Turning old clothes into fabric art gives you a fun way to freshen up your wardrobe! You can create elaborate works of art or just apply some easy stenciling, and you don’t even have to purchase pricey fabric paint to do it! This leads to the question, can you use acrylic paint on fabric?
Acrylic paint is a popular choice for many kinds of fabric art because it adheres well to synthetic and natural fabrics. It should be mixed with a fabric medium when used in wearable art to avoid stiff or cracking paint. Using proper techniques such as heat-setting and applying a sealant will make acrylic paint permanent on fabric.
In this article, you’ll learn the differences between fabric paint and acrylic paint. You’ll find a guide for how to paint on fabric using acrylics. Finally, you’ll get answers to key questions like how to care for acrylic fabric art and how to make it permanent.
What is the Difference Between Acrylic Paint and Fabric Paint?
The biggest difference between fabric and acrylic paints is that many fabric paints work best on natural materials, while acrylics can adhere to both natural and synthetic materials.
The composition of these paints differs a lot, too. Fabric paint contains a dye or pigment and a binding agent to make the dye stick. Acrylics contain pigment particles as well, but in this case, they float in a liquid plastic called an acrylic polymer emulsion.
Fabric paint has some advantages. It soaks into the material, remains permanent after heat-setting, and doesn’t fade much over time.
Acrylic paint, on the other hand, does not soak through to dye the fabric. Instead, it sticks to the fabric’s surface, where it dries super fast into a water-resistant coating on top of the fabric.
This means that acrylics don’t work well for wearable art on their own, as the paint is not flexible. That’s the biggest disadvantage to acrylics. They dry stiff and plasticky on top of the material unless you add a special thinning agent called a fabric medium.
But one of the really interesting things about acrylic paints is that they are water-soluble while wet. They then dry into a water-resistant coating on the fabric. The water-soluble aspect means you can easily blend in a medium or even just water to thin these paints.
The biggest advantage to acrylics, aside from their ease of use and affordability, is the absolute vibrancy of these colors! You can also create a wide range of styles with acrylics on a fabric surface. You can make acrylics look like watercolors, oil paints, or just fun tie-dye!
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?
You can use acrylic paint on fabric for everything from stenciled t-shirts to elaborate wall tapestries! Acrylic paints remain one of the most popular choices for textile arts because they adhere well to all kinds of materials and offer a versatile range of artistic styles. The vibrant color and durability of this kind of paint also make it a good choice for wearable art.
These paints dry into a plasticky, water-resist film on top of the fabric on their own. This means requiring a thinning agent to create a softer, more flexible texture for wearable fabric art.
Acrylics blend easily if you like to create your own colors. They also thin well because of their water-soluble nature while wet. Plus, if you’re ever walked down the craft paint aisle in your local art store, you know how affordable acrylics are!
Honestly, acrylic paints do offer the best choice in most areas of textiles arts. That said, you will find them most useful if you learn a few things about how these special paints work.
Is Acrylic Paint Permanent on Fabric?
Acrylic paints dry quickly and set into a permanent, washable film on top of the fabric. To make acrylics even more long-lasting, you can either heat-set your textile art or apply a sealant to a non-washable design.
If you have ever tried to wash your jeans after a day in your art studio, you know that acrylic paint doesn’t come out in the wash! It dries fast and sets, and that’s that. Depending on the thickness of the paint, it can crack or peel over time if not treated correctly, though.
To make wearable textile art permanent, you should use a fabric medium to thin the paint and help it spread smoothly and flexibly over the material. This will also soften the paint and make it more comfortable to wear!
The added flexibility will prevent cracking and peeling as you wash the garment many times over the coming years.
Another way to ensure permanence in your art is to heat-set your designs.
To do this, simply allow the paint to dry completely. Lay a pressing cloth or clean tea towel over the design. Heat your iron to the hottest setting the fabric can handle, and then press it firmly on top of the pressing cloth for about 30 seconds.
Finally, some types of textile art require a sealant. The most common sealant or varnish is just a clear acrylic coat that bonds with the paint beneath and gives it a protective coating for acrylics.
Does Acrylic Paint Wash off Clothes?
Acrylic paint will wash off clothes and other surfaces while wet but will become permanent once it dries. It’s quite tricky to get acrylic paint out of a fabric after it dries, though to make it look super nice for a long time, you do need to take a few extra precautions such as heat setting or sealing the art.
On top of that, proper care and cleaning will give your textile art an even longer life. For example, you shouldn’t wash a freshly painted item for at least four days. This gives the paint time to thoroughly dry and adhere to the material.
If you can’t handwash the item, try to use a delicate setting on your washing machine and a low heat setting on your dryer. If you have to iron it, flip it over, so you iron on the reverse side from the painted design, and use low heat.
As a pro tip, another way to make sure your wearable textile art lasts a long time is to use a fabric medium. This softens acrylic paint on fabric, making it flexible and able to endure multiple washings over time.
Also, while most acrylic paints dry permanently, you can buy special washable versions of the paint. So make sure you read the label before making a purchase!
How to Paint Fabric With Acrylic Paint
You can use a wide range of styles and techniques to paint on fabric with acrylics. Acrylics work well on everything from silk to canvas. You can apply them to polyester t-shirts or cotton curtains. Depending on your preferred style, you can make acrylics look like layered oil paints on a canvas or cloudy watercolors on a silk scarf!
The challenge of using these versatile paints, though, is that the paint dries quite thickly unless you add a thinner. For wearable art, you should consider using a fabric medium to make acrylics flexible and thin.
Use a Fabric Medium
You can use acrylics without a fabric medium. In fact, for non-wearable projects, you may prefer this method! In their natural state, acrylic paints have a smooth, slightly viscous consistency that works well for painting on a canvas.
If you want to stamp designs onto a tablecloth or stencil a pattern onto a blouse, though, you will want the extra flexibility provided by a paint thinner. Adding a fabric medium allows you to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint.
You can buy cheap fabric mediums meant for acrylics from brands like DecoArt and Liquitex. You can also make your own using glycerol or mod podge. Using vinegar isn’t recommended, though!
Choose a Paint
Generally speaking, any crafting acrylic paint will work well on fabric. Make sure you don’t buy one of the rare washable types, though!
You can also find acrylics designed specifically for use outdoors, on ceramics, or on wood. While these may work on fabric, you can buy cheaper plain craft paints that will work better!
Of course, you also want to consider the kind of finish you want. For example, you can buy metallic, glitter, matte, or glossy acrylics.
Lots of popular brands like DecoArt and FolkArt offer you an absolute rainbow of colors to choose from! Stores like Michaels, Joanns, and Hobby Lobby usually have an enormous selection of acrylics to choose from. You can also find nice sets for sale on Amazon or other online stores.
Your imagination is your only limit when it comes to choosing a style for painting with acrylics! Whether you want to turn a plain bed sheet into an eye-catching window treatment or stamp a field of flowers onto a silk scarf, you can find a way to make it happen with acrylic paints.
That said, you should keep these helpful techniques in mind as you get started.
- You should always wash the fabric, dry it, and iron it before applying any paint. Most materials stretch and expand during the washing process. If you paint before washing, you could end up with a stretched-out design later on!
- It’s also a good idea to work on top of a plastic tablecloth, so your finished artwork doesn’t stick to your work area. Also, if you’re working on multiple layers, like a shirt, make sure you put a barrier between the layers, so the paint does not soak through!
- You can use many different tools to apply acrylics to the fabric. Sponging or stamping designs works well if you want to essentially create your own printed fabric ensign for a large surface like a curtain or tablecloth.
- If you’re using acrylics on something non-washable, you can use paint without a medium and apply it with brushes or knives.
- Using straight acrylics allows you to build up layers just like you can when using oil paints! This cool technique will create a thick, non-pliable surface, though, so it is not ideal for wearable art.
- Depending on the fabric, it sometimes helps to lightly sand its surface with very fine grit sandpaper before you begin. This gives the paint a rougher surface to cling to.
- For wearable art, mix in a fabric medium. This allows you to create a watercolor effect, airbrush, or even just to paint smoothly over the fabric’s surface. It also keeps the paint soft and comfortable on clothing.
- Finally, acrylics dry fast! If you need to blend colors as you work, do small sections of the project at a time so the paint doesn’t set too quickly for you.
How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric
You can seal acrylic paint on fabric by adding a protective topcoat of a clear acrylic medium. Unlike real varnish, which is made of organic matter, the acrylic medium won’t yellow or darken over time. This step can help your project last even longer.
That said, not every project needs a sealant coat. Most wearable projects work better if you use the heat-setting method.
How do you know if you need a sealant? Well, acrylics have a strong water resistance on their own. This means they will hold up well in the wash, even without a sealant most of the time. But the sealant will give you a nice gloss over your art and a little extra security about the longevity of your design.
In general, it’s probably a good idea to either heat-set wearable art or seal display fabric art as a safety measure.
You can easily apply sealant in several ways.
Make sure you allow your artwork to dry completely first. You can use a brush, airbrush, or sponge. Just apply a thin, clear coat of acrylic medium as a top coat over the design.
Best Acrylic Fabric Paints
Acrylic paints feature prominently in pretty much every arts and crafts store, but these Amazon products will give you an idea of the many different kinds you can choose from!
Magicfly Acrylic Paint SetThis affordable acrylic paint set offers beginning crafters a perfect range of colors for most projects! With 16 basic colors, 2 metallic paints, 2 neon colors, and three starter brushes, you will have everything you need right at your fingertips.
These paints come in easy-to-use squeeze bottles. The paint works well with brushes, sponges, or other decorative techniques. The colors in the set include essentials like ochre and magenta.
DecoArt Americana Acrylic Paint Value PackDecoArt Americana Acrylic Paint set of 12 basic colors in a matte finish costs a tiny bit more, but you get the assurance of the DecorArt brand name. This brand always provides smooth, rich paints perfect for many surfaces, including fabric! These paints have highly pigmented, rich colors and a thick finish.
The colors in the starter set include cadmium yellow, true blue, and ebony black. These paints are guaranteed to work on multiple surfaces, though the manufacturer does recommend mixing in the correct medium for use on surfaces such as glass or fabric.
FolkArt Multi-Surface Paint in Assorted Colors
Looking for one particular shade of paint? Check out this selection of individual 2 oz bottles from FolkArt. As a leading craft paint brand, you can count on the quality in each colorful shade.
Though you can select a different finish, this satin finish selection provides great coverage and highly pigmented colors. Plus, you can choose from a rich area of shades with fun names like Wicker White, Moon Yellow, or Persian Blue!
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Denim?
You can use acrylic paint to create all kinds of interesting designs on denim! Once again, the sky’s the limit. You can paint realistic portraits on the back of a denim jacket or stamp emojis onto a backpack.
Here are some helpful steps to walk you through the general process of painting on denim:
- First, wash and dry your denim garment. You may feel tempted to skip the boring pre-painting steps, but please don’t! This ensures that your painted design won’t stretch or skew later on.
- If you want to, you can use either a pencil or fabric marker to outline your design. The thick acrylic paint will hide these preliminary markings later.
- Select your colors, but don’t set up your paint palette until you’re ready to start. Acrylics dry so fast that you don’t want to have all your colors sitting out and getting too hard ahead of time!
- Mix in a fabric medium following the directions on the package. While you could paint with straight acrylics on denim, you should not do this for a wearable project. The paint will crack and peel when you wash denim unless you use a medium.
- You can apply paint in dozens of different ways. If you choose to freehand with a paintbrush, natural-hair brushes work best with acrylics.
- Allow the design to dry completely. It’s best to let the design rest for at least 24 hours.
- Finally, either apply a sealant topcoat of clear fabric medium or heat set the paint.
- To heat-set, turn your garment inside out so you can iron on the back of the painted design. Lay a pressing cloth over this area. Set your iron to medium, and very slowly iron over the pressing cloth.
- Let your garment sit for at least four days before washing it on a delicate setting.
Finally, enjoy your lovely, permanently decorated denim!
Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric Shoes?
You can use acrylic paint on fabric shoes. This process can turn a pair of ugly, stained white shoes into works of art! It’s also a fun way to express your personal style.
Acrylics may not work well on leather or plastic shoes, though, so stick to fabric shoes for this method.
Check out these pro tips for painting shoes with acrylics:
- Make sure your shoes are clean and all the way dry before applying any paint.
- Tape off areas of the shoes you don’t want to get paint on, like the soles. Think about his like painting a wall—you usually edge the baseboards and ceiling with painter’s tape to avoid any smudges!
- Avoid using newspapers to protect your workspace. The print could smudge onto your shoes. Instead, use cardboard or a cheap plastic tablecloth.
- Because acrylics dry so fast, it’s best to use short, repeated strokes to apply paint to get an even coat.
- Of course, you can also use a sponge or airbrush to create unique styles!
- Let your finished shoes sit for two days before wearing them to make sure they dry thoroughly.
- Finally, this is a case where you should apply a clear sealant! You can brush it on or buy a spray paint version to spray a clear, thin coating over the outside of the shoe.
You can use acrylic paints on all kinds of fabric in a wide range of styles, from airbrushed portraits to watercolor-like tie-dye. Acrylics mixed with a fabric medium work just like fabric paint. Acrylic paints come in a wide range of finishes and colors. They offer an inexpensive way to bring a lot of color to your clothes, denim jeans and jackets, or even shoes!
The main challenge with acrylics is that they create a thick, plasticky coating unless you mix in a fabric medium. These paints dry permanently on fabric and can become even more permanent with the application of a sealant coat or the use of heat.
Have you ever used acrylics to create a design on fabric? What kind of project did you make? Leave a comment below to let us know!