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Fabric Paint vs Acrylic Paint: Which One is Best for Your Job?

Anyone who calls themselves a crafter has likely worked with paint. Paints are so common in our crafting culture that they’re quite literally everywhere. When it comes to fabric paint vs acrylic paint, the differences will lie not only in the finished product but in the consistency of the material and the ease of use for your specific project. Fabric paint itself is really just an acrylic paint with some add-ins that make it suitable for use on cloth. They’re both great for different projects.

But which is the best and most appropriate for your specific situation? Does it even matter?

If we’re trying to style or design clothes and fabric, should we be using paint designed specifically for fabric, or is acrylic paint just fine?

In this article, we’re going to talk about the differences between fabric paint vs acrylic paint and discuss what kinds of projects you’ll do with each. 

What’s the difference between fabric and acrylic paint? 

It’s usually when you first begin a project​ that the question arises: which type of paint would be best to use?

The difference between fabric paint and acrylic paint is that fabric paint is best used on fabric surfaces, like clothing and towels. Acrylic paint is thicker, so if you use it on cloth, it will be stiffer, less durable, and more prone to chips and flakes. Fabric paint is formulated specifically for use on fabric. 

Let’s break down the differences further below. 

Properties of fabric paint 

Here are some of the iconic properties of fabric paint. 

  • Thinner than normal acrylic 
  • Dye-based
  • Contains glue-binding agents
  • Heat drying
  • Bonds with surface well

Properties of acrylic paint

On the other hand, here are some properties of acrylic paint.

  • Typically thicker than fabric paint
  • Very versatile for a wide variety of projects and surfaces
  • Air drying
  • Sits on top of the surface

The biggest difference between fabric paint and acrylic paint is how it adheres to surfaces. Fabric paint sinks into cloth, while acrylic paint generally sits on top of it. Thus, fabric paint will hold up to washings and use, while acrylic may crack and chip more easily. You will also need to heat fabric paint to dry it. 

When you go to choose one of these paints in the store, it’s so important to have a project in mind. Let’s dive a little deeper into the practical applications of these differences so you can better understand which to pick for your crafting. 

Best medium for fabric paint

Once you have a design and a project in mind, you need to make sure you’re reaching for the right paint. But it’s just as important to make sure your project surface is right, as well! 

The best medium for fabric paint is natural fibers. Cotton, linen, jean, crepe, flannel fabric, and even silk all work wonderfully as surfaces for fabric paint. The dye-based paint will sink into the fabric. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and rayon won’t work as well but are still good options.

Also, take the medium’s natural color into consideration when you’re selecting paint. Fabric paint could be a great choice if you’re looking to turn a white shirt into a colorful rainbow, but lighter pigmented fabric paint may not show up as well on dark jeans. 

These materials work especially well with fabric paints:

  • Natural fibers
  • Pre-washed fabric 
  • Light colors

We have a great article on how to dye fabric. Check it out for more inspiration.

Best medium for acrylic paint

Fabric paint may be great for lots of projects, but acrylic paint is iconic in the crafting world for a good reason. 

Acrylic paint can be applied to virtually every surface except wax. Mediums like plastic or furniture may need to be prepared first, but they can certainly be painted with acrylic, too. 

  • Acrylic can work on nearly any surface! 
  • Make sure to prepare smooth or treated surfaces before painting them.

For fabrics:

  • Items that need infrequent washing work best with acrylic paint.

To prepare a surface for acrylic paint, you’ll need to sand it down with sandpaper. We particularly like the way wooden surfaces seem to absorb the paint. Check out our article on how to paint wood crafts to see more on that.

Let’s talk more about how to apply fabric and acrylic paint. 

How to apply fabric paint

Since fabric and acrylic paints have different compositions, their applications are somewhat different, as well. 

To apply fabric paint, because it sinks into the medium, you will need to pre-wash your medium. Wash your fabric in soap and water, then let it dry until it’s just still damp. You want to apply the paint while the fabric is still damp for better coverage. And, make sure your work surface is well protected. When you’re done painting, dry your creation with heat, such as a blow dryer. 

Can you use acrylic paint on clothing? 

Although we’re sure by now it sounds like fabric paint is the only choice for clothing, acrylic can be a great option for painting on clothing, too.

Acrylic paint can be used on both natural and synthetic items of clothing, but it’s usually advised not to paint the entire item with acrylic. This is because the paint is heavier and dries on the surface. It doesn’t sink in as well as fabric paint does. As a result, clothes can be more stiff and uncomfortable to wear. 

So, if you’re going to stick to a small design or embellishment, acrylic paint is a great choice to paint on clothing. If you want to tie dye or color an entire t-shirt, go with fabric paint. 

Ease and durability of fabric vs acrylic paints

The last thing we want to talk about is the trouble you can get into when using these paints. Let’s look at the ease of application and the durability once applied of both fabric and acrylic paints. 


Fabric paint is easier to apply, and because it needs a heat source to dry, you can wash and alter any mistakes you’ve made before it sets. Acrylic paint does not have that advantage. It dries quickly and cannot be washed off as well. You have to be precise with acrylics, while fabric paint is a bit more forgiving.


Both types of paint can last a long time if cared for properly. Still, nothing lasts forever. 

Generally, fabric paint will last longer. Though it is safe to wash, its colors are prone to fading after repeated washing. Acrylic paint will start to peel right off after a few washes. You can use solvents to make your colors last longer. Always wash clothes in cold water, and line dry when you can.


Can I make fabric paint from acrylic paint? 

You can soften and thin acrylic paint if you’d like to try for better absorption. Simply mix a little water into your paint and see how much better it goes onto the fabric.

Can I make my own fabric paint? 

Making your own fabric paint is easy and fun! Check out our guide on how to make your own dyes for tie dye using common household items.

Why should I pre-wash my medium? 

Pre-wash your fabric so your items have a chance to shrink without distorting your design. It also helps remove any chemicals from the store or previous washings. Don’t use fabric softener on your medium.

How to set fabric paint. 

Leave it to dry overnight, then run it through your dryer for half an hour or hang it in a sunny spot.

Can I wash painted fabric? 

Yes, you can wash items that have been painted with acrylic and fabric paints since they are both water-resistant. Wash in cold water and line dry.

​Fabric Paint vs Acrylic Paint – final thoughts

Hopefully, this article has given you some clarity on which paint you should choose for your next art project. 

Both fabric paint and acrylic paint can be used to create some wonderful artwork and crafts, but although they are similar at first glance, the two substances have vastly different properties and purposes.

Let us know in the comments which paint you like best for fabric projects – and why!

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