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How to Paint on Fabric Permanently

If your favorite t-shirt is looking faded, painting a new design is a great way to give it a boost. A simple flick of a brush and you have a fresh and stylish garment in no time. But, how long will it last? Will it survive the first wash? The question is, how to paint on fabric permanently?

Paint on fabric permanently by mixing a fabric medium with acrylic paint. Acrylic paint is fast drying and waterproof but can crack or peel if used on its own. Adding a fabric medium gives the paint flexibility to move with the garment, thus ensuring a permanent finish.

While painting fabric is easy, there are a few things to consider when you decide to paint your clothes. Read on to learn how to paint on fabric permanently.

How to Paint on Fabric Permanently

Why Paint Fabric?

A lick of paint works wonders when it comes to adding new life to an old t-shirt or even your favorite pair of shorts. You can create wonderful designs in vibrant colors. Designs that can’t be found in retail stores or for mass purchase.

Giving a different effect to dyes and inks, fabric paint can make any garment individual and unique. What better way to express your personality and stand out from the crowd?

Not only that but creating your own designs can give your confidence a boost. It feels good to create something no one else has. Especially when friends, family, and even strangers will stop you and say, “Hey! Cool shirt! Where did you get it?” It’ll give you a buzz like no other!

Fabric paint can also revamp old and faded designs. It can help you reuse and recycle older garments, giving them a new lease of life. Putting environmentally friendly clothing and sustainable fashion right at your fingertips.

What’s the Difference Between Fabric Paint, Dye, and Ink?

Does acrylic paint work on fabric

There are several ways to change the color of the fabric. You can use dye, ink, or paint. Each option works slightly differently and can create a variety of finishes. From an all-over color to small sections here and there, the result you want will determine whether you need to choose paint, dye, or ink. Let’s take a look at how each method works.

Fabric Dyes

When you first think of permanently changing the color of your fabric, you probably think of dye. A dye is used to change the color of an entire garment. So if you’re looking at turning your blue top purple, this is the one to use. One thing to remember with dye, it’s only the color that changes. The texture of the garment will remain the same.

Dye is applied through the water. The item is dipped into the dye and water solution, usually in a big pot or you can also use a washing machine. Color seeps into the fabric and spreads through the fibers, covering all of them in a liberal dose of the dye.

For a tie-dye effect, garments can be twisted into knots or coated with wax before being dunked into the dye. If the dye can’t reach some areas, it doesn’t soak in evenly, creating beautiful abstract effects.

Ink

Better known for being used on paper, ink creates a permanent color change in small areas. It tends to be thinner than fabric paint and adheres to fabric in a slightly different way. Ink seeps into fabric fibers to create a thin, almost watery paint effect.

It can be added by using pens or brushes and gives a more subtle color than either paint or dye. There are two types of ink, alcohol-based and acrylic. The first can soak into the fibers of a garment. Acrylic-based will only seep a little and mainly sits on top of the fibers.

One of the main drawbacks with ink, particularly when it’s alcohol-based, is it can bleed. If you’ve ever had a ball-point pen leak inside your shirt pocket, you’ll know this from experience. To stop the ink from bleeding out of your design area, you need to use a barrier or a border to keep it in one place.

Fabric Paint

Similar to ink, fabric paint is an acrylic-based paint used to create small designs. These can be as intricate as a bunch of roses or simple splashes creating an abstract artwork. It can be applied by brush and works in the same way as an artist painting on canvas.

The paint seeps into the fibers contained in the fabric, creating a bond. This bond is permanent and gives a vibrant color that is washable, flexible, and long-lasting.

Unlike ink and dye, fabric paint doesn’t bleed or spread throughout the garment. It’s essentially the same acrylic paint used by artists to create still-life paintings or portraits. The only difference is fabric paint has a special additive included. It contains a fabric medium to allow flexibility of movement.

What Kind of Paint to Use on Fabric?

As with any surface, the best paint to use is the one designed for the purpose. When it comes to fabric, you should use fabric paint. It can be used to permanently color anything made from material, whether it is made from a natural or synthetic fiber.

Paint designed for fabric has been specifically formulated to withstand everything you put your clothing through. Or your bags and shoes, for that matter. Whatever the item, the paint you choose needs to survive everyday wear and frequent washing. Fabric paint is the only paint durable and flexible enough to keep your designs fresh, vibrant, and attached to your garments.

These paints are made from acrylic paint and mixed with a built-in additive called a fabric medium. It’s this additive that gives the paint the flexibility it needs to move with the fabric. Without it, the paint would be too rigid and peel or crack, causing unsightly damage to your paintwork.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

Jacquard Textile Paint 2.25 Oz WhiteYes, you can use acrylic paint on fabric. It’s one of the main ingredients of specifically formulated fabric paint. Fabric paint is simply acrylic paint with an inbuilt fabric medium. This makes it the perfect choice for painting on fabric as you don’t need to add anything extra.

Although fabric paint is the best for use on material, it has a drawback. The number of colors available can be a bit limiting. On the other hand, acrylic paint comes in a wide variety of colors and can be mixed with other shades. Thus, making the color options almost limitless!

As a versatile and highly useful paint, it can be used on any surface. However, if you decide to buy standard acrylic paint, you need to add a textile or fabric medium to it before using it on fabric. Using acrylic paint on its own will make the fabric stiff and inflexible. The paint finish will be too rigid and unable to move with the material.

Acrylic paint can form a durable and lasting bond with the fabric and is unlikely to fade over time. As with most paints, the viscosity or thickness of the paint can be altered. With some paints, this can cause a detrimental outcome to the color or coverage, not so with acrylic paint. Whatever design element or fabric you are working with, you can change the density without any adverse effects on the overall color.

How to Paint on Fabric Permanently

What kind of paint to use on fabric

Before you start painting your fabric, you’ll need to choose the right paint. The best choice is specific fabric paint. However, you can also buy standard acrylic paint. If you go for acrylic paint, remember to buy a bottle of fabric medium too!

The next thing to consider is the color of the item you want to paint. Fabric paints tend to work better on a lighter base color such as white, cream, or even pale yellow. This doesn’t mean you can’t paint on your purple jacket. Of course, you can, but it might alter the effectiveness of the paint you’ve chosen.

If you want to paint on a darker fabric, choose a more opaque paint. A dark-colored shirt may need more than one coat before the design can stand out against the darkness of the background. With thicker paint, the coverage will be better and the finish smoother.

Step 1

Once you have selected your paint, you need to prep your garment. Make sure to pre-wash it before adding the paint. This will help remove any dirt or chemicals left over from the manufacturing process. Avoid fabric softener when pre-washing. Softeners will add more chemicals that will hinder the adherence of the paint.

Any chemicals on the fabric or grime between the fibers may limit the paint’s ability to stick to the cloth. Therefore, a clean garment is more likely to result in a permanent finish.

Step 2

When your garment is dry, test a small garment sample to see how well the paint adheres to it. Check to see how well the paint covers the fabric. Is it an opaque finish or a bit see-through? Depending on the effect you are looking for, you may need to add another coat of paint or use a thicker one.

Step 3

Give your garment a quick going over with an iron to remove any wrinkles in the area you want to paint. Wrinkles will create crevices the paint can’t reach, which is great if you want a design with gaps. Not so good if you don’t.

Step 4

Paint your garment. If you want a one-sided design, make sure to put some cardboard inside your garment, so the paint doesn’t seep straight through. Then, use a brush and stencil, or paint free-hand as if you were painting on a canvas or paper.

Step 5

Allow your painted garment to dry for at least 24 hours. Then set the paint using heat. You can use a dryer set on a low heat setting, but the best method is an iron. Turn your clothing inside out and iron the garment on the back of the design. The heat will set the paint, giving you a permanent and unique finish.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric

Jacquard Textile Paint 2.25 Oz WhiteThe best way to seal acrylic paint onto fabric is to use heat. Using heat will ensure the paint is permanently stuck to the material. This will make the clothing able to withstand the rigors of constant washing and wearing.

Iron is the easiest method of applying heat. You need to make sure the paint is completely dry before getting your iron anywhere near the design. The last thing you need is acrylic paint on your iron! As a rule of thumb, give the garment a minimum of 24 hours after painting. That way, you can be assured the paint will stay on your clothing and not transfer to other surfaces.

You can also use a dryer set to a low setting. Whichever method you use, pay attention to the fabric content of your garment. Some fabrics can react badly to too much heat.

A hot iron can cause scorch marks. Make sure to use a pressing cloth if you are in any doubt about the heat tolerance of your garment. Be careful when using the heat from a dryer too! They have been known to melt some fabrics, particularly ones containing synthetic fibers.

What Are the Best Fabric Paints Available?

Gotideal Acrylic Paint Set

can i use acrylic paint on fabricGotideal Acrylic Paint Set comes with 18 non-toxic colors ideal for wood, glass, and fabric. The rich non-fading shades will delight artists and crafters and give a vibrant boost to any project. Perfect for indoor and outdoor use, the paint leaves a glossy, quick-drying finish.

Pros

  • Quick-drying
  • Nontoxic and resistant to fading
  • Easy to blend
  • Large capacity bottles

Cons

  • You will need to add a fabric medium to the paint for use on clothing
  • A limited selection of colors

Premium Quality Acrylic Paint Set

Premium Quality Acrylic Paint Set 24 Colors - (1.28oz, 38ml) - with 6 Nylon Brushes - Safe for Kids & Adults - Perfect Kit for Beginners, Pros & Artists to Create Amazing Paintings and ArtworkThis paint set comes complete with 6 brushes and is safe to use by both children and adults. A great starter set for beginners, it includes 24 colors that can be blended to create more shades. Ideal for a range of surfaces such as wood, plaster, clay, and canvas.

Pros

  • Free from harmful chemicals
  • Vibrant long lasting color
  • Comes with a selection of different brushes

Cons

  • Need to use a fabric medium for use on clothing
  • Comes in tubes rather than bottles

Arteza Permanent Fabric Paint

Arteza Permanent Fabric Paint MB9 Pearl Navy Blue, 60 ml Bottle, Washer & Dryer Safe, Textile Paint for Clothes, T-Shirts, Jeans, Bags, Shoes, DIY Projects & CanvasAvailable in a 60ml bottle and a range of colors, Arteza’s permanent fabric paint is perfect for use on clothes, bags, and shoes. This paint is non-toxic and resistant to cracks and peeling. As this is specifically designed for fabric, you don’t need a fabric medium.

It can be used on various fabrics, including leather, denim, linen, and canvas. With a quick-drying formula, the paint can be set permanently to the fabric with an iron.

Pros

  • Backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee
  • Quick-drying
  • Suitable for use on leather

Cons

  • Neon colors are more transparent than darker ones
  • May need more than one coat for an opaque finish

Jacquard Products Textile Color Fabric Paint

Jacquard Textile Paint 2.25 Oz WhiteThis specialty fabric paint can be applied straight from the bottle. It gives a vibrant, slightly opaque color finish that leaves the fabric super soft.

Suitable for use on both natural and synthetic fabrics, this paint is an ideal choice for your DIY projects. You can even use it on wood and paper.

Pros

  • Can be used on leather
  • Can be applied by brush or stamp
  • Super soft finish
  • Designed for fabric so no need for a textile medium

Cons

  • Small 2.25oz bottle may not be enough for larger projects
  • May not cover darker fabrics
  • Difficult to find color swatches

What Type of Fabric Can Be Painted Permanently?

Fabric paint can be applied permanently to any material. However, the quality and longevity of the painted areas can depend on the type of fabric you use them on. Although designed for use on any fabric, there are some fibers that will give a better finish.

The more natural fiber the fabric contains, the more likely the paint will be permanent. Cotton, silk, and wool are an ideal choice for painting. Due to the water absorption qualities of natural fibers, paint seeps into the material, creating a deep, rich color from the surface to the inside of the garment.

Better still, the tighter the weave of the fabric, the more the paint can be absorbed. Heavier weight cotton like denim or tight weaves like twill are the best for painting. Their structure allows more paint to be trapped closer to the garment surface before it soaks through to the underneath.

There are also some synthetic fibers that can be painted. Some polyester or nylon fabrics allow the paint to adhere to the surface. Unlike natural fibers, paint is not absorbed by synthetics. It sits on the surface.

This means you have to consider the fabric finish before beginning to paint it. If the nylon or polyester has been given a special coating or treated with a waterproofing chemical, the paint may not stick to the surface, causing it to flake or peel.

How to Care for Painted Fabric

To ensure your painted garment retains its vibrancy, hand wash in warm water and air dry. This will prevent the paint from being damaged by a washing machine’s vigorous spin cycle.

Washing by hand will also keep the water temperature cooler. A word of caution, when air drying your garment, keep it out of direct sunlight as heat from the sun can cause damage to the paint.

If you need to wash the garment by machine, choose a gentle setting on a cool temperature with little or no spin. Again, air drying is best, but you can use a dryer set on low heat as long as it’s for a short time.

Conclusion

Painting on fabric is simple and effective. It’s a great way to create a unique item or revamp a favorite shirt. Why not give it a go? Using the hints and tips from this article, you can design your own fashionable clothing in no time!

Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Have you tried permanently painting your fabric? How did you get on? What did you use? Did it give you the effect you were looking for?

Jill L White

Tuesday 19th of October 2021

Thank you!! Finally a really comprehensive guide!! I appreciate the tips! Off to paint my shirt.