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Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Paint a T-shirt with Acrylic Paints

How to Paint a T-shirt with Acrylic Paints

What? Acrylic paints on a shirt?

You read right... Regular acrylic paint can be used on fabric. You don't need special fabric paints that are expensive - much more expensive than regular craft acrylic paint.

And after the paint dries, it won't fade or wash off when you do laundry. I've had two t-shirts I painted a year ago and the colors are still intact and just as vibrant as the day I painted them.

A design... for ease just use your favorite stencil. Don't have one? Get graphite paper and trace your design on the side of the shirt you are painting (Instructions at the bottom)

Acrylic paint in the plastic bottle although you can use the more expensive tube paint

Sponge dabber or pouncer to pounce on the paint, or paint brushes if you traced a design

Cardboard to put under the layer of fabric you're painting. I use old pizza cardboard rounds after they've set for a couple of days and dried out. Or find an old cardboard box and cut out a section large enough to accommodate your design

Small container of water to rinse your brush

Some paper towel to absorb the excess water from your brush

Plastic plate or something to hold a squirt of paint

Stencil design:

Slide the cardboard between the shirt layers positioning it where you are painting your design – front or back. With straight pins, pin the cardboard into place through the side of the shirt you're painting. Slant your pins rather than pushing them straight through. If you don't, you'll find out why I suggest you do. 'Nough said.

Tape your stencil into place using masking or painters (blue) tape. I like the blue painters tape because it lifts easily; isn't so hard to remove.

Time to paint!
Grab a color... any color... your favorite color and squirt some into a plastic plate. If you squirt too little, no problem. You can just squirt more as needed.

Squirted too much? No problem... when you're done, take the top off the bottle, grab a brush or use your finger, scoop it up and add it back into the bottle scraping your brush or finger along the lip line so that the paint flows inside.

Wet your dabber/pouncer then squeeze out the water with the paper towel. Pounce it into the paint then begin pouncing the stencil shape design.

Be sure to pounce and not drag it as the paint will seep under the stencil.

Note that the material of the t-shirt soaks up the paint. This is okay but I do suggest using a good gob of paint.

As you pounce, you'll see less and less paint transferred onto the material. Dab your pouncer often into the paint so you get good coverage.

And listen... there isn't one piece... NOT ONE PIECE of art out there that is perfect. Ask any artist and they will tell you where there are mistakes in their work.

No lie...

So, if you feel your shirt isn't perfect so what? Unless you've done one horrible... and I mean horrible job of pouncing nobody will notice. In fact, you'll get compliments on your shirt.

Where'd you get that shirt?” “Did you make that shirt?” “Can you make one for me?”

Okay, you've finished pouncing your shirt.

Leave the stencil in place until the paint is fairly dry. Holding the stencil in place with one hand, peel the tape off with the other hand.

Lift the stencil straight up.

Wash off the paint from the stencil using straight warm water.

Leave the cardboard in place until the shirt is completely dry. If you don't, the paint will soak into the underside – or the second layer – of the shirt if you remove the cardboard too soon.

Once completely dry, remove the pins and cardboard. Some of the cardboard may stick to the shirt. It will come off with the first wash.

Now some suggest you throw the shirt into the dryer to set the paint.

I have not found this to be true. I have never dried to set the paint. I simply wait until the paint is dry – 24 hours - then I wear it.

Stencil acrylic paint on jeans, cloth napkins, jackets, baby onsies/body suits, socks, dish towels, area rugs, sweatshirts, tote bags, edges of sheets or table cloths... Only your imagination will get into the way of thinking of ways to use this creative way to decorate material.

Tracing designs onto your t-shirt with graphite paper:

Using blue painters tape which is easily removed, tape only one edge of your design onto your shirt. You could also pin the paper design along one edge.

Slide the graphite tracing paper - graphite down - between your picture and the shirt material then on a hard surface begin transferring with a ball point pen.

Don't press too hard or you'll go through the papers.

Every so often you can lift the paper and graphite paper to see where you are or what you have missed. Just make sure you don't allow the design to shift or move in any way. Other wise you'll have part of the design in one area and continuing in another. 

To the right is a black t-shirt I painted for my mother. She was so proud of it, she wore it to church the very day I delivered it.

For all of my original designs (NEVER sell designs you've traced that belong to someone else), I charge the cost of the shirt plus $10. Cheap when you consider the time put into it but I tell you, people LOVE the thought of a hand painted shirt.

You can find more original designs at my online store, Visages.

Below are some of my newest designs many of which you can personalize with a name or your own quote or saying!

Got What I Wanted shirt
Got What I Wanted by Visages
Browse other tees made on zazzle
Panda Bear Chef Likes Honey Badgers shirt
Panda Bear Chef Likes Honey Badgers by Visages
Browse zazzle for a different shirtzazzle


  1. Thanks, Deborah! Interesting blog. Following!

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Really interesting blog, thanks. I have a few spare t-shirts and have decided to customise them.

    One thing I've seen on other blogs is the suggestion of adding FABRIC MEDIUM to the acrylic paint, it thins it slightly and turns the paint slightly less "pasticy", it is also useful as a "glue" for adding glitter to the design. I was wondering if you had ever tried using a Fabric Medium?

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  8. Great advice! cant wait to try some of my art on a cushion cover and more!

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  16. I painted a few onesies with regular acrylic paint as stated on this blog and they all faded and cracked with the first wash :(

    1. One of my friends had t shirt that cracxked found out he was a xxxxl and he was wearing a 12 girls

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  21. I love your blog and fabric paint is so more expensive than acrylic ��. Thank you for the wonderful advice.

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