Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Best Acrylic Fabric Paints for Painting Clothes and Accessories

Acrylic fabric paints, iron-on appliques and other embellishments are a fun and easy way to transform ordinary t-shirts, sweatshirts, denim jackets and jeans into special, one-of-a-kind clothing designs. 

Even if you don’t feel especially artistic, it’s extremely easy to add striking hand painted designs to basic wardrobe items by applying acrylic fabric paint through a stencil with a foam pouncer. 

Embellishing clothing with fabric paints is also a wonderful project to do with kids. Both my fashionista niece and her younger brother used to love taking solid color T-shirts and creating their own hand painted and stenciled designer tees, which they wore with pride.

Some fabric paints also work well on other materials, including leather and vinyl, so they’re great for painting shoes, sandals, handbags, belts and other accessories to give them a whole new look with fresh colors, color blocking, patterns or painted accents.

I have researched and used different types, brands and formulas of fabric paints in different price ranges. In this review I will share my favorite acrylic fabric paints for decorating clothing and accessories. 

The Best, Most Versatile Acrylic Fabric Paints for Embellishing Clothing & Accessories

Why Use Acrylic Fabric Paints?

Acrylic fabric paints, also called acrylic textile paints, are formulated specifically for use on fabric clothing and other textiles. Unlike fabric dyes and alcohol-based textile paints or inks, they do not spread and saturate the fibers. Most work best on untreated or pre-washed, natural fabrics and synthetic fabrics whose fiber content contains at least 50% natural fibers. 

Acrylic textile paints are usually thinner, penetrate fibers better and dry more flexible than standard acrylic paints formulated for art or craft uses. Fabric paints also contain a binder that helps them adhere much better to natural fibers after the paint dries and is heat-set (usually with an iron). This binder makes the painted designs more durable, so they can better withstand repeated washing and resist cracking, peeling or flaking when the fabric is gently stretched or folded, such as when you put on, move around in, take off or put away your painted clothing.   

More transparent colors usually have a thinner consistency and are softer to the touch when dry compared to more opaque fabric paints. They are great for lighter color fabrics, since the color of the clothing will show through them. For the same reason, opaque fabric paints will show up much better on darker clothing, although they are slightly thicker and will dry a bit stiffer than more transparent formulas.

Good Quality Fabric Paints Give the Best Results

Jacquard makes moderately priced, high-quality, highly pigmented paints, dyes, mica powders and other art and craft supplies. Jacquard's Textile, Neopaque and Lumiere lines are my go-to acrylic paints for painting fabrics.

Jacquard Textile acrylic paints "Exciter Pack" assortment

Jacquard Textile 

Jacquard Textile paints have a medium- to light-bodied consistency and come in 39 semi-transparent colors. Mixing any of the other colors with 123 White will create a pastel shade. You can make any color more transparent without affecting the quality or consistency by mixing it with Jacquard Textile 100 Colorless Extender. (Another option, which I don’t recommend, is diluting the paints with up to 25% water, since it will reduce their viscosity and negatively affect the quality.)  Mixing any other Jacquard Textile color with #220 Super Opaque White will make it more opaque. 

The Jacquard Textile Color Exciter Pack is an economical assortment that includes small bottles of nine of the most useful colors in the line. It's a great way to try these paints without investing a lot of money.

Jacquard Textile colors can also be mixed with Jacquard Lumiere, Neopaque or Dye-Na-Flow paints or with Jacquard Pearl Ex Powdered Pigments to create custom colors and effects.

Jacquard Neopaque and Lumiere

Neopaque is Jacquard’s line of light-bodied, opaque acrylic paints. They come in 21 colors plus a Flowable Extender medium that can be used to make the colors more transparent without altering the paint’s texture, consistency, adherence and other key properties. Lumiere is a companion line of 33 beautiful metallic and pearlescent paint colors designed to complement the Neopaque solid colors and have similar characteristics. My favorite Lumiere paints are the color-shifting duo-chrome colors!

Even though the Jacquard Neopaque and Jacquard Lumiere lines have not been optimized specifically for painting on fabrics, like the Jacquard Textile line, they have many of the same characteristics and are also considered fabric paints. After they have dried and been heat-set, both Neopaque and Lumiere paints adhere to textiles very well, remain flexible and resist cracking, peeling and chipping. I have used them to paint fleece sweatshirts, both freehand and with stencils, and they have withstood many washings well.

Both formulas are opaque, highly pigmented and provide good coverage, even on dark fabrics. You can mix any Neopaque or Lumiere shade with Neopaque Flowable Extender to make it more transparent without changing its consistency, thickness, flexibility, adherence or other important characteristics. 

Similarly to the Jacquard Textile line, you can mix pastel shades by blending a small amount of Neopaque White into any of the other Neopaque colors.

Jacquard Neopaque and Lumiere acrylic paints
I've been using my first Jacquard Neopaque and Lumiere acrylic paint Exciter Packs for many years. 

There are also a Lumiere Exciter Pack with 9 pearlescent and metallic colors and a Lumiere & Neopaque Exciter Pack with 7 metallic Lumiere shades plus black and white Neopaque. As with the Textile line, these two Exciter Packs are a great way to get a nice variety of colors in smaller quantities for a very affordable price. I have purchased both of these Exciter Packs as well as full-size bottles of the Neopaque black and white and Lumiere duo-chrome colors I use most. I recently bought another of the Lumiere assortments because some older colors have been discontinued and newer ones added.

Another advantage of Jacquard Lumiere and Neopaque acrylic paints is that they adhere well to a wide range of surfaces including paper, wood, rubber, vinyl, leather and rubber, in addition to fabric, and can be used for many different types of projects. I have gotten more than my money’s worth out of mine. 

For example, I completely transformed an old pair of boring, frumpy, beige comfort sandals by painting the leather with Lumiere for the uppers and black Neopaque to edge the sole, and then sewing on some faux jeweled trim. 

Beige sandals before and after being painted with aqua and blue Jacquare Lumiere acrylic paints

Heat-Set Fabric Painting Medium 

You also can achieve successful results by mixing permanent, highly pigmented art or craft acrylic paints 50/50 with a good quality fabric medium, such as Golden GAC 900 Heat-Set Fabric Painting Medium or Martha Stewart Tintable Fabric Medium. 

Pébéo Setacolor

If you are painting a very special piece of clothing or textile, you may want to consider the Pébéo Setacolor line. These superb fabric paints come in an extensive range of beautiful colors and finishes. Although they are more expensive than the Jacquard fabric paints, superior quality, performance and product selection make Pébéo Setacolor products a favorite among many professional painted clothing artists and enthusiasts. 

Pébéo Setacolor Light Fabrics are transparent and include 44 matte, metallic, glitter, and fluorescent shades. Pébéo Setacolor Opaque comes in 77 matte and “shimmer opaque” shades with glitter, pearlescent, metallic and iridescent finishes that dry softer, smoother and more flexible than most other opaque textile paints. There are also Pébéo Setacolor 3D fabric paints that come in tubes with small nozzles that are great for adding raised outlines or dimensional accents to your painted clothing designs. 

The most affordable way to try these terrific paints is with one of the 10-color introductory sets, the Pébéo Setacolor Light Fabrics Discovery Kit or the Pébéo Setacolor Opaque Discovery Kit

Use Fabric Paints and Stencils for Beautiful, Affordable, One-of-a-Kind Handmade Gifts 

Stencils are made in just about any pattern or theme you could want and require no artistic talent to use.

I have used inexpensive fabric stencils of flowers, gardening tools and bees to decorate a sweatshirt for my mother-in-law who loves to garden. 

One of my husband’s favorite gifts from me is a forest green sweatshirt I purchased for him many years ago and stenciled with a cascade of metallic and pearlescent autumn leaves. It has been worn and washed so many times that the fleece is pilling, and the color has faded. By now, the paint isn’t quite as bright or shiny as it once was, either, but it’s still hasn’t cracked, flaked or worn off, and he still wears it proudly.

Man wearing dark green sweatshirt with a stenciled metallic autumn leaves design
My husband still loves and wears this sweatshirt I stenciled for him many years ago. 

You can use alphabet stencils to personalize a T-shirt, hoodie or other garment with the gift recipient’s name or add a meaningful word or message. 

Older children will also love using fabric paints and stencils to turn simple, inexpensive pieces of clothing into personalized gifts for special friends and family members.

Stenciled or hand painted tablecloths, napkins, placemats and table runners also make wonderful gifts. Painting them with snowflakes, pointsettias and other seasonal designs makes any holiday a bit more festive. 

I hope I have inspired you to give fabric paints a try!

The Best Acrylic Fabric Paints for Painting Clothes and Accessories

The Best Acrylic Fabric Paints for Painting Clothes and Accessories by Margaret Schindel

Read More Crafts Reviews by Our Review This Reviews Contributors

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  1. I know there are a lot of ways you can transform and embellish clothing with acrylic fabric paints. It looks like a lot of fun and very creative. I've never tried this craft myself, but hubby & I were the recipients of cute & creative Christmas designs on sweatshirts several years ago.

    1. It really is a lot of fun, Elf! Years ago, I took some plain fleece sweatshirts and added colorful Christmas ornament appliques made from coordinating cotton quilting fabrics backed with fusible web and accented with tiny ribbon accents and fabric paints. I kept one for myself and gave the rest as gifts to family members. They were a big hit! I would love to see the painted Christmas sweatshirts you and your husband received.

  2. Interesting how you transformed those shoes! Very creative.

    1. Thanks very much, Mary Beth! Those comfort sandals really turned into an entirely different pair of shoes, didn't they?

  3. I have used several different brands of fabric paint over the last 40 years. I normally use whatever fabric paint brand is being carried in our local craft store. This is the first time I ever remember seeing the Jacquard brand and it certainly sounds ideal. Access to a variety of brands in many things is the best part of online shopping. Even though my local store, which is a national chain, may not carry this brand of fabric paint, I can still get it. That is pretty awesome! Thanks for the recommendation. I'll be sure to try it out on my next fabric painting project. Your shoes are quite lovely and unique, my favorite reason for crafting & sewing.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind compliment about my painted sandals, Sylvestermmouse! I was really happy with that shoe "makeover" project. I think you'll really be happy with the Jacquard paints. They are more lightfast, washfast and highly pigmented and have a much softer "hand" than typical crafts store acrylic fabric paints, and they work beautifully on leather and vinyl shoes, handbags and accessories. I can't wait to see some of your painted fabric and leather projects. I'm sure they're lovely!

  4. Oh, I love what you can do with these fabric paints. Looks like really fun and creative ways to individualise clothing, home wear, even shoes! I love what you have done with your shoes, they are very beautiful. I have never tried this craft skill and I am not great at sewing or knitting etc but your review has inspired me to add fabric painting to my list of things I would like to try/learn. Thank you!

    1. Oh, Jasmine, I'm thrilled to hear that I have inspired you to try fabric painting! I am not very skilled with a needle either (unlike my mom and my sister), but I love painting and stenciling. Just make sure to choose a fabric that has been untreated and has a fiber content compatible with the fabric paint line you choose, and wash, dry and iron (if necessary) the fabric before you begin painting or stenciling. Have fun!

  5. Thank you Margaret for your great research into this fantastic art project. I can see myself doing this with my "Grands" and I'm sure they will be as pleased with the results. I love it when I can do something with them that results in a project they can be proud of. Next visit with them will result in some really nice wearables I'm sure!

    1. You're most welcome, Olivia! I'm sure you and your grandkids will have a blast designing, creating, wearing and giving their painted wearable art. It's so much fun! I would love to see what all of you make.

  6. WOW, you are so handy - such a DIY guru in so many ways. I had absolutely no idea that this existed! The shoes look outstanding, I love that - Hubby's shirt is pretty cool as well. Your tutorial and tips are straightforward and easy to follow as well. These paints make a great gift for those who love to tackle these type of projects - what a great gift idea.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind compliments on my fabric and leather painting projects, Barbara! Stenciling with fabric paints is child's play, and I can just see you coming up with ideas for stenciling one-of-a-kind pillow covers, placemats, napkins, tablecloths, runners, etc. to coordinate with a room's decor and add a pop of color. I also love your idea of gifting a set of fabric paints to someone who loves DIY and craft projects!

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  8. I have been getting back in touch with my 'crafty' side lately to help with stress levels and I think fabric painting should be next on my list. The last time I thought about fabric painting was when my daughter was a tween and I brought a couple of plain t-shirts and some fabric paint for her and her cousin to use. They made the most amazing 1D fan t-shirts (which has just revealed how long ago it was!), they didn't want to take them off to be washed LOL!

    1. Lou, I definitely agree that fabric painting should be next on your list of creative projects! Your love for color and wonderful sense of whimsy are just begging to be expressed on one-of-a-kind wearable art! I bet your daughter and her cousin would have a blast if you invited them over for a painting party. Adults love fabric painting just as much as kids do (and it usually takes longer to outgrow your creations, LOL!

  9. I certainly like the fact that you don't have to be artist to use the stencils, as art is surly not my strong point. I loved how you transformed the shoes, very nice photos. This is something that I've never tried, but I've often thought about trying this craft. Thanks for all the great advice.

    1. I'm so glad my review of my favorite fabric paints has revived your interest in trying this enjoyable craft, Sam! Knowing how handy you are, I think you would have no problem using them with stencils, particularly for home decor items like throw pillow covers, tablecloths, placemats, etc., and I'm sure it would be a fun activity to do with your grandkids when they come for sleepovers with grandma and grandpa.

  10. Another great and thorough review, Margaret. I am sure it will be helpful for crafty and artistic people. I particularly LOVED the sandals turned blue and never would have thought of doing a project like that (not that I do any craft projects).

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely compliment, Brenda! Painting with stencils doesn’t require any crafty or artistic talent or experience, and it’s lots of fun. Transforming shoes, handbags and other accessories is a great way to upcycle old belongings or thrift store finds and is an economical way to get the style you like in whatever color you want!


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