How To Paint On Fabric With Acrylic Paint: Full Guide & Tips

Last Updated on April 20, 2024 by Masha Eretnova

One time I had a white t-shirt that I wanted to throw away, but as I am an abstract acrylic artist, I was like…wait a second…

Can I use acrylic paint on fabric to upcycle my clothes and shoes?!

And YES, acrylic paint will stick permanently to fabric and clothes!

The next question I had and I know you’re now facing it is HOW to paint on fabric with acrylic paint the way it will stick permanently and won’t wash off.

To paint on fabric with acrylic, you need to mix acrylic paint with fabric medium, make a design, let it dry, and iron it to make it permanent. Then you wash it and it is ready to wear!

That’s all! But, of course, there are some tips I learned along the way of upcycling my shorts, denim, and T-shirts that I’m going to share in this guide.

How to Paint Fabric with Acrylic Paint

I first painted my old denim shorts (proudly thrifted!) in 2018 and since then I’ve been a fan of acrylic-based paint for all sorts of fabric. In this article I’ll show my previous tests on denim with acrylic and fabric paint as well as my full new experiment on a 100% cotton white T-shirt I got specifically to paint on it 🙂

I’m excited! Let’s go


Can you use acrylic paint on fabric?

You can use acrylic paint on fabric, your clothes, shoes, silk, and leather, and even pillows, curtains, towels, or furniture textiles.

Acrylic paint is a budget-friendly and simple medium to upgrade your T-shirt and create your personalized style.

Acrylic paint can be used on fabric and clothes, but you should use a fabric medium if you want acrylic paint to stick permanently and to make sure the painting will stay on the fabric and won’t wash off, peel off or simply crack.

Can you use acrylic paint on fabric
I’ve tested acrylic paints, fabric paints, fabric sticks and acrylic markers on this cotton shirt!

To use acrylic paint on the fabric I would recommend using special acrylic paint labeled “for fabric” and vote for liquid acrylic paint – it flows better so it will be easier to work on fabric.

Painting acrylics on fabric supplies

Optional:

  • Stencils (you can use sponge and stamps instead of brushes OR you can use apples or potatoes cut in half!)
  • Frames (if you want to frame your masterpiece, not wear it)
Can you use acrylic paint on fabric

Curious to paint on leather? Check my Painting Leather with Acrylics: How to Paint and Seal Leather

This article contains affiliate links. It means no extra cost for you but a little commission (2-3%) for me to support my hobby and blog. Thank you!


What is Fabric Medium?

Sale
Liquitex Professional Effects Medium, 118ml (4-oz), Fabric Medium
  • A fluid medium incorporating an acrylic polymer with ultimate flexibility and adhesion.
  • Enhances the workability of acrylic paint on fabric.
  • Controls bleeding of colors thinned with water.

Fabric medium, also called textile medium, is one of the acrylic mediums that is formulated specifically to make the paint adhere and stay on fabric, withstanding washing and time.

Please note, that pouring mediums, glue, vinegar (by itself) or water are not professional fabric mediums.

Fabric medium is the key to painting acrylics on fabric – it does all the magic. Without it, it may be hard use acrylic paint on fabric!

Acrylic paint is fast-drying but it isn’t waterproof and washes safe by nature. It’s prone to crack and peel if it isn’t used and sealed properly.

Good fabric mediums don’t dilute or destroy acrylic paint’s basic characteristics: it stays durable and permanent, and colors remain vibrant.

Now, don’t worry, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy some more expensive supplies.

Fabric medium can be easily homemade!

And I’ll share the recipes below.

Keep reading: Best Fabric Medium for Acrylic Paint I Tested and Liked


Using fabric Medium for fabric painting

Usual Fabric Medium for Acrylic Paint Ratio: 1 part fabric medium to 2 parts acrylic paint, but you can do 1:1 as well.

There are two best fabric mediums on the market – Liquitex fabric medium (buy on Blick, it’s cheaper there than on Amazon) and Delta Creative Fabric Medium – both high-quality, durable fabric mediums that will turn your acrylic paint into fabric paint.

FABRIC MEDIUM FOR ACRYLIC PAINT

I also tried Deco Art paints and mediums and it worked well enough on old jeans shorts:

Upcycling old jeans shorts following the guidance of one of my crafty friends!
We used Deco art fabric paint! We secured the shorts on a piece of cardboard with binder clips and then I simply painted it!

How to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium?

The easiest way is to just use straight acrylic on fabric. But to make it more flexible there is a DIY recipe to turn acrylic into fabric paint without an expensive medium is to add 3 tbs of shaving cream and 1 tbs of white glue to your acrylic paint.

You can also turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium but with glycerin

DIY Glycerin Fabric Medium Recipe: 1 part of Glycerin + 5 parts of water.

How to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium

Glycerin has similar properties and can replace fabric medium for acrylic paint, but I have to warn you, it may not have all benefits a high-quality fabric medium can offer.

If you’re making a simple craft project, go for a DIY fabric medium, but if you’re creating a gift or something you’d like to showcase or even sell, please, use a trusted fabric medium.

Ex., 10 ml of glycerin mix with 50 ml of water.

DIY fabric medium

Only then add the mix to acrylic paint.

On the other hand, you can skip fabric medium if you’re not planning to wear or wash the fabric you’re painting on. If it will be framed and hung on the wall, you can use regular thinned acrylic paint.

Read also: How To Turn Acrylic Paint Into Fabric Paint Without Medium – 6 DIY Fabric Medium Recipes


Can I paint on Any fabric?

Acrylic paint is versatile and if you combined it with fabric medium, you are good to go.

You can use it on any fabric technically – cotton, silk, suede, velvet, corduroy, etc, but there are some general considerations.

how to paint fabric with acrylic paint
I’m very happy with how acrylic paint and fabric paint worked on cotton and denim
  • if the fabric has texture, long hair, uneven surface – it will be much harder to paint. You may skip it or use spray paint and stencils and then go over with a small brush to make sure paint got in everywhere.
  • Acrylic paint works best on fabrics with good opportunity to adhere such as cotton, cotton blends or polyester blends.
  • ACrylic paint works less amazing on silk as it is less absorbent than cotton.
  • Acrylic paint by itself works worst on treated fabrics, leather, vinyl, or heavily treated synthetics. Not to worry there are special paints and mediums to paint leather easily.
  • If your clothes are labeled “dry clean only” – do not use paint on it.

According to Liquitex, their paint and fabric mediums work best on the following fabric:

Cotton, cotton-poly blends, woven, knitted, felt, terry cloth, silk, velvet, velveteen, corduroy, flannel, suede, leather and most synthetics.

Liquitex

How to paint fabric with acrylic paint

can you use acrylic paint on fabric

These steps will help you to paint your favorite T-shirt or shorts, create a wall decoration or work with towels, pillowcases, and even shoes.
Yet, in fact, there are a lot of fabric painting techniques, that I might eventually cover in a separate post. This is the basic step-by-step guide for beginners on how to paint fabric with acrylic paint.

Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Pre-wash

  • Wash and dry the fabric you’ll paint on. Washing is a must, as we need to get rid of sizing – it affects the painting and drying process.
  • Prepare the paint

  • Use special fabric paint or mix your regular acrylic paint with a special fabric medium.
  • Prepare the workplace and fabric

  • You may want to stretch your clothes or fabric with cardboard to get an even surface.
  • Cover your workplace with plastic or cardboard or something as sometimes paint will soak through the fabric. Please, don’t overstretch, when you’ll loosen it up, the dried painting may wrinkle the fabric. Fix it with binder clips.

    Paint

  • Paint on fabric using your ideas or get some stencils.
  • If you want some hard edges or blank lines you can use liquid wax! There are some special pens filled with wax for batik and fabric painting.
    Use brushes or sponges, and stamps (even natural like halves of apples) to get creative. To make a sketch use sewing chalk it will help you keep the proportions and composition. When it’s done, leave it to air dry for at least 24 hours.
    If you don’t know what to paint, don’t feel like you are not creative, we all were there! Just get some inspiration, ex., from my list of 101 easy painintg ideas!

    Seal acrylic paint on fabric

    can you use acrylic paint on fabric
  • Seal acrylic paint to make it washable and permanent.
  • The best way to seal acrylic paint on fabric is to iron it for 3 to 5 minutes.

    Wash

    can you use acrylic paint on fabric washing

    WAIT 4 to 7 days before you will wash your painted fabric. For the first time, wash it separately to make sure the paint won’t contaminate other clothes.

    Read also: Paint T-Shirt With Acrylic With Me: 8 Steps (With Pictures)


    How to paint fabric with acrylic paint Without Medium

    If you don’t plan to wash or wear your painted clothes or fabric art, you can paint textile without fabric medium. Follow the steps below as they’re slightly different from the steps when I use the fabric medium.

    Steps:

    1. It is preferably of course to use a clean piece of fabric or clothes. But! The trick here is to actually…sand it! Yes, you heard me right. Grab a super light sandpaper and go over the fabric, it will pick up all the dust and all the loose bits and pieces.
    2. Pick the colors of your acrylic paint. Even 1$ Apple Barrel paint will work for your hanging wall art. We don’t use medium in this tutorial, but you may notice sometimes that the paint is too thick (for ex., if you are using a heavy body professional acrylic paint). Then use a little bit of water or acrylic medium to thin it, around 10%.
    3. Protect the surface you are working on with some cardboard or plastic and wear clothes you can get dirty. Stretch and fix the piece of fabric over a cardboard. If it is a T-shirt, short or anything that has a few layers of fabric, put something in between in case the colors bleed.
    4. Fill a spray bottle with water and wet the fabric. It will improve paint adhesion.
    5. Paint on fabric using your ideas or get some stencils. You can also use printing blocks, stamps or acrylic markers for outlines and patterns.
    6. Air dry painted area for minimum 24 hours.
    7. Then you can seal it or heat set for washability.
    8. WAIT 4 to 7 days before you will wash your painted fabric. For the first time, wash it separately to make sure the paint won’t contaminate other clothes. However, remember that we DIDN’T use any fabric medium which means you don’t have to wash the piece.
    how to paint fabric with acrylic paint

    How to seal acrylic paint on fabric

    The best and easiest way to seal acrylic paint on fabric is heat-setting. You can also use mod podge to seal acrylic on fabric for display only.

    To make acrylic paint stay permanently on the fabric we need to seal using either a special sealing medium or a more traditional way – heat-set when we seal the painted surface on fabric with some heat.

    If you used fabric medium you don’t really need any additional sealer, simple heat will be enough!

    Read also: How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Denim: 2 Easy Ways


    How to seal acrylic paint on fabric without medium

    The easiest way to seal acrylic paint on fabric without a medium is to use heat: iron is the best choice, but you can also use a dryer or even a hairdryer.

    1. Finish your painting, and let it dry for 24 hours.
    2. Turn on the iron on medium or high heat, let it heat up, and start moving it across our painted fabric for 3-5 minutes – this is called heat-setting acrylic paint on fabric. Do not use steam!
      • Insider tip: if you’re scared that paint will peel off, put some fabric between the iron and the painted area or turn the clothes inside out.
    3. Turn off the iron, the painted area should be dry, hang it and leave for another 4 to 7 days before washing it.

    WARNING: Please turn off the steam setting on your iron!


    What paint can be used on fabric?

    Even though acrylic paint is truly one of the best fabric-friendly paints that anyone can use, there are some alternatives that you can consider for your next textile project.

    1. Fabric paint – specially formulated, It can be, in fact, acrylic based, but it will have some special additives.
    2. Spray paint – spray paint in cans perfect to combine with some stencils! It can be enamel based paint or even acrylic paint thinned for a sprayer.
    3. Fabric dye – they come in different forms from sticks to liquid and normally have an instructions to follow. Liquid paint and dyes are great for sil screening andblock printing techniques, as well as regular brush application. (Here is my Pentel sticks review.)
    4. Alcohol-Based Pigments in markers or paints.
    5. Markers or pens – they can also be permanent or water-based. Markers are great, offer vibrant colors. Work best for outlines and writing, but if they are permanent, you have no room for mistakes.
    What other kinds of paint can I use on fabric
    This is done with Artistro acrylic paint pens!

    Best acrylic paint to use on fabric (with or without medium):

    Best fabric paint (no need for fabric medium)

    Dye vs Paint- which is better for fabric?

    You can ultimately use both, it will work.

    Dye is different from paint. In acrylic paint pigments are “suspended” in polymer solution. In dyes pigments are soluble. That’s why dyes are better for fabric – they soak in better.

    And that’s why we need a fabric medium – it makes regular paint soak in better as well 🙂

    Check my curated list: What Acrylic Paint for Fabric To Buy: Top 10 Brands I Recommend


    Tips on How to paint fabric with acrylic paint

    Before we jump in and I share exact steps how to paint fabric with and without fabric medium, here are some useful tips that will give you a bigger picture of what is going on.

    • Do not over-thin your paint, It should not drip and seem watery. Please, check this post before thinning your paint: How to Thin Acrylic Paint: 3 Correct Ways & 3 Dont’s.
    • Do not apply thick layers – they will dry and become hard and stiff. And they are more likely to crack.
    • If you need more working time with the paint, use slow-drying mediums.
    • All fabrics soak paint differently. Try out some paint on a small piece to make sure it works. Cotton and loosely woven fabrics soak paint better. Soft fabrics also work better than rough textured fabrics.
    • If you are about to paint on some delicate fabrics, use lint-free rollers.
    • Some acrylic paint on clothing may dry darker or lighter, don’t be surprised. Some colors are more opaque or translucent by nature, I have a whole list of such colors here: 7 Ways How to Make Acrylics More Opaque & Full Opaque Colors List.
    • Do not use too many Titanium white or metallic colors, it stiffens the fabric.
    • However, if you are painting over black or dark fabric, you may need a base layer of white.
    • When I first got interested in fabric painting I didn’t realize I can use many other tools instead of a brush. You can use rollers, airbrush, wooden printing blocks, or silk-screen printing technique.

    My little tip from personal experience

    how to paint on fabric with acrylic paint guide
    Me and my painted shorts!

    I was once attending a creative batik workshop with my dear friend. She was worried that she could not draw something freehand and it may end up being not pretty.

    Unfortunately, the ladies who organized the worship weren’t empathetic with my friend’s struggles and tried to encourage her to draw. I decided to step in and we came up with a solution that saved us from creative catastrophe haha 🙂

    So, the pencil sketch is NOT advised on fabric. However, I do believe that if you are making small art just for fun you can use a pencil.

    So what did we do?

    • We had a piece of white cotton fixed with an embroidery hoop.
    • We took a piece of paper with a printer black and white outline of some cute flowers
    • Adjusted the paper under the fabric,
    • and very gently made a light sketch

    Pencil lines ended up being absolutely invisible once we washed the fabric! Ta-da! My friend was happy and I also used a pencil to make a sketch for mountains. As you can see no pencil lines remained visible:

    tips on how to paint on fabric

    How to take care of painted fabric?

    Even if you did use fabric paint or fabric medium, our painted clothes need special attention now. The main care advice is to wash it rarely and gently wash it! But let’s go for the full list of aftercare tips:

    • Wash the painted fabric inside out.
    • If you didn’t use a fabric medium (professional) you shouldn’t really wash your fabric or clothes in the washing machine. I recommend spot cleaning.
    • If you used a fabric medium – Choose a gentle cycle for the washing machine or even better hand wash painted clothes and shoes, at least for a few first washes.
    • Add fabric softener while washing.
    • Always use cold water.
    • Never pre-soak.
    • In general, do not wash painted clothes often.
    • Hang painted clothes to dry or use dry cleaning machines at room temperature.
    • Don’t use spot-cleaning solutions on painted areas.
    • To iron, use low heat settings and
    • If you need to iron in the future, use the low synthetic heat and cloth in between the iron and fabric, or turn it inside out.
    • Acrylic paint by itself doesn’t have UV resistance so please, keep in mind that harsh sun can fade colors.

    Fixing Issues When Painting Fabric

    Issue No 1 – Stiff fabric

    This is most likely if you didn’t use any special fabric mediums. Overall, this is one of the main disadvantages of using acrylic paint directly on the fabric without a medium – stiffness.

    Another reason is applying thick layers of paint – they will be first stiff and then will eventually crack.

    Fix:

    • Heat setting normally makes the fabric softer
    • Hand washing can make the fabric softer (and wash off some paint)
    • Hang the piece in the bathroom – it is naturally a humid area and it can help soften the painted fabric.
    • Next time use fabric medium 🙂

    Issue No 2 – Dull Colors

    You can get duller colors if you choose fabric paints, but acrylic paints normally is much more brighter. It is also worth noticing that paint on fabric may dry lighter than it is while still wet.

    Another reason for pale colors is when there is too much fabric medium. Use no more than 1:2 ratio.

    Fix:

    • If you already sealed the surface there is not much we can do.
    • If not yet, you can apply another thin layer of paint with less fabric medium and heat set it after to make it permanent.

    If you are working on white clothes or a piece of fabric, bleach will be handy to correct some mistakes.

    For dark-colored fabric bleach can act as paint itself – just make sure not to add too much bleach as it will tear apart the fabric.


    FAQ

    Can I just apply the fabric medium on top of my acrylics?

    Unfortunately, you can’t apply fabric medium over acrylic paint and expect the same results. To turn acrylic paint into fabric paint, we have to thoroughly mix fabric medium with the paint.
    Applying the medium only as a top layer will not protect the underlying layer of acrylic paint from washing off or cracking.

    How to Turn Acrylic Paint into Fabric Paint with Shaving Cream And Glue?

    You can mix 2-3 parts shaving foam + 1 part white glue + 1 part acrylic paint to make a fabric painting paste that you can apply directly on the fabric.

    How to make acrylic paint on fabric washable?

    Use acrylic paint mixed with fabric medium while painting and heat set the painted area once dry to guarantee washability.
    I did this even without fabric medium and the t-shirt was washable.

    Can fabric paint be used on paper?

    Unlike acrylic paint, fabric paint is not versatile and cannot be used on paper, only on a variety of natural fabrics.

    Is fabric paint waterproof?

    Yes, fabric paint is permanent due to its special formula and it is waterproof once dry and sealed or heat set.
    However, even if the fabric paint is waterproof you should not wash it often.

    Is Acrylic Paint Permanent on Fabric?

    By itself acrylic paint will permanently stick to fabric but it will eventually fade and can be washed off if not sealed properly!
    To make acrylic paint stick permanently on fabric, use fabric medium and heat set your painted area.

    Will acrylic paint stay on fabric?

    Yes, thin acrylic paint layers will stay on fabric. To make it permanent and washable please use fabric medium and seal the painted area for durability.

    What is the best paint for shirts?

    I tried and I can recommend Mont Marte Fabric paint, Decola fabric paint and regular acrylics to work on fabric on a budget. All were washable and kept bright colors.

    That was quite a load of information! I hope my ultimate guide helped you understand better why we need a fabric medium and in what cases we don’t need one.

    You can now make some homemade mediums and experiment with colors and different techniques.

    Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API