Last updated January 1st, 2022.
Lots of people ask me, can you really use acrylic paint on fabric? Luckily, you can definitely use acrylic paint on fabric including clothing, shoes, pillows, and more!
Here’s the kicker: Acrylics not formulated for fabric painting will leave the fabric stiffer than dye or fabric paint, which is why we created the in-depth guide below.
You might need textile medium, a special type of paint thinner that helps acrylic paint adhere to fabric, if your acrylic paint isn’t specially formulated for fabrics (don’t worry — we also found the best acrylic paints for fabrics).
Tips to Using Acrylic Paint on Fabric
We’re going to break down everything you need to know about using acrylic paints on fabric — but first we’re going to rapid-fire answer the most commonly asked questions!
Yes! As long as you use a textile medium, the acrylic paint will blend seamlessly into the fabric. Using a textile medium is one of the best ways to keep acrylic paint on fabric.
Acrylic paint can be permanent on fabric. Using a fabric or textile medium will make the acrylic paint permanent — it essentially seals the acrylic in the fabric. However, if you spill acrylic paint on your clothing, you can wash it out with warm water and soap if you act quickly
Yes, you can use acrylic paint on fabric without a medium, but always use a medium when painting on a fabric you’re going to wear regularly, like a t-shirt. Fabric medium thins paint, and if you don’t use a medium the fabric will be stiff and uncomfortable to wear. This is less of an issue if you’re painting a fabric you want to hang up (e.g. a canvas) and want a thicker texture.
Yes, acrylic paint will stay on clothing permanently, but be careful! Make sure you don’t use washable acrylic paint, and separate your acrylic clothing from regular clothes on the first couple washes. You don’t want to ruin your other clothing.
Some acrylic paints are specially formulated to be used on fabrics. However, some acrylic paints are too thick for fabric and require a medium to thin. Acrylic paint can become fabric paint if you use a medium that gives acrylic the properties it needs to adhere to fabric properly.
Acrylic paint is one of the best fabric paints, but alcohol based paints and fabric dye can also get the job done.
Yes, you can wash acrylic paint off, but only if it hasn’t dried. Once the paint has dried — usually after about 20 or 30 minutes — it will be extremely difficult to wash off. If it’s already cured, you’re totally out of luck.
A fabric medium is the best way to seal acrylic paint on fabric. Alternatively, you can by acrylic fabric paint with textile medium in the formula!
The Best Acrylic Fabric Paints
Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re just looking for the best acrylic paint set for fabric, I’ve got you covered.
I highly recommend this Arteza Fabric Paint Set. It’s made for fabrics, clothes, and even canvases.
Here are a few runners up worth considering for your next fabric painting project:
- Best Value: Crafts 4 All Acrylic Paint Set. This is a great option if you need more colors than the Arteza Fabric Paint Set! This acrylic paint set comes with 24 color options with a gorgeous satin finish.
- Best Acrylic Paint Markers: Crafty Croc Acrylic Paint Markers. Acrylic paint markers are a terrific option for fabric and allow for more precise designs compared to brush-based alternatives.
- Best For Artists: U.S. Art Supply Fabric Paint. These paints come with premium quality nylon paint brushes in a variety of sizes and a mixing wheel to find the perfect color for your project.
Editor’s note: If you don’t buy an acrylic paint that’s specially formulated for fabric, you should absolutely use a medium like this one if you’re going to be painting clothing.
Tips for Painting With Acrylic Paint on Fabric
If you’ve never painted on fabric before, take the following tips into consideration:
- Run your fabric through the washer
- Remove any existing protective coating
- Wear old clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty
- Work on a porous surface that won’t absorb the paint and ruin it
- Put down newspaper or plastic on your floor
- Mix your paint thoroughly
- Use a medium to soften your fabric and make the paint adhere better
How to seal acrylic paint on fabric: Using a medium is one of the best ways to seal acrylic paint on fabric. You can also heat set the fabric by ironing the painted area for three to five minutes. If you go the heat set route, make sure to put something between your paint and the iron — you don’t want to accidentally ruin your iron!
How to Wash Fabric That Has Been Painted
Caring for your painted fabric projects is pretty easy. Acrylic paint without a medium could result in the paint coming off while washing, so clean your fabric with care. I would recommend spot treating, hand washing, and hang drying for the first few washes.
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. Make sure you don’t wash other clothing with the fabric you’ve painted with acrylic — run it by itself in case there’s any run off.
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.
You can also use acrylic paint for screen printing, stenciling, and stamping on fabric
Let’s dive a little deeper into what acrylic paint mediums are and why they’re so important for painting on fabric with acrylics.
The Best Alternatives to Painting Fabric With Acrylics
You might not want to paint fabric with acrylic, because of the extra steps required. The best alternative to acrylic paint is simply buying a fabric paint that already contains the fabric medium within the formula. Fabric paints are flexible, designed to attach to stretchable fabric with ease.
These paints are specifically designed for fabrics and come in a variety of colors.
Spray paint is another great alternative to acrylic paint. It’s most often used for painting furniture, metals, brick, and other tough materials, but you can use it for cool patterns and designs on clothing or textiles as well.
Spray paints can be used in conjunction with fabric or acrylic paint to create a graffiti effective.
The last alternative to acrylic paint is fabric dye. Fabric dye can be used to achieve tie-die patterns, or to simply dye a white shirt another color. You can combine fabric dye with any of the paints we’ve mentioned so far to achieve the desired effect. For example, you could make the fabric dye a black or purple to achieve a night effect and paint with a fabric paint or acrylic paint on top of the dye base.
What is Fabric Medium?
We’ve been talking about “medium” a lot during this article — but what is it exactly?
Fabric medium basically turns your acrylic paint into fabric paint. When you apply a fabric medium to your acrylic paint, it turns that thick acrylic paint into a flexible and soft material that blends with the fabric you’re painting on.
Fabric medium has several advantages:
- Water-color effect on fabric
- “Softens” the paint
- Blends onto the fabric
- More color options
Here’s the key question when deciding whether or not to use a fabric medium: Will the fabric you are painting be worn as clothing, or do you plan on hanging it up or displaying it?
Acrylic paint without medium is an excellent option for decorative tapestry projects since they’re hung up. Tapestries and canvases meant for hanging up can retain the thickness of acrylic paint and not have to go through the wash.
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
It’s worth noting that you should absolutely mix your acrylic paint with a medium if you’re going to paint on clothing, shoes, or other materials that experience natural wear and tear. Not applying a medium will likely lead to the paint fading over time.
However, if you’re going to paint without a medium consider the following tips:
- Surface treat the area with sandpaper or another abrasive
- Wet the fabric before you paint
- Thin the paint before using it so it’s less thick
Why You Shouldn’t Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric Without a Medium
Not all acrylic paints are intended for fabrics (which is why we made our list of the best acrylic paints above).
Acrylics naturally harden and stiffen whatever surface they’re painted on — that’s why we highly recommend buying a fabric medium. Medium is a liquid that mixes with paint and thins it out, removing some of the thickening properties inherent in acrylic paints.
My personal recommendation for a fabric medium is this Liquitex Professional Fabric Effects Medium. This will give you results much like fabric paint. If you are set on using acrylics on fabric without adding fabric medium read on to find out what you can expect.
If you’re gungho about using acrylic paint without a medium, we’ve provided a few tips to improve adhesion, flexibility, and workability of the paint.
- Surface treat the fabric.
- Wet the area down.
- Thin your paint with water before painting.
If you’re worried about acrylics not being the right paint for your t-shirt or shoes project, another great paint that works well on fabric is gouache. It’s similar to acrylic paint, but the texture is a bit different. We recommend the GenCrafts Gouache Paint Set, which comes with 27 beautiful colors, for your next fabric painting project.
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:
Step 1: Wait
I know, the excitement of trying on your new fabric project is alluring, but you’ll need to wait a minimum of 24 hours to make sure the paint is dry and another 4 days before you’re ready to wash the material.
Don’t skip on this step, or your paint can smudge or wash off.
Step 2: Set the Fabric Paint
You’ll need to get out your iron and wait for it to heat up. Once it’s heated, flip your t-shirt or jeans over to the side that’s not painted. Alternatively, you can put a scrap of cloth over the painted side — the important thing is that you don’t put heat directly on the fabric.
Next, run the iron over the painted area for a few minutes. Be sure not to scorch or burn through the fabric. Lift up the iron as needed.
Keep ironing for around three to five minutes, checking to make sure you’re not burning through or damaging the fabric / paint. You’ll know it’s done once the paint is fully dried.
How to Use Acrylic Paint on T-Shirts
Let’s put everything we’ve learned into practice: How would you go about using acrylic paint on a t-shirt?
Gather your materials
You’ll need the following materials (which you can find links to below):
- Acrylic paint
- Acrylic paint markers (if applicable)
- Fabric medium
- Blank t-shirt (men or women)
Prepare and mix your paint: Mix your paint with the textile medium to ensure flexibility and adhesion. Most medium will require two parts medium with one part paint.
Sketch your drawing: Before you get carried away, it’s a good idea to sketch your outline with a crayon or whatever you can get your hands on. Try to keep your shapes simple and easy to paint over, especially if you’re just starting out.
Paint and let it stand: Here comes to fun part! Fill in your designs with the desired colors and let them dry.
Heat set: Check your particular medium or paint for instructions on how to heat set the item. You can use an iron or blow dryer to get the desired effect.
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!