What is Fabric Paint? Everything You Need to Know!

Woman painting on the fabric of an umbrella

Fabric paint is one of the most common mediums used in a variety of crafts from painting shoes to t-shirt making.

Since it has a specific purpose, what exactly makes fabric paint different?

What is fabric paint? Fabric paint is a particular type of paint that is preferred for use on fabrics and similar texture. It is thinner and is usually dye-based, which helps it adhere to fabrics.

There are typically unique glue-binding agents in fabric paint that are not found in other paints.

Is fabric paint necessary if you are using fabric as your crafting surface? Knowing how fabric paint works is key to making it work for you.

What is Fabric Paint?

When you think of paint, there are often two main types that come to mind — acrylic and fabric paint. Fabric paint is a thinner consistency than standard acrylic paint. It is created with a glue-based binder that helps the paint adhere to the surface of the fabric. 

Most fabric paints also have a heat-set property that keeps your designs safe when they are washed. 

Four main types of fabric paint are available:

Liquid fabric paint is found in tubes or jars and is similar to regular paint. It is easier to create fine lines and details with liquid fabric paint.

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Spray paint is commonly used when you either need to cover a large area or if you are utilizing stencils in your design.

TULIP Fabric Spray Paint- Emerald

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Fabric markers are one of the easiest ways to use fabric paint. They reduce the possibility of a mess, and can easily be used to create lines, writing, or small details.

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Dimensional paint raises off of the fabric. Puffy Paints, as they are sometimes called, come in tubes with small applicators to use for detail work.

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Is Fabric Paint Really That Different from Acrylic Paint?

It may seem like all paint is created equal, but they aren’t. Acrylic paint is not recommended for fabric because it tends to crack or flake off if disturbed.

It is a thicker paint that lays on the top of the surface it is on as opposed to becoming part of it.

Although fabric paint and acrylic paint are both water-based, fabric paint is designed to attach to fabrics, and it will create a strong bond. It uses a glue-based binder, which acrylic paint does not have.

Both of the paint options become water-resistant once they are completely dry, but fabric paint needs some heat to ensure that it stays on your fabric of choice. Heat setting is done by using an iron or a hairdryer.

If you can let your fabric dry overnight, a quick tumble in a hot dryer will also work. 

Fabric paint is non-toxic, which makes it safe to work with, and most of the time comes in easy-to-use containers. Similar to acrylic paint, fabric paint is not easy to get out of your clothing or other fabric areas where you may be working.

Is Fabric Paint the Same as Fabric Dye?

Fabric paint and fabric dye are two very different things. Fabric paints use a glue-based binder, which helps the pigment of the paint adhere to the fabric. You are also able to use fabric paint in a wider variety of materials. Dyes create a chemical reaction with the fiber once applied.

Advantages of Fabric Paint

  • Fabric paint is much easier to use than acrylic paint or fabric dye. There are no unique treatments needed to prep the fabric and come in more effortless measures of application.
  • Since fabric paint is non-toxic, it is safe to use in the home and around children. With that being said, fabric paint should not be used on the skin or any item where it may be ingested.
  • Fabric paints tend to be richer in pigment, which will give you a better-finished product. Most of the time, it will also be less expensive than other paints.
  • There is a wide variety of colors, finishes, and textures that you can use with fabric paint. 

Disadvantages of Fabric Paint

  • Because fabric paint does not bond to fabric the way a dye would, there are still some textural issues to the touch. Knowing what kind of fabric paint works best for a specific type of fabric can help solve this problem.
  • Fabric paint does not combine with the fabric in a way you might think. After you apply the paint, it still is technically just on the outside of the fabric. It is not entirely through the fibers.
  • Fabric paint can also cause issues after wearing or washing. Paint can eventually fade off of the shirt, and sometimes release the pigment into the washer or dryer which could damage clothing.

What Fabric Does Fabric Paint Work Best On?

Now that we know what fabric paint is, what kind of surface do they work best on? Most natural fabrics are ideal for fabric paint, such as cotton, denim, and silk. There are some cotton/polyester blends that work well too. 

White fabric is ideal if you are looking for the actual color of the fabric paint to come through. Using different colors can change the color of your paint, or even not show up.

How to Prep Your Fabric

Wash and dry any fabric before you begin to paint on it. Washing your fabric before you start painting removes any debris that may be on the fabric.

Avoid using any laundry additive. Items such as fabric softeners or conditioners can keep fabric paint from adhering as it should. 

Keep a layer behind the surface you are painting. Cardboard or paper bags can keep your paint from transferring to other areas of the short or bleeding through.

Note that fabric paint can take longer to dry than you might think. It will need at least one full day until you should wash or wear your garment. You can speed up this process slightly with a hairdryer or by placing it in the sun.

Is it Possible to Use Acrylic Paint on Fabrics?

Most acrylic paints are not suitable for fabrics for a few reasons. The main being that acrylic paint is only on the surface, and it doesn’t attach to the fabric as a fabric paint would. Acrylic paints tend to leave a very plastic appearance and feeling after they dry.

Acrylic paint will be stiff on the surface of the fabric, making it difficult to move without cracking. Some heavier fabrics, such as denim or canvas, will take acrylic paint better because of their dense weave pattern. 

If the fabric that you are painting is going to lay flat, then this may not be a big concern. If you are looking to paint that is going to bend or drape, then you will want to use fabric paint to get the best results. You can also create fabric paint at home.

Can You Make Fabric Paint At Home?

Yes, you can make your own fabric paint. If you have acrylic paint at home, then you can combine it with a fabric medium.

The medium will help dilute the acrylic paint down, but you will not lose any of the pigmentation. This medium by Liquitex is really highly rated.

These mediums help to soften the feeling of paint on the fabric and can make it last longer when you are washing it. It also helps the paint become easier to use.

If you are using this method, the standard is one part medium to two parts of the paint of your choice. Before using the paint, test it in a small area to make sure that it is the color and consistency that you want.

Last update on 2021-01-22 at 04:56 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API