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What are the top tips for painting fabric when you are a beginner?

I have done my fair share of fabric painting and learned much 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 have 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!


Painting Fabric: The Basics

1. The Paint

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


2. The Fabric

If you are worried about bleed through and splotches 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


3. Stiffness

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


4. Screen Painting

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


5. Stencils

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


6. Rollers

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.


7. Apply One Coat

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

monogrammed-pillow_thumb (1)

8. Small Is Better

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

9. Remove Tape

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

Christmas-Subway-Art-_thumb (1)

10. Spray Painting

Spray painting also works well on fabric, but you will get more of a faded coverage rather than a really saturated one unless you 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


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

I hope these little tips help you next time you try a painted fabric project. After publishing my son’s bedroom painted striped curtains a ton of questions were asked so I thought I would share what I know.

DIYstripedandpaintedcurtains thumb1

How to Prepare the Fabric

Before you apply paint on fabric, you will need to do the following:

  • Wash the Fabric: Whatever type of fabric you use, start by washing it with a mild detergent to remove dirt and chemicals. Follow the fabric’s care instructions and let it air dry or tumble dry on a low heat setting.
  • Remove Any Stains or Dirt: Treat stubborn stains using appropriate stain removers or gentle fabric cleaners. Blot the stains gently and rinse thoroughly. Allow the fabric to dry completely before proceeding with painting.
  • Iron or Stretch: This step will ensure a smooth surface for painting. Iron the fabric on the reverse side to remove wrinkles and creases. Use the appropriate temperature setting for the fabric type. If stretching the fabric, secure it tightly on a frame or embroidery hoop to ensure a taut and smooth fabric surface.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When you apply paint on fabric, you surely will encounter some issues. Hence, here are what you need to do:

Bleeding, Smudging, or Color Fading

Use a fabric medium or paint fixative to seal the colors, whether light or dark colors, and prevent bleeding. Let the paint dry completely to avoid smudging.

Choose a high-quality type of fabric paint and follow the manufacturer’s instructions or fabric paint product label for heat setting or curing the paint to prevent color fading.

Mistakes or Areas That Didn’t Turn Out as Expected

Blot mistakes with a damp cloth or sponge to remove excess paint on fabric. Paint over the area with a new layer, or use fabric paint markers or acrylic paint for small details. Allow the area to dry completely before making any additional modifications.

Advanced Fabric Painting Techniques and Designs

Now that you have learned the basics of painting clothes or fabric, you might wanna learn some advanced techniques for applying acrylic paint or other types of paints on fabric:

  • Resist Dyeing or Batik: Try resist dyeing by using materials that resist the paint, such as wax or fabric paint markers, to create patterns or designs on the fabric. Experiment with batik, a traditional technique involving wax application before painting, for intricate designs.
  • Freehand Painting or Stencils: Use a fine paint brush or fabric markers for freehand painting to create detailed patterns, images, or typography directly on your choice of fabric. Secure stencils onto the fabric and apply paint with a sponge or paint brush to achieve a precise and structured beautiful design.
  • Incorporate Mixed Media Elements: Add dimension and sparkle to your painted fabric by sewing on beads or sequins. Enhance your designs with embroidery stitches to create fabric texture and interest.

From Blank Canvas to Vibrant Masterpiece

Fabric painting offers a world of creative possibilities for beginners and DIY enthusiasts alike. By following the top tips and recommendations provided, you can achieve beautiful and personalized designs on fabric.

Preparing the fabric properly, troubleshooting common issues, and exploring advanced techniques will help you overcome challenges and unlock your artistic potential. Whether you’re painting on clothes, home decor items, or accessories, fabric painting allows you to unleash your creativity and bring your unique vision to life.

So, grab your brushes, select your favorite acrylic paint colors or color combo, and embark on a colorful journey of painting fabric. Let your imagination soar, and enjoy the process of transforming plain fabric into works of art.

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

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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…

  10. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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. 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?

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

  15. 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!!!

  16. 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?

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

  19. 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.

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

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. Hi there, Mona, I would recommend black fabric paint or a latex paint mixed with a fabric medium. Spray paint probably won’t soak well enough.

  26. Hello! I was wondering what you do to keep the paint from fading from the clothes you paint? Thanks!

  27. Thank you for this wonderful, informative page. It has helped me greatly. I have an old fabric chair that has a very old slipcover on it right now. I am planning on taking the slipcover off and painting the chair fabric. I read that you recommend using flat paint but I already have semi-gloss latex paint in the colors I want to use. I am going to add the textile medium to the paint plus use the fabric softener method on the fabric before painting it. Will the semi-gloss paint work?

  28. Thank you for answering my question about the semi-gloss paint. I finally found textile medium to add to the paint. I definitely want it to look like fabric and not painted. I am going to buy some new paint. I am using latex because I get the exact color I need. My question is should I use flat latex or satin latex paint for the chair.

  29. Hi,I,am an artist from kenya.I deals fine art and curving.How can I get such paints?

  30. Hi there, What paint are you referring to exactly? If you look at the bottom of the post, I give links to products I usually use for painting on fabric.

  31. Hello

    Thank you for the wonderful tips. Can you clarify one more doubt? I would like to paint a bath rug ( memory foam mat from costco) . Can you advise if i should use latex paint with textile medium or acrylic paint .

    I will be washing the bath mats in the washer dryer , so it will need to stand up to the wear.

    Please advise and thanks

  32. Hi Asha, I would do latex with the textile medium, but you never know until you try. I have never done a memory foam mat before.

  33. My last question seemed to auto correct into nonsense. I’m trying to paint a large outdoor umbrella. It is heavy canvas. It is a little chalky and sticky. I’d like to use a small roller on it. Can I just roll outdoor latex paint on it? Thank you!

  34. Gosh, I am not sure about painting outdoor fabric. Most outdoor fabric is treated to not let liquid stick. Your best bet would be to try it. I think priming it first with something like BIN Shellac would help your paint stick. But yes, a small roller would work. Good luck and let me know how it comes out!

  35. I want to re-decorate my rug in the dining area. I am not sure what it is made out of as their seems to be no backing sticker to say otherwise. Could you please explain to me what paint I should use for this project to be successful.. it will get a lot of traffic. Also if I wanted to paint my lounge suit does it matter also what material that it is for it to be successful and when you paint, will it make the material feel hard against your skin?

  36. I would recommend acrylic paint with a fabric medium. However, there will be a certain crunchiness for sure. It definitely isn’t as soft as it was beforehand. I hope that helps!

  37. Hi there, also a first timer. I want to paint my patterns onto linens. The patterns vary from small, repeated designs (almost stamp-like), to simple large designs created by thin lines. Since these will be in contact with skin, should I just stick to the simply screen paints? I feel like there’s a big risk with using latex paints. Thank you so much for the article!

  38. I probably would try and stick to fabric paints or inks since they are made for clothing. I don’t think latex against skin is bad. It just has a different feel to it. The ones made for fabric are a little softer.

  39. I just used fabric medium and outdoor latex paint to cover my patio cushions that were covered in outdoor fabric (they were looking dingy and horrendous!). Is it necessary to heat set when it is all dry? They will be outside in the elements, I was planning on putting waterproof spray on top of it anyway.

  40. hello, I am starting a project for my cousins wedding. She wants burlap table cloths with a couple of blue lines painted on them. I was just wondering if the paint would crack when we roll it up for storage and transportation. If so I was wondering if there was a technique to make it not do that. Thank you!

  41. Hi. Stupid question, but you use latex paint from lowes?? Like wall paint?? I want to go cheap but the easiest as well. Thanks

  42. Lady, do you realize what tremendous talent you have? Your website is so wonderful and the things you have done are incredible.

    Kayla is gorgeous.

    I am adding your website as an icon.. I love what you do!


    Diana Lynn

  43. Wow, thank you so much, Diana. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your encouragement and the time you took to comment. I am grateful to have you as a new reader! 🙂

  44. Yep, I have used latex wall paint to paint on fabric several times, usually when I need to paint a large surface and want the cheapest option. It is stiff though, so I would not use it to paint clothing or anything that touches the skin. You can mix in textile medium if you want to cut down on the stiffness, but I generally don’t worry about it for projects like curtains that I won’t be touching.

  45. We are looking to paint canvas art. Do you know where we could locate a fabric that is not as stiff as a floor cloth but not quite like an oilcloth. Do you happen to live close to Iowa? Smiles!

    Love your stuff!


  46. Hi Misty, Thank you so much for your comment. I actually live in Ohio just outside Columbus. As far as the fabric, I would use drop cloth from the hardware store. I hope that helps.

  47. I’m painting a wood model pirate ship white, problem is that the sails are all black! I need them pink. I thought priming them white first, but what kind of white fabric paint will cover black? The material feels like canvas. I have to use a brush because the sails are small. Will white cover black? What kind of fabric paint should I use? Thanks!

  48. Hi Judy, White will cover black, but it will take numerous coats. I usually just use a fabric medium if it’s something someone will wear because it helps soften it and make it less stiff. For the boat sails, I personally wouldn’t bother. I hope that helps a little.

  49. Hello
    Love your information.
    I am a newbie and would like to paint on heavyweight canvas. I am making totes and would love to create a tropical scene on them. What would you recommend?
    Thanks in advance

  50. Hello, I’m new to this and I wanted to paint a canvas drop cloth and turn it into a rug. First off do you have any recommendations on what brand of drop cloth I should get? Also what type of paint and sealer should I use,like what would be the most durable paint ? I don’t want the paint to crack or be sticky. Thanks!

  51. Hi Katelynn, You can use any type of paint and add fabric medium so it doesn’t crack. I would also recommend a flat paint so it doesn’t look shiny. As far as drop cloths go, they are all created equal. 🙂 You can buy any brand. Best of luck!

  52. I bought an old sofa blue with flowers and butterflies (not cute) I used flat latex paint mixed with Fabric medium …. This is the first time I’ve painted fabric like this. I looked up so so many tips and tricks …. Used the 2:2:1 ratio! Paint , fabric medium and water! It turned out Beautiful ! I also know I need it use fine grit sand paper ….. My question is what can I use to seal it ? I’ve read using wax is a good idea? Any tips to finishing this up would be great ! M worried he couch will sound like I’m sitting on plastic!

  53. Yes you can use wax. Just know that it will need to be rewaxed probably yearly depending on use. But honestly you don’t need t seal it. It will stay the way it is. There will be some natural wear of course but I think you will be surprised at how it holds up.

  54. My son is in FFA & they used green latex paint to put hands on a white tee shirt. How can I clean the shirt without the paint coming off?

  55. I found out from a guy online that mixing a little fabric softener with acrylic paint gets rid of the stiffness issue.I tried this out with two coats of acrylic paint and a little fabric softener (making sure the first coat was completely dry before I painted the second coat on top).It looks good so far.I have to try washing the item I painted though(a cotton shirt) to make sure the combination of fabric softener and acrylic paint doesn’t wash out or bleed.I hope to have good results from this test I’m doing.BTW,black Sharpie markers don’t wash out or bleed on cotton fabric.Neither do grey Bic round stic pens.I tested them.I alo tested some cheaper “permanent” markers on cotton fabric and I found out that they don’t wash out but they bleed.The same goes for dry erase markers.Sharpie permanent markers are the only permanent markers known to not wash out or bleed.However I have only tried the black Sharpie permanent marker.If you don’t use Sharpie markers your best bet is probably actual fabric markers.

  56. Hey, thanks for the great tips. ????????
    I wanted to know do you add/spray anything to the paint after you have used it on fabric in order to last longer when washed ?

  57. This is a helpful guide! I was wondering if I needed textile medium for a project and you answered my question, plus a lot more. Thanks so much!

  58. Good day! Firstly, I would just like to thank you for posting such informative information! Your designs are absolutely stunning!! My mind is reeling with ideas now haha. I do however, need your advice about something…. I am currently experimenting with fabric spray paint for a dress that I would like to create. I need the colours to pop out as they are bright colours (blue, red, orange, yellow, etc), but the colours just come out faded/hazy. Do you perhaps know what paints I could use to achieve a bright contrast, but which keeps the fabric relatively soft and “flowy”?

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