What is Fabric Paint?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Fabric paint is a type of paint which is specifically designed for use on textiles. It is often used to create custom craft projects, and is also used on a commercial scale to apply patterns and decorations to textiles. Working with this substance is much like working with normal paint, and most craft stores carry an assortment of fabric paints designed for different materials and looks. This paint is not the same as fabric dye, although fabric dye can be applied like paint onto some textiles.

Fabric spray paint can be used to decorate textiles.
Fabric spray paint can be used to decorate textiles.

As a general rule, natural fibers like silk, linen, and cotton work best with paint. Cotton will take most types of fabric paint, while specialized versions are recommended for silk and linen. Treated fabrics will tend to resist fabric paint, as will many synthetics. The material to be painted should always be washed first, and generally must sit for at least 72 hours before being washed again. The individual type of paint will include specific washing and care instructions.

Fabric paint can be used on textiles during custom craft projects.
Fabric paint can be used on textiles during custom craft projects.

A variety of configurations of fabric paint are available. Very runny versions are often designed to mimic watercolors, and allows the craftsperson to brush it on. Silk paints, for example, are usually made thin. Thicker types come out almost like paste, and may be used to create raised lines and designs on a garment. In addition to an array of colors, this material also comes in metallic forms. Any type of fabric paint should always be tested on a small region of the fabric first, to see how the color will turn out.

Most companies sell fabric paint in tubes. The paint can be squeezed out onto a palette or into a dish to work with, or the tube can be used as an applicator. Pens that serve the same function are also available for drawing directly on fabric. Fabric spray painting is also a popular craft activity, and several companies manufacture fabric spray paint. The craftsperson can freehand the paint, use a stencil, or draw a design onto the fabric and paint over it. Brushes, sponges, and rollers can all be used to create desired designs and looks.

Fabric painting can be combined with other craft techniques. For example, wax or a similar compound can be applied to a textile before painting for a resistance dyed look. When the material is washed, the wax will disappear, leaving behind a pattern in the paint. Many people also glue or applique ornaments onto textiles as well.

Stencils can be used to draw designs onto fabric.
Stencils can be used to draw designs onto fabric.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Fabric painting is really cool. You can make up whatever designs you like.

I have seen really amazing designs on the Internet. I would like to make something like that one day but I probably won't.

Where could you get fabric spray paints?


Is there a particular brand of fabric paint that is better than the others?

I keep seeing all these different brands: setacolor, artex, dylon fabric paint, just to begin with, and I don't know which one to choose.

Does anybody have any advice?


Fabric paint pens can be a good choice for a fun, crafty kids project.

A fabric paint pen is better than canned fabric paint or those in the little tubes because you don't have to squeeze it, and you can usually just draw straight onto the item.

A good project for little ones is to give them a t-shirt and a set of fabric paint markers, set the whole thing on top of a newspaper-covered surface, and let them go at it!


Oh gosh, that reminds me of my teenage fabric paint period.

It was smack in the middle of the 80s, and I put dimensional fabric paint onto every denim item I owned -- and I had a lot.

All of my denim jackets were bedazzled and puff-painted...and don't even get my started on my 90s airbrush fabric paint phase!

What can I say, my fashion sense has not always been at its finest.

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