Skip to Content

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

I love painting with acrylics and experimneting – this time I paint T shirt with acrylic paint and I tested different paints and markers to find out what works best for customizing a simple T-shirt.

Paint T-Shirt With Acrylic
It’s me proud of my creation haha 🙂

You need:

  • Plain cotton T-shirt (better white or light-colored)
  • Acrylic paint or fabric acrylic paint – I used Pebeo acrylics, DecoArt, Decola and Mont Marte – all work well.
  • cardboard
  • paper clips
  • iron and cloth (or parchment paper)
  • brushes (flat and round)
  • Palette
  • pencil (for sketching) and a ruller
  • water
  • paper towel
supplies to paint t shirt with acrylic

Optional:

  • Painter’s tape (for creating clean lines)
  • Fabric medium (it makes acrylic better suitable for fabric and softer but not mandatory)
  • Spray fixative (if paper clips don’t work well enough for you)

Reas also: Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?


Instructions

Here’s a detailed and specific guide on How I painted a T-shirt with acrylics, and you can easily do the same:

how to paint t shirt with acrylic
Prewashed t-shirt I’m going to paint on

Step 1: Pre-wash the T-shirt

Wash the T-shirt using mild detergent WITHOUT fabric softener to remove any dirt, oil, or sizing that might hinder paint adhesion.

Once washed, tumble dry on low heat or air dry until completely dry.

Step 2: Prepare the T-shirt for Painting

  • You may want to stretch your T-shirt with paper clips. Put a cardboard inside so the colors don’t bleed through.
  • I had a piece of a wooden board I used instead of cardboard to make sure the sides of T-shirts are protected but also on an even sturdy surface.

    paint t shirt with acrylic
    Preparing to stretch the t-shirt before painting

    Please, don’t overstretch the T-shirt, when you’ll loosen it up, the dried painting may wrinkle the fabric and crack. Fix it with binder clips.

    how to paint t shirt with acrylic

    If it is not fixed enough for you – use a spray adhesive! Spray the inside of the T-shirt, adhere it to the board/cardboard and then it won’t move at all!

    Work on the table, painting on fabric is quite tidy activity, but anyway it is better to cover the table with newspapers or something similar to protect from a paint drip.

    Step 3: Choose and Sketch Your Design

    If you already have an idea in mind, perfect!

    If you are like me – always indecisive in what exactly I want to paint, presave some pics from Pinterest or Instagram.

    Then, I would really recommend to do a sketch on paper first. Especially if you are making a mix between a few ideas.

    I picked a few completely different pictures as inspiration but united by one theme – Space and Sky!

    Then, using a pencil and a ruler, I found where the design will be located – it is very important especially for girls – so it is not too high on the chest, not too low.

    Try it first, make marks while looking at the mirror, then take it off and tape off or outline the borders of the design.

    how to paint t shirt with acrylic
    I roughly measured where I want the design to be located

    Then you can start sketching – acrylics will easily cover pencils marks and lines but some colors like yellow, light red or green may be more transparent so the lines can be visible through and they will not wash off once the painting is done.

    So don’t press too hard, do not make bold black lines with your pencil.

    paint t shirt with acrylic - sketch

    Pro Tip: if you love sewing, you can use sewing chalk for sketching!

    Step 4: Set Up Your Paints

    Working with acrylic paint, remember that it is very fast-drying, so do not squeeze all colors on the palette before painting.

    Paint pens and paints I recommend to use for painting on T-shirts: Pebeo acrylic paint, Decola and DecoArt fabric paint, Artistro acrylic paint pens, Mont Marte Fabric paint.

    mont marte fabric paint

    If you are mixing acrylics with fabric medium or using fabric paint, they dry a little bit slower.

    • When I used acrylic paint – I squeeze a little amount, use it and then squeeze more if I need.
    • When I use fabric paint, they often come in a little jars and they are much more liquid then regular acrylics – I use them directly from the jar – no need for any palette.
    • If you are using fabric medium, mix it with the acrylic paint following the manufacturer’s instructions., it can be 1:1 or 1:2 medium to paint. Test the color and consistency on a spare piece of fabric if possible, the goal is a syrup like consistency.
    • If you are experimenting with a DIY fabric medium, test it before you go all-in!

    Prepare the water as well.

    I noticed that painting on fabric with acrylics is easier with a wet brush and lightly thinned with water paint.

    However, if you are using fabric paint or mixed paint with fabric medium, you may find that the consistency and coverage is good enough already. Then you do not need water.

    Step 5: Start Painting

    Painting with acrylics I always start from the background and large areas of color and move towards the foreground.

    The easiest way to do it is to use a flat brush.

    I started with easier part – right part, where I have blocks of colors. For more detailed left side I started with small details instead because I wasn’t sure if I will do the background.

    Acylic paint is harder to use than fabric paint because sometimes I struggle to cover well the fabric, just add water and make sure the layer of paint is thin.

    Pro tip: I used GAC100 to mix with acrylics when it was too thick to paint with, GAC100 doesn’t dilute but thin and increases the flow and coverage.

    paint t shirt with acrylic paint

    Thick layers will take longer to dry and may crack! They also will make the t-shirt stiffer and less soft to wear.

    Avoid single colored dark backgrounds (like I did!) because after washing they may become patchy.

    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.

    Here is my example on just cotton, but with T-shirt It will work the same way, it makes such beautiful lines and adds air, light and interesting effects to your painting.


    Use brushes or sponges, and stamps (even natural like halves of apples) to get creative.

    Step 6: Let the Paint Dry

    Allow your painted T-shirt to air dry completely, I leave it overnight, so it takes around 20-24 hrs to dry.

    The drying may take several hours, depending on the thickness of the paint layer, humidity and what paint and medium you used.

    Regular acrylic and fabric paints dry fast (under 24 hrs), homemade fabric paints dry longer (up to a few days).

    Step 7: Heat Set the Paint

    To make your design on T-shirt washable and more durable, heat set the paint.

    It you had any tape – remove it before ironing!

    Place a clean cloth or parchment paper over the painted area and iron it on low to medium heat setting for 3-5 minutes.

    Use only dry iron – no steam, do not even fill the container to make sure there is no drips!

    heat set the paint on fabric

    Apply gentle pressure and ensure the iron is moving constantly to prevent scorching or melting the fabric.

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

    Step 8: Wash The T-shirt

    Turn the T-shirt inside out before washing to protect the painted surface.

    Wash it by hand or in the washing machine on a gentle cycle using cold water and mild detergent.

    can you use acrylic paint on fabric washing

    Avoid bleach and fabric softeners. Air dry the T-shirt or tumble dry on low heat. Avoid ironing directly over the painted area.

    After washing you will notice that some colors may slightly fade – it is common when you paint with regular acrylic paint.

    This is the view from inside out, you can see how black background seems patchy when the light comes through.

    how to paint on t shirt with acrylic - washing

    To prevent this it is always best to use special fabric paint (it stays on fabric better).

    And once it is fully dry, you will see what colors didn’t work. For acrylics it is very rare, but I tested paint sticks and they work horribly – they just wash off:

    Done! You Painted T-shirt is ready to wear!

    Here is how my final product looked like – I painted this white cotton t-shirt with acrylic and fabric paint and I love how it turned out.

    The process is very easy even for beginners!

    can you use acrylic paint on fabric

    You can also watch the full video with my comments on my YouTube channel:


    How to take care of a T-shirt painted with acrylic

    Painted clothing is more gentle and needs special care as we need to prevent paint from cracking, peeling, fading or yellowing.

    1. Wash Inside Out: Always turn the T-shirt inside out before washing to protect the painted surface from abrasion and friction against other garments.
    2. Hand Wash or Gentle Cycle: Hand washing is the gentlest method and I would always advise to go for it. Use cold water and a mild detergent. If you don’t have time, select a gentle cycle with cold water for washing machine.
    3. Avoid Bleach and Harsh Detergents: Bleach and harsh detergents can fade or damage the paint.
    4. Air Dry or Low Heat: It is best to let the painted t-shirt air dry and not under direct sunlight – it will make color fade away. Do not iron directly over the painted area and if you decide to use dryer, select lowest settings.
    5. Avoid Direct Sunlight as it make paints fade (on any surface).
    6. Iron Inside Out: If ironing is necessary, turn the T-shirt inside out and use a low to medium heat setting. Place a clean cloth or parchment paper over the painted area to protect it from direct heat. Just like when we did the heat setting.
    7. Handle with Care: Avoid rubbing or scrubbing, spilling something over that requires harsh treatment, fold gently or best to hang the painted t-shirt on a hanger!

    FAQ

    Can I paint a T-shirt with acrylic paint?

    You can paint a T-shirt with acrylic paint or fabric paint even if you have no experience. White cotton and light-colored shirts work best. Once you painted the T-shirt, let it dry and iron it to make paint permanent.

    Which paint is best for T-shirt painting?

    Acrylic and fabric paint work best on t-shirts. They have vibrant colors and stay flexible and permanent on fabric so you can even wash your t-shirt.

    How do you get acrylic paint to stay on a shirt?

    Heat setting dry paint on a T-shirt with a dry iron for 3 to 5 minutes will make acrylic on shirt washable and it will stay there permanently.

    Will acrylic paint come off a shirt in the wash?

    Acrylic paint is permanent. If you heat set the painting on the clothing, it will not wash off easily. However, some color may lightly fade after multiple washes.

    How to remove acrylic paint on T-shirt?

    It is pretty hard to remove acrylic paint from a shirt – you need to soak it, rub off the paint and then wash it with detergent a few times.

    Isopropyl alcohol also works well for removing paint from fabric.


    Have you ever tried to paint a T-shirt? How did it go? What paint you used and how permanent it was? Share in comments!