Learning hot to paint on fabric and achieve permanent results is simple. I have completed countless fabric painting projects over the years and with the right materials and setup I have always had great results on fabric that are both permanent and durable. There are endless possibilities for painting on a fabric which is why it is so popular. My favorite is painting fabric handbags but you can paint just about any garment you can think of.
Below are some of the most important things you should know if you want to paint on fabric. When you understand these basic principles you will have no problem painting your designs on fabric with permanent results. When painting fabric for permanency it basically comes down to just three things; paint type, fabric type, and setting the paint.
What Type of Paint Should I Use for Fabric?
When it comes to fabric, there are a few different product types that can be used to apply pigment to the fabric. While most people stick to paint as the medium of choice, some choose to apply their designs using inks and even fabric dyes. While both inks and fabric dyes can be applied like paint the results are usually a much different effect so we will stick to actual paint in this guide.
Most all textile and fabric paints are acrylics based paints that are specially formulated to be used on fabric. This specially formulated paint has characteristics that ensure the paint adheres to the fabric or textiles you are painting on, maintains adequate flexibility which helps it resist cracking as well as avoiding a stiff feeling.
When painting on fabric you will always achieve the best results with fabric paint. Fabric paint will be formulated to have the best flow for fabric application and the end result will be more durable for both wearing and washing. For more information, be sure to check out our complete guide to fabric paints.
What Types of Fabric Can I Paint On?
Good news, fabric paint will adhere to just about any fabric surface including cotton, silk, wool, and as well as some synthetics. This is great as it seems just about every fabric out there is a blend. In my experience, I have achieved better results with certain fabrics. I have had the best experience with natural fibers like cotton that are tightly woven. The paint seems to adhere best to cotton and tighter weaves usually have a better visual result due to the paint having more surface to adhere too before seeping through.
Another important consideration is the fabric color you intend on working with. Light and bright colors will give the best results when painting on fabric. This is due to paint having a certain level of opacity and lighter fabric colors will make the paint color pop from underneath. Darker colors may not provide the best results if the paint is not opaque enough. This can be remedied by choosing a paint that is formulated to provide a more opaque finish.
For best results make sure you pick the right paint for the job, but remember, like most art projects there are many tips and tricks to get better results when conditions may not be ideal. For instance, if you are painting on dark fabric with paint that is less opaque you can always paint a lighter colored base layer to improve the visibility of the finished product. Always try to work with a test piece before working your actual piece to get an idea of the end result.
Set Your Finished Designs
When working with fabric paint specifically, you will usually have to set the paint onto the fabric with heat, not so for regular acrylic artist paints. Heat setting is a final step in fabric painting and will give your finished design the permanence it needs to withstand repeated washing and wearing without coming off.
Heat setting is a simple process that is done once the paint is completely dry after application. It is usually best to wait at least 24 hours after painting your fabric to ensure the paint is dry. There are many methods to heat setting and the method you choose will probably be dictated by the fabric piece you painted and the heat sources available to you.
The most common method to heat setting is using an iron to heat the design to set it, other methods include clothes dryers, an oven on a low setting, or a heat gun when used with caution. Whatever method you choose always follow the paint manufacturer’s direction to get the best results. Also, consider the fabrics tolerance for heat as well as to not damage it in the process.
Post Paint Fabric Care
Caring for your painted fabric projects is pretty easy. It is usually recommended to hand wash the fabric if at all possible and hang dry it. If that isn’t possible using the gentle cycle on your washing machine and low heat cycle on your clothes dryer should extend the life of your design as well.
Finally, some paint pigments do not hold up well to sunlight and will fade over time. I recommend minimizing sun exposure if possible and whether you choose to cover the paint when not in use or just keeping out of the sun altogether, it helps prevent fading.
Now that you have a better understanding of fabric-painting you should be well on your way to creating beautiful designs on fabric that look great and last a very long time. If you have any questions at all be sure to leave a comment and we will do our best to help out!
Hey Dolly, thank you very much for this Guide. Helped me a lot! Does Heat Transfer Vinyl or Fabric Paint last longer in terms of washing, sun, etc. What do you think?
Thank you! That was very very helpful. Would you know if I pour fabric paint on a stamp pad whether it will dry out and cannot be reused for another project later on? I would like to stencil some shirts and bags based on custom requests.Thanks in advance!
I have never tried this but it would depend on how airtight the stamp pad is when closed. You could always try storing the stamps pads in airtight freezer bags which should preserve the paint and keep it from drying out.
I hope that helps!
Can you use a heat press to set the paint on a tshirt? If so, what temperature & how long do you recommend? Thank you!
You absolutely can. The temperature and time is really dependent on the paint manufacturers guidelines which can vary.
Hello, very helpful tutorial. One question. If using a white base layer colour because of colored fabric, do i have to heat fix it before applying second layer? Or do I heat fix it all together at the end after finishing all layers?
It is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions but if they do not specify that application I would just use a test piece and try it both ways. Heat set the first layer then the second layer, and then heat set them together and evaluate your results.
Thanks for such a wonderful and helpful article. Can you please recommend me that which are the best brands for fabric paints which doesnot leave stiffness atall and are permanent.
I am planning on painting a large piece of canvas fabric as a wall panel during a festival. Is there a better process to decrease fading and such? My camping group is using these large panels of fabric as walls to designate our area from other camping groups and are going to paint them to represent each family unit but they will be exposed to the elements for 10 days straight
Typically 10 days exposed to the elements will not harm the fabric paint if you used a quality paint. If you don’t care about the feel of the fabric there are also some UV blocking clear paints you could spray over the final image that might help retain the color vibrancy. Good luck!