To redesign your favorite t-shirt or denim, choosing the right type of paint is a must. Acrylic and fabric paint are your best bet, but how do you know which one works better on a particular fabric?
While discussing fabric paint vs. acrylic paint, it’s important to compare the paint compositions, opacities, thicknesses, and their durability on fabric. Acrylics and fabric paint have different types of binders and acrylic paint is thicker than fabric paint.
Besides, fabric paint is long-lasting and softer on fabric whereas acrylic paint is stiff and might flake off after several washes. Due to the difference in the adhesion process, acrylic paint is suitable for both natural and synthetic fabrics, but fabric paint is more effective on natural fabrics.
Want to learn more? Let’s dive deep into the details.
Different Fabric Types and Their Compatibility with Acrylic and
First things first, you must learn which paint is more suitable for a specific type of fabric. Here are the effects of acrylic and fabric paint on different fabrics-
As the name suggests, this type of fabric is manufactured from natural sources. Natural fabrics are soft and absorbent. As a general rule, fabric paint is more suitable for natural fabrics as it can easily penetrate the fabric and its pigments can bond with the natural fibers.
Below are the different types of natural fabrics and their compatibility with acrylic and fabric paint.
Cotton and Cotton Blends
All types of cotton and cotton blends are compatible with fabric paint. Most fabric paint contains either dye pigment or acrylic pigment.\
The binders used to bond these pigments penetrate the fabric and allow the color to sit into the fibers.
Since cotton fabrics are highly absorbent, you can apply fabric paint on them without any moderation. As for acrylic paint, it doesn’t bond with the fibers, only sticks to the fabric’s surface.
You can use acrylic paint on cotton and cotton blends, but the paint won’t be permanent.
However, with a proper medium and heat treatment, you can make the color last. Cotton can withstand high temperatures up to 400°F. So, it’s possible to make acrylic paint longer-lasting. Yet, fabric paint is the best option here.
This fabric is more suitable for dyeing instead of painting as it’s stain resistant to some extent.
However, if you want to apply paint on wool, choose a fabric paint that contains dye pigments. Fabric paint will be easily absorbed and settled on the wool. Once dried, the color will be longer lasting compared to other natural fabrics.
Although acrylic paint can also be used on wool, it’s not the best choice. The fabric gives off lint which makes it difficult to apply the paint. Wool can withstand up to 500°F, so you can apply high heat to make the paint durable.
Since silk is one of the softest and smoothest natural fabrics, it accepts paint very well. You can use both fabric and acrylic paint on silk clothing, but fabric paint is preferable. Acrylic paint might seep through the fabric and ruin the natural softness of silk.
Acrylic paint is ideal for hard fabrics like denim and canvas. The paint doesn’t seep through or ruin the natural color of denim. Instead, acrylic paint only sits on the fabric without shrinking or damaging it.
Since denim is a pretty thick fabric, the stiffness of dried acrylic paint won’t reach your skin making you feel uncomfortable.
You can use fabric paint on denim as well, just make sure it preserves the natural color of denim.
Not all synthetic fabrics are absorbent or high-temperature resistant as natural fabrics. Therefore, fabric paint doesn’t work well on these fabrics. Acrylic paint can be a good choice in this case. But, it depends on the right product and application method.
Below are the different types of synthetic fabrics and their compatibility with acrylic and fabric paint.
Although the surface of nylon fabric isn’t very porous, it will accept fabric paint when it is damp. Unlike other natural and synthetic fabrics, nylon isn’t prone to shrinking or wrinkling. So, you can apply acrylic paint on it too as it will only sit on the fabric’s surface.
No matter which paints you choose, you need to apply heat to increase the fabric’s surface tension. Thankfully, nylon can withstand up to 275°F, so curing the paint won’t be an issue.
As this type of fabric is somewhat slippery and stretchable, it will be difficult to cover it with fabric paint. Besides, it comes with different sealants on its surface which make the surface non-absorbent.
Acrylic paint can be a good solution here, but you need to wash the polyester fabric to wash off the sealer. Also, mix a fabric medium to stick the paint better and make it durable.
Traditional fabric paint tends to bleed more on rayon, so it’s better if you can pick fabric dye. However, if you’re to choose from acrylic and fabric paint, we recommend going for fabric paint that’s compatible with rayon.
Although the fabric is absorbent, moisture can cause it to shrink. Hence, water-based acrylic paint can create wrinkles in rayon and make it stiff. Rayon can withstand up to 375°F, so you can apply heat to cure fabric or acrylic paint on rayon.
Fabric Paint Vs. Acrylic Paint − A Detailed Comparison
Before we get started with the detailed comparison, let’s take a quick look at their features and the difference between the two paint types-
|Features||Fabric Paint||Acrylic Paint|
|Composition||Normal; with fabric compatible binders||Very thick; versatile binders for various surfaces including canvas, fabric, metal, and wood|
|Usage And Application||Easy||Difficult; requires preparation|
|Permanence||Permanent on fabric||Permanent on most surfaces with a proper medium|
|Price||Around $5||Around $4|
Without further ado, let’s get into the details.
- Fabric Paint
Just like any other paint type, fabric paint consists of three main ingredients:
Most fabric paints are water-based which makes them easier to penetrate the fabric surface. Some fabric paints contain acrylic pigments while some contain dye pigments.
The pigment type doesn’t make much difference except that dye pigments can bond better with the fabric strands.
It’s the type of binder that makes fabric paint different from acrylic paint. The binder allows the paint to soak into the fabric and stain its strands.
As a result, fabric paints are more or less permanent and capable of withstanding regular wearing and washing.
- Acrylic Paint
As acrylic paints are water-based and non-toxic, you can apply them to fabrics. However, they contain different types of binders which allow them to stick to the fabric surface instead of bonding with the fabric strands.
Since the paint settles on the surface only, it can crack or wrinkle after washing.
- Fabric Paint
As mentioned, fabric paint directly bonds with the fabric. Hence, it’s longer lasting on the fabric in comparison to acrylic and other types of paint.
However, when you wash the fabric, the paint might bleed and fade away. So, be careful putting painted clothes with white ones.
- Acrylic Paint
Although the binders of acrylic paint are different from fabric paint, they are made to stick to almost all types of porous and non-porous surfaces. Therefore, acrylic paint will strongly bond to the fabric surface and it’s highly durable once dried.
However, repeated washing cycles can cause the paint to crack. That’s the reason acrylic paint is used for decorative pieces like curtains and tablecloths.
Look and Feel
- Fabric Paint
Here’s where fabric paint wins over any other paint types. As fabric paint is formulated to be applied on fabrics, it dries soft and looks good on the clothing. Besides, it doesn’t irritate the skin.
You can find them in numerous vibrant colors and the finish for different types of fabric paints can also be different.
- Acrylic Paint
Since acrylic paint has a thick consistency, it dries hard on the fabric. If the fabric is too soft, the paint might cause it to shrink or create wrinkles. Therefore, it looks odd and unattractive.
Also, the stiffness of dried acrylic paint feels rough against your skin. Some might be irritated or feel itchy. Overall, it ruins the softness of the fabric. However, if you thin out acrylic paint, you can get rid of these problems to some extent.
Opacity and Coverage
- Fabric Paint
Nowadays, fabric paint from different brands is available in numerous bright and attractive colors. The opacity of the paint is high enough to cover the real color of the fabric. It also offers great coverage as the paint has a medium consistency.
- Acrylic Paint
You can find many different types of acrylic paint in the marketplace and most of the regular ones are very thick. Acrylic paint has higher opacity than fabric paint and it offers better coverage.
When you thin down fabric paint, it doesn’t provide much coverage. That’s not the case with acrylic paint as it can easily cover a particulate surface of the fabric even when it’s watered down.
Moreover, acrylic paint is available in numerous different colors and shades while being more vibrant and noticeable than fabric paint.
- Fabric Paint
Cost is another key factor to consider before choosing between fabric and acrylic paint. The cost of fabric paint can vary depending on the brand and quality of the paint. On average, fabric paint would cost about $5 per ounce. Note that the price could also be as low as $2.5 and as high as $9 per ounce.
- Acrylic Paint
Just like fabric paint, the cost of acrylic paint also varies depending on the paint type and brand. However, considering the average price, acrylic paint costs about $4 per ounce. The price can go up to $7.5 starting from $0.25 per ounce.
How to Use Fabric Paint on Fabric?
If you’re using fabric paint to design your clothes, you should choose cotton or cotton blends. Unlike acrylic paint, fabric paint doesn’t need any modifications and you can apply it directly. Here’s the easy process-
Step One: Wash your Clothes
Use a mild detergent to wash the pieces you want to paint on. This will remove all the dirt and dust that might block the paint and prevent shrinkage after painting. Also, the paint will stick better on damp clothes.
Step Two: Choose the Right Application Tool
Before you start, place cardboard or multiple thick papers between the first and second layers of your cloth. This way, the paint won’t reach unwanted areas.
Now, you need to choose which is the right application method for you.
If you’re not good with brushes, you can go for spray paint. Another option is to get paint bottles with pointed caps which allow you to directly pour the paint and make some simple patterns.
However, the brush-on application is most suitable to paint on fabrics as you get to create any design or pattern you want.
You can choose your regular flat brush to paint on a large area and your pointed round brush for more intricate designs.
Step Three: Apply the Paint
It’s best if you can choose a fabric paint specifically formulated for the type of fabric you’re using. Make sure you’re working on a smooth and flat surface.
If you’re using spray fabric paint, place the can about 6-10 inches from the fabric.
Spread the color evenly to avoid odd textures and lumps. While using a brush or pouring the paint directly, apply smaller amounts of paint so that it doesn’t spread in unwanted areas and create a mess.
Once you’re done, let the paint dry in a well-ventilated area for about a day or two.
You can iron cotton or cotton blends in medium to high heat to make the paint long-lasting. And your job is done!
How to Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric?
First things first, you need to choose the right type of acrylic paint formulated for fabrics. Brands like Golden and Liquitex manufacture acrylic paint suitable for almost all types of surfaces including fabric.
However, you need to prepare the paint first no matter which brand you choose.
Here’s the easy process of applying acrylic paint on fabric-
Step One: Prepare the Paint
To make acrylic paint permanent on fabric, you need to mix a fabric medium with it.
Another benefit of mixing fabric medium is that it thins out the acrylic paint. Typically, fabric mediums come in a liquid form and you can mix it directly with the paint.
Follow the instructions given on the label to know the exact ratio of paint and medium.
If the paint consistency remains thick even after mixing the fabric medium, you can use water or an acrylic medium to thin out the paint.
No matter which medium you’re using, the amount should be limited to 30%-50%. Thinning out the acrylic paint will allow you to easily apply it to the fabric and lessen the chances of flaking off.
Step Two: Apply the Paint
Again, work on a damp cloth for better adhesion. Acrylic paint works better with synthetic fabrics, so try to pick nylon or rayon fabric. Use spray paint for easier application. Otherwise, you can use your regular flat, bright, or round brushes to apply acrylic paint on the fabric.
Make sure the layers are thin and even so that the paint sticks better and doesn’t peel off after drying.
Step Three: Cure and Seal
Acrylic paint is fast-drying and it takes only 30 minutes to 2 hours to fully dry. However, you should let the fabric dry for a day allowing it to fully cure.
The final step is to use heat treatment to make the paint permanent. Use an iron to apply heat to the fabric. Place scrap fabric or paper between the iron and the fabric so that the paint doesn’t melt. Set the temperature to medium or got depending on the fabric type.
If the fabric is too soft, it’s better to choose the low-temperature setting. Apply heat for 3 to 5 minutes only. Move the iron continuously throughout the surface to avoid scorching. And that’s all you need to do.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, acrylic paint is not allergic at all. The paint is non-toxic and safe for all ages. However, some acrylic paint might emit toxic fumes irritating your nostrils and eyes. Wear a respiratory mask and hand gloves to avoid any harm to your body.
Yes, fabric paint may become thinner in concentration with time. However, this might happen with any painted object that is exposed to the external environment. If the painted surface remains in a closed environment, the change would not be significant at all.
If you want to use fabric paint instead of acrylic paint on a piece of fabric, it’s completely achievable. However, fabric paint can’t match the versatility of acrylic paint when it comes to other surfaces like canvas, wood, paper, metal, or plastic.
So, that was our take on fabric paint vs acrylic paint. Before we end up, here are two quick tips for you. If you want a smooth finish, soft feel, and maximum comfort, go for fabric paint. Acrylic paint is a good choice for a longer-lasting design and eye-catchy colors.