If you are an artist or DIY crafter, acrylic paints can be a great medium to work with due to their versatility and accessibility.
Most artists will test their acrylic painting skills on canvases, wood, metal, and other common materials, but what about painting on fabric? Can acrylic paint stick to the fabric? The answer is not so simple, and it depends on a wide variety of factors.
Acrylic paint is often used on fabrics and will stick under the right circumstances. Because this medium is water-soluble and made of synthetic polymer, it can easily wash off when still wet, but once dry, it can withstand multiple washes and wear on fabrics. Still, acrylic paint’s chemical make-up can lead to cracking and other issues if misused.
Unlike other art mediums, acrylic paint on fabric isn’t as straightforward as most artists and craftsmen think. This is why we have dedicated this article to using acrylic paint on fabric and will cover common issues and questions on the topic.
We’ll discuss how acrylic paint usually works on fabrics, how you can ensure its longevity of fabrics, and other helpful tips you’ll want to know.
Is Acrylic Paint a Good Medium for Fabric?
Every artistic medium has its threshold of versatility, and some are undoubtedly better on certain materials than others. For instance, oil-based paints and pastels work particularly well on paper, wood, and even glass.
So, is acrylic paint a good medium for fabric?
Acrylic paint is also known as textile paint for its popular use on clothing, blankets, and other fabrics. It is often the optimal choice for this painting because it can withstand numerous washes and regular use without significantly affecting the color’s vibrancy or adherence to the fabric.
However, if you intend to use acrylic paint, we recommend using a specified acrylic fabric paint.
These paints will function very similarly to regular acrylic paints, but they are intentionally designed to be used on fabrics, especially worn and used.
Other types of acrylic paint will still work well on fabrics, but you’ll have to do a little more with them to ensure their longevity.
Will Acrylic Paint Wash Off Clothes?
Undoubtedly the most common fabric acrylic paint is used on is clothing. The most common concern artists have when using this medium is if all of their beautiful hard work will wash off when first exposed to water or after multiple washes.
Whether acrylic paint will wash off clothes depends on whether it is wet or dry when washed and if the acrylic paint was mixed with another medium or used alone. If the paint is wet, it will dissolve in water upon its first wash. But, if you wait to wash your clothes until the paint is dry, then the acrylic paint should be unaffected.
Acrylic paint washes off clothes when wet because it is made of pigments suspended in an acrylic polymer solution.
This makes the medium water-soluble when wet, which means it will dissolve easily in water. Therefore, if you make a mistake on the fabric using acrylic paint, the easiest way to remove it is to get it wet.
However, once acrylic paint has enough time to dry completely, it becomes more resilient and water-resistant, so you can wash your clothing as many times as you please without fear of your acrylic masterpiece washing out.
Will Acrylic Paint Crack on Clothes?
Unfortunately, acrylic paint washing off clothes isn’t the only or even the most common issue when using this medium on these fabrics. In fact, you’re more likely to experience cracking with your acrylic paint than its colors fading or washing away.
The acrylic polymer within acrylic paint is bonded with a color and then emulsified, rendering this medium one of the most durable against routine use, multiple washes, and sunlight. As a result, it is often the first choice for painting on clothing.
However, the material make-up of acrylic paint isn’t as flexible as other mediums. As a result, it can have a hard time spreading on fabrics, and the hardness and thickness of the paint might lead to cracking and peeling later on.
This happens most frequently if you’ve used a high viscosity acrylic paint, like a heavy body acrylic paint, and applied it in layers.
Even if your paint holds up in the wash, you might find it crumbling off of your clothing over time, or it might make your clothing fabric stiff and uncomfortable to wear.
The best way to prevent this is to choose the best acrylic paint for your clothes and pair it with an appropriate fabric.
Additionally, if you aren’t using acrylic fabric paint, you’ll have better results mixing 1 part fabric medium with two parts acrylic paint, so it can withstand the frequent wear and washing that comes with clothing.
Does Fabric Matter?
When people decide to use acrylic paint on fabric, they already have the fabric picked out ahead of time and need to acquire the paint and tools necessary to get started. Very few people stop to consider if the fabric they intend to use is good for acrylic paints.
Your choice of fabric is critical when using acrylic paints. Ideally, you’ll want to use a tightly or finely woven fabric and washed before applying your acrylic paint. Most artists will consistently recommend 100% tight weave cotton as the fabric of choice for acrylic painting.
Although that wool sweater might be cute with some pops of color from your acrylic paints, it isn’t the ideal fabric for such artistic endeavors.
A loosely woven fabric gives your acrylic paint more space to seep through the threads before it dries. As a result, it’s harder to get clean lines and even saturation for ideal results.
The best fabrics for acrylic paint are tightly woven, such as cotton, silk, and rayon. These fabrics also tend to be extremely smooth, which makes the painting and application process easier.
Pre-washing your fabric is another important element because it allows the material to shrink if this occurs.
If you paint a fabric first and it shrinks in the wash later, the acrylic paint is more likely to chip off because it isn’t adhering to the fabric’s threads the same way.
Washing the fabric in advance also removes any chemicals on the fabric from the manufacturer that could prevent the paint from properly adhering to the material.
Therefore, while the paint of choice is important when painting fabric, it is only half of the equation. Choosing the right fabric and preparing it properly is just as important to your artistic success.
What Type of Acrylic Paint is Best for Fabric?
The short and sweet answer to this question is that acrylic fabric paint is always best for painting any fabric, including clothing.
However, if you prefer more professional-grade acrylic paints for your fabric artistry, you might prefer to mix your acrylic paint with a fabric medium for the best results.
If this is the case, you’ll want to make sure you choose the right type of acrylic paint with an appropriate viscosity, so it is easy to work with on fabrics and has the best chance of longevity and creating your artistic vision.
There are ultimately four categories of acrylic paint:
- Heavy body acrylic paint
- Soft/fluid body acrylic paint
Each of these categories varies widely in characteristics such as viscosity, vibrancy, and texture. To help you choose the best option for your fabric painting, we’ve briefly described each of the four acrylic paints below and which ones we recommend.
Heavy Body Acrylic Paint
In terms of viscosity, this is the thickest option you can choose, as it was designed to resemble the consistency of oil paint closely.
Heavy body acrylic paint thickness allows artists to apply it using a pallet knife and create thick, voluminous peaks on any material.
Because heavy body acrylic paint is so thick, it has very little texture, so it is primarily used to cover an area with one layer or create more three-dimensional art. It also has more texture than soft/fluid body acrylic paint, which might be preferable to some artists.
As far as fabric painting goes, we would recommend avoiding this type entirely. It might work well for covering a small area in one smooth layer, but you can achieve the same thing with a soft/fluid body acrylic with a significantly lower risk of future cracking.
Soft/Fluid Body Acrylic Paint
This option is a nice step below heavy body acrylic paint and is more appropriate for fabric painting. Ideally, you would use a soft/fluid body acrylic paint to cover a wide area on any fabric evenly and smoothly without the need to apply numerous layers on top (thickness and layers are the biggest risks to your paint cracking).
Comparatively, soft/fluid body acrylic paint has a creamier consistency, thicker than ink but thinner than the heavy body.
It has less texture than the other options, but it is definitely easier to apply and work with on fabric than a heavy body and has a better chance of longevity.
Ink Acrylic Paint
Apart from soft/fluid body acrylic paint, ink is the ideal choice for fabric painting and provides a wide range of artistic options due to its versatility.
This paint type has a watercolor-like consistency, so it is a very thin liquid you would usually apply with a brush or even a dip pen if this is your preferred tool.
If you’re looking for really bold colors and complete coverage, ink acrylic paint wouldn’t be your first choice. You’re better off choosing one of the previously mentioned options with a higher viscosity.
However, this is the best option if you want your paint to have a thinner coverage that resembles watercolor art, or you intend to draw on top of the paint using a pen or fabric marker.
Ink acrylic paint can also be placed in an airbrush if you want to airbrush your clothing or other fabrics rather than using a paintbrush.
So, you have a significant number of artistic options with this paint type over others, and it lends itself exceptionally well to fabric painting.
Student-Grade Acrylic Paint
All of the aforementioned paints are considered professional-grade acrylic paints, meaning they are made with higher-quality materials and therefore more expensive.
If you are painting T-shirts or some other fabric-related craft meant for kids or a classroom, you’ll probably want to opt for a student-grade acrylic paint.
These are a great budget-friendly option that will have a viscosity similar to a heavy body or soft/fluid body acrylic paint, depending on your purchase.
The only significant visible difference between student-grade paints and more professional paints is the pigmentation.
You’ll find that professional paints are much more vibrant with higher pigmentation or color intensity versus student-grade.
These paints tend to seem a little duller or washed out, but if the fabric painting is just for a simple craft, you’re better off using this cheaper option than buying really expensive professional paints.
Using acrylic paints on fabric can be tricky at first, and you might find your paint constantly chips off over time or even washes out if the paint hadn’t dried beforehand.
The trick to creating beautiful works of acrylic art on fabric is to practice.
Always make sure you have used the proper paints on tightly woven fabrics, like silk or cotton, and pre-wash the fabric to prevent future shrinking and remove problematic chemicals.
When in doubt, opt for a fabric-specific acrylic paint or mix your acrylic paint of choice with a fabric medium so it has a better chance of sticking and remaining on any fabric. In time, you’ll be able to create and re-create acrylic masterpieces on fabric without issue.