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How to Paint on Fabric Permanently: Fabric Painting Expert Tips

How to Paint on Fabric Permanently

Fabric painting is an amazing way to revamp anything from shoes, handbags, hats, and apparel, to throw pillows, bed sheets, curtains, and upholstery. With the correct tools and the suitable fabric paint you can personalise something or give a new life to your old t-shirt of canvas shoes. However, if you haven’t done this before, you’ll need to brush up on the basics before you dive into your new DIY project. You’ll have to learn what kind of paint you will need and the different techniques you can use in order to accomplish awesome results on fabric that will be durable and permanent. Here are some of the main things you should know if you want to learn how to paint on fabric permanently.

The Best Fabric Paints and How To Use Them

When it comes to fabric painting, there are several different products that can be used to apply color. You can use either dye, ink, acrylic paint, or specially formulated fabric paint, but each one of these paints will look different on fabric and will have a different finish. However, if you’re wondering what’s the best thing you can use, you should know that the two most commonly used paints are fabric and acrylic paint.

Fabric Dye

People use fabric dye when they want to change the color of an entire clothing piece. For example, let’s say that you want to change the color of your t-shirt, skirt, or shorts entirely, but you don’t want to change the texture of the fabric. You can simply use textile dye. For this particular technique you need  to submerge the clothing item into a solution of dye and water – you can do this in a large pot or directly in the washing machine. The color will penetrate the fabric, spread throughout the fiber and completely color the garment. If you want to use paint on a shirt to make the popular tie-dye effect, you need to twist the clothing item into knots before dipping it in the dye.


Ink is primarily used for drawing and writing on paper, but it can also be used to permanently change the color of fabric. Ink is much thinner than standard fabric paint and adheres to the material in a different way by penetrating the fibers and creating a thin, almost watercolor-like effect. Ink can be applied with a brush or pen, and because it is thinner it will give a more subtle color. When it comes to ink, there are two types: alcohol-based which seeps into the fibers of garments completely, and acrylic-based which seeps slightly and mostly sits on top of the fibers.

Fabric/Textile Paint

Fabric paint is usually water-based paint and it’s created specifically for painting fabric, therefore it can be used to color all kinds of clothing, accessories, or upholstery. Fabric paint can be applied with a brush and penetrates the fabric fibers to create a strong and permanent bond. This type of paint gives a long-lasting, vibrant color to any garment, but it can be used only on natural fiber, because it doesn’t adhere well to synthetic fabric. Fabric paints are quickly absorbed by the fabric, but it requires warmth (whether it’s sunlight, hairdryer, or iron) to ensure that the color will remain on the fabric. You can use fabric paint on clothes, all kinds of accessories like hats or scarves, bed sheets, or curtains, and be sure that the fabric will remain soft, comfortable, and can be folded without any problem, unlike other paints like the acrylic. Fabric paint is durable, lasts a long time, and the colored garments can be regularly washed by hand or in a washing machine on a delicate cycle without fear of damage to the design or the color. 

Fabric Acrylic Painting

Acrylic Paint

Since most fabric paints are basically made from an acrylic polymer, you can easily make fabric paints of any color if you have the right painting materials. Fabric paint may be better for painting large pieces of fabric, but acrylic paint is more suitable for small and detailed designs and is brighter and more vivid than fabric paint.

 Another good thing about acrylic paint is that it comes in a broad spectrum of vibrant colors, which makes the color options endless. Acrylic paint is permanent and fast-drying, and the best thing about it is that it can be used for both natural and synthetic fabric which makes it more versatile than the other paint options. Even though waterproof acrylic paint dries almost immediately after painting, it can still crack, especially if it’s used on its own. Using standard acrylic paint on its own will make the fabric stiff, inflexible, and prone to chipping, so you will definitely need to add a fabric medium. Fabric medium is like a thick liquid that will allow flexibility of movement and  will help the paint to stick better to the fabric. Acrylic paint forms lasting bond with fabric and will not wash out over time. It can make your clothes look like new, but they will be stiffer and not very comfortable. Therefore, acrylic paint is usually recommended for items you don’t wear or use regularly and items you don’t need to wash after every use.

Painting on Fabric Tips

A layer of paint will revamp your old wardrobe or upholstery and the best thing about it is that you can create some stunning and creative designs that you can’t find in a store. With the help of fabric paint you can easily make any clothing piece or accessory unique. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to paint on fabric. Here are some tips for painting on fabric permanently:

1. Choose the right paint

So, if you have decided you want to paint a particular piece of clothing, the first thing you need to do is to choose the right paint for fabric. Keep in mind that not all paints are suitable for painting on fabric permanently. First, you will have to consider the type of fabric you want to paint and the finish you want to achieve. You have several options, but as we mentioned above fabric and acrylic paint are two of your best options. If you choose to go with acrylic paint because it’s more versatile and comes in a wide array of colors, don’t forget to buy fabric medium to avoid chipping off the design. Another thing you need to take into account is the color of the piece you want to paint. It has been proven that fabric paints are way more suitable for light-colored fabric.

2. Prepare your fabric

The second thing you need to do after you have selected the right paint, is to prepare your fabric and wash it before applying the paint. If the fabric you’re trying to paint is new, it may still be covered in all kinds of chemicals that will prevent the paint from adhering, so make sure to wash it in advance in order to remove any chemicals or dirt left over from the manufacturing.  Keep in mind that you always have to avoid using fabric softeners when you’re washing the garment, because they will just add more chemicals and mess up the fabric’s absorbent ability. Once the fabric is washed and dried, you will also need to iron it, so that it doesn’t have any wrinkles.

3. Practice and experiment

There are many methods for fabric painting and they include free hand painting, stamping, stencil painting, spray painting, finger painting, tie dye, and wet painting. So, if this is new to you, you will need to experiment in order to find out what technique will be most suitable for you in order to achieve the desired effect. Experiment on various fabric scraps and pieces and  check how well the paint is covering your fabric. Testing the color and consistency beforehand is essential, because it will help you figure out how much you need to layer your fabric paints and how much shading you need to make your painted design more prominent. Be sure to experiment before painting on the actual garment, as different fabrics absorb and react to paints in different ways.

4. Add a barrier between the layers when painting

When you’re painting, remember to put some type of a barrier between the various layers of clothing. Since all types of fabric paints have a tendency to bleed in between layers, use a piece of cardboard as a barrier for all multi-layered items such as t-shirts and pillow cases.

5.Wait for the paint to dry completely and set the paint using heat

The painted fabric should be left to dry for at least 24 hours. Drying time is important, especially if you’re planning to flip the fabric and paint on the other side. Therefore, allow it to dry completely and then set the paint on the fabric. Most fabric paints for clothes require the use of heat to permanently seal the paint permanently on fabric. This is an important step in ensuring that painted garments can withstand constant washing and everyday wear. When it comes to setting the paint with heat, there are several ways to do it. You can either use a hair dryer set to a low setting or an iron. If you decide on sealing the paint with an iron, make sure to turn the clothing piece inside out and iron it on the back of the design. The heat from the iron will set the paint and give you a beautiful, permanent finish. 

6. Care for Painted Fabric

Painting on fabric is an amazing way to make new, unique clothing items and accessories or refresh your old clothes. However, in order to maintain the color and vibrancy of your painted garments for a long period of time, you should always hand wash them with warm water and let them air dry. However, keep in mind to avoid direct sunlight because it can seriously damage the paint. If you want to wash the painted garments in the washing machine, always choose the gentle setting at a cool temperature with low or no spin.