How to Paint Fabric: A Step-by-Step Guide

Clothes have the primary functional purpose of covering our bodies and protecting us from harmful environmental conditions. Aside from the functional purpose of covering your body, there’s no reason why what you wear can’t be a form of art in itself. Painting fabrics can help you create your art, customize your clothes, and stand out how you like.

Guide to Painting Your Fabrics

painting white fabric

The straightforward steps to painting your fabrics are as follows:

1. Know the Fabric Type

The effect of fabric painting begins with the type of fabric you use. Some fabrics are better to paint on than others. Therefore, the first step is to look at the clothes’ care tag to know what fabric they’re made of.

Natural fabrics, like cotton, silk, wool, and linen, are easier to paint on. Most synthetic fabrics, like polyester, nylon, canvas, and denim, have been treated with chemicals to hold the fabric together. These chemicals can react negatively with the paint, causing your painting efforts to be ineffective.

2. Prepare Your Fabric

Wash your new material before painting it to remove chemicals and starches, especially synthetic ones. Do not use fabric softener when washing.

Dry it after washing, iron it to prevent wrinkles, and make the fabric smooth. Also, make sure there are no specks of dirt on the fabric.

3. Tape Off the Section

If you’re going to paint just a part of the fabric paint, it’s best to tape off the section you’re not going to paint. Taping protects the rest of your fabric and prevents unwanted paint stains. Have a wet cloth beside you when you want to paint to clean off any paint stains on unwanted areas.

4. Place a Cardboard Between Your Fabric

Paint can leak from one end of fabrics with front and back, like t-shirts and tote bags. You should place a piece of cardboard between the fabrics to prevent these unwanted stains.

5. Pencil Out your Design

Some professionals can jump straight to painting, but I recommend beginners draw out their patterns with a pencil first. This will help you avoid mistakes when you start painting. If you make a mistake when drawing with your pencil, you can easily erase it. Using a stencil makes this step unnecessary.

6. Start Painting

Get your paintbrush and dip it in your fabric paint, or get your fabric paint marker and begin painting. Painting from top to bottom will prevent you from staining your hand and the fabric. Start with a thin layer of paint; if you desire a deeper color, you can add another layer.

7. Allow it to Dry

Once you’re done painting on your fabric, spread it to dry in a well-ventilated area. Leave it for about 12 hours so that it can dry properly. Once dry, you can paint another layer if you want a deeper color on the fabric.

8. Heat Seal

Remove the tape on your fabric and heat seal the painted part. You can use a pressing iron by placing a cloth on the fabric, then press your heated iron on it. Alternatively, you can seal your painted fabric under the sun for a few hours.

Tools to Paint Fabric

Some important tools to paint fabric with are as follows:

1. Brushes

paint brushes

Brushes are difficult to master, but they help you mix your colors well. There are different types and sizes of brushes that help you to paint well. Thin brushes make long, thin strokes necessary for outlines, while flat brushes make broader lines to help fill the design.

2. Marker Pens

Marker Pens

They’re simpler and easier to use. They’re good for line work, writing, and fine detailing. They’re also versatile and stress-free to use.

3. Sprays


Sprays work better when you’re coating large fabrics like cushions and curtains. 

4. Stencils


Stencils can help you achieve uniformity and sharp edges if you’re an inexperienced fabric painter. They are highly recommended for lettering and repetitive patterns.

Choosing your Fabric Paint

Various paint options exist, each a great fit for different fabric types. 

1. Fabric Paint

Generally, fabric paints are a good option to paint your fabric because they are soft, flexible, and thin. You can use them on pre-washed fabrics like cotton wool, polyester, cotton, knits, blended fibers, and leather. However, they aren’t suitable for hard surfaces because they remain sticky and pick up dust and debris if they can’t saturate the fabric. 

2. Acrylic

Acrylic paint works well on fabrics like cotton and denim. However, the major issue with acrylic paint is that it’s too thick due to its creamy texture. Also, it is prone to crack if you add the paint that way on the surface of the fabric.

Getting a fabric medium to mix with your acrylic paint is recommended to make it thinner. Mixing fabric medium with your acrylic paint also prevents the colors from bleeding. It produces a watercolor effect when painting on your fabric, giving some versatility to the artist.

3. Dye Paint

Dye painting involves applying a thickened dye solution directly to the fabric’s surface, allowing you to use it like regular paint. They’re specifically made to adhere to various fabrics, especially larger ones with greater surface area. Dyes are also great for creating patterns such as tie-dye.

4. Pigments and Inks

Alcohol-based pigments and inks work well on fabrics. If you use them correctly, they can create a beautiful water effect on your fabric. They also have several colors and mix well. However, they aren’t as saturated as fabric paint and can fade with time; they are also prone to cracks.

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