Fabric Paint vs Acrylic Paint: What Are Differences And Purposes Of Use?

Anyone who works with T-shirts, bedsheets or bags, hats or scarves, or any other kind of fabrics, clothing and accessories are familiar with both Fabric and Acrylic paint.

These are the two most popular kinds of paint to be used in painting or coloring fabric, which are very popular with designers, tailors, and people who run a T-shirt printing business.

Although used for almost the same purposes, there are a number of differences between them. In this article, we are going to learn all about both Fabric paint and Acrylic Paint: what they are, what they are made from, their purpose of use and of course, the difference between them.

If you’ve always wondered whether Fabric and Acrylic paint are the same or different, and where you should use any of them, this is the place to find out everything. 

What is Fabric Paint? 

Fabric Paint is the most common paint for working on fabrics and clothes, both for dyeing them or painting on them.

This kind of paint comes with a special binding that helps the pain to cling to most fabrics; this is one of the ways that fabric paint is different from acrylic paint, because fabric, because the latter adheres better to clothes. 

Fabric paint is actually a mixture of fabric dye and a kind of binder. You can easily make fabric paint of any color if you have the right materials. While dyes don’t adhere to fabrics, fabric paint does, even after multiple washings and regular use.

However, fabric paint can only be used on natural fiber and doesn’t adhere well to synthetic fabrics. It can be said that fabric paint is somewhat limited in its use compared to  acrylic and other kinds of paints that can be used on fabric. 

What is Acrylic Paint? 

Acrylic paint is fast-drying and permanent, and can be used on all kinds of fabrics: both natural and synthetic. This kind of paint is made from acrylic polymer emulsion, in a pigment form; acrylic paint is water-soluble but they dry almost immediately after painting. 

Used on canvas or fabric, acrylic paint becomes water-resistant the moment it dries. This is one of the reasons it can be used in fabric to design clothes and accessories, because the fabric can be washed again and again.

Acrylic colors are extremely bright and vibrant, almost more than watercolor, but its consistency matches that of oil color. The result is that acrylic paint makes your clothes and fabric extremely bright and colorful. 

Difference Between Fabric Paint and Acrylic Paint

The differences between fabric and acrylic paint may seem subtle to the outsider, but only an experienced user will know the real dissimilarities. 

  1. Fabric paint only works on natural fabrics, whereas acrylic paints work on both natural fabric and synthetic fabric. Acrylic paint is more versatile than fabric paint, as it is compatible with all kinds of fabrics and clothes. 
  1. Fabric paint is a combination of dye and a binding agent, which makes it cling to the fabric it is applied to. If you are using fabric paint, chances are that the paint has soaked through the fabric to properly dye it. On the other hand, acrylic paint stays on the surface level to create the design you want. 
  1. While fabric paint easily blends into the fabric, acrylic paint creates a stiff and hard design on the surface of the fabric, as if the design has been painted on a canvas  with thick oil paints. 
  1. Fabric paint can be used on all types of clothes and accessories, i.e. T-shirts, scarves, bedsheets, curtains, pants and coats, caps and hats, etc. The fabric that has been painted on with fabric paint can be draped and folded without any difficulties.

    Alternatively, clothes and accessories that has acrylic paint on it usually becomes stiff and almost impossible to drape or fold. Acrylic paint is fine on T-shirts and jeans, but mill make curtains impossible to drape and bed sheets too stiff to be comfortable in. Bending the design by force with result in cracks that cannot be rectified later. 
  1. Both fabric paint and acrylic paint dries very quickly. However, if you are using fabric paint, the paint needs a strong source of heat, i.e. strong direct sunlight, iron or a blow dryer, to set completely. The paint will start to dissolve if you wash the fabric with water without setting in with heat. 

This is not a problem with acrylic paint. Acrylic paint dries and becomes permanent the moment you apply it to the fabric.

There’s no need to expose acrylic paint to sunlight or a heat source to make it permanent; it becomes permanent and dries the moment acrylic paint is applied to fabric. 

  1. Even after regular use and multiple washing, fabric paint doesn’t get damaged. The color may become slightly faded after a few years but there is never any partial damage to the design, chipping or cracking in the design as the paint adheres to the fabric completely.

    You can keep on wearing and using the clothes designed with fabric paint for years without any changes to the design. On the other hand, acrylic paint is prone to cracking and chipping. You need to be careful with clothes painted on with acrylic paint because the design may start to crack after use. 
  1. Clothes and accessories designed with fabric paint can be washed both by hand and in a machine, with any regular washing detergent or soap. It won’t damage the paint even after multiple washings, but the design can evenly start to fade after years of use. 

With acrylic paint, you have to use a special medium mixer with the detergent to wash it. This special medium mixer will stop the acrylic paint from chipping and cracking, and you can even wash the fabric in the washing machine.

Acrylic paint is permanent and water-resistant, and you can wash it with your hands without the special medium mixer; however, it is the heat in washing machines that can damage the paint and cause it to crack if you don’t use a medium mixer with the detergent. 

  1. In case of any mistakes while painting with fabric paint, you can easily wash away the paint with water if it hadn’t been exposed to a heat source yet.

    On the other hand, acrylic paint instantly hardens and becomes permanent, and cannot be removed with water if you had made a mistake in the design. 

Although both fabric paint and acrylic paint looks the same on fabric, it is their care and their maintenance that differs.

Fabric paint dissolves more evenly on fabric and is better for overall dyeing and designs that spread out over a large area; whereas, acrylic paint is more suitable for detailed designs over smaller spaces, but are more vivid and bright than fabric paint. 

Purpose of Use 

Both fabric and acrylic paint has their own advantages and problems, and they are usually used for different purposes. 

Fabric paint is usually used on natural fabrics, i.e. cotton, wool, silk, etc. instead of synthetic. It is better to use this kind of paint when you are designing on clothes that you plan to use yourself, such as T-shirts and shirts, bed sheets, scarves and upholstery.

Because fabric paint will easily dissolve into the fabric, the comfort level of your clothes will not change. Your T-shirts and bed sheets will stay soft and comfortable even after you’ve applied fabric paint on them. You can even use them regularly, and wash them almost every day, and the paint will not chip or fade away very soon.

Fabric paint is great for clothes and accessories you plan to use every day, to keep your clothes comfortable, and when you want a full, wholesome look on your clothes. 

On the other hand, Acrylic paint is extremely bright and vibrant; it can give your boring and drab clothes a new look, make them look like new. However, anything with acrylic paint on them will be stiffer, more crisp, and not very comfortable.

This paint is fine for home decor items, but not for something you’ll wear every day. Cushions, table mats, upholstery, curtains and drapes can be painted with acrylic paint, since you won’t need to wear or use them regularly, and they don’t need to be washed after every use. 

Therefore, there are a number of subtle differences both in the finished products and in the purpose of use of Fabric and Acrylic paint, and it is only possible to know them after you’ve used both.

Both fabric and acrylic paint can be used on clothes, accessories and any fabric items to create the designs you want to wear and use, but you’ll need to understand when and where to use them, and why for the best possible results. 

Alex John
 

This is Alex, I have been in tshirt business for the last eight years. This is my blog where I share my work and guidelines for fellows. Keep reading resources from here and I am open to any question.

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