Despite what many people tell you, acrylic paint can most definitely be used to create fabric paint that’s easy-to-use, and long lasting, but only if you take a few necessary steps to convert into a medium that could work on most types of cloth.
In true DIY fashion, it’s always best to mix your own acrylic-based fabric paint rather than going out to the store to buy a tube or two. After all, resourcefulness is half the fun in painting!
But Does Acrylic Work on Fabric?
In general, acrylic paint adheres to most fabrics really well, but there’s just one problem: once it dries, it becomes thick and brittle, and will often crack and peel off with the slightest movement of the fabric. However, by using what is called an acrylic medium, you’ll be able to make acrylic paint work on fabric, giving your cloth vibrant and intensely beautiful colors that may not be achievable using other mediums like watercolor or Tempera.
Think of it as gouache on canvas: it’s bright, it’s vibrant, and it’s flexible enough to move with the fabric.
An acrylic medium is basically any type of substance that can be used to dilute the acrylic, essentially thinning it out in such a way that it goes on smoothly onto fabric without stiffening or going brittle. While store-bought fabric paints are available, again, this doesn’t sit well with DIY enthusiasts, and they don’t provide the same intensity of colors as home-made ones.
Don’t worry, we’re here to teach you how to make acrylic paint work on fabric!
What Acrylic Medium Should I Use?
There are, of course, store-bought acrylic mediums that you can buy, and almost every single manufacturer will claim that only their product should be used with acrylic paints. Know that this is a marketing ploy: pretty much every single brand of ready-made acrylic medium uses roughly the same formula, so it doesn’t matter which brand you use (although I personally use Liquitex because of its ease-of-use and price point). So if you’re in the store looking for acrylic mediums, don’t get caught up in the hype: they’re all pretty much the same.
Of course, you can use stuff lying around your studio as an acrylic medium. The most common acrylic medium you could use to make acrylic paint work on fabric is glycerol. It works surprisingly well, and since it’s already a component in most acrylic paints, glycerol will mix with the paint more thoroughly, making it more viscous and extending the drying time significantly, and most importantly, making acrylic paint washable once it’s on fabric.
How to Make Acrylic Paint Work on Fabric
Store-bought acrylic mediums will have specific instructions on how to use them. But, take it with a grain of salt: in most cases, mixing acrylic paint with an acrylic medium is a very subjective matter and it depends entirely on the type of medium you’re using, the kind of acrylic paint you’re using, and how thick or thin you want your acrylic fabric paint to be.
Naturally, the more you thin out your acrylic paint, the easier it will be to adhere it to fabric. With a thinner acrylic paint, you can create complex patterns and even blend colors together. The downside, of course, is that the colors might not be as vibrant. On the other hand, a thicker mixture will produce deeper, more vibrant colors, but it will be harder on the fabric and can run the risk of peeling and cracking.
Using Glycerol as an Acrylic Medium
You can use different substances to make an acrylic medium, but like we said, the most commonly used substance is glycerol. It’s a natural component of acrylic paints, which makes it easier to work with. However, using too much glycerol can effectively ruin a good batch of acrylic paint by diluting it too much.
When using glycerol, it’s important that it’s first diluted with water, normally with a ratio of 1:5, with every 1 part of glycerol being diluted in 5 parts of water. This helps stabilize the glycerol and makes it more amenable to mixing with the paint. Once diluted, it’s important that you only use small portions of the glycerol mix with your acrylic paint. Start with a ratio of 1:5 as well, with 1 part glycerol (that’s been diluted with water) to 5 parts of paint. Use small batches first, as some paints might require a smaller proportion than the 1:5 mix.
Take note, however, that glycerol can be toxic, so it’s not the best medium to use if you’re painting with children. For non-toxic mediums, you could buy branded mediums, but these are usually much more expensive (of course, it’s worth it if we’re talking about safety).
How to Use Your Acrylic Medium and Acrylic Paint-based Fabric Paint
Once you’ve found the right proportions for your medium and your paint, you can now use it on fabric. At this point, you can now use your acrylic paint in the same way you would use fabric paint. However, you need to take note that acrylic paint-based fabric paints take much longer to dry than fabric-specific paints. Depending on your mixture, and depending on how long it takes for your acrylic paint to dry, it could take anywhere between 3 to 4 days to dry on fabric.
But that’s not exactly a bad thing: the extended drying time means that you can mix, match, and blend colors on your palette without worrying about them drying out and being unusable. This also means that, because of its increased viscosity, it can also be used to screen-print and even airbrush. It’s one of the most versatile mediums to use.