Painting Fabric With Acrylic Paint: 7 Easy Steps to Success

A white shirt on a wood table surrounded by small jars of paint and brushes.

If you are an artist, you might be tempted to buy art supplies whenever you come across them.

While some people may see this as a hoarding problem, true artists understand how satisfying a stockpile of art supplies can feel!

However, there are times when it’s best to use what you have on hand before going out to buy a specialty product, especially if what you already have can work just as well!

Can you use acrylic paint on fabric? Fabric paints, which are acrylic based, are a good choice for fabrics, but regular acrylic paints can be used as well. For the best results, add fabric medium to acrylic paints in a 1:1 ratio before using for a smoother application and softer finished product that will resist cracking.

In this article, you will learn the step-by-step process of how to use acrylic paints and fabric mediums in order to create stunning masterpieces on fabric surfaces. 

Painting Fabrics With Acrylic Paint

While you may want to get started painting on fabrics using your acrylics straight out of the bottle or tube, it’s important to know that adding fabric medium can drastically improve your results.

While it’s completely possible to paint on fabric using straight acrylic paint, the effect will usually end up being stiff and roughly textured.

Using acrylic paint on fabric without a fabric medium can also make the paint more susceptible to cracking and peeling.

You can skip fabric medium if you’re planning on painting on fabric that won’t be worn or washed; otherwise it’s a good idea to use fabric medium in your project.

Fabric medium is an acrylic emulsion that can be added to acrylic paints.

Fabric medium offers many benefits:

  • It changes the consistency of the paint and makes it easier to apply in smooth, even strokes.
  • It makes the paint softer when dry and helps the paint to retain that softness even after the fabric has been washed.
  • It can keep colors from bleeding.
  • It can help you to apply a wider range of artistic approaches, such as employing watercolor and airbrush techniques. 

Best Acrylic Paint and Fabric Medium

Apple Barrel 18-Piece Acrylic Set

Apple Barrel is known for their wide variety of colors and inexpensive prices.

This 18-count matte set contains a gorgeous palette of bright colors that are perfect for creating fun fabric art!

Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint Set, PROMOTCK 18 (2 fl...
  • CONVENIENT SIZE & FUN BRIGHT COLORS - This versatile acrylic paint set includes 18 - 2 oz bottles of...
  • MATTE FINISH - Each of these bold and bright colors dries to a brilliant matte finish - perfect for...

Angelus 2-Soft Fabric Medium

Angelus 2-Soft Fabric Medium can be mixed at a 1:1 ratio with acrylic paint and then easily be applied to many different kinds of fabrics.

This fabric medium will need to be heat set. 

Angelus 2-Soft Fabric Medium 4oz
  • Angelus 2-Soft is a must-have when working on soft, flexible fabrics such as the sock-liner of...
  • Heat-set to maintain softness

Step 1. Wash and Iron the Fabric

It’s important to wash the fabric you are going to paint in order to remove any starches or co-polymers.

Once the fabric is completely dry, you can use an iron to ensure a smooth painting surface. 

Step 2. Plan Your Design

Decide what you are going to paint! Here is where you can use stencils or stamps to create an outline of your finished design.

You can also use a pencil or chalk to create a light outline of your intended design. 

Step 3. Prepare Your Workspace

List of Supplies:

  • Stencils
  • Stamps
  • Sponges
  • Acrylic paint
  • Acrylic paint medium
  • Cup for water
  • Assorted sizes of paint brushes
  • Newspapers or disposable tablecloth
  • Old paint clothes or apron
  • Pieces of cardboard
  • Fabric to paint on
  • Surface to paint on (such as a table)
  • Pencil or chalk
  • An iron

You want to make sure that you are protecting the surface that you are painting the fabric on, as well as any extra layers of fabric (such as the back of a T-shirt).

You can use a piece of cardboard between fabric layers as well as under the entire project as a protectant.  

You will also want to wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting paint on or an apron.

You can use a disposable tablecloth or newspapers to help to keep paint off of the surface you are painting the fabric on.

Step 4. Prepare the Paint

Mix the acrylic paint with the acrylic fabric medium at a 1:1 ratio. You want the paint to have a creamy consistency that will be easy to apply to the fabric.

If you are looking to create a watercolor effect or use the paint in an airbrush (tons of info here), you may want to further thin the paint.

Step 5. Paint!

Following your guidelines from Step 2, start painting! It’s a good idea to paint the background using a larger brush first.

Allow the background layer to dry, then use smaller brushes for more detailed work.

(Learn about 15 different brush types you can use for more professional results in my article here.)

Step 6. Allow To Dry

You want to wait at least 24 hours to give the paint a chance to completely dry. Thicker layers of paint may take longer to dry.

Step 7. Heat Set the Paint

Once the painting is totally dry, you will want to heat set it. Heat setting the painting makes it more durable and damage resistant.

To heat set the painting, make sure that you are not using the steam settings on the iron. 

Avoid placing the iron directly on the painting. Iron the opposite side of the fabric, or place a thin, clean piece of fabric between the painted part of the fabric and the iron. 

Depending on the type of fabric you are heat setting, the iron should be set to Medium or Hot. If the fabric is very thin, you may need to use a lower heat setting.

Iron small sections of fabric, and apply the iron to the fabric for at least 5 minutes. 

Caring for Your Painted Fabric

Two freshly painted t-shirts featuring colorful dinosaurs.

It’s always a good idea to hand wash fabric that has been painted. If that’s not possible, you can run it through the washer on a low heat, gentle wash setting.

Make sure that the paint has completely dried before attempting to wash it; in some cases this may take as long as a week.

The Difference Between Fabric Paint and Acrylic Paint

Fabric paint is a dye that is mixed with a binder in order to create a strong bond with the fabric.

Acrylic paint is a combination of water and acrylic polymer emulsion, making it less adherent to fabric. 

Fabric paint is much more absorbent than acrylic paint on its own, which is why clothes painted with acrylic paint alone often feel stiff. 

Alternatives to Using a Fabric Medium

You can use sandpaper to roughen up the surface of the fabric you intend to paint on, which will make it a little more adhesive.

You can also use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the surface of the fabric, as damp fabric will make the application of straight acrylic paint smoother.

Using water to thin the acrylic paint can also help with a smooth application.

Related Questions:

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric Shoes?

You can absolutely use acrylic paint on fabric shoes.

Combine it with a fabric medium for best results, or dampen the fabric first and thin the paint before using for a smoother application.

You’ll find additional tips in my article here.

Does Liquitex Fabric Medium Need To Be Heat Set?

Liquitex Fabric Medium does not require heat setting. 


Whether you choose to use acrylic paints on their own, or decide to mix acrylic paints with a fabric medium for a smoother finish, applying acrylic paints to fabric is a fun and unique activity that can create stunning results!


Last update on 2023-06-07 at 08:58 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.