How to paint on fabric

How to paint on fabric

Cotton canvas and art paper are the two most popular materials for painting on, but have you ever considered painting on fabric? Mastering fabric painting gives you the ability to paint straight onto canvas bags, shoes and your clothing, allowing you to fully customise your look with bright colours and gorgeous designs. You can use plain acrylic paint on fabric, but did you know there are purposely-made fabric paints you can use for painting on fabric?

At Spotlight we have a fantastic range of specialty paints perfect for use on fabric, but painting on fabric is a little different to painting on paper or canvas! Let us guide you on everything you need to know about how to paint fabric, including what kinds of fabric you can paint on, how to paint on fabric and what you need to do to seal your paint afterwards.

Quick Links

What is fabric paint?

What exactly is fabric paint and how does it differ from other paints on the market like acrylic, oil paint and watercolour paint? Out of all your normal paints, fabric paint is the closest to acrylic paint, with similar pigments and binding agents used. Fabric paint comes in a wide variety of colours and is easy to use straight from the tube - simply paint it straight into your fabric, no extra mediums required! Fabric paint soaks into the fibres of your material, bonding permanently while keeping your fabric soft and flexible.

Fabric you can paint on is easy to find, as natural materials like cotton are best for using fabric paint on. Fabric paint will not be able to sink into the fibres of synthetic materials, so it is not ideal for use on synthetic fabrics that will be worn and washed.

Can acrylic paint be used on fabric?

If you have acrylic paints at home, you may be wondering 'can acrylic paint be used on fabric?'. The short answer is it is possible to paint directly onto fabric with them. However, acrylic paint reacts a little differently to specialised fabric paint when used on clothing in the following ways:

  • Dries hard - because acrylic paint doesn't soak into the fibres of your fabric like fabric paint, it will dry hard to the touch on the surface of your material.
  • Wide uses - acrylic paint can be used effectively on both natural and synthetic fabrics.
  • Cracks with movement - because it dries so hard, dried acrylic paint will crack if the material it is on is bent or folded.
  • Dries colourful - because it sits on the surface of the fabric instead of spreading into the fibres, acrylic paint will dry bright and bold on your chosen material.

Acrylic paint is best used for materials you won't be wearing or washing, like a wall hanging or a decorative cushion.

What kinds of fabric paint can I find at Spotlight?

If you've decided to go with fabric paint for your project, we have many different kinds of specialised fabric paint for you to choose from. Here are just some of our favourites:

  • Glow in the dark - perfect for wearing to nighttime events like festivals and markets, glow in the dark fabric paint will make your painted design glow when briefly charged with UV light. Kids will also love having some glow in the dark designs in their room at night - try adding some to bedroom curtains and blankets for bedtime fun!
  • Puffy - designs painted with this paint will 'puff up' once dry, creating a soft and airy texture you'll love to squish! This is great for writing in, as it creates some depth to the lettering and any linework it's used for.
  • Crystal and glitter - if you want some sparkle on your materials, try using some glitter or crystal fabric paint! They're a great way to add a few points of extra interest to any design and are wonderful for decorating things like school book bags and backpacks.
  • Metallic - the classy and bold shine of metallics makes them a favourite for adding to your fabrics! A bit of metallic edging on a cushion, bag or even on a pair of canvas shoes is sure to look fabulous.
  • Soft - soft fabric paint is what you will be using for the bulk of your painting, as it dries flat and soft against the fabric.

If you're wondering how to use fabric paint, then don't stress - all of these paints can be used like regular acrylic straight from the tube. Just remember that soft paint should be used for large amounts of colour, and the rest are used for creating details.

How to paint on fabric permanently

When learning how to paint on fabric, there are a few steps you should always take, no matter what it is you are painting. Hows how to use fabric paint in a few simple steps for two popular fabric paint recipients - a t-shirt and canvas shoes!

Painting on a fabric t-shirt

  1. Lay down some protective newspaper and then place your t-shirt down flat on top.
  2. Place a piece of cardboard inside the shirt that backs the entire area you plan to paint on. This will stop paint from leeching through to the back of the shirt.
  3. Use your chosen fabric paint to create your design.
  4. Let the paint dry. Depending on the paint type, you may need to set the paint with heat, like with a hairdryer.
  5. After around four hours, your shirt is ready to wear!

Painting on fabric shoes

  1. Tape off any areas of the shoe you don't want to get paint on (the base edging, heels etc). Place some rolled-up newspaper in the shoe so you have a sturdy surface to paint on.
  2. Lightly trace your design on the shoe with an HB pencil.
  3. Get painting!
  4. You may like to apply a protective layer, like a fixative spray, over your shoes if you'll be wearing them a lot.
  5. Once your shoes have dried, enjoy wearing your custom design around town!
Painting On Fabric Shoes

Fabric painting tips and tricks

Before you launch into fabric painting, here are some handy tips and tricks you need to keep in mind along the way:

  • Wash any clothing you want to paint before starting. This way if your clothing shrinks in the wash, it won't ruin your designs!
  • Iron your materials if possible before painting so you have a perfectly flat surface to work on.
  • A slightly dampened fabric will take and spread paint better than dry fabric. But make sure it's only slightly damp - too wet and your paint will go all over the place!
  • Faster work = smoother lines. If your linework looks wriggly, move faster over the surface for a more professional look.
  • Wash materials with fabric paint inside out on a warm, gentle cycle. Line dry and only ever iron on the reverse side, never on the paint itself, especially on detail paint.
  • Wait 72 hours before washing to ensure your colours have fully set into the fabric.

How to seal paint on fabric

While most fabric paints are quite hardy once they've dried, some will fade slightly after a few years and many washes. If you're looking for how to paint on fabric permanently, consider using a special sealer or fabric paint medium.

If you want to seal the paint, you can find fabric sealers at speciality art stores that will do the job nicely. Follow the instructions on your specific sealer to make sure you are protecting your design in the best way possible.

Clear fabric medium can also be used - simply paint it over your dried design and let the medium bond with your paint and fabric for an extra layer of protection.

While these are designed for use with fabric paint, if you are looking for how to seal acrylic paint on fabric, you can follow the steps above - just make sure any mediums or sealers you buy can work for plain acrylic paint as well.

Overall, don't stress too much about how to seal paint on fabric - most specialised fabric paints hold up very well over the years, and will only experience a tiny bit of fading if cared for properly!

How to remove acrylic paint from fabric

If you get paint where you're not supposed to, there are a few different ways to remove it.

Because fabric paints are designed to be permanent through washes, they are very tricky to remove while wet! If you have spilled a little detail paint (like puffy or crystal fabric paint), you can wait till it dries and then try peel it off.

If you have spilled soft paint, dab at the paint with paper towel to get off as much as possible. Don't scrub at it, as this will mash the paint into the fibres of your fabric. Then run the stain under cold water with some detergent, and if there is still some paint leftover, pop it into your washing machine and run a cold wash.

How to remove acrylic paint from fabric isn't too dissimilar from removing fabric paint. If you have spilled acrylic paint and it's still wet, follow the above steps for wet fabric paint. It should come off easier, as acrylic paint won't penetrate the fibres of your material like fabric paint will.

If acrylic paint has dried on your clothing where you don't want it, try soaking the stain in some isopropyl alcohol and then scraping away the paint. You can also use alcohol wipes for this, but either way, make sure to test the alcohol on a small corner of the clothing first to make sure there aren't any adverse reactions with your fabric, like discolouration.

Remove Paint From Fabric

Find quality fabric paints at Spotlight

If you've got the itch to decorate some clothing, fabric bags or canvas shoes, you can find the perfect paints right here at Spotlight. Make your purchase online and you can choose from click and collect or home delivery for your paints. Otherwise, visit your nearest Spotlight store and our lovely team will help you find the right fabric paints for your project!

Ready to start painting on fabric? Have a go at this fabric paint tote bag project, or check out our create blog for more great ideas and inspiration!




Get VIP discounts, attend exclusive events and more