The Bite-Sized Guide for Fabric Painting

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I have worked a lot on fabric, from shirts to canvas shoes, and I know how frustrating it is when your fabric painting just won’t turn out right! Whether it be a hard, cracked painted surface on the fabric or the fading of your painting that you have worked countless hours on. And ain’t nobody got time to pore over a long tutorial or guideline on the basics and theories of fabric painting. I feel ya, I was there. I have the attention span of a goldfish. So here’s a short guide of practical tips you should know about fabric painting before you attempt one for the first time.

The Fabric

Best fabric for fabric paint
Credits to Pixabay

Which fabric should I choose?

  1. While fabric paint can be painted on most fabrics such as cotton, silk and synthetics, it will adhere BEST on natural fibers (e.g. cotton) and tightly-woven fabrics.

    A tighter weave means having a larger surface area for the paint to stick on. A looser weave means having more paint seep through the threads, reducing the intensity of the colours.

  2. Rule of thumb for best results: Higher percentage of natural fibers and tightly-woven cloth.

  3. TL;DR: Just use a cotton fabric. You can get cheap ones from Amazon here.

What do I need to do with the fabric before painting it?

  1. Some fabrics might shrink after washing and requires prewashing to prevent that. But how do we check if a fabric needs prewashing?

    Rule of thumb: Sprinkle a few drops of water on the fabric. If the water beads up on the surface of the fabric, it needs prewashing. If the water gets absorbed in the fabric, it’s READY to be painted on.

  2. Don’t add any chemicals to it, such as a fabric softener.

  3. Iron the fabric to get rid of any wrinkles.

Painting Time

Time to paint fabric
Credits to Maadhuri G
  1. For brands of fabric painting, I generally lean towards FolkArt (for beginners or basic fabric painting) and Arteza (for detailed fabric painting).

  2. Tip #1: Insert a cardboard/plastic/ sheets of loose paper inside the shirt so the paint doesn’t seep through onto the other layers of fabric.

  3. Tip #2: On a dark fabric, always paint a lighter colour FIRST as a base layer to improve the intensity and visibility of the subsequent layers.

  4. Optional: Damp the fabric before painting. A wet surface will allow the colours to flow more easily. However, too much water can dilute the colours, so wet the fabric in moderation.

How do I paint on fabric?

Don’t be intimidated by fabric painting. If you are familiar with painting on paper, then you will do fine on fabric. The techniques used are the same as long as you have prepared the fabric well and followed the tips in this post. The only difference is the canvas.

  1. Tip #1: Be gentle with your brush strokes. We don’t want to PULL and PUSH the fabric around. We want the fabric to remain a flat surface. Always take your time when painting on fabric.

  2. Tip #2: Don’t mix too much water with the paint if you are unsure how it would turn out. Always try out the colours first on a separate fabric if possible.

  3. There’s a bunch of techniques for fabric painting but I like to keep it simple. I only use 2 techniques: Wet on Dry and Wet on Wet

    Wet on Dry:

    1. As the name suggests, I would mix my fabric paint with a LITTLE bit of water (just enough to wet it) and paint it on a dry fabric. I always do this first to colour the basic design before really going into the shading and highlights.

    2. I did this technique when I painted and designed my own shirts with fabric paints.

Wet on Wet:

guide to fabric painting

  1. For this technique, you can choose to either wet the fabric beforehand or have a clean paintbrush to be the ‘water’ brush to soak a particular area.

  2. This is great to give a watercolour, diffused effect to the colour.

There are other techniques such as Dry on Dry etc, but I’m not a big fan of how it looks on fabric. These 2 techniques are usually all I need to paint a fabric. But remember, this is YOUR artwork. Feel free to experiment!

Seal it

Seal fabric paint with iron
Credits to Pixabay
  1. Wait at least 24 hours to ensure your fabric painting is dry before sealing it with heat. This will make your design permanent enough to withstand repeated washing.

  2. DON’T iron the painted area DIRECTLY. You can choose to either iron the shirt on the ‘wrong’ side (inside out) or on a piece of random fabric placed over the painted side.

  3. Set your iron to medium-high setting (according to your fabric type) and iron it around the painted area in a constant movement for 3 minutes or so. Make sure not to let it sit on one area for too long.

What’s Next?

These post-care methods are so important! I can’t believe I didn’t even know about them initially. This is how you can make your fabric painting last!

  1. Tip #1: After setting the paint with heat, wait around 4 days before washing it.

  2. Tip #2: Always hand wash the fabric and hang dry it. If this is not possible AT ALL, then use the ‘gentle cycle’ on your washing machine and ‘low heat’ on your dryer.

  3. Tip #3: Wash the fabric inside out.

  4. Tip #4: DON’T wash it with HOT water.

  5. Tip #5: Keep the fabric painting out of the sun whenever possible as some paint pigments will fade over time due to sun exposure.

With all these nifty tips and tricks, you will get the hang of fabric painting in no time! It certainly helped me, so I hope it helps some of you! Let me know if there are other tips you guys think I should include in this list. There can never be too many tips!


Here’s a short but comprehensive guide of practical tips and everything you should know about fabric painting before you attempt one for the first time. #fabricpaint #fabricpainting #DIY #paintingguide #shortreads #DIYblog #art #craft #paint

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