Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

You’ve likely been asking yourself, “Can you use acrylic paint on fabric?”

Acrylic is one of the most versatile paint types that won’t empty your pockets. It is inexpensive, available everywhere, and has almost any color and variation you need.

You can’t just apply acrylic on a piece of fabric and call it done. There are several steps and specific methods you should follow to get the proper result.

However, the techniques aren’t complicated at all. If you can have the suitable materials ready at your hand and follow the process mentioned in this guide, you’ll be fine.

So, without further ado, let’s start talking briefly about acrylic and fabric first. Once we’re past that, we’ll look at the correct painting procedure.

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Why Would You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric in the First Place?

There are other fabric painting alternatives available out there. But why should you care about using acrylic here? There’s one solid reason behind this. Let me explain.

As a matter of fact, the paints made for fabric use are made of a combination of fabric-friendly chemicals and fabric paints.

But these paints have one problem: they can’t be used with synthetic fabrics as these two might react. Only natural fabric is the possible option. That is quite a big barrier for painting on fabric.

So, getting acrylic paint can easily resolve the problem and make way for cheaper fabric paint alternatives.

Acrylic comes in all colors and variations, and it’s readily available everywhere. It’s easy to work with, making itself a great option as paint for people with any skill level. The process just follows a system.

The Problem with Acrylic

You see, acrylic isn’t used with everything. It’s only used on surfaces of things that are meant to be kept still. Too much touching and handling will inevitably damage the paint. There are reasons why this happens.

Acrylic is a thick paint. Once applied and dried, it forms into a film-like layer on the object it was applied on. The film is soft, brittle, and inflexible.

But fabrics and clothes are flexible, and they’ll need to go through a lot of movement, which acrylic isn’t necessarily designed for.

Also, fabric fibers aren’t thick like acrylic’s composition. The fibers are thin, and the paint has to be similar in density to allow the threads to absorb the colors thoroughly.

But looking at the chemical composition and density of acrylic, it seems impractical to apply the color on fabric. There has to be a solution.

Fabric Medium

And the solution is this. Well, not the only solution, but one of the most commonly used ones out there.

What fabric medium does is it thins the acrylic’s density, makes it smoother and allows the final film layer to be flexible enough to be used on fabric.

The color, mixed with the medium, becomes thin enough to be absorbed by the fabric’s threads. That makes the color’s film layer safe enough to be handled.

How to Use Acrylic on Fabric

Let’s talk briefly about the painting process. You will find the process is pretty simple.

Step 1 – Fabric and Color Selection

You can choose any fabric as long as it’s plain and smooth. You already have the design planned in your mind and know which colors to use.

It’s a good idea to choose the fabric color that is suitable for the design’s color. If there’s a good contrast level, then the colors will pop a lot better than if it was otherwise.

Step 2 – Designing

Don’t start painting immediately. Create an outline of the final design with thin chalk. Make sure not to make thick lines since they will mess with your design’s borders later.

Once the layers are complete, start the actual painting process. There are no rules on which colors to use first or later. Choose whatever suits your mood. But one good rule to follow is to cover the large areas first and move on to the small areas later.

In this way, you’ll have an easier time understanding the overall design mapping on the fabric. But it’s just a recommendation. Everyone has his preference.

And that’s it. The process is simple, as previously said. You can heat apply the paint to create a stronger color bonding with the fabric. We’ll talk about it later in this guide.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Using Acrylic Color on Fabric

There are a few things that, if you follow, will make your acrylic paint project get much more value. The final product will be long-lasting and won’t get much damage from holding and handling.

Wash and Iron the Fabric First

It’s generally a good idea to wash a new fabric before making anything with it. Fabric shrinks, and if it happens after you’ve dried the acrylic film down, the post-wash creasing will break and disfigure the actual shape of the design.

Also, the fabric’s surface should be free of dirt. Even the smallest dirt particles could become visible after the painting is done.

So, better to clean the surface properly and start painting on a clean slate. Ironing is important too. It’ll make the surface smooth, and paints will have an easier time settling on the fabric.

Paint Drying and Testing

If it’s possible to do so, test the paint by using a very small amount of it on a small little piece of the fabric you’d like to apply the color on. Let it dry and once it feels crisp to the touch, check its flexibility and see if the paint seems to come off or not.

If everything seems fine, it’s probably a good sign to start working on your main project.

Drying time is also an important factor. Some paints take longer to dry than others. You shouldn’t hurry and take your time.

It may take a few hours, depending on the paint’s composition. But keep the fabric untouched, and don’t let it come in contact with water until it’s dried.

Acrylic is a water-based paint, so it’s always a good idea to wait for the color to dry before washing it. People follow various techniques to increase the paint’s longevity after it has dried. One of the best ways is to follow the heat application process.

The process sounds complicated but is quite simple. You’d take the colored fabric and put another dry fabric on top of that. Apply heat with an iron for some time. And that’s the whole process.

This procedure creates a barrier-like coating on the paint to help it absorb into the threads deeply while giving it another coating to protect the colors from liquids.

This process is, however, not the final step. It just increases the overall longevity. There are some other techniques you can follow too.

Washing Idea to Increase Paint’s Durability After Painting Is Complete

We’ve talked about some procedures that can be undertaken before and while going through the painting process. Let’s focus on one washing idea you can follow after the initial painting is complete. Think of it as a tip to follow while using the fabric on a day-to-day basis.

Try not to wash a fabric painted with acrylic by hand. Hand movements are generally rough and will reduce the paint’s lifespan by a landslide after each wash.

Cleaning it in the washing machine is fine as long as the speed is reduced to a slow cycle. Keep in mind, the less movement the fabric has to go through, the better.

How many times you wash and how often also play a big role in determining the lifetime of the paint.

Acrylic isn’t completely waterproof, though it may seem otherwise. Every time the paint goes through water, the bonding between its molecules weakens, making the film more brittle as time passes by.

Since washing is more like a vigorous movement for the threads of the fabric, it creates a lot of stretching between them, causing the film layer to stretch more. And the more it pulls, the more it loses its firm shape and becomes delicate.

If you choose to use dryers, don’t go for it: the less handling and movement the fabric has to go through, the better. You can let it dry outside, under sunlight and wind.

Learn more about acrylic paints:

Final Words

Whether can you use acrylic paint on fabric or not shouldn’t confuse you anymore. You have some good ideas now and know how to use the paint too. It’s true that acrylic isn’t designed for fabric use, and it might not be the best idea to use the hacky ways to apply the paint, whatsoever. But you know how to deal with that too.

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