tapestry art that you intend on being more of display art than functional items are great candidates for acrylic without medium.
Acrylic Paint On Fabric Without a Medium
Painting on fabric with acrylic paint is absolutely possible and any artist knows just how well acrylic adheres to fabric. This is why we usually paint with an apron or utilize means of clothing protection as to not ruin our clothes.
I must reiterate that it is always best to mix your acrylic paint in with a medium, but if you have neither the means or the convenience to do so there are a few tips that make painting fabric with acrylics a little easier.
Tips for Painting with Acrylic Paint on Fabric
Below are a few tips to give you better results for your fabric painting projects if you are using acrylic paint without a medium. These tips will improve adhesion, workability, and end result of the project.
- Use a mild abrasive like sandpaper to very lightly scuff the fabric to improve the adhesion of the paint.
- Lightly wet the fabric evenly with a spray bottle for a wet to wet application of the paint providing a more even application.
- Thin the paint with a little bit of water before applying. This will also improve application with a more even application.
After Care Tips:
Caring for your painted fabric projects is pretty easy. Acrylic paint without a medium is not as durable to laundering so clean your fabric with care. I would recommend spot treating or hand washing the fabric if at all possible and hang drying.
If that isn’t possible using the gentle cycle on your washing machine and low heat cycle on your clothes dryer should extend the life of your design as well.
That’s all there is to it. If you can minimize how much you need to wash the fabric it will minimize how much you will degrade the paint and its adhesion by shrinking and expanding the fibers through a repeated wash.
Do I Need to Heat Set Acrylic Paint on Fabric?
Once you are all done with your fabric project, you can go the extra mile and heat set it as well. This ensures that it will last a long time, and avoid any damage/breakage. If you followed all the steps above correctly, your painted fabric should be good to go, but did you know you can also heat set your painted fabric project?
Apart from the fabric medium you added to your project, there’s also the option to heat dry it with an iron. I have used an iron in the past and it set perfectly. Below we will go over the steps:
The First Step is Waiting
Fabric paints need to be heat-set if they’re painted on something that’s going to be washed. The process is the same as ironing a garment, except you’ll iron an area for longer than you would just to remove creases.
Though you may be ready to finish the piece as soon as you’re done painting, it’s best to hold off on ironing for a bit. At a minimum, wait 24 hours just to be sure the paint is dry. After you’ve set the paint in, give it at least four days before washing the fabric.
How to Set Fabric Paint
When ironing, don’t use any steam settings. You want dry heat for setting fabric paint. Turn off any steam settings that would come on automatically, and empty the water container.
If feasible, iron on the “wrong” side of the fabric and not the painted side. As an alternative, you can place a scrap piece of fabric over the top of the painting. Both of these options protect your iron from any transfer of color and prevent accidentally scorching the painted side of the fabric. You might also want to put a piece of fabric down on your ironing board to protect the cover if you are ironing on the “wrong” side.
- Set the iron on a medium to hot setting, determined by the type of fabric.
- Run the iron across the painted area for a few minutes, moving it around constantly so you don’t scorch the fabric.
If it’s a delicate fabric, set the iron to a lower, more suitable temperature and iron for longer.
How Long Should You Iron?
The next question is often how long you need to iron to ensure the paint is truly set into the fabric. A good rule of thumb is to iron for not less than two minutes but ideally more. I recommend ironing for 3-5 minutes with a medium-hot iron on the reverse side.
Be careful because the fabric will get quite hot to touch. You might find it best to iron relatively small sections at a time. This makes it easier to move the iron around fast enough so no one part either cools down too much or gets so hot that it scorches.
Ironing is definitely not the exciting part of the fabric-painting process, and it can be hard to hold out for the full five minutes. If you need a little motivation, just think about how disastrous it would be if the fabric paint washed out or ran! If you’re ever in doubt, iron a little longer.
Well there you have it, you’re now fully ready to paint on fabric with your acrylic paints. I hope you found these tips helpful and I would love it if you shared a picture of your project in the comments section!
Don’t forget to check out my other articles on everything you need to know about painting with acrylics. Happy painting!