Are Fabric Paint and Acrylic Paint the Same?


Let’s talk paint once again – 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?

Hey guys, before I ever discovered art canvases, I was trying my hand on canvas -fabric, that is! The “wearable art craze” was in full swing and I didn’t want to be left out. But should you use the same kind of paint e.g, art or craft acrylics – on fabrics?

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 just a one dimensional item when I could expend to things like fabric.

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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Are fabric paint and acrylic paint the same

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.

Golden GAC 900 Heat SetGolden GAC 900 Heat SetShop Now

So Is Fabric Paint Acrylic As Well?

Well, short answer yes, long answer no. (I know that’s not what you were expecting!) However, you can make acrylic paints compatible with fabric application if you combine it with a product like  GAC900 by Golden (great company that makes acrylics) It is an acrylic polymer emulsion. Yep, just like our famous clay!

It is a great substance to “convert” some of your acrylic paints. Take special precautions:  First you will have to heat-set your garment (e.g. with an iron), and use only in a well-ventilated area.

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.

is fabric paint acrylic

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. These below you can dispense freely in the same way, and work well for larger areas of detail:

Textile Paint - Set of 6Textile Paint – Set of 6Shop NowFolk Art Textile PaintFolk Art Textile PaintShop NowFabric Paint Brush SetFabric Paint Brush SetShop Now

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;

Fabric paints - Crystal EffectFabric paints – Crystal EffectShop NowPaint for Decorating clothingPaint for Decorating clothingShop NowFabric paint -GlitterFabric paint -GlitterShop Now

is fabric paint acrylicSo Can I Paint On Fabric With Acrylics?

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.

painted on pillows

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.


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👍!

4 thoughts on “Are Fabric Paint and Acrylic Paint the Same?”

  1. Hi
    I have a PU faux leather tote bag. I need a black glossy permanent paint pen that will not chip, crack or peel off. Do you have a suggestion of which one or kind to get???

    1. PU as in polyurethane? I’d recommend the oil-based Sharpie pens instead of the “conventional” kind. They are excellent, work on many different surfaces including PU, and also come in fine tips as well as larger ones so you can do delicate writing as well, which I think would look great. Good luck to you!

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