Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Fabric?

Acrylic paint is so flexible! It’s the paint of choice for many different project types, and for a good reason. You might even have the paint at home already. You may use it for painting on canvases, which is technically a fabric. But what about other types? Can you use acrylic paint on fabric?

You can use acrylic paint on fabric. It will stay on clothing permanently. However, acrylic does not last for long on the material by itself. You must prepare the fabric using a medium and seal the paint with a process called heat-setting for optimal results. 

In this guide, we’ll show you how to use acrylic paint for fabric and explain your options. You can find a list of top-rated paints at the end as well.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Fabric

What is Fabric Paint?

Fabric paint is a medium specifically formulated for painting fabric. It’s fabric dye mixed with a binder to make it cling to the material. You can use fabric paint for clothes, fabrics, and canvases. Using fabric paint doesn’t require you to use a fabric medium or heat the surface to seal the paint later.

However, fabric paint is only for natural fibers. If you want to paint synthetic fabric, acrylic paint is the better choice.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

Acrylics are ideal for painting fabric if you prepare the material before painting for the best results. You could use a fabric medium to make the paint better stick to the surface or go with a fabric paint for projects you want to last longer.

There are many reasons you may want to paint fabric. The most common types of fabric projects to paint include:

  • Pillows
  • Shoes
  • Shirts

Sealing the paint after painting fabric will also help with the overall appearance of your finished project. An iron allows you to heat-set the paint for a seamless result. Let’s go over all the details you need.

What Type of Acrylic Paint is Best for Fabric?

Acrylic fabric painting

Regular acrylic paint will dry on the fabric. Look for a paint that mentions fabric along with the other surfaces best for the paint. Avoid washable brands, which are not permanent.

What is a Fabric Medium?

acrylic paint on clothingFabric medium is the trick that helps acrylic paint adhere to the fabric. It’s a formula that you mix with paint to make it stick to the fabric better.

There are many different mediums available. The fabric medium you choose may depend on the paint you plan to use. For example, an acrylic fabric medium is a liquid acrylic polymer emulsion that mixes with regular acrylic paints to produce a softer feel.

Fabric Medium Benefits

You may feel tempted to skip the fabric medium and start painting acrylics directly onto the fabric, but the result would not appeal to you. Acrylic paint is not flexible enough to remain on natural materials without a medium.

As acrylic paint dries, it becomes hard. The paint flakes or cracks when it bends or folds and may chip away entirely when you wash a shirt painted with acrylics. The paint is also easy to apply too thick, producing an unfavorable finish.

Using a fabric medium cures all these issues. Diluting the acrylic paint with a fabric medium makes the paint more flexible, thinner, and softer. The formula comes out as a better medium for your fabric to absorb, and it shouldn’t come off in the wash anymore.

Can I Mix Vinegar and Acrylic Paint for Fabric Painting?

If you don’t have a fabric medium, you could make a homemade fabric medium. The alternative comes from household ingredients like vinegar and glycerine. In traditional fabric dyeing processes, vinegar acted as a mordant.

To add vinegar to acrylic paint, you need to prepare it with an equal part of glycerine and two parts water. The formula is similar to oil paint. However, you can pour the liquid into your acrylic paint until it becomes the consistency you prefer.

Using a homemade medium from the vinegar is ideal for creating an ink-like quality. It’s excellent for stamping paint on projects like:

  • Bags
  • Clothing
  • Hats

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric Without a Medium?

Fabric medium helps the paint become more flexible after it dries, allowing it to move and bend with the material. Without the medium, regular acrylic paint may crack or peel. You could skip the medium for projects like art pieces or decorations. However, clothing requires adding fabric medium.

Another way to go without fabric medium is to select fabric paint. You could also use medium-grit sandpaper to rub the fabric’s surface or spritz it with water from a spray bottle before painting to help the paint adhere to the surface.

Do You Need to Prep the Fabric Before Painting?

Before you can paint fabric with acrylics, you must prepare the surface. The process is affordable and accessible. You’ll need a fabric medium and the acrylic paint you plan to use.

Wash the fabric first. The washing cycle allows the fabric to maintain its original form. It should not shrink or stretch unexpectedly afterward and destroy your new paint job with an initial wash. Cleaning the material also removes dust, debris, and other particles that could keep the paint from adhering to the fabric properly.

You should iron the fabric as well. Painting on wrinkled fabric is complicated, so the iron helps produce a smooth and manageable surface.

Next, mix regular acrylic paint with a fabric medium or prepare the material with sandpaper. If you’re painting a shirt, adding a piece of cardboard inside the shirt could help keep unwanted paint from showing through to the other side as well.

How to Paint Fabric With Acrylic Paint

How to paint fabric with acrylic paint

Before you start painting, make sure to collect your materials. You’ll need a paintbrush, sponge, water, stencils, and stamps.

You also want to protect your work area. Paint may attach to porous surfaces, so lay down newspaper to protect the work surface. Wear protective clothing as well.

For the best results, head to a well-ventilated area or open a window as you work. Acrylic paints are toxic as they dry. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission explains that acrylic mediums may also release formaldehyde while they dry. Proper air is ideal for working with potentially dangerous material.

Step 1: Select the Fabric

The first step is to find a suitable fabric for your project. If you plan to use acrylic paint and a fabric medium, you can choose natural or synthetic fibers. Consider the texture and color as well.

Look for a plain fabric shade for the paint colors to pop. Feel the fabric’s texture, as a rough material could make the painting project more difficult. Cotton or silk has a tight weave and typically produces the best colors.

Step 2: Plan the Design

How do you want the painted fabric to appear? Think about the design and what materials you may need to make it, such as stencils, chalk, or painter’s tape to outline your plan.

Use a reference photo or practice the design you’re going to paint on a piece of paper a few times before jumping right into the project. Acrylic paint stains fabric, so any mistakes you make during the process are permanent.

Step 3: Prepare the Fabric Paint

Right before you plan to start painting, prepare your acrylic paint by adding in the medium. Look at the medium’s label for the right proportions and directions. Some manufacturers may vary. If you’re making a homemade fabric medium, use the steps above. Mix until you see an even color and no lumps.

Plan the shades you want to use ahead of time. If you need to mix paint colors, do so before adding the medium to the paint.

If you’re using fabric paint, skip this step. Most fabric paints do not require you to mix them with a medium, as they come that way already.

Step 4: Paint in Layers

acrylic on fabricThe painting fun begins in this step. Start filling in your background using acrylic paint with a paintbrush, then layer the colors on top of each other to create your design. Allow each layer of paint to dry before adding another for the best results.

You can paint the dark or chunky sections of the project or work on the background first, depending on what you’re painting. Some people also enjoy using a wood printing block to apply acrylics in a pattern on fabric. For this process, you’ll need a sponge and fabric medium.

To create patterns with a printing block, use the paint and medium mixture like ink. Add the paint to a clean sponge, using it as the stamp pad. Press the woodblock into the paint and stamp a test to make sure the colors evenly distribute before you begin. Next, stamp away!

Step 5: Allow to Dry

Allow for plenty of dry time in a safe, well-ventilated area. Because acrylic paint is water-based, it is easy to wash off if the paint is still wet. Make sure your work is dry completely before washing. Air dry if you use fabric paint or heat-set acrylic paint for longevity.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric

how to paint on fabrics

You seal acrylic paint on fabric by heat-setting. For the process to work, you apply heat into the fabric. The textiles fibers absorb the fabric paint more quickly, and the paint seals to provide a protective finish. All you need is a pressing cloth and a dry iron.

However, you don’t need to heat set the paint if you use fabric paint. The heating process works as a sealer for acrylic paint you mix with fabric medium.

Step 1

Add the pressing cloth on top of your painted design. Make sure all the paint is covered with the cloth and flip the cloth upside down. Doing so ensures the color won’t melt onto your iron or ironing board.

Step 2

Set your iron to a medium-hot setting. Allow it to heat up.

Iron on top of the pressing cloth with a dry iron for ten seconds in each section, covering the entire surface. It’s the same as ironing out wrinkles, only you hold the iron in place slightly longer. If your iron has a steam setting, switch it off.

Continue ironing for three to five minutes or until the paint is set. Avoid touching the fabric until it cools.

How to Soften Fabric After Painting

Regular acrylic paints may make the fabric feel stiff after painting. You can avoid this by using gouache or fabric paint, which offers a different texture. Alternatively, using a textile medium to mix with your acrylic paint is another fantastic way to avoid rough materials.

If you want to mix acrylic paint with a textile medium, use the steps above to prepare the paint. Most fabric mediums call for one part to two parts acrylic paint. Make sure to mix thoroughly. Heat-setting the paints with an iron also helps soften the painted fabric.

Can I Heat Dry the Paint?

Similar to heat-setting, you can use a similar process to heat dry acrylic paint. However, the paint needs to air dry for at least 24 hours before you can iron it. Use a hairdryer on low heat to speed up the drying time, moving it evenly across the surface.

After Care Tips for Acrylic Paint on Fabric

Even if you heat-set your project, the acrylic paint may come off over time. You can protect your project from natural wear and tear by:

  • Washing your art as little as possible to extend the paint’s integrity
  • Choosing cool water and hand-wash when possible
  • Selecting the gentle cycle on your washing machine or hand washing the fabric
  • Hanging the fabric to dry rather than using the dryer, even on low heat
  • Avoiding washing a newly painted fabric for four days
  • Ironing the reverse side of your design using a low setting

The Best Acrylic Paint for Fabric

The best acrylic paints to use come with fabric in mind. Look for fabric on the list of surfaces for a paint that will last longer. However, any acrylic paint should work combined with a suitable fabric medium.

Golden Fluid Acrylic Set

how to set acrylic paint on fabricThe Golden Fluid acrylic paint set comes with ten small, ounce-sized tubes of paint. The formula is versatile enough for most projects. It’s also excellent for mixing colors, tinting, or shading. The paints have a high tint strength, and you can even thin them enough to produce watercolor-like painting techniques.

These professional-grade paints are ideal if you mix lots of colors. Golen Fluid paints allow you to mix up to four or more colors before you come out with a brown color, unlike the lower quality student grade paints.

Apple Barrel Gloss Paint Set

acrylic painting on clothApple Barrel is a well-known, trustworthy brand in the paint world. This set includes 16 colors in a range of bright and high-quality colors. The water-based paints have a high-shine finish, and they’re ideal for indoor or outdoor use. The formula is non-toxic, and AP certified.

A bonus to Apple Barrel paints is that the brand makes their pouring medium you can buy to use with their paint. Doing so may help you create stunning results. Apple Barrel is incredible for all your needs.

The Best Fabric Mediums

The right fabric medium produces results similar to fabric paint. They mix easily with traditional acrylics, and you can expect long-lasting durability.

Liquitex Professional Effects Fabric Medium

Fabric MediumLiquitex is a brand of mediums with a broad range for nearly all your needs. Their fabric medium is ideal for acrylic paint, as the fluid incorporates an acrylic polymer to produce ultimate adhesion and flexibility. The result is workable acrylic paint for fabrics. The medium even protects against bleeding colors, like you often run into when you thin the paint with water.

The best part is that the effects from Liquitex are permanent. The colors won’t fade or yellow over time, and the medium is entirely water-resistant after it dries. It’s great for adding adhesion and durability to your painting projects.

Delta Creative Ceramcoat Acrylic Paint Textile Medium

Acrylic Paint Textile MediumThe textile medium from Delta Creative is easy to mix with acrylic paint to create wearable, washable fabric paint. It penetrates fabric fibers to lock the paint in permanently, keeping the colors from running or bleeding. When it dries, the paint becomes flexible enough for machine washing. However, you still need to air dry the fabric.

For the best results when using Delta Creative’s fabric medium, prewash the material. The formula is safe for kids to use and 100% non-toxic. It’s also water-based so that you can clean up any spills with soapy water.

The Best Fabric Paint

Fabric paint is the quickest and easiest option for painting cloth material. The paint is ready to go, so you don’t need to mix it with a fabric medium to get started.

Castle Art 3D Fabric Paint Set

Castle Art 3D Fabric Paint SetThe Castle Art 3D Fabric Paint Set includes 24 quick-drying paints, three brushes, and a money-back guarantee. Unlike traditional fabric paints, these vibrant shades expand to produce a realistic 3D effect on your art. The paint itself is versatile for many activities, including t-shirt design and sock decorating.

Castle Arts paints are safe for kids. They’re easy to apply. You don’t need to use a fabric medium to seal the paint using an iron afterward, so children can have fun without making parents worry about safety.

Arteza Permanent Fabric Paint

Permanent Fabric PaintArteza is another well-known paint brand. This fabric paint set includes their permanent fabric paint in 24 colors. It’s a fantastic paint for clothing and other wearable textiles because it’s washer and dryer safe. The set even offers a couple of metallic and neon shades.

A great bonus to choosing Arteza fabric paint is that you can use it on many types of materials, such as canvas, linen, cotton, denim, leather, and more. The quick-drying formula sticks every time. However, it’s best if you still sealed the paint using an iron for the best finish.

Conclusion

You can use acrylic on fabric, but the project will be better if you use a fabric medium with the paint and heat-set to seal the color after painting. You can buy many fabric mediums at your local craft store to make acrylics more pliable, or you have the option of making your medium with vinegar and glycerine.

Finally, careful maintenance preserves the beauty of your art. Take the time to care for your painted fabric based on the paint and medium you used to ensure longevity.

Did you enjoy learning how to paint on fabric with acrylics? If you liked our article, share it with your friends and family. Share your experiences to let us know in the comments below.

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