No 55 – Series: Fabric Painting Supplies – Fabric paints – Overview, Part 2

What’s the relationship between fabric painting techniques and different types of paints?

Dear friends of Your Colourful Mind,

In the first part of our posts on fabric paint, we talked about acrylic paints and special fabric paints and discussed their differences.

We still have to go through two further posts of the sequence of

Three posts about Fabric Paints:
  • Fabric paints, Part 1: Which types of paint can we use for fabric painting? Which are the differences? – Post No 52
  • Fabric paints, Part 2: What’s the relationship between different fabric painting techniques and different types of paint? Which characteristics of fabric paints are especially important? – TODAY!
  • Fabric paints, Part 3: Can/Should we mix paints? How can we take care of our paints? – Post No 57

Today, we continue studying fabric paints by answering the questions of part 2:

What’s the relationship between different fabric painting techniques and different types of paint? Which characteristics of fabric paints are especially important?

In our broad overview of fabric painting techniques we learned that at the beginning of each fabric painting project we have to decide whether we wish to work with a dry or with a wet technique.

short table referring to fabric paints


As this excerpt of our table from post No 50 shows us, the decision has to be made so early because we have to know whether we will create our design on wet or on dry fabric before we can choose the right type of paint.

Different categories of fabric paints

Fabric paints can be differentiated based on their consistency: their degrees of opacity and viscosity determine how we can use and apply a fabric paint.

The range goes from very thin or diluted paints via transparent paints to opaque and usually thick paints.

Thick vs. Thin Fabric Paints (viscosity)

  • Thin paints have the consistency of water which makes them malleable and easy to brush or spray onto the fabric.
  • A thinner paint also is softer to the fabric and less stiff after drying.
  • Thin paints are always transparent (but not all transparent paints are thin paints).
  • Transparent paints and even opaque paints – which usually have a thick consistency – can become thin paints when diluted with water.
  • It might need some experimenting to find the right degree of dilution with water for the different painting techniques.
  • Auxiliary mediums such as a fabric medium or a colourless extender can also be used with fabric paints. They make thicker paints more spreadable and extend the working time before the paints dry.
  • Thinner paints may not have the colour-saturation of thicker paints.
  • Thinner paints take longer to dry.
  • Thin paints tend to bleed into the fabric and the colours around them, which makes them perfect for water-colour projects. The disadvantage is that we have little control where thin paint flows, the paint can seep out into areas on the fabric where we don’t want it.
  • For direct painting techniques such as stamping, printing or (freehand) painting, thicker paints are better: they don’t bleed/blend and stay where we applied them. Their disadvantage is that the thickness makes it more difficult to spread the colour evenly over larger areas of fabric.

Transparent vs. Opaque Fabric Paints (opacity)

  • Transparent and opaque paint behave differently and their typical characteristics have different effects on the painting results.
  • Most fabric paints are transparent. If the label doesn’t say otherwise, the paint more likely is transparent than opaque.
  • Transparent paints sometimes can have a thicker consistency but usually transparent paints are thinner than opaque paints.
  • The degree of transparency can be increased by transforming thicker transparent into thin(er) paints. (see above)
  • On light-coloured fabrics and on layers of light colour, transparent paints help us to create subtle effects. They don’t cover the colour and shapes beneath, instead they let them shine through.
  • On dark-coloured fabrics or on dark colours, we have to use opaque paint which completely covers the colour beneath. There is no transparency and we can’t see through a layer of paint we have applied onto the fabric.
  • Adding water to opaque paint will not only lighten the colour but also lessen the paint’s opacity. If this is not desired, white colour can be used to lighten the opaque paint.
  • Metallic and pearlescent paints are usually opaque.
  • Although opaque paints can be transformed into thin and transparent paints, they are not suitable for some techniques, e.g. salting or sun printing.

Short summary:

When deciding which type of paint to use, we first have to consider the painting technique and the effects we wish to create.

For example:

  • On dark-coloured fabric we use (thick) opaque paints.
  • On light-coloured fabric we may also use (thinner) transparent paints.
  • We also use transparent paint if the colours or shapes underneath the paint should shine through.
  • If we wish to cover what is underneath we choose opaque paint.
  • A (wet) colourwash technique needs thin paint.
  • Stamping or stencilling should be done with thick paint.
  • etc. 🙂
The best way to understand the relationship between fabric painting techniques and fabric paints is to play around and experiment a lot with different paints.

Of course, in the beginning often the results of our projects might differ from what was on our mind when we started.

But each time we learn a lot and the growing experience and knowledge will also increase the fun! 🙂

What about your experiences? Would you like to share some of them? Just fill in the comment-form below or send images of your projects by email to

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Have fun,

signature - Margot





5 thoughts on “No 55 – Series: Fabric Painting Supplies – Fabric paints – Overview, Part 2”

  1. Hi Margot,

    the comparison between the wet and the dry painting looks nice. The wet painting creates something new and unexpected.

    Best Ferdie

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