How To Paint On Fabric And What Paints To Use: A Step by Step Guide

Is your favorite fabric chair stained, your t-shirt old-fashioned? I’ve got good news – paint can bring them back to life! Painting on fabric will allow you to personalize all your creations, from tablecloths to cushions, from clothes to handbags. Discover how to paint fabric and easily customize all the textiles in your home.

Focus on fabric paint

There are textile paints, specially designed for painting on fabric. These are ideally suited but rarely designed for large structures, both in quantity and price.

If you want to customize a garment or accessory, they are ideal: they will allow you to create patterns, write, draw outlines, stencil paint and even have children paint with their fingers.

There are also textile mediums that can transform classic paintings into textile paintings. They can be mixed with any acrylic paint to liquefy it and allow it to penetrate the fibers of the fabric.

If you want to repaint an armchair, footstool or any fabric surface without buying back paint, use them.

Good to know: you can find textile paints, such as textile medium, in hobby shops or some DIY superstores, or on amazon

1. Check if your fabric can be painted on

In theory, all fabrics can be painted on. In practice, they all react differently. To find out, the only foolproof method is to test a sample.

However, here are some tips and tricks before you get started:

  • Natural fabrics are the most recommended: cotton, linen, silk, viscose.
  • Polyester, or cotton/polyester blends, are also ideal surfaces. However, avoid satin, which has a shiny surface that doesn’t color well.
  • It’s also possible to paint on thick fabrics, such as leather or velvet, as long as you choose covering paints.
  • If you want to paint patterns on fabric, be aware that the more visible the weave is, the thinner the patterns will be.
  • Silk has an almost smooth surface, which means that it is much more precise than canvas.
  • It is always easier to paint a light fabric than a dark one, on which the colour often remains transparent.

2. Choose textile paint

There are several types of textile paints that take into account different features, such as opacity, rendering, even packaging.


There are opaque or transparent textile paints. Easier to apply, transparent paints offer a light texture for a supple finish that does not stiffen or thicken the fabric. However, they are only suitable for light-colored, preferably thin fabrics.

If you wish to paint a dark or thick fabric, choose opaque paints. They are more difficult to work with because they are thicker and may stiffen the fabric slightly.

However, they are more covering and offer intense, long-lasting colors that are more resistant to machine washing.

The rendering

Relief or 3D paintings allow us to draw contours or to paint small patterns in relief. The paint swells when drying or under the effect of heat and offers a whole range of renderings: phosphorescent, metal, glitter, etc.

Finger paints are designed for children, do not run and are easy to apply. They are suitable for cotton or synthetic fabrics.

Textile inks are more liquid and offer a rendering close to watercolor. They are ideal for painting on silk.


  • The bottle is the most common form of packaging. Colors need to be poured into cups to be used and mixed, then applied with a brush, sponge or pad.
  • Tubes with tips are to be pressed by hand upside down, drawing with the paint. The force applied to the vial usually decreases the accuracy of the line, but the tips allow fine contours to be drawn more easily than with a brush.
  • Tubes with applicator pads or foam tips are suitable for stencil painting. They are extremely easy to use. In this case, choose removable tips, so that the bottles can also be used with a brush.
  • Textile sprays and spray cans should be used to cover large areas. They are ideal for repainting furniture or stenciling fabric.
  • Textile markers dispense paint in the form of felt tip pens. They allow a fine and precise drawing. They are available in opaque or transparent versions.
  • You will also find empty markers to be filled with the textile paint in the bottle of your choice.

There are different price ranges for apparently similar looking textile paints. The major difference is in the way they are held, with the lower-priced paints tending to crack over time.

If you want to paint a bag for an evening out, look no further. However, for long-lasting paint, it’s best to invest in quality opaque paints.

Tip: When choosing a textile paint, also pay attention to the fixing instructions. Some paints need to be fixed on the reverse side with an iron, which is not possible if you are repainting a chair, for example.

3. Choose a textile medium

For the medium, choose above all its capacity, especially to paint a large surface as with wall fabric. The mixture to be made is generally 50% medium, 50% acrylic paint.

You can choose any acrylic paint, in tubes or pots. If you choose upholstery paint, however, be sure to choose a satin finish.

4. Prepare the fabric

First of all, clean and prepare the surface that’s about to be painted. The paint will penetrate better into the fibres and you will avoid shrinkage in the case of a new garment or fabric.

For textile/clothes:

  • Machine wash the garment or fabric with your normal detergent at 40°C, but do not use fabric softener.
  • Let it air-dry completely and then iron it.

For furniture:

  • Since you can’t machine wash armchairs, just vacuum every nook and cranny.
  • Brush the fabric vigorously.
  • Use tape to protect parts of the fabric before painting.
Important: this technique does not work on very thin fabrics or with paints that are too liquid: the fibres would diffuse the colour by capillarity under the tape.

There are also special glues, such as gutta for silk painting, which can be used to protect the parts not to be painted or to partition the colors: they are not applied over large surfaces, but they can be used to create patterns or write a text before painting. They can be removed after drying.

5. Prepare your equipment

In order to paint in the best conditions, you need to have the necessary equipment at hand at all times.

  • Buckets or containers for your painting mixtures.
  • Sticks for mixing.
  • Flat brushes for painting large surfaces, fine brushes for details, pointed or beveled brushes for painting corners.
  • Sponges or foam brushes to apply the paint with a pad, stencils for painting patterns.
  • Tarpaulins or fabrics to protect the work surface.
  • Cardboard or a piece of wood to stretch the fabric, if possible.
  • A water spray to moisten the fabric.
Tip: Make your own stencils on paper or cardboard, cutting out the patterns with a thin blade cutter. You can also make your own sponges by cutting out commercial sponges (without the scraper part).

6. Painting fabric with textile paint

  • Protect the work surface with a cloth or tarpaulin. Put on a gown.
  • When the support allows it, stretch it over a board or piece of cardboard. Using a piece of cloth, for example, stretch it overboard and pin it to the back to secure it. A taut surface is always easier to paint.
  • Otherwise, simply place cardboard, board or sheet of baking paper behind the fabric to be painted on, so as not to stain the thickness of the underside.
  • Draw the patterns directly with the chosen textile paint, or outline them first with a washable pencil or felt tip pen.
  • Paint according to the chosen method: brush, stencil, pad, spray, relief, etc. Carefully read the detailed instructions for use supplied with the paint.
Tip: if the paint diffuses too quickly, use a hair dryer to dry it and stop its progress.
  • Let dry 24 hours before handling and 72 hours before the first wash.
  • Once dry, fix if necessary, according to the instructions of the paint.

If you make a stain or a mistake, consult the instructions of the textile paint for cleaning. Otherwise, dab with a cloth soaked in bleach for white fabrics, with water mixed with 90° alcohol for others.

Tip: You can also use transfer paper to transfer a design to the fabric, especially if it is a complex or detailed pattern.

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