How to Choose the Best Fabric Paint for Your Project

An expert crafter gives her tips.

fabric paint
Carrie Walker
Amazon
DecoArt Fabric Acrylics Paint
DecoArt amazon.com
$4.66

If there’s one tool that Carrie Waller reaches for again and again, it’s her fabric pen.

“I’m constantly looking for ways to quickly and inexpensively update the look of things around my house so that I can save my décor budget for bigger renovations down the line,” Waller says. “With that in mind, fabric paint is my go-to inside my crafting closet.”

Waller turns to fabric paint when she wants to add a pattern to an upholstered item or create a canvas wall hanging “when the mood strikes.” She also reaches for one when she’s looking to embellish a simple t-shirt with a personalization, too—just like she did as a child. “I’ve been using them since I was at art camp,” she continues.

But for those of us who don’t have as much experience working with fabric paint, it may be overwhelming to choose from the range of available options, seeing as fabric paints can line aisles at stores. Here, Waller demystifies it all, so you know exactly what to buy for your next project.

What to Know Before You Get Started

It’s usually best to use acrylic fabric paint. Fabric paint, which are also known as textile paint, is most commonly made from an acrylic polymer. This acrylic, which is bonded with a color and then emulsified, makes the paint durable against routine use, multiple washes, and sunlight. While alcohol-based options exist, their finishes will be lighter and more porous than acrylic.

Take note of the fabric paint’s transparency and consistency. Depending on your project, you’ll want to figure out how opaque or transparent you’d like the paint to be, as well as how thick or thin. Darker fabrics usually need a more opaque paint, and most furniture pieces need a thicker finish.

Use liquid fabric paint for larger surfaces. If you’re looking to paint a wide surface, look for liquid fabric paint in its acrylic form. This paint can saturate a large area with various finishes, making it ideal for covering big art canvases and furniture pieces.

Opt for fabric markers for a more detailed approach. Fabric markers will give you more control over painting a specific area, which is why they’re best for clothing and smaller designs on canvases.

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Carrie Walker

Try “puff” paint for a three-dimensional look. This paint dries with a raised finish, making it a fun option to try with kids. As with all fabric paints, test out your design before committing it to a final surface—sometimes it’s tough to know how puff paint will look once it has dried.

You’ll need to set the fabric paint with heat. In order for the paint to set permanently into the fabric, it has to be set with heat. Check ahead of time that the fabric you’re using can be treated with heat, since this step ensures that your design will last much longer than without it.


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Make your own graphic tee. “One of my favorite ways to customize a plain T-shirt with fabric paint is to use stencils to spell out a clever saying,” Waller says. “Graphic quote T-shirts seem to be so expensive these days, but it costs next to nothing to make your own.”

Personalize an ottoman. “Have you ever spotted a patterned, tufted ottoman at a high-end furniture store, and wished you could afford it? This used to happen to me all the time, until I realized I could get the look with fabric paint,” she continues. “Now, I keep an eye out for solid-colored ottomans at second hand shops, and then I paint my own design on the fabric using fabric paint. That way I have full control over the color palette, and I'm able to breathe new life into a piece of old furniture that other people probably wouldn't have looked at twice.”

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