Acrylic Paint On Fabric: The Easiest Way To Make And Use It

acrylic paint on fabricLearning how to turn acrylic paint into long lasting, easy-to-use fabric paint is ridiculously easy and should be a part of any DIY enthusiast’s repertoire. Sure, you can always make a trip to the store and buy some fabric-specific paint, but if you’ve got some extra acrylics lying around, that mentality doesn’t jive with the DIY creative/resourceful mindset.

This post will walk you through the process of modifying acrylic paint and how to use it on fabric to achieve best results. If you’re already an experienced DIY’er, learn everything you need to know to start a creative home-business today with this course on how to sell crafts online.

Where To Start

Anyone who has used acrylic paint in the past knows that it adheres to fabric quite well to begin with. The problem is that it goes on thick and turns soft fabric into cardboard. The way we get around this problem is by using an acrylic medium to essentially dilute and thin the paint (or, in other words, to turn it into a true fabric paint). The acrylic medium allows to paint to go on smoothly and to dry without stiffening the fabric.

The Acrylic Medium: Store-Bought vs. DIY

Almost any company that sells acrylic paint will also sell an acrylic medium; naturally they stress that only their medium should be used with their paints, but it really doesn’t matter if you mix brands. As far as ease-of-use goes, using an acrylic medium such as Liquitex is certainly at the top of the list (and $5 of acrylic medium will last a long time). If you’ve never used acrylics before, check out this step-by-step course on how to use acrylics for absolute beginners.

However, if you have some glycerol lying around, this can be substituted for an acrylic medium and it works extremely well. Glycerol is already an ingredient in acrylic paints; essentially, it extends the drying time and makes the paint more viscous.

How To Mix

If you buy an acrylic medium, it will obviously have instructions for mixing on the label, but I wouldn’t advise following them to closely. When it comes to modifying acrylic paints, there are no rules. This process is really just one of thinning the paint with a “fabric” agent. Depending on what you’re using the paint for, you might want it to be thicker or thinner.

Thick vs. Thin

One thing you should note is that the thinner the paint gets, the easier it will be to brush it on and do other things that require a thin, malleable paint. A thinner paint will also be softer on your fabric, but it may not have quite the color saturation of a thicker paint and it will take much longer to dry.

Using Glycerol: IMPORTANT

While you can, and should, experiment with different viscosities, let me give you a starting point for glycerol because it can be very easy to ruin a batch of acrylic paint with too much of it. You should also note that glycerol MUST be mixed with water before being combined with acrylic paint. The glycerol to water ratio should be approximately 1:5. In other words, for every one part glycerol, use five parts water.

  • It is also important to note that equally small portions of the glycerol mixture should be used with the acrylic paint. You might want to start with the same 1:5 ratio of glycerol mixture to acrylic paint, or even less than that.
  • You should also check the safety warnings before using glycerol or mixing mediums with children. Mediums are available that are non-toxic; they tend to be a few dollars more expensive, but it’s obviously worth it.

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A Few Ways You Can Use It

Once you have your acrylic mixed to a fabric-specific consistency, you can use it to do just about anything. There are a few things to keep in mind that will make the experience even better. First, once the paint is mixed, it will take a long, long time to dry. If you used a lot of the medium, it could take up to four days to dry by itself (we’ll get to faster methods soon). This can be a great thing because you can literally mix your paint and colors right on the canvas with no worry of them drying too soon. You can also brush, air-brush or even use the mixture to screen-print fabric. It’s incredibly versatile.

For more fun and creative ideas, get free advice from this great post on acrylic painting and tips for beginners.

Heat-Setting And Its Benefits

There are really two benefits of heat-setting your fabric paint: it speeds up what can be a very long drying process (which is essential if you have kids waiting to see their final product) and, if done correctly, it allows you to machine wash the fabric. Still, DO NOT heat-set before the paint has set for approximately 24 hours.

There are several ways you can do this, the most popular being a clothes iron. As with any of these methods, be careful not to scorch or burn your fabric. Here are the different ways to heat-set acrylic-based paint:

  • Using An Iron: Do not use steam, this will ruin your paint. You also want to turn off any automatic settings. Set the iron to a medium setting, or even lower for delicate fabrics. Then iron as you normally would, gently, for 3-5 minutes.
  • In The Oven: You can heat-set with an oven, but be extremely careful. I do not recommend using a temperature over 250 degrees. Place fabric in the oven for four or five minutes and keep a close eye on it.
  • In The Dryer: The dryer takes the longest amount of time, 40-50 minutes, but it’s very easy. Just place the fabric inside and dry at medium-high to high heat depending on the delicacy of the fabric.

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