Can You Use Tempera Paint On Fabric? A Detailed Guide

Painting fabric opens up a world of creative possibilities. Whether you want to make a unique piece of clothing, decorate a tote bag, or customize a pair of shoes, using the right type of paint is crucial for getting great results.

If you’re wondering if you can use tempera paint on fabric, read on for a comprehensive answer.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, you can use tempera paint on fabric under certain conditions. It works best on natural fabrics like cotton and needs special preparation first. The tempera paint may not be fully washable or permanent without taking extra steps.

What is Tempera Paint?

Tempera paint is a type of paint that has been used for centuries for various art projects. It is known for its vibrant colors and smooth finish.

Made from pigments suspended in an emulsion binder

Tempera paint is made by suspending pigments in an emulsion binder. This binder helps to hold the pigments together and allows them to be spread easily on a surface. The emulsion binder used in tempera paint can vary, but it is typically a combination of water, oil, and a binding agent such as gum arabic or egg yolk.

Water-soluble, so it thins with water

One of the unique characteristics of tempera paint is that it is water-soluble. This means that it can be easily thinned or cleaned up with water. Artists can adjust the consistency of the paint by adding water to achieve different effects and create different textures.

The water-solubility of tempera paint also makes it easy to clean brushes and other tools used in painting.

Traditionally uses egg yolks as the binder

In traditional tempera paint, egg yolks are often used as the binder. The protein in egg yolks helps to hold the pigments together and create a durable paint film. This traditional method of making tempera paint has been used since ancient times and is still used by some artists today.

However, there are also modern versions of tempera paint that use synthetic binders instead of egg yolks.

Benefits of Using Tempera Paint on Fabric

Very versatile – works on many fabric types

One of the greatest benefits of using tempera paint on fabric is its versatility. Whether you’re working with cotton, polyester, or even silk, tempera paint can adhere to a wide range of fabric types. This means that you can use tempera paint on t-shirts, canvas bags, pillowcases, and more!

Dries quickly

Another advantage of using tempera paint on fabric is its quick drying time. Unlike other types of paint, tempera paint dries rapidly, allowing you to complete your project in no time. This is especially beneficial if you’re working on a time-sensitive project or if you simply don’t want to wait for the paint to dry.

Non-toxic and safe

Tempera paint is known for its non-toxic and safe nature, making it an excellent choice for fabric painting, especially when working with children. You don’t have to worry about harmful fumes or chemicals while using tempera paint on fabric.

This makes it a great option for both professional artists and DIY enthusiasts.

Easily removable if mistakes are made

Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to art. The good news is that if you make a mistake while using tempera paint on fabric, it’s easily removable. Simply wash the fabric with mild soap and water, and the paint will come off.

This allows you to correct any errors or start fresh without any hassle.

Provides opacity and coverage

When it comes to fabric painting, opacity and coverage are crucial factors. Tempera paint provides excellent opacity, meaning that the color will show up vibrantly on the fabric. It also offers great coverage, ensuring that the paint evenly coats the fabric surface.

This allows for bold and vibrant designs on your fabric projects.

Variety of colors available

Tempera paint comes in a wide variety of colors, allowing you to unleash your creativity and experiment with different shades. Whether you’re looking for bold and bright colors or subtle pastels, there is a tempera paint color to suit your needs.

You can easily mix colors to create custom shades, making your fabric projects truly unique.

Using tempera paint on fabric has numerous benefits, from its versatility and quick drying time to its non-toxic nature and easy removability. With its excellent opacity and coverage, as well as a wide range of available colors, tempera paint is a fantastic choice for all your fabric painting projects.

What Kinds of Fabric Work Best?

When it comes to using tempera paint on fabric, not all fabrics are created equal. Some fabrics are more suitable for this type of paint, while others may not provide the desired results. Here are some fabric types that work best when using tempera paint:

Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk

Natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, and silk are great options for using tempera paint. These fabrics have a porous surface that allows the paint to adhere well and create vibrant colors. The smooth texture of silk, in particular, can result in a beautiful and soft finish.

When using tempera paint on natural fabrics, it is important to pre-wash and dry the fabric to remove any sizing or chemicals that may interfere with the paint’s adhesion.

Canvas, burlap – open weave fabrics

Open weave fabrics like canvas and burlap are also suitable for tempera paint. These fabrics have a looser weave, allowing the paint to seep into the fibers and create a more textured look. Canvas, in particular, is commonly used for painting and is known for its durability.

When using tempera paint on canvas or burlap, it is recommended to apply a layer of gesso or fabric medium to ensure better adhesion and longevity of the paint.

Avoid fabrics like polyester, nylon, spandex

On the other hand, fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex are not ideal for using tempera paint. These synthetic fabrics have a smooth and non-porous surface, which makes it difficult for the paint to adhere properly.

The paint may crack or peel off easily on these fabrics, leading to unsatisfactory results. If you still want to experiment with tempera paint on synthetic fabrics, it is recommended to mix it with fabric medium or use heat-setting techniques to enhance the paint’s adhesion.

For more information on fabric types and their suitability for tempera paint, you can visit They provide in-depth guides and resources for artists working with various painting techniques on fabric.

How to Prepare the Fabric

Before using tempera paint on fabric, it is important to properly prepare the fabric to ensure the best results. Here are some steps you can follow:

Wash and dry fabric first to preshrink

Before starting any painting project on fabric, it is recommended to wash and dry the fabric first. This helps to remove any sizing or chemicals that might be present on the fabric. Additionally, prewashing the fabric can also help to preshrink it, preventing any unwanted shrinkage after painting.

Iron smooth

Once the fabric is washed and dried, it is important to iron it to remove any wrinkles or creases. This will provide a smooth surface for painting and ensure that the paint adheres evenly to the fabric.

For washable results, use fabric medium or primer

If you want your painted fabric to be washable and have better durability, it is recommended to mix fabric medium or primer with your tempera paint. Fabric medium or primer helps to bind the paint to the fabric fibers, making it more resistant to washing and fading.

You can find fabric medium or primer at your local art supply store or online.

For canvas – rub down with fine sandpaper

If you are painting on canvas fabric, it is advisable to lightly rub down the surface with fine sandpaper before painting. This helps to create a slightly rougher texture on the fabric, which can improve the adhesion of the paint.

Cover work surface with plastic sheeting or newspaper

Lastly, it is important to protect your work surface from any potential paint spills or splatters. You can cover your work area with plastic sheeting or newspaper to prevent any damage to your surfaces. This also makes it easier to clean up any mess afterwards.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your fabric is properly prepared for using tempera paint. Remember to always read and follow the instructions provided by the paint manufacturer for the best results.

Tips for Applying Tempera Paint

Work in thin layers, allowing to dry between coats

When using tempera paint on fabric, it is important to work in thin layers. This allows the paint to dry evenly and prevents it from cracking or flaking off. Applying thick layers of paint can cause the fabric to become stiff and uncomfortable to wear.

To achieve a smooth and even application, apply a thin layer of paint and allow it to dry completely before adding another coat.

Use soft bristle brushes made for acrylic/tempera

Using the right type of brush can make a big difference when applying tempera paint to fabric. Soft bristle brushes, specifically designed for acrylic or tempera paint, are best suited for this task. These brushes allow you to easily spread the paint onto the fabric without causing any damage or leaving behind brush marks.

They also help in achieving a more precise and controlled application.

Start with lighter colors first

When working with tempera paint on fabric, it is recommended to start with lighter colors first. Lighter colors tend to be more forgiving, as mistakes or imperfections are less noticeable. By starting with lighter shades, you can get a feel for the paint and the fabric, allowing you to make any necessary adjustments before moving on to darker or more vibrant colors.

Blend colors while still wet for smooth transitions

To create smooth transitions between different colors on fabric, it is best to blend the colors while they are still wet. This allows the paints to mix together seamlessly, resulting in a more natural and visually appealing effect.

Using a clean brush, gently blend the edges where two colors meet to create a smooth gradient. This technique works particularly well for creating shading or highlighting effects.

Finish with any dark accent colors

After you have applied all the desired colors to your fabric, you can add any dark accent colors as a finishing touch. Dark colors can help enhance the overall design and add depth to your artwork. Use a small brush to carefully apply the dark accent colors to specific areas of the fabric, such as outlines or shadows.

This will help bring your design to life and make it more visually captivating.

Setting the Paint for Washability

When using tempera paint on fabric, it is important to take proper steps to ensure the paint adheres well and remains washable. Here are some methods to set the paint for washability:

Heat set with an iron on cotton/linen following manufacturer directions

One effective way to set tempera paint on fabric is by heat setting it with an iron. This method is suitable for cotton and linen fabrics. It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific brand of tempera paint being used.

By applying heat evenly to the painted area, the paint bonds with the fabric fibers, making it more resistant to washing.

Allow to air dry for up to 72 hours for maximum permanence

Another option is to allow the painted fabric to air dry for a longer period. This method is particularly useful when using tempera paint on delicate or synthetic fabrics. By giving the paint ample time to dry, it has a better chance to fully adhere to the fabric, ensuring maximum permanence when washed.

Apply a fabric medium overtop for added washability

If you want to enhance the washability of the tempera paint on fabric, consider using a fabric medium. Fabric medium is a type of additive that can be mixed with the paint to make it more flexible and durable when applied to fabric.

It helps the paint to adhere better, and it also prevents cracking and peeling. Follow the instructions provided by the fabric medium manufacturer for the best results.

Consider acrylic paints instead for easy washing

If washability is a top priority, you may want to consider using acrylic paints instead of tempera paints. Acrylic paints are known for their excellent washability and durability on fabric. They can withstand multiple washes without fading or losing their vibrancy.

Acrylic paints also come in a wide range of colors, allowing for more artistic freedom and creativity.

Remember, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and conduct a patch test before applying any paint to fabric. This will help you determine the best method for setting the paint and ensuring its washability.

Other Creative Uses for Tempera Paint

Tempera paint is not just limited to traditional art projects. Its versatility allows for a wide range of creative uses that go beyond the canvas. Here are some exciting ways to explore the potential of tempera paint:

Kids’ craft projects

Tempera paint is a fantastic medium for children’s craft projects. Its easy-to-use consistency and vibrant colors make it perfect for little hands. Kids can let their imaginations run wild as they create colorful masterpieces on paper, cardboard, or even rocks.

The best part is that tempera paint is washable, so parents don’t have to worry about stains on clothing or furniture.

Temporary colored hair spray

Looking to add a pop of color to your hair for a special occasion or costume party? Look no further than tempera paint! By diluting the paint with water and using a spray bottle, you can create temporary colored hair spray.

Just be sure to test a small section of hair first to ensure compatibility and avoid any unwanted surprises. Remember, this is a temporary solution and should be washed out after the event.

Home decor like painted lampshades

Give your home decor a unique touch by using tempera paint to create custom designs on lampshades. Whether you want to add a splash of color or create intricate patterns, tempera paint can help you achieve the desired effect.

Just make sure to use a light hand and allow the paint to dry completely before placing the lampshade back on the lamp.

Chalk-style paint effects

If you love the look of chalkboard paint but want more color options, tempera paint can come to the rescue. By mixing tempera paint with a small amount of unsanded grout, you can create your own chalk-style paint.

This DIY alternative allows you to transform any surface into a chalkboard-like canvas, perfect for jotting down reminders, creating art, or even playing games.

Faux stained glass

Imitate the beauty of stained glass without the expense and expertise required by using tempera paint. With a stencil or freehand, you can create intricate designs on windows or glass surfaces. The translucent quality of tempera paint mimics the vibrant colors of stained glass, creating a stunning visual effect.

Just be sure to clean the glass surface thoroughly before applying the paint to ensure proper adhesion.

Remember, while these creative uses for tempera paint can be fun and exciting, it’s important to follow safety guidelines and use the paint responsibly. Always protect your work area, wear appropriate clothing, and supervise children when using tempera paint.

So go ahead, unleash your creativity, and explore the endless possibilities of tempera paint!


With proper preparation and technique, tempera paint can be an accessible, fun option for adding colorful designs to fabric. It works best on natural fabrics and may require some finishing steps to make it durable and washable.

Approach tempera fabric painting as a learning process, working in thin layers and allowing time to dry between coats. The finished results will be well worth the extra effort. So grab some tempera paints and a few cotton t-shirts or tote bags and enjoy unleashing your creativity through fabric painting!

We hope this detailed guide gives you everything you need to know about using tempera paint on fabric successfully. With the right materials and methods, you can create beautiful painted fabric crafts, clothing, accessories and more. Happy painting!

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