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What Is a Fabric Medium?

Have you ever spotted an adorable pair of painted jeans and wondered if you could replicate them at home? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can! All you have to do is apply a mixture of acrylic paint and fabric medium. But what is a fabric medium?

A fabric medium is a clear liquid mixed with acrylic paint to create fabric paint. Fabric medium generally thins out acrylics, giving them a smoother application and a soft finish once dried. Fabric medium stops acrylic paints from cracking, peeling, or breaking down over time.

In this article, I’ll explain exactly how fabric medium works and the benefits of your next fabric painting project. More importantly, I’ll walk you through the different fabric mediums and even teach you how to make them at home yourself.

What Is a Fabric Medium

What is a Fabric Medium?

DecoArt DAS10-3 Americana Mediums Fabric Acrylic Painting, 2-OunceA fabric medium is a thick liquid that can be added to acrylic paints, turning them into a form of fabric paint. Paint used on fabrics needs to be soft and flexible to move with your body as you go about your day. It also needs to be washable without cracking or peeling afterward.

If you use acrylic paint alone on fabrics, the paint can make fabric feel stiff and will often crack and lose its clean finish. This is where fabric medium comes into play. A quality fabric medium will give acrylic paints all the durability they need to stand up to whatever wear and tear your fabrics may face.

Fabric medium also thins acrylic paint, making it easier to apply to your fabrics. It does not, however, change the paint’s color or intensity. It can even help prevent the paint color from bleeding into other areas of the fabric.

Do You Have to Use Fabric Medium?

Technically you are not required to use fabric medium, though it is strongly recommended. You can still apply acrylic paint directly to fabric if that is all you have available. Just keep in mind that your painted designs won’t hold up well to washing and everyday wear if you do this.

If you want your designs to last a long time and still keep their smooth finish, you will need to use a fabric medium. Acrylic paints alone aren’t made to move and flex in the same way fabric paint does. Painted jeans, for example, will almost certainly require a fabric medium to give the paint a chance to adhere to the thick fabric as it moves.

If the idea of using fabric medium is intimidating, don’t stress. There are commercial products you can purchase that are very beginner-friendly. You can even make some types of fabric with supplies you already have in your home.

What Can I Use as a Fabric Medium?

The great thing about fabric medium is that store-bought and homemade options are available. Generally speaking, the commercial products will work better than those you make yourself. This is mostly because manufacturers have access to chemicals that improve the finish of your paint, which simply aren’t available for DIY projects.

Store-Bought Fabric Mediums

Ready-made fabric mediums can be purchased from most craft stores, retail chains, or online. These products tend to be stocked next to the acrylic paints, and each major brand will often produce a medium that works well with that company’s paints. Keep in mind that you do not have to mix mediums and paints from the same brand.

Store-bought fabric mediums are relatively affordable. Cheaper options range between $2 and $5 in price, though these tend to be of a bit lower quality. However, you can purchase higher quality fabric mediums from your craft store for around $15-$20.

Be sure to read the labels of the store-bought fabric mediums you purchase before you use them. Many products require you to set them with heat to make the paint washable. This process is simple but requires a heat source like an iron or heat torch.

How to Make Fabric Medium at Home

If you don’t have a ready-made fabric medium on hand, consider making one yourself. Homemade fabric mediums can make acrylic paints soft and durable, using just three common ingredients. These ingredients are white vinegar, water, and glycerin.

While you probably have white vinegar in your kitchen pantry, glycerin can be less common. Glycerin is a natural compound made from soybean, coconut, or palm oil. Many people use glycerin for skin care, meaning that it can be easily purchased in the health or beauty section of most major drug stores and retail chains.

To make this homemade fabric medium, mix one part white vinegar, one part glycerin, and two parts water. Make sure that the ingredients are fully combined before you add your homemade medium to your acrylic paint. You’ll want to add enough to thin the paint to the consistency of a watery syrup.

It is not necessary to heat set this type of fabric medium, though it can improve the longevity of your paints. Simply iron the back side of the fabric, being careful not to use any moisture or steam functions. Only do this if you are painting a fabric that can withstand heat.

How to Make Fabric Medium Without Glycerin

If you make your fabric medium at home, glycerin is often the best option since it gives the paint a nice finish. It is understandable, however, that you may not want to buy an entire bottle of glycerin just for this project. The good news is that you can make fabric medium at home with other common household ingredients.

You can use a mixture of liquid glue and shaving cream as a fabric medium. You will want to make sure you use glue that dries clear and does not contain additives like glitter. You’ll also want to choose a white shaving cream to avoid adding other dyes to your paint.

Once you have your ingredients, mix one part paint, one part glue, and three parts shaving cream. Unlike other mediums, this homemade version will make your paint feel thicker than normal. It should absorb into the fabric regardless, though it may not be useful for making designs with really fine details.

After you have applied your paint mixture, let it dry completely. Then, use a dry iron to heat the paint to set it in place. This is an important step you will not want to miss since your design will likely fade otherwise.

How to Use Fabric Medium

How to Use Fabric Medium

When painting fabric, there are several steps you’ll need to take to ensure you get a good final product. Be sure to follow the instructions below in their entirety to guarantee your paint will withstand the test of time.

1. Prepare the Fabric

Before you paint your fabrics, you’ll want to pre-wash them properly. The fabric needs to be clean and free of dirt or debris to make the paint stick better. Avoid using liquid fabric softeners since they can add an outer residue to your fabrics, preventing the paint from fully sticking.

You can paint directly on clean fabric if that is your wish. However, you’ll get better results by gently sanding the area you intend to paint with light grit sandpaper. This helps to roughen up the fibers and makes the paint adhere better.

Then, dampen your fabric with water. Paint applies smoother and more consistently to wet fabric than it does to dry fabric. If you want to create a barrier to keep your paint from spreading into nearby fabrics, use clear, washable wax to mark the outer edge of your painting area before you get the fabric wet.

2. Mix Your Paint

Mixing the fabric medium and acrylic paints is the step of this process that most beginners fear. Fortunately, it is very difficult to do this step wrong! You simply need to choose your acrylic paint color and mix the fabric medium into it.

A good ratio to use is to use twice as much acrylic paint as you do fabric medium. In other words, for every ounce of paint, you will use half an ounce of fabric medium. If you purchase ready-made fabric medium, you should still read the label to ensure you use the proper ratio.

The fabric medium has to be mixed into the paint completely and shouldn’t be applied to the fabric by itself. You can add more medium to your paint to give it a shinier finish and make it more durable. Opposite of that, you can add less medium to give your paint more of a matte look.

Don’t fret if your store-bought fabric medium is solid white. It will turn clear as it dries and won’t alter the color of your paint.

3. Paint Your Design

Once you have your paint mixed, you can then start getting creative! Before you start painting, I recommend sketching your design onto your fabric using a pencil or fabric-safe marker. This will help guide you where to place your paints as you work.

You may also want to practice painting your design on scrap fabric or paper beforehand to ensure the final design looks the way you want it to. You can apply the paint using a brush, sponge, or piping tips if you want consistent lines. You can also play around with different consistencies of your paint to get lighter and darker effects in your designs.

You will want to place some barrier behind the fabric as you work. This will keep the paint from bleeding through onto your table or the back of a garment if you are painting clothes. Keep in mind that it can be very difficult to remove the paint from other areas of the fabric if it is allowed to soak in.

4. Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric

Some fabric mediums may not require you to set the paint with heat. However, applying heat to your designs before you wear or wash them will help to give a better finish to your designs. It will also make them more durable and softer to the touch.

Before you can seal your paint, you will need to make sure it has dried completely. You will want to wait at least 24 hours to give the paint enough time to fully cure. Then you will apply heat to your design.

The simplest way to do this is to iron your design with a dry iron. Be careful not to use water or steam, as they can have the opposite effect and may lift some of the paint. You’ll want to thoroughly heat your design to ensure it fully sets.

You can also use special equipment like a heated shirt press or even certain types of heat torches. However, these require extra knowledge for proper use that just isn’t necessary. Your trusty household iron can handle the job.

After you have heat set your paint, you’ll want to let it sit for several days before you wash it. This just gives the paint a bit longer to cure and improves its chances of lasting long term.

Is Fabric Medium the Same as Acrylic Medium?

In a sense, yes. The term “acrylic medium” describes several additives that can be mixed into acrylic paint. Fabric medium is one of these, and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

The other type of acrylic medium is gel medium. Gel medium is not the same thing as fabric medium. It tends to be more expensive than fabric medium and has many more uses in the art world. More specifically, it is a widely used acrylic additive that alters the texture and appearance of acrylic paints.

Because of this, gel medium comes in many different consistencies and can even have added texture itself from glass beads or ground pumice that is added in. Gel medium alone can be used in many ways as fabric medium can but is generally not the preferred choice.

So to more clearly answer the question, “acrylic medium” is a term used to describe additives to acrylic paints. This can include fabric medium and other products like gel medium. If the term “acrylic medium” is used to describe fabric painting, it is almost certainly the same as fabric medium.

Can I Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric Without Medium?

Yes, you can use acrylic paint on fabric without having a medium. However, the paint won’t be durable and will likely crack over time. It will also make the fabric feel stiff since acrylic paint isn’t designed to be flexible.

If you intend to use pure acrylic paint on your fabric, I recommend painting areas that don’t bend and stretch regularly. Try not to paint pure acrylics on the knees of your jeans, for example, since they will constantly be moving and flexing and the paint will quickly chip.

You can somewhat improve the feel of pure acrylic paint on fabric by diluting it with a bit of water. However, a fabric medium is necessary if you want a soft and flexible finish to your painted fabrics.

Does Fabric Medium Change the Color of Acrylic Paint?

No, fabric medium should not change the color of your acrylic paints. Ready-made and even some homemade mediums will be white, to begin with. However, this color will fade as the paint dries on your fabric.

That being said, you’ll want to make sure that you have finalized your paint color before you mix in the fabric medium. If you have to go back and color correct by adding more paint, you’ll throw off the ratio of the medium in your mixture. This can affect the overall finish and longevity of your paint.

You should also keep in mind that some paints appear to be lighter in color after they have dried. This is sometimes unavoidable. I recommend testing your paint on a spare piece of fabric or paper, allowing it to dry so that you can see the final color. There’s no taking the paint back once you’ve applied it!

What Is the Best Fabric Medium?

After all of this, you might ask yourself – what is the best fabric medium for me to use? My general recommendation is that store-bought fabric mediums are the best for your project. They will give a soft finish to your paint and, more importantly, make it last a very long time.

Even then, it is worth the money to invest in a quality fabric medium. I recommend steering clear of the cheapest options and going for something more in the middle range. Fabric mediums from the brand Golden, for example, begin at around $14 and give an excellent finish.

At the end of the day, the best fabric medium is the one that suits your needs. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the different mediums discussed in this article. You’re sure to find a method that works well for you.