What is Puff Paint?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Puff paint, also known as puffy, tulip or dimensional paint, is a craft material used to add both texture and vibrancy to an item. Unlike other paints that have a two-dimensional look, this type has a raised, three-dimensional appearance. People use it for a variety of projects because of the way it adheres well to different surfaces, but it is best known for use on fabrics. Available in both manufactured and simple-to-make homemade versions, it puffs up when heat is added. It can be applied with an applicator tip, brush, the fingers or other tools such as a scraper.

Puff paint can add both texture and vibrancy to a crafted item.
Puff paint can add both texture and vibrancy to a crafted item.


People most often associate dimensional paint with wearable crafts, such as putting a design on a T-shirt. It also works for crafts like scrapbooking, handmade greeting cards and other paper craft projects, decorating wooden keepsakes or picture frames and even non-skid socks and stones. Many individuals use it for kids’ and classroom art, but it’s possible to mix the product with things like glitter or beads for a polished, professional look.

Puff paint typically comes in squeezable bottles and has a three dimensional look when dry.
Puff paint typically comes in squeezable bottles and has a three dimensional look when dry.

It isn’t necessary to use tulip paint just by itself. Crafters frequently combine it with other materials to get the effects they want. For example, a designer might sew ribbon or lace to a tote bag for a feminine feel, accenting it with the paint.

Puff paint can be used in scrapbooking.
Puff paint can be used in scrapbooking.

A non-conventional use is as a marker for people who have vision problems. People can feel it under their fingertips and determine different shapes, letters or other symbols. This gives them a little more independence than they otherwise might have.

Puff paint is often used in fabric projects.
Puff paint is often used in fabric projects.


The standard kind of puff paint is commercially made. This version is sold in small, sealable tubes or bottles. It comes in many different colors, including neon and pastel shades. Some manufacturers even make versions that glow in the dark.

Parents, kids and other people also make their own homemade recipes. The simplest ones call for a combination of shaving cream, glue and food coloring. Other recipes use ingredients like self-rising flour, salt and water. Regardless of whether it is commercial or homemade, it typically is nontoxic.


Commercial forms usually come with a special applicator tip right on the bottle. Some sets include multiple tips that can be switched out based on what a person wants to do. When someone squeezes the tube or bottle with an even pressure, the applicator’s fine point makes it possible to make lines, dots and swirls. For homemade recipes, inexpensive art brushes work fine. Some artists and kids also like to apply it with their fingers.

Spray versions of puff paint are also available. These aren’t quite as common as the tube or bottle types, but they are nice for some projects because they apply to a large surface area very fast. Manufacturers typically recommend that users apply a light coating of the spray initially, going back for additional layers after the first has set. This way, less paint gets wasted and drying time isn’t as long. The technique also lets the artist see exactly how much it has risen so she can decide whether to put on another layer.

The next application step is to let the tulip paint air dry or heat it. The drying and heating process is what makes the product rise and set firmly, but this can take several hours to finish. This is important to remember, because an artist or craftsman has to account for how much it expands and lifts as she is designing. Depending on the craft surface and the ingredients, good heating tools include irons and hair dryers. Sometimes people even use microwaves.


Some manufactured styles of puff paint are made especially for fabrics and are fully machine washable. These are usually formulated so that they won’t dissolve or crack very easily. Even these tend to wear off over time, though. The safest way to clean an item with this product is by hand. Additionally, heat will make it warp and stretch, so a finished design shouldn’t go in the dryer.


One disadvantage of this craft material is that it does not mix well. It isn’t possible, for example, to mix blue and yellow to make green. If someone wants different colors, they have to either buy them or make a separate batch in the new shade.


Premade sets of this versatile paint are available at most craft shops, or in the craft sections of department stores. Online retailers sell them, as well, which allows people to find brands, colors and container sizes they normally couldn’t get from local vendors. They are fairly inexpensive, but the best, most durable formulas cost more and can add up quickly if many different colors are needed for a project.

Some versions of puff paint glow in the dark.
Some versions of puff paint glow in the dark.
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


I can't get the puffy paint to puff! What am I doing wrong? I have tried it on paper and fabric, waited until dry and then blasted it with a hairdryer. Nothing! Help, please!


I bought the 1.25 oz of tulip brand puffy paint and it showed a squeeze nozzle on the front and when I opened it there was no nozzle just a 1/2 round opening. How can I use this paint if it has no squeeze nozzle? Is there some kind of trick to it? Jo


O.K. you just have to put it on thick and then let it dry for four hours and it should be puffy.


Use a hair blow dryer to heat it up instead of an iron! It's safe on things like picture frames since the heat isn't placed directly on it, so it won't ruin it or, worse, set it on fire.


If you put it on a picture frame (etc) how do you get the paint to "puff" up if you can't iron it? Does the paint just not puff up as much or not at all if you can't set it with heat?

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