Spray painting fabric is a great way to refresh old furniture or liven up a boring wardrobe. With the right preparation and technique, you can get professional-looking results spraying fabric at home. This complete guide will walk you through everything you need to know about spray painting fabric successfully.
Table of Contents
Gather Your Materials
- Spray paint designed for fabric use. Look for paint specifically made for fabric, vinyl or plastic to avoid cracking.
- Drop cloth or old sheet to protect your floors and surroundings.
- Painters tape for masking off areas you don’t want painted.
- Tack cloth for removing any dust prior to painting.
- Small pieces of cardboard to slide inside clothing while painting.
- Protective gear like gloves, goggles and mask.
Prepare the Fabric
Proper preparation is crucial for good spray paint adhesion. Follow these steps:
Clean the Fabric
Make sure the fabric is free of dirt, oil and other debris. Wash clothing or launder fabric. For furniture upholstery, vacuum and spot clean.
Take off any hooks, buttons, zippers or other removable parts. Set them aside so they don’t get painted accidentally.
Mask Off Areas
Use painter’s tape to mask off areas you want to protect from overspray. For clothing, slide cardboard inside to keep paint off the interior.
Sand the Surface (Optional)
For heavier fabrics like canvas, lightly sanding can help the paint adhere better. Use 220 grit sandpaper and focus on any shiny or sealed areas.
Wipe Away Dust
Use a tack cloth to remove any dust or lint after prepping the fabric. This helps the paint stick directly to the fibers.
Select Your Paint
Choosing the right spray paint for the job will ensure your finished project has a smooth, long-lasting finish. Consider these factors:
Fabric Specific Formulas
Look for paint labeled for fabric, vinyl or plastic use. Regular spray paints may crack when flexed on fabric.
Many fabric paints are available in a wide range of colors, finishes and special effects. Pick a hue that coordinates with your project.
Permanent vs. Removable
Some brands offer removable fabric paint perfect for temporary projects. Permanent paint is more durable for items meant to last.
Outdoor paint holds up better to sun, rain and other elements if your fabric will be outside. Indoor paint works for furniture and home décor.
Set Up Your Workspace
Painting outside is ideal to avoid overspray indoors. If working inside, cover any nearby surfaces with a drop cloth. Follow these tips:
Work Outdoors If Possible
The best way to avoid getting paint where you don’t want it is to work outside. Pick a day with low wind and no rain in the forecast.
Cover Floors and Furniture
Protect indoor areas from stray paint using plastic sheeting or old sheets. Mask off baseboards or adjacent walls.
Have Good Ventilation
When working indoors, keep windows and doors open for air circulation. You want fumes to dissipate, not build up indoors.
Control Temperature and Humidity
Spray paint applies best around 70°F with low humidity. Avoid cold, humid days or paint may not cure properly.
Prime the Fabric (Optional)
Priming isn’t mandatory, but it can help achieve more even color coverage on fabric. Use these guidelines:
When To Prime
Consider priming if painting a dark color over light fabric. It prevents the original hue from showing through the paint.
Look for bonding primers made for plastic, or use the same brand as your paint. This ensures compatibility.
Hold the can 6-8 inches from the fabric and apply light, even coats of primer. Let dry completely between coats.
Primer may take 1-2 hours to fully dry depending on humidity. Be patient for best results.
Shake the Can
After gathering your materials and prepping the work area, it’s time to paint. Start by shaking the can:
Listen for Mixing
Shake the can vigorously side-to-side for at least 60 seconds. You should hear the mixing ball inside blending the paint formula.
Next, turn the can over and tap the bottom. The paint should move freely and appear smooth when flowing out.
Re-shake the paint can frequently during your project, at least every 20-30 minutes. This keeps the color and finish even.
Spray Painting Technique
Use proper spray painting technique to get beautiful results:
Hold Can 6-8 Inches Away
Keep the can too close and you’ll get drips. Too far away results in a blotchy finish. The optimal distance is usually around 6-8 inches.
Use Steady Back and Forth Motions
Move the can side to side horizontally in smooth strokes. Avoid arcing your arm or you won’t get even coverage.
Overlap Each Pass 50%
Overlap each pass you make with the can by about 50% to ensure you coat the entire surface.
Use Thin Coats
Applying multiple thin coats creates a better finish than one thick, wet coat. Build up the color gradually.
Mist Problem Areas
Areas like fabric seams or folds may need a light mist coat first to prevent blotchiness in the topcoat.
Change Direction Between Coats
Alter the direction you spray slightly between coats to ensure the paint coats evenly from all angles.
Apply Top Coat
Once your base color coat is dry, finish it off with a clear acrylic top coat:
Allows Color Sanding
A clear top coat lets you lightly sand and smooth the paint if needed before reapplying color.
Creates Protective Layer
The clear coat seals the fabric and acts as a protective barrier against scratches, scuffs and wear.
A clear coat can give your paint job an extra glossy or matte finish depending on the top coat used.
Apply Multiple Thin Coats
Mist on multiple thin coats of clear top coat just like you did with the paint to build up a durable layer.
Patience is important, so allow the recommended drying time:
Let each coat dry at least 30-60 minutes before applying another coat. Rushing the process can ruin the paint job.
Most fabric paint needs 24-72 hours to fully cure before regular use. Handle gently until completely dry.
###SPEED DRYING If you must use the item sooner, you can speed dry fabric paint using an iron on low heat or a hair dryer set to cool. Check the paint brand’s instructions first.
Tips for Specific Fabrics
Certain fabrics require special preparation or painting techniques:
Lightly sand and prime canvas first since it’s a heavy, porous fabric. This allows paint to bond better.
Polyester needs a bonding primer or light sanding so paint will adhere properly and avoid cracking.
Nylon also benefits from scuff sanding and adhesive primer before painting for best results.
Leather & Vinyl
Clean leather and vinyl very well, then use thin coats of flexible paint made for those materials.
Silk & Satin
These delicate fabrics are best spray painted while laying flat and stretched onto cardboard to avoid creases in the finish.
Once you master the basics, try these pro tips for impressive results:
Cut custom stencils from cardboard or poster board and secure them to the fabric. Spray over the stencil openings to create patterns.
Masking Tape Designs
For crisp lines, mask off fabric areas with painter’s tape. Spray different colors in each exposed section.
Mask off a center strip and spray both outer edges different colors to meet in the middle. Fade the inner tips together.
To add a worn, vintage look rub off some paint post-spraying using coarse sandpaper or steel wool.
Specialty spray paint with metal flakes or pearl pigments create glamorous shimmering fabrics.
Rough coat and hammered texture sprays add dimensional interest before the base color goes on.
With the right preparation, technique and paint products you can achieve stunning spray painted fabric surfaces. Always start with a clean fabric and proper masking. Use paint designed for flexibility on fabric and build up thin, even coats for a durable finish. Allow adequate drying time before use for outstanding results. Follow these tips and with practice you can get professional-looking spray painted fabric at home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about spray painting fabric:
What kind of spray paint works best on fabric? Look for spray paint specifically formulated for fabric, vinyl and plastic to avoid cracking or chipping when the material flexes and stretches. Popular brands include Krylon, Rust-oleum and Montana.
Does the fabric need to be washed or cleaned before painting?
Yes, the fabric surface should be free of any dirt, oils or residues for the best paint adhesion. Oily spots will repel spray paint. For clothing, launder items first. For upholstery, vacuum and spot clean.
How long does spray paint take to dry on fabric? Most spray paint will be dry to the touch in 30-60 minutes assuming you apply thin coats. But allow 24-72 hours for the paint to fully cure and become durable enough for regular use.
What’s the best way to spray paint clothes?
Hang clothing on a clothing line or rack outdoors. Slide cardboard inside shirts and jackets to prevent interior overspray. Mist on multiple light coats 6-8 inches from the fabric, overlapping each pass. Make sure to use flexible fabric paint.
Can you put spray paint in a washing machine after it dries? Once the spray paint has fully cured according to the manufacturer’s directions, it should be able to withstand machine washing without chipping or peeling. Still, wash gently in cold water to be safe.