Is Acrylic Paint Fabric Paint? A Detailed Guide

Acrylic paint has become a popular medium for artists working on canvas and other surfaces. Some artists wonder if standard acrylic paints can also be used on fabric and clothing. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide a definitive answer on whether acrylic paint is suitable as a fabric paint.

If you need a quick answer: acrylic paint can be used on fabric, but it works best when combined with a textile medium. Using acrylic straight from the tube may cause cracking or fading after washing. With some preparation, acrylics can create durable, flexible fabric paints.

The Properties of Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that is widely used by artists, crafters, and hobbyists. It has unique properties that make it suitable for various applications, including fabric painting. Here are some key characteristics of acrylic paint:

Acrylics are water-based and quick-drying

One of the main advantages of acrylic paint is that it is water-based, which means it can be easily thinned and cleaned up with water. Unlike oil paints, which require solvents for thinning and cleaning, acrylics can be used straight from the tube or diluted with water to achieve different effects.

Another great feature of acrylic paint is its quick-drying nature. Unlike oil paints that can take days or even weeks to dry, acrylics dry relatively fast. This makes them a popular choice for artists who want to work quickly or layer colors without waiting for extended drying times.

According to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the drying time of acrylic paint can vary depending on factors such as humidity, temperature, and thickness of the paint layer.

In general, acrylic paint can dry to the touch within 20-30 minutes and fully cure within 24 hours.

Acrylic paint becomes water-resistant when dry

Although acrylic paint is water-based, it becomes water-resistant when it dries. This means that once the paint has fully cured, it won’t be easily washed away or smudged by water. This property makes acrylic paint suitable for various applications, including fabric painting.

When using acrylic paint as fabric paint, it is important to note that some manufacturers offer specific acrylic paints formulated for fabric. These paints are designed to adhere to fabric fibers and withstand washing without fading or peeling.

It is recommended to look for fabric-specific acrylic paints for optimal results on textiles.

Flexible when wet, but can crack when dry

Acrylic paint has a unique characteristic of being flexible when wet but can become rigid and prone to cracking when dry. This means that while the paint is still wet, it can be manipulated, blended, and easily corrected.

However, once it dries, it becomes permanent and can crack if applied in thick layers or on a surface that undergoes a lot of movement.

To minimize the risk of cracking, it is advisable to apply acrylic paint in thin layers and on a flexible surface. If you are painting on fabric, it is recommended to use a fabric medium or mix acrylic paint with a textile medium to ensure flexibility and longevity.

Using Acrylics as Fabric Paints

Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that can be used on various surfaces, including fabric. However, using acrylics directly on fabric may not yield the desired results. This section will explore different ways to effectively use acrylic paint as fabric paint.

Acrylic alone may crack or peel from fabric

When acrylic paint is applied directly to fabric, it tends to dry stiff and may crack or peel over time. This is because acrylics have a plastic-like consistency when dry, which is not ideal for fabric that needs to remain flexible.

Therefore, it is important to take certain precautions to ensure the longevity of your fabric art.

One way to address this issue is by mixing acrylic paint with a textile medium. Textile medium is a substance that can be added to acrylic paint to make it more flexible and suitable for fabric. When mixed with a textile medium, acrylic paint retains its color vibrancy and becomes more durable on fabric.

This allows the paint to adhere to the fabric fibers while maintaining its flexibility, reducing the chances of cracking or peeling.

Mixing with textile medium creates a flexible paint

When mixing acrylic paint with textile medium, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, a 1:1 ratio of acrylic paint to textile medium is recommended. Simply mix the two together thoroughly before applying it to the fabric.

This creates a flexible fabric paint that can be easily applied and will adhere well to the fabric surface.

Using acrylic paint mixed with textile medium also provides the advantage of being able to blend colors and create different effects on fabric. This gives artists the flexibility to achieve various textures and shades on their fabric projects.

Other additives like glues also work as binders

In addition to textile medium, there are other additives that can be used as binders for acrylic paint on fabric. For example, some artists use white craft glue or fabric glue as a binder. These glues help the acrylic paint adhere to the fabric and create a flexible finish.

It is important to note that when using glues as binders, the ratio and application process may vary. It is recommended to do a small test patch on a fabric scrap before applying it to the entire project to ensure the desired results.

Preparing and Sealing Acrylic Fabric Paints

Wash and iron the fabric before painting

Before applying acrylic fabric paint, it is important to prepare the fabric properly to ensure optimal adhesion and longevity of the paint. Start by washing the fabric to remove any dirt, oils, or sizing agents that may be present. This will allow the paint to bond better with the fabric fibers.

After washing, iron the fabric to remove any wrinkles or creases, as these can affect the application of the paint.

Apply in thin layers, allowing to dry between coats

When painting with acrylic fabric paints, it is best to apply the paint in thin layers. This allows for better control and prevents the paint from becoming too thick or stiff on the fabric. It is recommended to let each layer dry completely before applying the next one.

This not only ensures better adhesion but also allows you to achieve more vibrant and even color results.

Heat-set paint after 24 hours drying time

After the paint has dried for at least 24 hours, it is important to heat-set it to make it more durable and washable. Heat-setting can be done by using an iron or by putting the fabric in a dryer on a high heat setting.

Follow the instructions on the paint label for specific heat-setting recommendations. This step helps to lock in the paint and prevents it from fading or washing off during future washes.

Seal painted fabric with an acrylic sealant

To further protect the painted fabric and enhance its longevity, it is recommended to seal it with an acrylic sealant. Acrylic sealants create a protective barrier over the paint, making it more resistant to fading, cracking, and peeling.

They also provide additional durability and flexibility to the fabric. Before applying the sealant, make sure the paint is completely dry and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for the best results.

Tips for Achieving the Best Results

Use soft, natural bristle brushes

When it comes to painting with acrylics on fabric, using the right brushes can make a significant difference in the outcome of your artwork. It is recommended to use soft, natural bristle brushes for the best results.

These brushes have a gentle touch on the fabric and allow for smooth and even application of the paint. Synthetic brushes can sometimes leave streaks or clumps of paint on the fabric, so opting for natural bristles is a great choice to avoid these issues.

Avoid over-diluting acrylics with water

While it’s common to dilute acrylic paint with water for certain techniques, it’s important to avoid over-diluting when working with fabric. Over-diluting the paint can result in a watery consistency that may not adhere well to the fabric or provide the desired vibrancy of colors.

It’s recommended to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for thinning the paint, or you can experiment with different ratios to achieve the desired consistency.

Hand-wash painted fabrics separately

After you have successfully painted your fabric with acrylics, it’s crucial to take proper care of your artwork to ensure its longevity. To maintain the integrity of the paint, it is advised to hand-wash painted fabrics separately.

This will prevent any potential damage that can occur in the washing machine, such as rubbing against other garments or getting tangled. Use a gentle detergent and lukewarm water to clean the fabric, and avoid scrubbing or wringing too harshly to preserve the artwork.

Consider fabric type – natural fibers vs. synthetics

When choosing the fabric to paint with acrylics, it’s important to consider the type of fabric you are working with. Natural fibers, such as cotton or linen, tend to absorb the paint more easily, resulting in vibrant colors that adhere well.

On the other hand, synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon may be less absorbent, requiring additional layers of paint to achieve the desired opacity. It’s recommended to test a small area of the fabric before painting the entire piece to determine how the paint will interact with the specific fabric type.


In summary, acrylic paint can definitely be used as fabric paint with proper preparation and techniques. By adding textile medium and sealers, artists can create durable, flexible acrylic paints for clothing and textile projects.

With some experimentation, acrylics can produce professional-looking results on fabric that will hold up beautifully after washing.

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