Expert crafter Carrie Waller turns to fabric paints constantly. She reaches for her fabric pen "when the mood strikes" to add a pattern to a pillow or create a canvas wall hanging. She also grabs one when she's looking to personalize a simple T-shirt—just like she did when she was a kid at art camp.

"I'm constantly looking for ways to quickly and inexpensively update the look of things around my house so that I can save my decor budget for bigger renovations down the line," Waller says. "With that in mind, fabric paint is my go-to material for quick refreshes."

For those of us who don't have quite as much experience as Waller does working with fabric paints, it can be overwhelming to choose the right kind. After all, fabric paints take up entire aisles at the craft store. We asked her to demystify it so you know exactly what you need to buy for your next project.

Fabric Paint Basics

When in doubt, use acrylic fabric paint. Fabric paint, which is also known as textile paint, is most commonly made from an acrylic polymer. This acrylic, which is bonded with a color and then emulsified, makes the paint durable against routine use, multiple washes, and sunlight. While alcohol-based options exist, their finishes will be lighter and more porous than acrylic.

Red, Cartoon, Illustration, Poster, Line, Graphic design, Font, Smile, Graphics, Fictional character,

Take note of the fabric paint's transparency and consistency. Depending on your project, you'll want to figure out how opaque or transparent you'd like the paint to be, as well as how thick or thin. Darker fabrics usually need a more opaque paint, and most furniture pieces need a thicker finish.

Use liquid fabric paint for larger surfaces. If you're looking to paint a wide surface, look for liquid acrylic fabric paint. This paint can saturate a large area and comes in various finishes, making it ideal for covering big art canvases and furniture pieces.

Opt for fabric markers for detail work. Fabric markers give you more control over painting a specific area, which is why they're best for clothing and smaller designs on canvases or household items like accent pillows.

Carrie Walker

Try "puff" paint for a three-dimensional look. This paint dries with a raised finish, so it's a fun option to try with kids. As with all fabric paints, test out your design before committing it to a final surface—sometimes it's tough to know how puff paint will look once it has dried.

Set fabric paint with heat. In order for the paint to set permanently into the fabric, it has to be finished with heat. Sometimes you can do this by tossing your item in the dryer; sometimes you need to go over the painted area with a hot clothing iron. Check ahead of time that the fabric you're using can be treated with heat since this step ensures that your design will last much longer than it would without it.

How to Choose the Right Fabric Paint for Your Project

It depends on the type of fabric you plan to use and your design. Do you want a long-lasting throw pillow or simply a banner for your weekend soiree? Read on for Waller's recommendations.

Best for Kids
Tulip Soft Fabric Paint
Tulip Soft Fabric Paint
$22 at Amazon
Credit: Amazon

"This is one of those paint brands that I've been using since I was a little kid at art camp," she says. "I appreciate that the brand has been around for so long, and know that I can trust the product to give me a nice smooth finish every time."

Best for Large Items
Simply Spray Fabric Paint
Simply Spray Fabric Paint
Credit: Amazon

"A sprayable fabric paint like this one is a great alternative to brush-on varieties," Waller continues. "It goes on smoothly and allows you to drastically change the color of an upholstered item in just a few coats."

Best for Details
Jacquard Fabric Paint
Jacquard Fabric Paint
Now 10% Off
Credit: Amazon

"Jacquard is known for its buildable color and soft finish," she notes. "It's ready right out of the jar and can be applied with small-detail paintbrushes so you have the freedom to create intricate designs. It's worth the investment."

Most Versatile
FolkArt Fabric Paint Set
FolkArt Fabric Paint Set
Credit: Amazon

"This nontoxic satin acrylic paint is great for just about any fabric paint project, but the cool thing about it is that it's a multi-surface paint too, so you can finish up your stenciled fabric paint project and move along to painting a plain terra-cotta flower pot right afterward," she says.

The Best Fabric Paint Projects to Try

We asked Waller to share some of her favorite craft projects for fabric paints. These two ideas are impressive but beginner friendly.

Make Your Own Graphic Tee

"One of my favorite ways to customize a plain T-shirt with fabric paint is to use stencils to spell out a clever saying," Waller says. "Graphic quote T-shirts seem to be so expensive these days, but it costs next to nothing to make your own."

Personalize an Ottoman

"Have you ever spotted a patterned, tufted ottoman at a high-end furniture store and wished you could afford it? This used to happen to me all the time, until I realized I could get the look with fabric paint," she continues. "Now, I keep an eye out for solid-colored ottomans at secondhand shops, and then I paint my own design on the fabric using fabric paint. That way I have full control over the color palette, and I'm able to breathe new life into a piece of old furniture that other people probably wouldn't have looked at twice."

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Kate McGregor

Kate McGregor is House Beautiful’s SEO Editor. She has covered everything from curated decor round-ups and shopping guides, to glimpses into the home lives of inspiring creatives, for publications such as ELLE Decor, Domino, and Architectural Digest’s Clever.