Top Tips for Painting Fabric

I have done my fair share of fabric painting and have learned a lot through trial and error.  I love the process of painting on fabric because it really allows you to get the exact color and design you want at a relatively low cost. I thought I would put together a list of recommendations and products that I use to help you achieve maximum results when attempting to paint or stencil fabric.  Here is what I have learned along the way…

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1.  The cheapest alternative when painting large surface areas of fabric is latex paint.  I recommend a flat paint if you paint it on regular cotton, canvas or woven fabric so that it blends in well with the matte finish of the fabric.  I ended up using a flat gray paint on my striped curtains and you really can’t tell it is paint because the flat paint has the same sheen as the curtain.

Painted Striped Curtains

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2.  If you are worried about bleed through and splotchiness from the back you either have to go with a heavier weight fabric or you have to really saturate your thin fabric so that the back is painted through too to avoid the uneven coverage.  On this birth announcement pillow I used a heavier weight canvas to avoid that issue.

Birth Announcement Pillow

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3.  You can purchase a textile medium to mix in the latex paint if you want it to be less stiff.  I generally don’t use it on household items like rugs and curtains because I don’t mind it stiffer.  The textile medium does help with stiffness but it does not completely take it away so I find it adds to the cost of the project when it doesn’t make a huge difference.  However, I recommend using a textile medium mixed with latex on clothes or anything that will come in contact with your skin. Stiffness on clothes is not comfy.  Here is a project I used with latex paint and the textile medium…

Old T-shirt to Painted Skirt

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4.    If you want to avoid the textile medium altogether I love the Simply Screen paints from Plaid for painting small projects.  It is meant for screen painting but it is a nice fabric paint to use on any painted fabric project too. It washes well, stays true to color, and isn’t stiff at all. Here is a shirt using the Simply Screen paints that I did for Kayla’s third birthday.

Princess Birthday Shirt

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5.  If you use a stencil I recommend using a stencil spray or a repositionable spray adhesive to help keep your stencil in place.  This will help to keep your stencil in place when you roll the paint on.  Here is the fabric upholstered headboard I did using a stencil and spray adhesive to hold it in place.

Painted Fabric Upholstered Bed

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6.  Use a small foam roller when painting a large surface area not a nap roller.  A foam roller dispenses a good amount of paint.  A nap roller dispenses too much and can cause bleeding.

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7. I recommend only using one coat of paint but maybe just rolling it and pressing it into the fabric to saturate it.  If you are painting a light paint over dark fabric I will let the paint soak in for 2-5 minutes and then roll over it again.  They key is not to let it dry and then paint over it – that doesn’t work.  Here is a great example of that process.

Monogrammed Pillow

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8.  Work in small sections, maybe a 12” square piece at a time. It is easier to correct mistakes on a small area.

9.  I also recommend removing your stencil or tape right away (while your paint is still wet) so that you avoid the chance of bleed through.

Subway Art Christmas Pillow

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10.  Spray painting also works well on fabric but you will get more of a faded coverage rather than a really saturated one unless your really let it soak in and give it multiple coats.  But sometimes that is the look you want.  I did that on an outdoor rug and it turned out just like I wanted it to.

Spray Painted Outdoor Rug

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Here is a short list of products that I have used.  I am sure similar products will work but this is just the short list of ones I have used personally and can endorse.

Simply Screen Paint for small projects (there is some on sale at Amazon for as low as $1.65)

Simply Screen – fun to make small screen-printed projects

Royal Designs stencils

Cutting Edge Stencils

Foam Roller

3M ScotchBlue Edge Lock Tape

Martha Stewart Stencil Adhesive Spray

Foam Roller

Martha Stewart Fabric Medium

I hope these little tips help you next time you try a painted fabric project.  I got a ton of questions about my painted striped curtains so I thought I would share what I know.  Do you have any tips to add to this list?





Comments

  1. I’m debating painting my plaid sofa. Have you ever done something like that? I’m curious how it turns out.

  2. great post. very helpful. thanks for the info.

  3. Wow, really helpful post! Thanks for the info! :)

  4. Ashleigh Hall says:

    Thanks Beckie!! What helpful tips! I’m bookmarking! Have a blessed day! :)

  5. Thank you for all yours ideas and tanks for share. Kiss from Spain

  6. Thanks for the tips and tricks! I’ve never tried painting fabric, but I’d love to. Especially after seeing your painted curtains!
    Debbie :)

  7. Barbarajean Blodgett says:

    Many thanks for putting all of the tips in one listing. I did fabric painting a long time ago and was frustrated with the stiffness and saturation issues. I think the new products and application tools make these projects much more successful. I hope to send you some of my results!

  8. What about patio furniture? I have some patio porch cushions that look terrible, but the fabric is good. If so, what paint would you suggest? Great tutorial!

  9. Heey, I want to make a banner, thinking of using Latex paint,
    but i was wondering if the way of letting it dry can help te let it chip less when it is dry…
    i know with clothes that after washing they dry more soft and flexibel in the wind then just in the plain sun. does this aply to painting aswel? and maybe more thiner layers?
    thanks

    • I don’t see why it would chip if you paint fabric. I usually don’t have that problem. If you want it to wash well or be softer, use a fabric medium mixed with your paint. Hope that helps.

  10. Victoria says:

    I have upholstered a rocking chair. The back cushion is double thick linen. however since doing it i am wanting to stencil a small section of it with black as it is very plain. I am not going to be able to remove the material. Is it possible to apply with a stencil the paint direct to the material with the foam underneith or will it not work.
    Thanks

    • Sure, that will work. Just tape your stencil down really taut. I would use a small pounce foam brush and do light coats. Then slowly pull back and see how it turned out. If you have anything to touch up, take a fine brush and do that. Good luck!

  11. Thanks for these great tips! I have recently painted my chairs, and while they look great, they are a little sticky feeling. I used acrylic (not latex) interior paint, mixed with fabric medium. I heat set with an iron. Do you have any tips to make it less sticky? I’m thinking it needs a clearcoat of some type…

    • Hmmmm, that is interesting. I have never heard of it being sticky. Honestly I don’t know what to do about that. Can you sand it a little with a fine grit sandpaper to try and remove the stickiness?

  12. Simply Screen Prints – on the birthday shirt. I need to do something similar to this – do you just follow the directions on the bottle? And how do you avoid leaks around the stencil edges? Did you dab with a sponge, or roll it? I haven’t attempted anything like this in years so I assume the products are much better but I’m still scared to try! LOL Any particular fabrics this doesn’t work well on? I assume all cottons, denims, bottomweights would be fine?

    • I actually use like a squeegee and scrap it across the screen. I keep my screen in place with some scotch tape in the four edges. I have only tried cottons, bottomweights, canvas, and t-shirt. I am guessing maybe it wouldn’t work well on silky fabrics.

  13. Sulky Iron On Transfer Pen is good if you don’t want to use stencils.

  14. Toni S. says:

    Hello! I am so happy to have come across this site. I am making a bunch of flags by painting on 10oz white denim. I have not decided if I will spray or roll the paint on. I would like to do both sides of the fabric but will be doing one side first to see how it goes. I read what you said about rolling giving a brighter more saturated color so I am leaning that way. It looks like you have used the blue painters tape before. Should I mask the stripes with that or with something else? Do I need to paint white over the edge like you would on a wall to seal it from being able to bleed under and then paint the stripes with the color? Can I let the paint dry before removing the tape or will it bleed through the tape to the fabric underneath?
    What would you recommend for painting the stars? I thought I would paint the blue and let it dry then paint the white stars on top. What would be the best way to stencil the stars on?
    Where do I buy the fabric paint medium? Can it be mixed with latex wall paint? This is a large project and would be too expensive to use the small bottles of fabric paint. I am not too worried about stiffness, but I would like the flags to maintain some flexibility.
    Is there any other advice you can give me?

  15. Can I use fabric stiffener on burlap, then paint over it? I am making burlap door hangings…Thanks in advance for your help!! :)

  16. Hi Beckie! This page is so informative and it really gets me worked up to try painting a few projects. I’ve been trying to paint umbrellas (the regular nylon ones, not the patio canvas fabric ones) but I can’t seem to get it just right. It came out as beautiful as I imagined it but it didn’t last more than 3weeks before small cracks begin to show. I used thin layers of white acrylic (Martha Stewart’s) because a number of Michael’s staff recommended it. Is there some sort of protective seal that I should paint on top of the acrylic or is there another medium that would yield a softer result so that it’ll withstand the folding/ wrapping of these water proof fabric? I’d also love to add some finer details, would sharpie be a permanent medium on nylon fabric? Is there any advice you could give me about painting on nylon umbrellas in general? Thanks a million in advance!!!

  17. I want to pain some paintings and I have lots of cotton sheets. What spray should I use to make the sheets stable and flat? Can someone help me?

    • If you soak them in starch and then wring them out and staple them to a frame, they will resemble blank canvases you can buy at the craft stores.

  18. Trina Juco-Hernandez says:

    I’m thinking of painting my couch was going to use the medium and acrylic paint any suggestions ?

    • Hi Trina, The medium and acrylic paint would work. I have also heard people have good luck with chalk paint. I would google it and read others’ accounts because I did read one that went bad too. If you hate the couch, it is worth trying, but I’d definitely read some other suggestions first.

  19. How do I use the simple screen paint if I want to do just a small line on a cotton shirt?

  20. Postal123321 . says:

    I hope you find this because I need some help. I am trying to change the headliner color in an old aircraft from light blue to a turquoise. Basically, the exterior has been repainted (gorgeous) and the interior needs an update and it’s blue-ish hue needs to be closer to the turquoise.

    The material is a wool felt and my problem is that I cannot find a close match in either fabric paints or available dyes. I can however have the paint matched in either auto paints or household latex paints.

    I am looking for even coverage. Additional trim pieces will be finished in a high-gloss of the same color so I’m thinking a slightly flatter sheen is best, but not sure if that will automatically occur due to the felt’s texture.

    I would prefer to spray it (in place) with a detail air gun. I can apply heat with a heat gun or hair dryer, but I cannot access the backside of the fabric. I’m assuming I will need to reduce it significantly and/or use the fabric medium discussed in other posts…? What type of paint would work best? How can I get the best (original appearing) results?

    Thank you in advance!
    Rob

    • I am so sorry I have no idea how to color felt besides dying it. I don’t think painting is going to create the look you want and especially the texture.

  21. Laura Mayo says:

    1st timer. If I want to get generic cream curtains and use my latex wall paint to stencil a lattice pattern will that work? Will they be washable?

  22. I have a shelf that has some canvas drawers. They are pink with white polka dots. I want the drawers to be black. I would like to use black paint. Would you recommend to use black flat spray paint or something else? Also is the spray paint you talk about just regular spray paint that you can buy at Home Depot or other special paint? Thank you for your help.

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  1. […] type of material will be different when it comes to using fabric paint.  Infarrantlycreative.net created a nice how-to guide on what you can do with the different types of items you plan on […]

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