Greetings budding crafters! So, is fabric paint and acrylic paint the same? How can you tell which to use if you’re wanting to decorate clothing, canvas sneakers, tote bags or linens?
Before I discovered canvases, I was trying my hand on canvas -fabric, that is! The “wearable art craze” was in full swing (early 90s) and I didn’t want to be left out. I had puffy paints, glitter paints, bling and gems. Naturally I would always want to take it a step further with other things, like pillows. I was never satisfied with one dimensional items.
Which means I probably experimented a lot with different mediums – some that were right for what I was working on and some were not. Through trial and error, now I can enlighten you on your choice on fabric paints...👩🎨
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Fabric Paint vs. Acrylic
I used lots of fabric paints in my lifetime, and one thing they had in common with acrylics is that they are both water-based. They are both made of similar ingredients like color pigments and polymers which give them their vibrancy and eventual permanency.
Good fabric paint is made to adhere long-term to clothing (otherwise it wouldn’t be a good kind and defeat the purpose) And I can tell you from experience, traditional acrylics are VERY hard to get out of clothing when/if an “oopsie” occurs.
But there are some key differences, and one of those is the product makeup. Fabric paint contains a binding agent that traditional acrylics (like I talk about on here) do not…Because fabric is more porous, depending on what type, this is necessary to adhere well.
So is fabric paint acrylic as well?
Short answer, yes, long answer no. (I know that’s not what you were expecting!) You have several choices here…look for “proprietary” fabric paints…
OR you can convert your preexisting paints by combining them with a substance that can render them compatible with fabric application.
One such product is GAC900 by Golden (great company that makes acrylics) It is an acrylic polymer emulsion that will let you “convert” your acrylic paints. Afterward, by use of a heat-setting tool, your finished work will be permanently set.
For best results, stick to a 1:1 ratio of paint and GAC900 when you combine them. You can also change the viscosity by adding a gel emulsion too. It is made to work with all kinds of acrylic paints, but the result may be affected depending on the type.
“Student grade” or “craft” paints may not turn out as vibrant looking, or as permanent, as a more high-quality brand. It will also dry to the same finish as the paint you used (satin, gloss, matte, etc.)
How to Use
Take special precautions: First use only in a well-ventilated area. and secondly, you will have to heat-set your garment. There are several ways to accomplish this:
- Use of a conventional clothes iron
- Use of a professional heat gun
- A commercial oven
- A clothes dryer (on high heat)
- Using a blow dryer (this one is debatable…)
For all the methods above (save for the heat gun) it is best to wait at least 24 hours after painting to do the heat set. Be sure and turn your garment inside out before getting started. The iron should be on a moderate setting, and go over it for 3-5 minutes. As far as using the dryer, it’s recommended to time it for half an hour on high heat.
I’m a little dubious about this one, as I never use high heat due to concerns that the fabric could shrink. So make sure to check the care label on the garment before doing this.
I think the iron and the heat gun are the best ways, but you do you, as long as you take precautions. If the object in question has a certain shape that makes ironing impractical (such as a pair of canvas sneakers, handbag, etc. ) using a heat gun would make sense – or possibly a blow dryer if you don’t have one – move it back and forth a few minutes on a medium to high setting.
Afterward, when you need to launder your article of clothing in the future, you handiwork should be permanently set and resistant to cracking, peeling, fading, etc. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to turn the garment inside-out prior to doing so.
Do Other Additives Work?
You may have noticed that there is a similar product made by the Golden company – GAC400 and wondered if it was similar or a different formula altogether. Well, it’s different – it’s actually a fabric stiffener. It is a good medium to use with freestanding sculpture or mixed media projects (think costume props, masks, stuff like that.)
Also, the 800 label – this is a medium used for doing paint pours, which a different strategy altogether – it makes the paint flow more readily. But doesn’t bode well for fabric.
The product I mentioned earlier – GAC900 – is an additive emulsion you’d add to your paint to make it fabric compatible. It’s definitely the right product you’d use if you are wanting to paint on tshirts, sweatshirts, canvas tote bags and sneakers.
What If You Just Want to Paint Some Clothes…
…And not have to mess with fabric additives or irons?? That’s totally fine too!
If you don’t think you’d be up for that and if you are looking for something ready to go out of the box, you may want to look for fabric paints exclusively 🙂 Which I will discuss in the next paragraph!
Choosing the Right Kind of Paints
Below is an image of a pillow I designed once. It was pretty much freehand though I probably had a design on paper to go by for precision . This is a good example of what the average fabric paints’ level of color and vibrancy that can be reached.
This was just something I did for fun. The material was some kind of ribbed cotton/poly blend, which doesn’t provide much tension when painting. (My design may have looked more “crisp” on something stiffer.) The initials represented my old schools’ I think.
These and most other fabric paints are also non toxic so in addition to their easy dispensing, are great for kids to use too, so get a bundle of them for outings, social events, and other activities.
What is interesting is that although these fabric paints are made to penetrate material well and also produce a result that looks great and will be washable and permanent, when you squirt them on something hard and nonporous like a piece of vinyl, after it dries, you can just peel it off. Which is very similar to how acrylics behave.
For fine lines and lettering, these paints with the “easy squeeze” applicator tip, were the bomb-diggity – it’s good to see that they are still abundant as they were when I used them!
They also have great special effects to them, like glitter and metallic looking, so you can get a one of a kind look with a lot of pizazz and flair.
Which Kinds of Fabrics Work Best?
Possibly denim or canvas – heavy fabrics like these can take it more because these types of fabric are stiffer. But if we are talking cotton, polyester, rayon, linen, etc., it would be a good idea to take a look at t some paints made especially for them, like those above.
Hypothetically if I were to get out some of my little Reeves tubes and go to town on something made of rayon, it might go on ok, but overall it would be likely to crack or peel after drying.
Here’s another example of how far these paints can go – these involved old tshirts or sweats, which are usually made from heavy cotton or a 50/50 blend. They were repurposed into throw pillows – pretty clever eh? No doubt a template was utilized to make these designs precise looking.
As you may know acrylics have polymers in them which have a way of creating a firm almost plasticized layer which doesn’t bode well here – but with the little bit of insider knowledge I have provided, you can get around this.
I hope this article will be helpful for you, in terms of clarifying fabric paint, and what products you can use to make it work. And hope you have a great time making wearable art!
All things considered, use the right kind of paint next time you work on fabric; you will be glad you did and the results will show👍!