Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric? Find Out How to Use

Fabric painting is a great way to show your creativity. You can customize clothes, textiles, upholstery, and so much more. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and easy way to add colors to fabric, consider acrylic paint along with others as well. Although it is known that acrylic is not the most ideal paint for applying on fabric, there are ways you can turn it into the best fabric paint too.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric

So, can you use acrylic paint on fabric?

Of course, you can use acrylic paint to paint your fabric. Usually, acrylic paint not going to stick to the material (fabric) for a long time. You need to prepare your fabric, use a medium with acrylic paint, and also you need to seal the paint by following the heat-seat process if you want a long-lasting result.

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about it to help you get started with your next project.

What Is Acrylic Paint?

It is a type of water-based paint composed of pigment particles dispersed in an emulsion of synthetic resins and textile fiber polymer.

The colors of this paint dry as a result of water evaporation when exposed to the atmosphere. Acrylic paint becomes resistant to water when dry. So you can wash them easily.

Sometimes also known as ‘watercolor,’ acrylic paints come in numerous different shades. You can use them on fabric to make amazing shapes and patterns.

However, there’s a kicker. This paint is not specifically made for painting on fabric. That’s why it makes the fabric stiffer after drying. This article will delve deep into how to avoid that through various tips and tricks.

Read Next: Guide on transferring photo into fabric without transfer paper

Factors to Consider Before Buying Acrylic Paint

While acrylic paint is a cheaper way to paint on fabric and clothes, there are some important factors you should look into before buying them in bulk.

Drying Time

Although they dry quite fast, you might want something that dries a little bit slower for painting on the fabric. So that if there is a mistake, you have time to wash it out.


You should also consider how easily the different colors of paint blend to give you a versatile finish.


It means the amount of saturation the paint shows you after it has dried. It is important because applying multiple layers of acrylic on a cloth makes it stiffer, and it doesn’t feel comfortable.


Look for low-viscosity paint since it helps make an even layer on the surface. It also helps the paint to retain its shine even after washing.

Does Acrylic Paint Stay on Fabric?

As I mentioned earlier, acrylic paints tend to make the cloth stiffer. However, dye or fabric paint doesn’t have this problem. Still, it is easy to use compared to other paints and quite cheap as well.

If you apply acrylic on any cloth or fabric, don’t worry too much. It will work on the surface and stay there. But the problem is, though it will stick on the fabric initially, after a couple of washing in the machine, you’ll notice cracks and crumbles on the paint.

That’s why using regular fabric paint is an easier option since acrylic is not considered a permanent solution for painting.

Difference Between Fabric Paint and Acrylic Paint

There are some major differences between acrylic and fabric paint. For one, fabric paint is thinner than acrylic. So, you need fabric thinner to help thin the acrylic paint. Thinning the acrylic paint with a thinner gives it the property to be used properly on fabric surfaces.

Another important distinction is that, since acrylic is a water-based paint, upon drying, it causes chipping and prickling sensations on the body. On the other hand, fabric paint chips less often and feels smoother on the body.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

Typically, acrylic paints are one of the perfect choices for painting fabric. But for the best result, make sure to prepare your items before painting. Also, use a medium with acrylic paint, and then heat-seat.

Acrylics are ideal options for many fabric painting projects: such as fabric shoe painting, pillow painting, t-shirt painting, and more.

How to Paint Fabric with Acrylic Paint: Step-by-Step Guide

Follow the steps below for painting the fabric with acrylic like a pro.

How to paint fabric with acrylic paint

Step 1 – Select Your Fabric

Without a suitable fabric, the paint won’t be able to be set properly. It is better to choose natural than synthetic fibers for the paint job. Silk or cotton typically produces the best colors since they have a tight weave. The fabric should also have a plain shade so that the paint can shine and pop.

Step 2 – Wash

Before painting the fabric, it is necessary to wash it as well since it will make sure the fabric won’t shrink or change its shape after you’ve painted on it. This will destroy the paint job after the first wash.

A good washing before will help the acrylic stick to the fabric better, keeping the acrylic paint design longer.

Step 3 – Iron It

When you’ve washed it, there will be wrinkles on the fabric. Ironing will remove those wrinkles making the surface smoother and more manageable. Trust us; you don’t want to paint on a wrinkled fabric. You’ll just be wasting your time and effort.

Step 4 – Protect Your Workplace and the Fabric

It is necessary to take sufficient precautions to protect your workspace, the surface, your clothing, and, most importantly, the fabric itself. Since you’re working with paint and wet things, keeping stuff clean and dry as much as possible makes the process more accessible and easy.

Make sure to cover the surface or the table you’re working on. Put on your old clothes as well. Washing off acrylic when it is still wet is easy. But when it dries, it is almost impossible to remove the stain.

If you’re working on a thin fabric like a T-shirt or socks, put something between the layers of the cloth like a sheet of cardboard. This will prevent the color from bleeding and ruining the cloth.

Step 5 – Plan a Design

Remember, painting on fabric, or any kind of painting, for that matter, are work of art. And nothing becomes proper art if it has too many mistakes in it. You don’t want to make mistakes and redo the painting again and again. Instead, plan ahead so that the design becomes smooth and consumes less of your time.

Outline your design with chalk, pencil, or painter’s tape. You can even keep a photo for reference in front and look at it from time to time. Don’t make your mistakes permanent by imprinting them on the fabric.

Step 6 – Prepare the Paint

Now that you’ve planned the design, you have a pretty good idea of what shades and colors of paint you want and how much of it. So start preparing the paint and mix them until the colors are even without any lumps. If you don’t mix the paint evenly, the color won’t come out very nicely.

Step 7 – Practice It Out

This is coupled with the planning step. After you’ve planned the design and outlined it, it is a good idea to practice it on a small area of the fabric. This way you’ll know how to stroke the brush.

Also, try washing that practice paint while still wet. And see how they turn out when dry. You can become extra careful if you find out it is tough to wash a mistake. Besides, dried paint will also give you an idea of how the final product will look.

Step 8 – Layer Painting

This is where the fun begins. A painter will know that filling the background with paint always brings out the best in a design. Use a paintbrush and start filling the background. Don’t paint another layer on top of one till it dries.

Some people love to draw patterns with printing blocks. The best way to do this is to use the block as a stamp and a paint-soaked sponge as the pad. Just press the block on the sponge and stamp.

Step 9 – Dry the Paint

Give each layer of the paint plenty of time to dry before applying the next layer for the best result. After finishing the task, let the fabric dry completely for at least a day, even if it seems dry to the touch.

How to Heat Set Acrylic Paint on Fabric?

Acrylic paint on clothes can be made to stay there permanently, but this will require some extra work. The paint will not last that long by itself, especially if you need to wash the fabric regularly.

How to Heat Set Acrylic Paint on Fabric

That’s why, when you’re done painting the fabric, you’ll have to go a bit further. You’ll need to seal the paint with a process known as heat setting.

Heat setting is a method where heat is applied to the painted fabric to ensure that the paint gets absorbed by the fibers properly, resulting in a long-lasting paint job. The process is very easy to do.

Step 1 – Waiting to Dry

First, make sure that the paint has been completely dried. Trying to heat set it soon after the project will ruin the paint. Take at least a full day to dry the paint before trying to heat set it.

Step 2 – Apply the Heat

This is a fairly easy process. It is almost the same as ironing any cloth to remove the creases, it only takes longer.

Before ironing, make sure the steam setting is switched off, and the water container is empty. Because you need to only dry heat the paint for it to set properly and steam setting will ruin it.

Now, it is recommended to put a piece of scrap cloth between the painted fabric and the hot iron. You can also iron on the other side of the painted fabric. This also works fine. Any one of the two tips will ensure the garment won’t burn since it will be ironed on medium to high heat for 3-5 minutes.

Continuously move the iron all over the fabric since you don’t want it to burn. Once you’re done heating the fabric by following all the directions properly, your painting project is complete.

An additional tip: once you’ve heat set the paint, wait at least 5 days up to a week before washing it again.

How to Make Acrylic Paint Stay on Fabric & Clothes?

Applying acrylic paint to fabric is a challenging task and takes preparation and practice. Although acrylic isn’t the best option for paints to apply on a fabric surface, it still sticks to it quite permanently. But the only drawback is, it tends to show cracks after a few washes.

There are a few easy tips to reduce or completely avoid the cracking of the paint on clothing.

Add Medium

The first trick is applied while mixing the paint. You need to add fabric medium with acrylic paint to thin the paint and make it more suitable for the fabric. It softens and also helps the fabric absorb the paint more.


The second trick is to let the paint get dry, taking a long time. Although acrylic paints seem to take little time to dry, they don’t for a few hours. If you can wait for a day to let it dry properly, the possibility of cracks will reduce a lot.

Heat Set

Thirdly, apply heat to the fabric after the paint has dried completely, adding a protective layer to the paint and finally sealing the paint on the surface permanently.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric Without Medium?

If we know what the fabric medium is and how it works, maybe we can do something else instead of adding it to the paint to get almost the same result.

So, What Exactly is Fabric Medium?

The fabric medium is a type of acrylic polymer liquid with no pigments. Since acrylic paint is thick and wasn’t specifically created for application on fabric, it needs to be mixed with medium to make it more usable.

As you know, the acrylic hardens when it gets dry. Thus flakes and cracks show up on the fabric after a few washes. Besides, acrylic paint is also too thick, and applying many layers of it on the cloth can make you feel itchy and uncomfortable.

When you mix medium with the paint, it dilutes and makes it thinner. It brings the paint to the required consistency, and applying it on fabric becomes as easy as fabric paint itself.

Fabric medium helps the acrylic paint gets absorbed into the fabric more and makes it long-lasting. You don’t have to worry about it cracking or flaking after washing it. Besides, it also gives the paint a soft feel.

Painting Without Fabric Medium

If you’re not comfortable using fabric medium with acrylic paint, there is an alternative way. It will not provide the same result as the medium but will be somewhat satisfactory.

However, don’t use this method if you’re going to paint on wearable clothes like T-shirts, shorts, or socks.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric Without Medium

Since we’re avoiding the medium, it will make the paint stiff and the cloth uncomfortable to wear. But for fabrics you want to hang up like a canvas, then this isn’t much of an issue.

Now, follow the tips below to apply acrylic paint on fabric without using any medium whatsoever.

Tip 1 – Make the Fabric Surface a Little Abrasive

You can use sandpaper for this task or any other mild abrasive. This is needed to gently roughen up the fabric so that it improves the paint’s adhesive capability. Better choose a thick and durable fabric for this process.

Tip 2 – Make the Fabric Wet

This is a wonderful trick. Before applying the paint, try to wet the fabric surface a little bit with water. Use a water sprayer bottle and lightly spray over the painting surface. The moisture of the water will help the paint to get absorbed into the fabric more evenly with this.

Tip 3 – Thin the Paint with Water

While mixing the paint, use water instead of the medium to make it thinner. Mix the solution well. This will also help the paint to set on the fabric better. For a better result, mix glycerol with water in a ratio of 1:5. But since glycerol is toxic, keep it out of the reach of children.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to soften acrylic paint on fabric?

Regular acrylic paint makes the fabric stiff. So add fabric medium to the paint to make it smoother and softer.

Can I wash off acrylic paint from the fabric?

Acrylic paint can be washed off the fabric as long as it is sufficiently raw and wet. But once it has dried, removing it simply by washing it with water is almost impossible.

How to turn acrylic paint into fabric paint?

The most popular method of turning acrylic paint into fabric paint is by thinning. This thinning is done with the help of a medium. Simply mix 2 parts of acrylic paint with 1 part of fabric medium to make the paint thinner.

Final Words

There you have it! An in-depth discussion about everything you need to know regarding whether Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric.

Honestly, nothing can come close to the customizability and versatility of acrylic paint. But applying it on fabric will require the usage of fabric medium to make it smoother and last longer.

Hi, I'm Robert Jameson. I'm a textile engineer. As a textile engineer, I design & create fabric. When I'm not busy with my family members, I research, write, and edit content for Fabric Fits.

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