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How to Paint on Fabric Permanently: Effective and Easy Ways

We can’t always get exactly what we want from clothes. Often, you won’t find exactly what you’re looking for. You might want a certain t-shirt with a specific design, but it just doesn’t exist yet. So, what if you can’t find that perfect piece to fall in love with? Try making it yourself! Sometimes knowing how to paint on fabric permanently can make all the difference in your wardrobe.

And, thanks to the internet, DIY projects are super accessible these days, including fabric painting. In fact, you can even learn to make DIY fabric paint in a wide range of colors right at home.

There are just a few things you’ll need to paint on fabric permanently, such as your unpainted fabric, some art brushes, a larger brush for larger areas of color, a spray bottle, some freezer paper, and a hot iron. You’ll obviously need your fabric dyes or permanent fabric paint as well.

Here are a few other items that might prove helpful depending on your design and the piece you’re working with:

  • Cloth hoop (embroidery hoop)
  • Palette
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Cardboard matt to paint on
  • Sponges
  • Marking chalk

Let’s dive into some painting!

What type of fabric are you painting on?

Not all paint for fabric works the same on all fabric surfaces. For instance, cotton will take color a lot differently than some synthetic fabric will. And, different fabric types might require a different paint type altogether.

In general, fabric paint tends to be a pretty versatile medium, which is really helpful. And, as long as you read the directions carefully, you should be just fine.

But, it is important to read labels and get the right tool for the right job. Also, remember that sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and high-quality fabric paint can often provide much better results than cheaper options. This is especially true when you’re using something like nice upholstery fabric or a craft project that you can’t replace.

Two Easy Ways to Paint on Fabric

These two methods that I’ll explain are relatively easy to accomplish. All you need is to gather your ingredients and tools, and you’re good to go. You can always practice on a scrap piece of fabric to see how the paints will react with it and to see how they will look when they dry.

And once you learn these methods, you don’t have to stick to making nice clothes for yourself, you can make a variety of things for your house and your friends as well.

You can paint on bags, make cushion covers and table mats, and a lot more. You can also hand the paint and the clothes to the kids and let their creative juices flow. Imagine having your little one wear the clothes they made on their own. Adorable!

Painting on fabric is a great skill to learn for so many applications. It can even save you money in the long run.

First, gather your paints, fabric, and tools

Your design will help determine what size and types of brushes you’ll need. Make sure to have your required brushes laid out before you start painting. If you need to stop in the middle of your work and hunt down brushes while things start to dry, you may end up with some adverse effects.

Also, make sure to have a bit of water on hand to thin out your colors or to clean up if you have any spills.

With most types of textile paints, a textile medium is also highly suggested. Without it, you may have dry, stiff, flaky paint on your garment. The medium will help to soften and dilute the paint, making it easier to apply and making it more durable.

Some crafters skip the textile medium as they feel that it doesn’t really add that much protection anyway. But, most others will opt for protecting their masterpieces and include it. They feel that it provides a more permanent finish and protects the work through more cycles through the washing machine. They also suggest that it might keep your material softer even after the paint is applied.

Where to Find Fabric Paint

Honestly, it’s pretty much everywhere craft supplies live these days. There are hundreds of color options and something for every budget as well. Major craft stores and online shops should have everything you need for your artistic paintings.

Fabric paint is often sold in small bottles of between 2oz. and 8oz. in most craft stores. Just pop in and ask to see some different colors and brands. Stores typically have single bottles in assorted colors as well as varieties of color sets and finishes.

You can even find products that will help you achieve watercolor-like effects, abstract effects, and much more.

There is a chance though, that your local craft shop won’t have the fabric color you want. If that’s the case, your next stop should be your local fabric store. They’re equally likely to stock some. That’s where I go to fill my fabric color needs. So, you have quite a few options.

Recommended way – Working with fabric paint

We say that this is the “recommended way” to paint on fabric permanently, but everyone really has their own perfect method. So, just know that this way works for us and for lots of other artists out there. If you can take something valuable away from this and make it your own, that’s great!

Lay out your fabric

First, lay out your fabric on a table or other flat surface and slide the cardboard or wax paper between its folds or under it. This is to prevent the paint from getting on any part of the fabric that you’re not painting. It also protects your table.

Secure the area that you want to paint on with a cloth hoop if you can. This will keep the fabric taut and prevent art disasters, making your work, and life, much easier.

Prep the paint

Grab your palette, or a bowl or cup, where you can mix the paint. Take one part medium and two parts of your chosen fabric paint. Mix those together with a brush until the white of the medium has blended in completely. It shouldn’t alter the brilliant colors that you’ve chosen for your piece.

Get to work painting your masterpiece

Take a paintbrush or a sponge, dip it in the paint, and start painting. If you’re unsure of your design or you just want a little guidance as you paint, you might want to trace your design onto the fabric first with marking chalk.

You can also buy large stamps or wooden blocks with designs carved into them as well. This will allow you to get designs on your fabrics in one easy motion.

Allow time to dry

Once you’re happy with your work, you will want to dry it. It’s best if you leave the fabric out to dry for 2 to 3 days. It doesn’t necessarily have to be under the sun but in a nice dry place.

If you allow your new design to dry slowly and thoroughly, you’ll have less of a chance of it cracking or peeling right away. Let it set in naturally.

Iron your design on permanently

Once you’ve hit that two or three-day mark, and you’re noticing that the paint is not sticky or at all wet anymore, you can break out the iron. Turn the garment inside out, lay it on the ironing board, and start ironing.

You’ll want to press down gently on the area where you’ve painted. Don’t slide the iron around yet. Just put some pressure for a little while and then move from spot to spot until you’ve covered the entire design.

Be careful not to burn your garment in the process. You will want to maintain a medium heat and move the iron regularly.

Finishing touches

Take your ironed fabric and let it cool completely. Then, give it a wash in cold water. Once it’s clean and dried, your garment will be ready to wear, adorned with the art you created!

Alternative way – Just use acrylic on fabric

If everything fails and no one can provide you with the fabric paint that you’re looking for, or you just can’t find the right color, you can always try using acrylic paint on your fabric piece. This type of paint is comparatively much more common in craft and art supply stores, as it has a lot more uses in the world of art and crafts.

This is an option you can follow if you just can’t find the right fabric paint, or you have enough acrylic lying around the house and you don’t want to waste time and energy looking for another type of paint.

A lot of fabric artists today like using acrylic paint for their work. Some also feel that it saturates the fabric fibers just fine and wears equally well in the washing machine. You may want to use a fabric softener to be safe, and we definitely recommend a fabric medium for acrylic paint.

Lay your fabric out carefully

Just like before, you want to prepare your fabric carefully for painting by laying it down on a hard surface and sliding paper or cardboard beneath it, to save the other side.

You could use a cloth hoop to secure the spot you will paint on again as well. This will make painting much easier, minimizing the risk of mistakes.

Mix the paint

The real difference between these two methods lies in the mixing of the paint. As mentioned before, painting with acrylic will still require textile mediums.

This time, however, you want to take your palette or bowl and measure out equal parts medium and paint. Mix those in together with a spoon, brush, or paint stirrer until all the medium is incorporated.

Create your piece

With this paint and medium mixture, start painting your fabric! You can use different colors, or go for your favorite designs and texts. The best thing about this process is that you can still use the color for lots of other elements. It doesn’t have to lie around and go to waste.

Leave it to dry

Once the painting is complete, you will want to leave the fabric with acrylic paint to dry for at least 48 hours or until it doesn’t feel sticky anymore.

Press it with medium heat

Once everything has dried completely, iron your fabric as above. Turn it inside out, don’t put heat directly on to the paint itself.

You might want to slide a board in between the paint and the fabric again. Then just press down on the spots where you painted with the iron on medium heat.

Final Touches

Cool the fabric, and wash it with cold water. Dry it like normal, and you will have a painted garment, ready for use!

How to paint on fabric permanently: Final thoughts

These two methods are easy, simple and quite fun! And best of all, you get to wear or decorate your house with your own work.

These could even work as great conversation starters between you and your friends, and they make perfect gifts. Following these methods and with a little practice, anyone can become a fabric artist.

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