Tips for Painting on Canvas and Fabrics


After mastering the art of decorative painting, most painters would like to explore in other medium such as fabric, glass or tin. Learning how to paint on fabric not only can recreate a new range of wardrobe from your old clothing eg jeans or T-shirt but also bring life to your plain curtains, cushion covers or table cloth. In fabric painting, there is no background to seal, sand and basecoat.However, painting on fabric can be quite challenging unless you know how to control your paints . The following are some tips for fabric painting.


Before painting on cushion, pillow covers, T-shirts or sweatshirts, you need to be careful to prevent paint from seeping through to the back of the items. Cut a piece of cardboard to the appropriate size and cover it with plastic. Place these inside the item. The cardboard will also hold it to make painting easier. To prevent item from slipping off, you can secure it with pins or masking tape.

For larger item, you can fold the extra fabric like a parcel and secure it at the back with masking tape or pins.( Do not pull it too tightly, or it will distort the pattern and caused buckling around the painted design when it dries.) This will prevent the excess fabric from being stained accidentally by paints.

You also need to keep your work area and hands clean when working with fabric. Keep a damp cloth beside you to clean your hands when neccessary.


Suitable Fabric

If you are a newbie, you should try using 100% cotton fabric which has a tight weave. If you are painting designs that do not require sharp and precise image, loosely woven fabrics are fine too.

Prewash Your Fabric

The only preparation required prior to painting is to prewash and machine dry the garment you plan to paint. Prewashing is necessary to prevent shrinkage which may damage your painting. Do not add softener while prewashing. It will soften the paint and may cause some of it to be washed out. If you choose not to machine dry your garment, then you should air dry it in future because machine dry can cause a certain amount of shrinkage too.
To test if your fabric needs prewashing, drop a bit of water on it. If it beads up on the surface, it needs washing. If it sinks in, you can paint before washing.
If you are still not sure, paint test spots on the underside of waistband or seams and machine wash. The paint should stick properly and does not bleed.

Press Fabric

Before painting, it is necessary to press fabric to remove all wrinkles and ensure that surface is flat.



If you happen to make any mistakes during painting, fear not, try lifting it out immediately by blotting it with a baby wipe or a clean brush. You can also use the alcohol prep pads and try to remove as much paint as possible. Do not use the alcohol any closer to your painted design or it may cause bleeding; and painted area may be soften and spread on the fabric.
If all these cannot work, simply add in a leaf, bud or even ribbons. We all learn through mistakes!

Transfer patterns

To transfer the pattern, use a pastel chalk pencil to retrace pattern lines on the back of the pattern. For light colour fabric, use a dark colour chalk and vice versa. Position the pattern and tape it in place. Rub over the traced pattern lines, thus transferring them on the fabric. While painting, you need to take care that the chalk marks will not be rub off accidenally. Alternatively, use your graphite paper and stylus but make sure you do not poke through.

Heat-Setting and Fabric care

After spending several hours of painting, you need to know how to maintain your precious work. Painted fabric need to be laid flat to dry thoroughly for preferably 24 hours before ironing it to heatset. Place a cloth over your fabric to iron or you can iron on the wrong side of the fabric, preventing the paints from getting into your iron.
For larger project like curtain, you can try tumble drier. ( to play safe,try tumble dry a sample piece on high for half an hour, then wash it to see if the colours have been set or not.

If you are using acrylic paints,there is no need to heat-set, as the paints are permanent once dry. For textile paint, you need to heat-set with an iron for permanence, and some manufacturers recommend waiting at least 24 hours after the paint has dried before washing the fabric.

After painting, some fabrics should be washed by hand, while others may be machine-washed. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on paint labels for specific care of handpainted fabrics.

Fabric Paints

Textile paints are made specifically for fabric painting,
For “on the surface” 3-dimensional techniques, applicator-tipped paints such as Tulip and Plaid are recommended.

Textile medium can turn acrylic paint into fabric paint. It leaves the fabric soft and if heat set, can be washed as normal. Just add equal parts of acrylic paints to textile medium.
There are some artists whom just use acrylic paints without having to use a textile medium.
If you do use textile medium, be sure to follow instruction carefully, as most are formulated to mix, only with the manufacturer's recommended brand of paint.

Painting techniques

Basically, there are 4 methods to apply paint on your fabric.


teddy bag

Use a stiff bristled brush or your old deerfoot brush to pounce on the fabric, we use this technique for fluffy animals like lambs, or fuzzy bears. Sometimes, we also use this to basecoat large area.


This technique works best on heavy fabric like canvas. Scrub the paint into the fabric using your older stiff paintbrush. Do not thin your the paint with water as this will cause them to bleed.

Wet- on- wetrose cushion

Base the design, eg fllower, one area at a time. with extender, apply the paint on the small area. Shading and highlighting are worked into the wet extender base. Apply a small amount of paint on a side loaded flat brush.The extender will help the paint to blend smoothly and subtly into the fabric.




straw jeansBlending

Because fabric is very absorbent, sometimes, you can just blend the paints together where they meet. Apply the colours, by scrubbing it in with the weave of the fabric, rinse and wipe your brush dry. The colours will be able to blend in easily. I use this technique for both the strawberries T- shirt and the autumn leaves.





Painting on canvas

To paint on canvas, you need to base the surface with 2 layers of gesso for better coverage.