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How To Turn Acrylic Paint Into Fabric Paint Without Medium

Do you want to customize a towel, a shirt, a cloth but all you have is acrylic paint? And like me, you probably don’t want to buy extra stuff for every project or simply don’t have money to buy a fabric medium.

To save you time and money I can show you how to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium.

It will make your painted clothes and fabric washable and durable.

To turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium you can go 2 ways:

  • Directly use acrylics as fabric paint with no mediums at all (I will say why it is good or not below) or simply use acrylic paint pens (markers), or
  • Use DIY fabric medium that you can make at home and mix it with your acrylic paint.

I’ve tried different methods myself when I customized my T-shirt and denim shorts, and I will share what I know.

Acrylic paint VS Fabric Paint

Fabric paint or textile paint, is a special paint that sticks permanently to any fabric, including denim.

Unlike regular acrylic, fabric paint stays soft and flexible even when you wear painted item and is safe to wash in a washing machine and will not crack or fade.

The easy way to understand the difference is this: acrylic paint is multipurpose and fabric paint is specialty paint, professional paint to work on fabric and textile.

I’ve used affordable Mont Marte fabric paint and was very happy with results. It is also water-based kust like acrylics.


Use Regular Acrylic Paint as Fabric Paint Without Any Medium

You can actually paint with regular acrylics on fabric and clothes without medium because acrylic paint is versatile and will stick to fabric.

It is especially convenient to use just acrylic paint to paint on fabric if you don’t plan on wearing, washing or selling the item.

You can use the paint directly from the tube or mix with a little bit of water for easier application. Once you finished painting and the paint dried – heat set the design with an iron for 3-5 minutes and the item is ready to be washed.

The downsides of using straight acrylics without a medium:

  • The painted surface is rough to touch and is not very flexible.
  • The painted are can crack because it is stiff.
can you use acrylic paint on fabric

Use Acrylic Paint Pens On Fabric To Avoid Medium

If you use acrylic paint pens to paint on fabric you don’t need any medium at all.

For ex., I used Artistro paint pens on a white cotton T-shirt and it worked amazing.

And I find that while with acrylic paint from the tube the fabric will feel stiff, with acrylic paint pens you don’t have this because ink in pens is more thinned, more flowy.

The fabric stays flexible, the colors are vibrant and opaque.

However, they do bleed stronger than paint so do not forget to put some cardboard between the layers of fabric.

I’ve tried pens and sticks, cheap sticks like Pentel don’t work well.

My video of the experiment I did testing acrylic paint on fabric without medium

Make a DIY Fabric Medium

If you don’t want or don’t have money to buy a fabric medium or fabric paint, you can turn acrylic paint into fabric paint with a homemade medium.

There are 5 DIY fabric medium recipes you can try:

  1. Fabric medium with glycerin
  2. Vinegar and glycerin
  3. White glue and shaving cream
  4. Fabric softener
  5. Hair conditioner
  6. Aloe Vera Gel

The most popular recipes of a fabric medium you can make at home are the glycerin and the shaving foam mediums recipes.

Fair warning: as none of these methods are professional or recommended by any brands as an alternative to fabric medium, the results are not guaranteed and may differ. I suggest trying each with a small amount first to see if the paint will fade, wash off, peel or not. Keep in mind that DIY fabric paint can take up to 4 days to dry vs 24 hrs with regular acrylic or fabric paint.


1) Turn acrylic paint into fabric paint with glycerin

The easiest way to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint without medium is to use 1 part of vegetable glycerin + 5 parts of warm water, mix it with paint and then paint away.

Once the area is dry you should heat set it with a dry iron and you can wash it after.

Mixing ratio with paint will depend on the consistency and your test, but start with the same ratio 1 part of glycerol mixture to 5 parts of acrylic paint!

The biggest advantage of this method is that glycerin is really cheap comparing to professional fabric mediums and it acts a little bit as a thinner too and the paint becomes more flowy.

*Ex., 10 ml of glycerin and 50 ml of water. Or 1 tbsp of glycerin and 5 tbsp of water.

2) DIY fabric medium with vinegar

In this case you can premix 1 part vinegar, 1 part glycerin and 2 parts water and then add acrylic paint for color.

Ex. 10 ml vinegar + 10 mi glycerin + 20 ml water = homemade fabric medium.

Afterwards you paint with a brush and let the painted fabric dry before your heat set it with a pressing cloth and a dry iron for around 5 minutes.

Please first mix well the ingredients for the DIY medium and only then add it to acrylic paint. I would stick to the usual ratio (1:2) but as it is a DIY method, you can start with 1:1 and then adding the medium based on the consistency.

Please, note, that vinegar by itself IS NOT a fabric medium and doesn’t even work with paint to make a DIY fabric medium.

Vinegar can easily alter the structure of the acrylic paint, and dissolve it, so it will have clumps, and uneven color saturation, and will not for sure adhere better to the fabric.

Why?

Mostly because vinegar, fabric medium, and fabric paints work differently. Paint and medium have something that binds them together with the surface – a polymer binder.

Vinegar simply goes through the fabric, dyeing it, without sticking to anything.

However vinegar AND gliceryn can work together as a fabric medium.

3) Mix paint with shaving cream to make fabric paint

If you don’t have glycerin you can still make fabric paint with shaving cream.

Mix acrylic paint with 3 tbsp of shaving cream with 1 tbsp of white glue and apply to fabric. Once the painting is done, let it dry and then heat set with iron for 3-5 minutes without steam over a cloth.

After this you can safely wash your fabric or clothes and wear them!

4) Use hair conditioner instead of fabric medium

To paint with acrylics on fabric without medium you can mix 1 tbsp water with 1 tbsp paint and add 1 drop of your hair conditioner.

However, I should warn you that the colors will fade very lightly immediately after 1st wash.

5) Using Fabric softener as fabric medium

A few reddit and youtube users will suggest mixing 1 part water, 1 part fabric softener, and 2 parts acrylic paint to turn acrylic into fabric paint.

It is said to make fabric soft, and colors vibrant. But it is rarely the case.

From experiments, it appears that if you mix fabric softener with paint it can become grainy, the dry paint will flake and the painted area will look patchy.

Using straight acrylic paint without any medium will work better than mixing it with softener.

Even official instructions from brands say not to use a fabric softener for the pre-wash cycle, so it means it doesn’t help with the process.

Moreover fabric softener doesn’t have any ingredients that will make the paint stick to the fabric, nor can it make it waterproof – it doesn’t have a binder or any additives that prevent cracks or fading.

Likewise, fabric softener and acrylic paint are not a good mix for hydro dipping ( I tested).

To be honest, I’ve heard that fabric softener is a marketing myth even for our laundry.

6) Fabric medium with aloe vera

It is possible to mix acrylic paint with 100% aloe vera to get smooth fabric paint.

Aloe vera should be all natural without any additives or preservatives. And you should mix very well to avoid any lumps.

I didn’t try that and in my opinion the consistency will be too slimy and thick for easy painting.

Follow the full guide on painting on fabric with acrylics: Acrylic Paint on Fabric? How to Guide


Tips for Painting Fabric with Acrylic Paint Without Medium

  • Some fabric mediums may stiffen the fabric while drying but after the first wash the fabric will be soft and flexible again.
  • When you pre-wash your clothes or fabric for painting on it, DO NOT use fabric softener so the paint can penetrate and stick to fabric easier.
  • If you don’t want bold and opaque colors, instead of mixing 1 part of fabric medium to 1 or 2 parts of paint, use up to 5 parts of fabric medium with acrylic – it will create watercolor effect and light transparent washes.
  • When you make a DIY fabric medium, test the ratio. Your goal is a syrup-like consistency.
  • The key to nice smooth and soft painting on fabric is thin layers and relatively runny paint.
  • Without the fabric medium, the paint can crack or even peel over time. To prevent this (a little bit) always heat set the painted area with a dry iron over a cloth.
  • Always put something in between layerd of fabric – a cardboard, a wooden board. I fix fabric with paper clips but you can also use spray adhesive to “glue” it to the board.

FAQ

Can I Mix Vinegar and Acrylic Paint for Fabric Painting?

To make a DIY fabric medium with vinegar, you need to mix equal parts of vinegar and glycerin, and then add 2 parts of water.

Is pouring medium the same as fabric medium?

Pouring medium is not the same as fabric medium.

Pouring medium is great for improving the flow of the paint and mostly used for pouring technique on canvas and objects, while fabric medium turns regular acrylics into fabric paint for painting on clothing and textile.

I painted fabric without a fabric medium, what should I do?

Acrylic paint will stick to fabric been without medium. To extend durability and make the painted area washable heat set it with dry iron.

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

No, the fabric medium needs to be thoroughly mixed with paint to turn it into fabric paint and make it flexible and washable. You can heat set your acrylics once they dry and it will work as alternative to fabric medium.

What can I mix with acrylic paint to make fabric paint?

To make fabric paint, you can mix acrylic paint with professional fabric medium, shaving cream mixed with glue or glycerin.

Can you paint on fabric with acrylic paint without medium?

Absolutely, acrylic paint is versatile and will stick to most fabric even without medium. Use thin layers and once the paint is dry, use dry iron and a pressing cloth to heat set the painted area.

Can you use glue instead of fabric medium?

Yes, a DIY fabric medium can be mixed with white 1 part glue and 3 parts shaving cream. Mix it with acrylic paint and paint directly on the fabric. Heat set and wash once the design is ready.

Can I use acrylic medium instead of fabric medium?

Acrylic medium increases workability and flow of acrylic paint but it doesn’t work like fabric medium. Either use fabric medium, DIY fabric medium or acrylic paint without medium to paint on fabric.

What can I use instead of fabric paint medium?

Instead of fabric medium you can use homemade mediums:

  • 3 parts water, 1 part acrylic and 1/2 part fabric conditioner.
  • 1 part vinegar + 1 part glycerine + 2 parts water.
  • 2-3 parts shaving foam + 1 part white glue + 1 part of acrylic paint

Verdict: To Use or Not A Fabric Medium

While you can absolutely paint with regular acrylics on fabric and clothes and heat set it or make a homemade medium to experiment with, there are a few things that only fabric medium has.

  • flexibility and guaranteed (by brands) fade and water resistance
  • some fabric mediums, like Liquitex, do not require heat setting at all, so it is best for something like shoes, where the surface isn’t flat and easy to iron.
  • doesn’t let colors bleed and makes coverage easier. It is true, when I used regular acrylics I struggled to get even coverage on cotton.
  • Dries fast like acrylics – just 24 hrs, DIY fabrics mediums may take a few days to dry – unpredictable.

We need to understand that we need to do something with acrylic paint to paint it on fabric.

Otherwise, acrylic paint is not flexible enough, and not pliable at all, so it will crack and fall off just like that. The fabric medium does it – it makes acrylic paint less thick and hard so it will stay on clothes.

So I personally would only experiment with a DIY fabric medium or painting fabric with acrylic without a fabric medium only if it is for my personal use or my own decoration, I would not do it for any item for sale or gift.

However, there is a way to save some money on fabric mediums and make acrylic paint act like fabric paint without a special medium.

Have you already made your own fabric paint or painted fabric, what recipe or medium did you use and what were your results good?