How to Paint Fabric

At Upstroke Studio the most common fabric you will paint on is polyester. Polyester is a synthetic thermoplastic made from a chemical reaction involving petroleum, air, and water. The plastic fibers in polyester are strong and hydrophobic, meaning they do not absorb water and resist staining. Not all paints will adhere to those plastic fibers. Fabric paints work well on polyester because they are generally acrylic paints that have been pre-mixed with a fabric medium. Disperse dyes will also work on synthetic fabrics like polyester.



Paint will adhere best to the fabric after washing. You can hand wash your article or put it in a clothes washer, though a simple surface cleaning will suffice. The goal of the cleaning is to remove any dust, dirt, or other debris from the fabric that could be creating a barrier between the paint and fabric fibers. 

Once your fabric has been washed, let it dry completely. If you apply paint to a damp surface, the paint will bleed.



You may ask what makes fabric paint special or how is it different from regular acrylic paint? The answer is the use of a fabric medium. Acrylic paint by itself will often crack and peel off the fabric. A fabric medium is an opaque (white) fluid that mixes with acrylic paint, making it more adhesive and flexible. 

Though many fabric mediums are opaque, they dry clear and mix well with acrylic paints while not diluting the paint's color. A standard mixing ratio is 1-part fabric medium and 2-parts acrylic paint. 

If you wish to dye a synthetic fabric, it is best to use a disperse dye. A disperse dye works on a molecular level. Usually sold as a powder that, when activated by heat, changes directly from a solid to a gas, skipping the liquid phase. This process is otherwise known as ink "sublimation."

Fabric Painting Tips:

  • The thinner the paint, the more it will bleed. 
  • Use a light touch, especially when using new fabric markers. 


Heat Set

Some fabric paints may say that heat setting is not required, but we highly recommend taking this step to ensure the beauty and longevity of your creation.

Clothes Dryer Method: Place the item in a clothes dryer on its highest setting for polyester for 30 minutes. 

Iron Method: Place a small cloth over your artwork and press it with a dry flat iron on low for up to 10 seconds.

Be mindful not to burn or, in the case of polyester, melt your fabric.

Do not heat set dimensional paint.



Don't limit yourself to paint alone; let your imagination run wild! Use flip sequins, fabric flowers, buttons, gems, and more. 

Show us how you made your project your own on Instagram with #upstrokeart

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