Testing Acrylic & Fabric Paints on Denim

I’m super excited to find another surface to add art to! But, (always a bit of a ‘but’) there’s a bit to learn first, and then we can get busy. So, for you my friends I’m testing Acrylic & Fabric Paints on Denim.

So many choices:

It’s not a time right now where I can just head out to the art supply store so the choices were a bit limited to what I could get online. Being in Canada also adds to complication of shipping. There are many who paint on denim and jean jackets with acrylic paint so that is one of my test paints. After painting a couple pairs of shoes on leather and canvas I am loving the Angelus Acrylic Leather Paint so it deserves a place. The other promising brand is Setacolor Opaque Fabric Paint.

The Challenges of Denim

When painting denim there are a few things to consider. It is not a light colour fabric (unless you are painting white denim) so the paint needs to be opaque to cover the colour of the denim.

Secondly is that there are so many different versions of denim nowadays; some with no other fibre content and some with as much as 25% polyester or some kind of spandex. Ya, we all seem to like our jeans to stretch! (hmmm, wonder why that is?!) Stretching a painted fabric brings another challenge to the game.

Denim is also fairly thick and absorbent. That means the paint gets sucked into the fabric and becomes even more dense and that can lead to stiffness and then cracking. Well, let’s see how we make out…

There are other brands available but the Arteza brand was impossible to get to canada right now. Acrylic paints should be mixed with a textile medium so I am adding Fabric Medium; Golden brand GAC900.

In my online travels also came across an acrylic paint that is not just an acrylic paint but one made to be flexible. Flexibility is much of the issue when wearing a painted garment. Plaid brand FX Flexible Acrylic paint is made to adhere to foam and pliable surfaces without peeling, ‘sounds quite promising…

Each test row was painted on a medium weight denim that has some stretch (about 15% polyester) One section of each brand was first applied as a sold white base to get the true colour and one with colour straight onto fabric.

What Brushes to use:

When choosing brushes for this task the super soft water colour ones are not quite stiff enough. The paints are generally quite thick so they will fill a brush easily and therefore you need one of medium firmness to hold it’s shape. It also feels somewhat like you are trying to ‘scrub’ the paint into the fibres of the denim so flat ones help to spread without becoming a big mop of colour..

Whenever I paint anything white it seems like one coat is never enough! The same goes here. Watch how much a cotton denim can absorb! Be patient.

This is the Setacolor Opaque Fabric paint. I’m impressed at how opaque it is. The layer without a base of white is actually pretty solid, as that is what this paint is made for; dark fabrics. But (yup always one) it is somewhat harder to work with since it is also quite thick in consistency. That could be only a criticism for me since I have been painting for over 40 years.

Testing Testing 1 – 2 – 3!

The squares on the left are a white base layer of the Plaid brand FX Flexible Acrylic paint and then the 3 tested paints on the right are added on top.

Angelus Acrylic Leather Paint – black, white, some black line-work, primary colours on white base and without, some brush work paint.

Setacolor Opaque Fabric paint – black, white, some black line-work, primary colours on white base and without, some brush work paint.

Artist Loft Acrylic Paint & Golden Fabric Medium GAC900 – black, white, some black line-work, primary colours on white base and without, some brush work paint.

You can see that the Setacolor Opaque paint (middle) is definitely the most opaque. The Angelus paint does definitely need an underlying base layer of white to see the true colour. The regular acrylic paint is mixed with the textile/fabric medium and that makes it absorb deep into the denim and lose it’s opaqueness.

The results are quite similar here since they are again on a layer of white Plaid FX Flexible paint.

Flexibility testing:

After drying and the suggested ironing to heat set the paints (use a pressing cloth) I wanted to see how they would hold against bending. I folded over the solid sections and they all did not crack. I would judge that they all had the same amount of flexibility. This denim was not the old-fashioned thick 100% cotton type either though.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch! Happy there’s no damage!

Do they stretch?

Well, if I would have given the fabric it’s complete ability to stretch I am sure the paints would have broken since the denim has the ability to stretch about 30% wider. The paints do have some stretch, but not quite that much. Tip; I always tend to play with the leftover paint in the dried palette, to see how much I can stretch it and how strong it is. Considering where we generally have the designs painted on a garment may not be much of an issue of complete stretch.

Wash Time!

I decided to hand wash as I have been noticing my front load washer may not always give each piece the same amount of tumble depending where it gets ‘stuck’. I was probably a bit more tough on the test than a washer would have been… The water was medium warm, and regular Sunlight detergent. I scrunched and rubbed and scrunched some more. Swish, swish, scrunch and squeeze, for about 5 minutes of intense washing…


Maybe I was a bit too tough on the poor fabric… But I’d rather see what can happen. I am not that surprised that the Angelus Paint held up as well as it did since the shoes that people paint hold up great! (I love my Rose shoes)

The troubling thing was that the black linework on the Setacolor Paint completely disappeared. (I have read that there may be an issue with the black) The red also seemed to not adhere properly to the denim. Could that be a colour issue or a issue about the polyester content? I think if it was the polyester content then it would be the others as well.

The Artist Loft Acrylic Paint & Gac900 Fabric Medium mix was disappointing. The black linework did hold a bit but the colours dod not seem to adhere to the base layers. Could it be that this brand is not very high quality? Possibly.

Plaid Flexible Acrylic Paint

The white test areas of this flexible paint held up nicely! As per usual the black lines of setacolor did again disappear but the paints adhered well to this layer of white. Many Jean jacket artists do just start with a layer of white where they plan to paint anyways so this could be a viable option. These are my tests but your results may vary according to any different fabric content, paints etc.

So I’m off to a flying start! This denim jacket did take a bit more time since I dove in before I did the tests. After I realized I needed a base layer of white it was much easier to get definition! I now understand the challenges much better and can make choices to decide the outcome I want. I hope these test help you as well!

My Conclusions:

I much prefer the consistencies of the Angelus Paints Leather paints, how they mix and brush on. The amount of opaqueness is good for my type of painting when more intricate work is desired. If I was to paint a very graphic image I may like to use the Setacolor Opaque paints since they are quite opaque. They are thick and gloppy so it will take a bit more to work to get tiny details. I do still like the Plaid Flexible paint as a base layer and will continue to experiment with it. Let me know what conclusions you have come up with! ‘The more minds are always better!

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  1. Thank you for these tests! I am in the process of making a couple of fabric panels for a cushion. The fabric is a close-woven but fairly smooth navy furnishing fabric. I am putting William Morris’s ‘Strawberry Thief’ design on the pieces, mostly in free-machine embroidery. But there are lots of section of light blue leaf shapes that I just can’t achieve the coverage with fine embroidery thread. So I may try textile medium with whatever blue paint I have at the moment. These tests you have done are going to save me a fir bit of experimenting!!

    1. Oh that sounds like fun! I have been eyeing the free-motion embroidery as well! I love that you can add some fabric as well!! There’s just not enough hours in my day! I have an order of a different kind of fabric paint coming soon that will act differently again. I can guess it may be a challenge for you to get some opaqueness since you are using navy fabric. Test on scraps first! It will be beautiful as I just looked it up ❤️.

  2. Hi Barb, I’m a new subscriber and think this is fab, that you tested these paints. I’ve only used Angelus for leather, usually watered down a teensy bit and paint in a few thin coats so it doesn’t crack. I’ve never tried it on fabric but I need to seal it on leather. Keep your interesting articles coming! Alysen

    1. I’m glad to hear that! If it stays on such a smooth surface I would think that one where the bond can go even deeper would give even better results! Time will tell! Thanks for the comment!

  3. I’m wondering if you would get a good result using a heavy body Golden Paint? I’ve read that Artist Loft paints do not contain a lot of pigments like professional acrylic paints such as Golden or Liquidtex do.

    1. I was wondering that too since you get a lot for little price. The issue have is the consistency then needs more working to get thin enough to paint on. I see that even when the base white is not the same paint the acrylic does work so maybe that is another viable option. Some colours are just not opaque enough in one coat. I’m not quite settled yet in my decisions. Thanks for the comment! Windsor Newton is also good quality.

  4. Hi Barb, Thanks for the excellent info! I think the problem with the acrylic and the GAK is probably your paint. Artist’s quality paint is so different than the Artist’s Loft stuff. I like Golden, but if I can I use M Graham (available from Curry’s online or in stores in Ontario) or Opus Brand Acrylics (available on line or in stores in BC). Both are excellent paints, but less expensive than Golden. For your purposes, make sure that you choose tubes that are marked “opaque” to give you that opaque full coverage. You might well find that they do not need the undercoat of white. The transparent paints will need a coat of white underneath, but will give you a totally different look (more like stained glass). For line work I would use Golden’s High Flow paint. It is ridiculously fully pigmented and can take dilution with the GAK, but is so thin to apply it is like ink. LOVE the stuff. BTW, Golden is the bomb when it comes to technical support and technical information. I have never had a question that wasn’t answered within 24 hours by a TECHNICIAN (not customer service!). Their technical articles are unlike anything else you can find…and really interesting stuff! You aren’t by chance in BC?

    1. Hi there! Great Info! Thanks so much! I am in Ontario and also teach at a college. Yes, Golden brand is great and I may need to invest in a good set. I do have artist quality acrylic but always struggled with how transparent it was. Learning design with the use of gouache paints did spoil me. Silly me, I was hoping for some simple answer but it isn’t ever simple. I will continue to experiment as I dive into the pile of jean jackets I have… Does Golden have an opaque version of their paints?

  5. I’m glad you shared this information. I have been wanting to do a denim jacket with bees. I painted a Jimmy Hendrix denim jacket for my husband over 20 years ago. It still looks good, but there are to many paints to chose from. I feel more confident now about doing this project. Thank you for testing and sharing.

  6. You sure are one talented lady and patient to boot !
    Thanks for doing the dirty work and being kind enough to share.

  7. I love painting & was considering painting on fabric. This is very helpful. Thank you for doing these tests & the information.

  8. Hi Barb, I just stumbled across this and it was very helpful! I’m new to all things painting but really want to paint a denim jacket. So for durability/longevity and maximizing brightness of colors, would you do a single layer (or multiple base layers?) of Plaid brand FX Flexible Acrylic paint in white and then paint your image/colors on top of that using the Angelus Paint? Thanks so much!

    1. It depends on a few things… How much will be covered by the design and what colour are your striving for? I don’t layer too much white of either paint unless it will need to be very bright white. Each layer adds some stiffness. If starting new, I’d suggest sticking with just the Angelus Brand. Adding GAC fabric medium in the darker paints will make it less stiff. The decision of a dark or light denim also plays a role. I hope this helps, it’s never one easy answer!