Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Fabric? – Explained

  • By: Artistic Bees
  • Time to read: 11 min.
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Acrylic paint is a versatile painting medium. You can paint almost anything with acrylic paint. Be it wood, metal, glass, ceramic, or other materials. Chances are you are thinking about making your own designs on a T-shirt or canvas shoes with acrylic paint. And, this leads you to ask can you use acrylic paint on fabric?  

You can use acrylic paint on the fabric. However, only acrylic paint will not last long on the fabric. To make the color last longer, you have to add some fabric medium with the color and heat set after painting. 

In this article, I will talk about what type of acrylic paint you can use on fabric. Then, I will explain how to use acrylic paint on fabric, and what you can do to make the painting last long. Before that, let us learn more about using acrylic paint on fabrics. 

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Fabric? 

Yes. You can use acrylic paints on fabric. Acrylic paint is flexible and easy to use. It also dries quickly and becomes permanent on various materials. Besides, painters already use color on canvas, which is a kind of fabric. So, you can use the acrylic paint you already have at home. Or, you can buy it from stores. The vibrant color of acrylic looks great on fabrics.

However, using only acrylic paint will not give you long-lasting results. The colors become too dry and crack. Thus, the print of color on the cloth will start to flake. After a few washes, your acrylic-painted T-shirt will lose most of the color. Therefore, it is better to use fabric paints for permanent designs on clothes.  

So, what can you do to make the acrylic paint more durable on fabrics? For that, you need to use fabric medium. It is a substance that dilutes acrylic colors and makes them thin. When you use diluted acrylic on fabrics, the color will not get hard and brittle. The fabric medium softens the color, and it sticks to the fabric better than raw acrylic paints. 

What Type Of Acrylic Paint To Use On Fabric?

If you use a fabric medium, you can use any acrylic paints on the fabric. Besides, there are special acrylic paints that are suitable for fabric use. You can buy them from the stores. But, you can also use regular acrylic paints that you already have at home for painting. 

The problem is, these acrylic paints are thick and can get dry fast. It becomes hard to use the color on clothes. Fortunately, you can dilute the regular acrylic paint and then use it for painting on clothes, canvas shoes, pillows, and surfaces of other materials. 

While buying or using the paint, read the instructions for using the paint. Some acrylic paints are washable. These paints will fade and spread on your cloth when you wash them. So, do not use these colors on fabrics if you need to wash them often. 

Why Do You Need A Fabric Medium?

 When you buy fabric mediums for the acrylic paint, make sure it is an acrylic fabric medium. These fabric mediums are specially made for thinning acrylic paints. The fabric medium is a liquid acrylic polymer that has no pigments. It nicely mixes with acrylic paints. As a result, the color becomes suitable for painting on fabrics. 

Here is why you should mix fabric mediums with acrylic paints to color fabrics: 

  • The liquid fabric medium thins and softens the thick acrylic color.
  • The colors will not spread on the fabric when you wash it. 
  • As the color becomes thin, it takes a bit more time to dry. So, you have more control over the coloring process.
  • The acrylic paint will be absorbed better and permanently adhere to the fabric.
  • The color of the painting on the cloth or fabric will look glossier and stay that way for a long time.

What Can You Use As Fabric Medium?

You may want to know whether there is a homemade formula for fabric medium. Yes, there is a recipe for homemade fabric medium. Some people may advise you to use vinegar as a softener medium for acrylic paint, but it does not work well. Moreover, it can react badly to the color of the fabric. 

For making homemade fabric, you actually need three ingredients. These are: 

  • Vinegar 
  • Glycerin 
  • Water 

All these items are available in your house or in the stores. Now, for preparing the fabric medium, you have to mix one part glycerin with one part vinegar and then add two parts water. 

So, if you take 25ml glycerin, add 25ml vinegar and 50ml water. This mixer is your homemade fabric medium. After that, add this medium to acrylic paint to create your preferred consistency for painting on fabric. 

This homemade medium gives the paint an oily texture. It may not always work as the fabric mediums sold in the market. So, it is better to use store-bought fabric medium for painting valuable fabrics. However, you can still use the homemade medium for practicing acrylic painting on fabrics or stamping on bags, t-shirts, and other clothing. 

How To Prepare Acrylic Paint For Fabric Painting?

You can choose any fabric medium to mix with your acrylic paint. They have instructions on how much you have to mix with the acrylic paint. For most of the store-bought mediums, the proportion is 1:2. It means you should add one part fabric medium with two-part acrylic paint of your choice. 

Then again, the proportion of medium and paint depends on how thin you want the paint. Thin paints are easy to control. You can create a more complex and detailed design. Thicker paintings flake after drying and are not so easy to paint on fabric. On the other hand, if you make the painting too thin, the color will not be so vivid. 

Therefore, be careful when you mix the fabric medium with the acrylic paint. Blend the mixture well before using it on the fabric. When you get the right consistency of the paint, it is easy to put on the fabric. The painting may take a few days to dry. Meanwhile, you can add more patterns to the design if you want. Acrylic paints are great for creating layers of paint. 

Can You Use Acrylic Without Fabric Medium?

It is not like acrylic paint will not stick to fabric without mixing with fabric medium. You can use acrylic paint without diluting it with a medium. But the result will not satisfy you. The color will soon crack and peel from the fabric, and all your time invested in the process will be in vain. 

Nonetheless, you can use acrylic paint directly on fabrics. But use raw acrylic painting only for temporary use or things that do not require washing. You can paint on banners, flags, and clothes with acrylic color for fun. However, for permanent designs, you must mix the paint with fabric medium.  

Even if you do not use medium, you should add a little bit of water to the acrylic paint to make it thin for applying to the fabric. You can also polish the fabric with sandpaper and spray it with water. It will help the paint to stick to the surface of the fabric. 

How To Paint On Fabric With Acrylic Paint? 

As you have learned about using acrylic paint and fabric medium, it is time for you to know the process of acrylic painting on fabrics. 

To paint the fabric with acrylic paint, you need some materials and, most importantly, prepare a place for the entire process. Acrylic paint is often hard to take off when it dries. So, you have to cover yourself and the area to avoid getting paint stains. The place should have natural light and proper ventilation because acrylic has toxic chemicals. Besides, you need sufficient light and air for painting. 

Before painting the fabrics or clothes, you must wash them to remove dirt and any protective layer. The paint may not stick properly because of them. Finally, dry the fabric completely and iron it. A smooth surface will help you to apply acrylic paint. 

Follow these steps to paint with acrylic paint:

Step 1: Choosing the Fabric

First, choose the fabric to paint. The best fabrics for acrylic painting are cotton and silks. You can also paint on cotton-poly mix fabric, flannel, corduroy, velvet, felt, and leather. For better understanding, let us suppose you are going to paint a cotton T-shirt. So, you also have to consider the color and the texture of the t-shirt. 

Step 2: Designing The Fabric

If you are painting with acrylic paint on fabric for the first time, choose a bright color and simple design for the t-shirt. Use a pencil or pen to draw the design on the T-shirt. Make sure the ink is washable. 

Before drawing the design on the fabric, practice it on a piece of paper or similar cloth. If you make a mistake while painting on the fabric, it will be difficult to remove acrylic from the surface. Acrylic paint dries fast and will leave residues of colors even after removing it. 

Step 3: Set Up The Painting Area

Choose a location with adequate light and airways. Both are important for acrylic painting. Acrylic paint contains lead, formaldehyde, and ammonia. So, working with acrylic paint in a closed space can cause problems like nose and throat irritation, breathing problems, and skin irritation. 

In addition, acrylic paints are hard to remove. So, cover the area with plastic sheets or newspapers. You should also wear something that will not matter even after getting some paint on it. Wear a mask if you have any respiratory issues. Put the fabric on the floor or a table, depending on your comfort. 

Step 4: Preparing the Paint

Next, you have to prepare the acrylic paint for the fabric. Follow the process discussed previously to prepare the acrylic paint and medium mix. Mix the medium with acrylic paint little by little until you get your desired texture. Blend thoroughly, leaving no lumps of unmixed paint. 

If you are using multiple colors, it is better not to prepare all the colors beforehand. The paint can dry if it remains unused for a while. You can start painting with one color and then prepare the next color. 

Step 5: Painting On The Fabric

This is the fun part of painting the fabric. Take a painting brush and apply the paint to the T-shirt or whatever you are painting. Start with painting the background of the design. If you want to create multiple layers, you should wait for the first layer to dry nicely. After that, paint another layer.

Step 6: Drying the Fabric

After the painting is complete, let the fabric/T-shirt dry. Depending on the fabric and the paint, it can take 1 to 3 days to dry. Acrylic is a water-based medium. It can get washed away if it comes in contact with water before drying. So, you must be extra careful about drying the fabric properly before washing it with water. 

How To Heat-Set Acrylic Paint On Fabric?

Many people think that the fabric is ready to use after drying. But when they wash it a few times, the paint can come off from the fabric. To avoid this problem, you can heat-set your fabric after painting and drying. Heat-setting the fabric allows the acrylic paint to get absorbed by the fabric. Thus, the paint gets permanently fixed on the surface. 

Here is how you heat-set the painted fabric: 

  • When the paint on the fabric finally dries, heat-set it with an iron. Make sure to switch off the steam setting of the iron. 
  • Instead of directly putting the iron on the paint, use it on the opposite side. If it is a t-shirt, get it inside out. Then iron over the painted area indirectly. Or, you can put a thin cloth on the painting and apply the iron over the cloth. 
  • Keep the temperature of the iron between medium to high. The paint will not set at a low temperature. Do not put the iron directly on acrylic paint with high heat. It can burn the paint. This is why you have to indirectly heat-set the fabric. 
  • Do not keep the iron in the same spot for too long. Run over the iron on the painted area a couple of times for 2 to 3 minutes. 

It is the best way to heat-set your fabric. The process will seal the paint on the fabric. After ironing the fabric, do not wash it right away. Even if you need to wash it for some reason, wait at least 3 to 4 days. 

Tips On Taking Care Of Acrylic Painted Fabric 

Eventually, you will need to wash the fabric. If you have used fabric medium with your acrylic paint, you do not have to worry too much about the paint and fabric. The medium and heat-set have already made the acrylic paint permanent on the fabric. 

However, you have to be careful while you wash the fabric. Just because the paint is permanent does not mean it will not get damaged. Here are some tips to take care of the painted fabric: 

  • If you can, always hand-wash the fabric. You should spot-clean if the rest of the fabric is clean. Do not rub the painted area too much to get rid of the dirt. Too much rubbing will damage the paint. 
  • Do not keep the fabric soaked in water for too long, and never use hot water to wash it. Hot water will melt the paint.
  • If you are washing the fabric in the washing machine, wash it separately. Select the delicate wash cycle. This cycle is similar to hand washing and uses low or no spin. You can set the water either warm or cold. Choose cold water to wash acrylic-painted fabric. 
  • Never use the dryer to dry your acrylic-painted fabric. Even if the dryer setting is at a low level, the heat can crack the paint. As a result, it will flake. So, it is best to dry the fabric with natural air. Keep the fabric hanging somewhere with natural airflow. 
  • Try your best to minimize the washing of the fabric. The more you wash the fabric, the more the paint gets weaker. 

Thus, you can take care of the acrylic-painted fabric. You have to be even more careful about raw acrylic painted fabrics. These fabrics will lose color in just a few washes. Therefore, avoid using water in acrylic paints as much as possible. 


So if you were not sure whether you use acrylic paint on fabric or not, I hope this article was able to help you out!  To sum it all up, you can definitely use acrylic paint on fabric.

It is always better to follow the steps of making the paint permanent with medium and heat-setting. This way, the vibrant color on your fabric will last longer. Thanks for stopping by!