Try fabric painting. It's not that difficult. Design, paint, and wear something totally original – that sounds creative! Fabrics are literally the best canvas to create on. With fabric painting, you are the artist and the textile designer. You will be surprised at how easy it is to design something unique with fabric painting. Continue reading to find out more about textile painting and learn how to paint fabric with acrylic paint. Find out the best paints, how to prepare fabric spray paint, what tools you need, and what techniques to use to create unique textiles.
Fabric Painting (Textile Painting)
How do you get the best results with fabric painting, and how to paint fabric?
This article will discuss:
- Learn how to set up your painting area.
- Have the right tools for the job.
- Buy the right fabrics for success.
- Start with simple stencils or print techniques.
- Move on to more advanced ideas if you want to experiment.
Tools for Fabric Painting
Generally speaking, fabric painting requires these basic tools.
- Acrylic Fabric Paint
- Fabric Markers - Fabric pens (or permanent pens) are used for outlining and drawing. Outlines then can be filled with paint. I regularly use the Sharpie brand fabric markers to draw doll faces on calico fabric. Just read the instructions, as you often need to press the ink to set it before washing. I
- Optional - Stamps and stencils, embroidery hoop. Embroidery hoops are useful when you are painting smaller areas. It will hold the fabric tight and make it easier to do delicate designs. For larger areas, you can let the painting in the hoop dry overnight and then move it to another area.
What Type of Paint Should I Use for Fabric Painting
Can you Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?
Yes! The best paint to use for fabric painting is acrylic fabric paint or textile paint. These are specially designed to paint on fabric and to withstand washing.
If you can't find fabric acrylic paint, you can add a clear fabric medium to regular acrylic paint. This is a liquid that adds flexibility and durability to the paint and increases your choice of colors. The fabric medium helps to dilute the paint and causes less ‘bleeding’ or spreading into the fabric.
Mixing Mediums for Paint Effects
Consider whether you want to have an opaque or transparent look to your paints. Extra water added to the paint on a ratio of 5:1 creates a watercolor paint effect. For darker fabric colors, you will need much more opaque paints for the color to show up.
Different mediums create different effects, like transparent mediums, puffy paint mediums, and matt mediums.
When you are starting out fabric painting, consider purchasing a set with different colors.
Choosing Fabric Painting Colors
When choosing your colors start with the primary colors red, blue, and yellow. Include black and white as your basic kit.
Use your primaries to make secondary colors and your black and white to create shades of color. Keep airtight jars to save paint that is not used. Build up your color palette with more colors as you grow more confident and proficient.
Which Fabric Paint is Best
There are endless brands of fabric paint, but I have used these and can recommend them.
- Jacquard Textile Color (Semi-Transparent)
- Jacquard Neopaque ( Very opaque for dark colors)
- Jacquard Luminere (Metallic paint)
- Jacquard Dy-Na-Flow (Semi-Transparent)
- Tulip Puff Paints (3-D puffy paints)
Best Brushes for Fabric Painting
Any sized brush can be used for fabric painting, but here are some useful ones to have in your kit. Consider purchasing a bundle set to save money and always wash them well after use to prolong their life.
- Round tips in a small size for fine detail and a bigger round tip brush for filling in wider details.
- Flat tips are used for shading and blending.
- Liner brush for lines.
- Foam or sponge brushes with a wooden handle are useful for painting for larger areas.
Best Fabric for Fabric Painting
It is very important to choose 100% cotton or fabrics with natural fibers. Silk and linen paint up well but are more difficult to use. Canvas fabric is generally too thick for clothing but works well in upholstery and furnishings. To save money, consider old cotton bedsheets, which can be cut up.
When fabric painting, light colors or white fabrics are easier to work on.
Ready-made scarves, cushions, drapes, T-shirts, wall hangings, table linen, pillowcases, and clothing all make great DIY options.
How to Paint on Fabric with Acrylic Paint
Step 1 - Set up Your Fabric Painting Area
When learning how to paint fabric, a flat surface is one of the most important setup requirements. Depending on your home environment, it could be the dining room table or a kitchen counter. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a workroom where you can set up.
Always have scraps of fabric to try out whatever you plan to do. Follow the instructions on the paint you buy and try these out on a scrap too. Test your scrap for colorfastness and bleeding, as well as follow the directions from beginning to end.
Cover the area with plastic. Paint can be messy. Have water, brushes, mixing palettes, and cloths available. Different techniques may require different utensils.
CAUTION: Keep pets and children away when using fabric paint, as most are toxic. Ensure your area is well-ventilated so you are not inhaling any paint fumes.
Step 2 - How to Prepare Fabric for Painting
By preparing your fabric, your paint will last through multiple washes and the colors will be clear and vibrant.
The most important thing is pre-washing. New fabric has starch additives, and they will interfere with the absorption of the fabric paint. Pre-wash fabrics and iron to give a smooth surface to work on.
Step 3 - Transfer Designs
Draw or trace your design onto the fabric. Use a pencil, tailor's chalk or removable marker. If you are not good at drawing, start with simple designs using stencils or by tracing existing designs with a lightbox.
To easily transfer images for fabric painting, use a lightbox to reflect under the fabric with a picture or pattern in between. For a free solution, hold your paper image up on the window and put your fabric on top to trace.
When the sun is shining through the window, this is a really easy way to trace. You will get a sore hand, though, from drawing upright, so use this for simple designs.
Step 4 - Insert Cardboard
Once the fabric is ready, cover a piece of cardboard in plastic to insert in a t-shirt or dress to prevent the paint from seeping through and spoiling the other side of the garment.
Step 5 - Start Fabric Painting Designs
For a dramatic look, use fabric marking pens to outline your design first.
Dip your brunch into the fabric paint and paint directly onto the fabric as you would if painting onto a canvas or piece of paper. It is important that your brush is not overloaded with paint. Use a thin and even layer of paint.
Start at the top and work down to prevent you from smudging your work as you go. It looks neater if all the brush strokes are in the same direction but this may not always be possible.
When you are finished, touch up any areas that look messy and give another coat to thin patches.
Step 6 - Let the Paint Dry
Once you have finished painting, you will need to let your fabric dry. Acrylic paint generally dries quickly but give it at least 24 hours to set.
Some paints need to be heat set with your iron before washing to prevent them from bleeding. After the fabric is completely dry, iron the back of the fabric on a low heat setting for a few minutes. Ensure you use a pressing cloth between the iron and your painted fabric.
More Fabric Painting Techniques
Now you know how to paint fabric with acrylic paint, here are 8 more fabric painting techniques.
1. Fabric Spray Paint Tutorial
To prepare your fabric spray paint, fill a spray bottle with fabric paint. Attach a stencil to your fabric before you start to spray the design.
You can also place a solid design on the fabric and spray the background in order to create a silhouette image of the shape you used.
If you will be using fabric spray paint regularly, then consider purchasing an artist spray paint gun for a finer and more controllable spray.
2. Stamp Fabric Painting
Stamps can be used to create patterns and repetition. Stamps can be store-bought or make your own.
Potatoes cut in half and then cut into shapes or designs work very well. Simple designs often look the most modern and trendy. Read more about potato stamping.
Dot painting is a popular technique that can be applied to the fabric. Simply use a stick, the top of a pencil, or an earbud to make a series of small dots.
3. Finger Fabric Painting
Fingers make a great applicator of paint. Fingers can dot, blend and smear the paint onto the fabric. This is a great holiday project for kids to put on T-shirts.
4. Outline Painting Fabric
Outline a traced image or directly draw on the fabric with one of the fabric marker pens. Your outlines don't necessarily need to be black. You could also use puff paint to add a 3-dimensional look to the design.
Pictures from children’s coloring books or embroidery designs are great sources of designs and pictures to trace for fabric painting.
5. Watercolor Fabric Painting
Wet the fabric before you paint, and use watery fabric paint for a very soft watercolor effect.
There is little control over this effect, and lines of the design just serve as a guide as the paint will run and blend without too much control. This may be just the delicate effect you are looking for on a scarf.
6. Stencil Fabric Painting
Stencil patterns can be drawn around and painted. Sponging in the cut-out section of the stencil gives a great effect and is an easy technique for people that can't draw.
Stencils can be the guide or outline for different fabric painting techniques. Splatter painting, sponging, block painting, and dot art all lend themselves to placing color in part of the stencil. Read more about fabric stenciling.
7. Fabric Painting with Salt
Sprinkling salt onto the wet paint has the effect of drying out the paint differently. The paint looks faded and blended by the different effects of the salt as it absorbs the paint. Once the paint is dry, you brush off the salt and enjoy the different effects.
8. Batik Fabric Painting
Painting wax onto the fabric in certain areas and then crackling the wax results in a batik effect. This technique is for the adventurous fabric painter because, after the crackle effect, the wax has to be removed.
The best way is to iron it out by placing the fabric between layers of newspaper and ironing to make the wax melt and be absorbed by the paper until there is no wax left on the fabric.
Then the fabric paint can be washed to remove any further evidence of wax.
Further Reading: What is Batik?
How to Fix Mistakes in Fabric Painting: Troubleshooting and Solutions
If you make a mistake during fabric painting, don't worry, as most of these can be fixed. Here are a few steps to help you fix the situation:
Act quickly. Blot or dab the area with a clean cloth or paper town. This will absorb some of the excess paint. Depending on the type of fabric you use, you can further remove paint by using rubbing alcohol or scrapping excess paint off with a dull knife edge.
For large mistakes, paint over the mistake. You could even get creative and incorporate the mistake into your design.
Fabric Painting Ideas and Inspiration for Creative Projects
Fabric painting gives you endless possibilities for creatively adding a personal touch to various projects. Whether you are a beginner at painting fabric or an experienced artist, here are some easy ideas:
- Customized T-shirts: Create unique, personalized designs on plain t-shirts using fabric paints. This can include anything from simple patterns and motifs to intricate illustrations or even hand-lettered quotes.
- Home Decor: Transform plain curtains, pillowcases, or tablecloths into eye-catching statement pieces by adding painted designs. Experiment with floral patterns, geometric shapes, or abstract art to enhance your home.
- Wearable Accessories: Paint designs on fabric accessories like hats, bags, or shoes to make a fashion statement.
- Upcycled Clothing: Give old or thrifted garments a new life by painting them with vibrant colors and imaginative designs. This allows you to express your personal style while contributing to sustainable fashion.
- Fabric Wall Art: Paint on canvas or fabric to create unique wall art pieces. Let your imagination run wild with abstract compositions, nature-inspired motifs, or even personalized portraits.
Remember to experiment with different fabric painting techniques, such as freehand painting, stenciling, or block printing, to achieve countless effects and textures.
Fabric Painting FAQs
How to Paint on Fabric Permanently
In order for paint to last on fabric through washes, you need to either use a specialized fabric paint or add a fabric medium liquid to regular acrylic paint. If you use the correct paint and heat set it according to the manufacturer's instructions, then fabric painting is permanent.
Can I paint any type of fabric?
Yes, fabric painting can be done on a variety of fabric types, including cotton, linen, silk, polyester, and blends. However, keep in mind that different fabric types may absorb paint differently, affecting the final result. As a general rule, fabrics with natural fibers will take the paint the best and last longer. It's always a good idea to test a small area before starting a larger fabric painting project.
Can I wash fabric painted items?
Yes, items that have been fabric painted can usually be washed, but it's important to follow the specific care instructions on the label. Generally, machine washing on a gentle cycle with mild detergent is recommended. Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals that may damage the painted fabric design. Air drying rather than using a tumble dryer will preserve the design and stop heat damage.
Fabric Painting vs. Fabric Dyeing
Fabric painting and fabric dyeing are popular methods of designing fabric. Here are the key differences between the 2 techniques so you can choose which is best for your creations. Read more about how to dye fabric.
|Direct application of paint onto fabric surface using brushes or tools
|Immersion of fabric in dye solution
|Control and Precision
|Allows for precise color placement and intricate details
|Creates blended and even color effects
|Requires heat-setting for color fastness and durability
|Dyes are more permanent and resistant to fading
|Works well on various fabric types, both natural and synthetic
|More suitable for natural fibers like cotton, silk, and linen
|Flexibility to create custom motifs and detailed illustrations
|Creates unique patterns and vibrant color blends
|May require more delicate washing or handwashing
|Can withstand regular machine washing when properly set
Fabric Painting - In Conclusion
Well, there you have it. Fabric painting in so many ways. It has potential and creativity as a craft and will definitely enhance fabric or ready-made clothing and scarves with a pop of color and attention to detail.
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- Acrylic Fabric Paint
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- Cotton Fabric
- Set up your fabric painting area. Protect all workspaces with plasti.
- Prepare your fabric for painting by prewashing and ironing to ensure you have a clean flat surface to paint on. Insert cardboard in between layers of fabric.
- Transfer your design onto the fabric either by drawing freehand or tracing the design onto the fabric.
- Paint directly onto the fabric without overloading the brush with paint. Start and the top and work down. Some areas may need a double coat.
- Let the paint dry completely and allow at least 24 hours for the paint to set. Heat set the paint by ironing on the back of the fabric with a low heat setting. Use a pressing cloth so you are not touching the fabric directly with the iron.