Painting on Fabric With Acrylic Fabric Paints – A Beginner’s Guide

Painting on fabric is easy and inexpensive, and it opens up exciting new creative horizons for sewers and quilters, fine arts painters, scrapbookers, and mixed-media artists..

If you’ve never tried painting on fabric before, you may have questions about how to get started. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about fabric painting.

What kinds of paint can I use to paint on fabric?

Oil paints and acrylic paints can both be used for fabric painting, but acrylic fabric paints are much easier for a beginner to use than oils. They are inexpensive, they don’t require any chemical solvents for cleanup (unlike oil paints), and they are easy to find at art stores, large craft stores, or even quilt shops.

What’s in an acrylic fabric paint?

Acrylic paints consist of colors mixed into an acrylic fluid that is designed for use on fabric. Some acrylic paints are stiff enough to create 3-D brush stroke effects on the fabric. Others are thin and have a watery consistency, like watercolor paints. Acrylic paints can be thinned with water, but that makes the color paler. You can also thin or thicken your paint without changing its color by mixing it with a fluid called fabric medium or gel medium.

What types of fabric can I paint?

Really, you can paint just about any woven, knitted, or nonwoven fabric. The list includes cotton, linen, rayon, wool, silk, most synthetics, terry cloth, and velvet or velveteen. You can also paint with fabric paints on many interfacings, quilt batting, leather, or suede. When in doubt, test the surface before you start a full-scale project.

Can I wash painted fabric? How long will it last?

As long as you follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions for drying and curing the paint, most painted fabrics can be washed. The paints will typically last as long as the fabric does. The more gently you wash (hand washing and drip drying instead of machine washing, for instance) the better the paint should wear. For most fabrics, the paint can be machine washed or dry cleaned. To iron acrylic painted fabrics, use a low heat setting.

Do I need other equipment or supplies to paint on fabric?

A set of good acrylic paint brushes, a sponge or two, and whatever stamps, stencils, and other applicators you have around the house (Q-tips, pens, scrunched-up plastic wrap, you name it!) will come in handy. If you want to blend colors, a painter’s palette might be useful, although you can also use a china plate for that. You really don’t need anything more to get started.

How should I get the fabric ready for painting?

If the fabric is new, always prewash it to remove any sizing, which can keep the paint from adhering properly to the fabric. You may also want to protect your work surface with newspaper or cardboard to keep paint from getting on things you don’t want to paint.

What’s a good first project for me to try?

How about adding some pizzazz to a pair of canvas sneakers, a silk scarf (you may want to try a paint specially formulated for use on silk,) a t-shirt or sweatshirt, a canvas tote bag, a baseball cap, or a small wall quilt? The possibilities are endless. Start with something small and inexpensive, so you can experiment without fear.