Acrylic Paint on Fabric? Follow These Tips

My first experience with acrylic paint on fabric was back in the ‘80s when everyone was making those Jackson Pollack-meets-Valley Girl sweatshirts with puff paint. A little lace here, some bedazzling there, and you had a rockin’ DIY look. (Note: I just searched the Internet for ‘80s sweatshirt; not so rockin’.)

How well I remember the way the dried paint turned all crackled and scratchy. After a few rounds in the washing machine, what was once fun and festive looked like the discarded washcloth Madonna used to remove her makeup.


I used Jacquard paints with soy wax to create
the background fabric, then added a screen
print with fabric paint.

This was the image I held in my mind when, some 20 years later, I was reintroduced to the concept of using acrylic paint on fabric in art. Turns out, scientists had made some improvements over the years, and even more during the ensuing decade. Now I do it all the time.

There are many specially formulated fabric paints on the market that changed my mind about fabric painting. My favorites are by Jacquard®. I love the highly pigmented Neopaque and iridescent Lumiere versions. Both can be watered down while changing the hand-the feel-of the fabric very little.

LuminArteTM SilksTM line of acrylic glazes come in gorgeous colors. They flow beautifully, so you can paint fabric directly without watering them down.

I’ve also used Golden® fluid acrylics to “dye” small pieces of fabric. Because they have a high concentration of pigment, you can add water to the paint in a small container and immerse the fabric. Let it soak for a while, then remove from the container and squeeze out the excess liquid. Let dry, then heat set with an iron before rinsing and drying.

Acrylics not formulated for fabric painting will leave the fabric a bit stiffer than dye or fabric paint. If that’s important to your work, you can purchase textile medium to mix with acrylic craft paint.

If you’ve never painted on fabric before or have had problems, here are some fabric painting tips:

Wash your fabric first. This will remove any sizing and help the paint adhere. Also, if you’re going to wash the fabric after painting it (a garment, for example) the fabric is less likely to shrink and pucker around the painted areas.

Protect a porous work surface (such as wood) and wear old clothes. You can wash acrylic paint off your clothes and table if you get to it right away-while it is still wet. Once it has dried, not so much. If you are painting clothing like a t-shirt, make sure you place a sheet of plastic or cardboard between the layers of fabric so the paint doesn’t bleed through.

Practice and test. Take a sample of the fabric and apply the paint as you intend to use it in your artwork. Heat set it, rinse, and see what you get. You’ll thank me.

Mix thoroughly. If you are mixing paint and medium or paint and water, be sure to mix them completely, otherwise you will get uneven color on the fabric.

You can also use acrylic paint for screen printing, stenciling, and stamping on fabric–give it a try!

For more ideas on how to use acrylic paint in your art, be sure to check out the new book AcrylicWorks: The Best of Acrylic Painting. It’s a gallery of artwork, insight, and inspiration for anyone who uses acrylic paints.

P.S. What’s your favorite paint to use on fabric and why? Please leave your comment below.


Blog, Fabric Art, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques


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