Can You Varnish Fabric? How to Seal Acrylic Paint on Fabric

Preserving works of art. At least in the view of some people that is what painting on fabric is called. Once that work of art is done, you will want to preserve it for posterity and for future archaeologists to ponder over. The question is how to do just that.

Can you varnish fabric? You can varnish fabric but in the traditional sense of the word ‘varnish’. You will need to use a clear acrylic medium as your topcoat or varnish if you want your work of art to last a long time. This clear medium will eventually bond with the painting and add a protective layer.

To learn more about varnishing fabrics just continue to read our article. it does the exploring for you so you can just sit back, relax, and learn what you need to know. It will only take a few minutes of your time to get the information contained in this article.

Do You Need to Seal Fabric Paint?

If you want your work of art to last a very long time, then it is a good idea to seal the fabric paint long before you wash the item. of course, before you seal it, you have to let the paint dry first.

Painting fabric is not like painting the walls of your home. When you paint your home, you just get to put the paint on with a brush or roller and let it dry. You might open a window or two to help that process.

With fabric paint, it is going to have to endure the friction of the washer as well as being soaked in water for long periods of time. That means you need to do other actions to make sure your painting will come through the wash just as it went in.

When you seal the fabric that you just painted you are not only preserving your work, you are protecting the time and effort you spent in creating that masterpiece. That makes sealing very vital.

Can You Seal Paint Fabric?


Yes, you can and there are a couple of methods to do this. Picking the right method may take help from paint experts as they know the paint and the fabrics very well. The first step is to make sure you use the right kind of fabric paint.

If you use the wrong kind of paint or just acrylic without adding a medium, then you are just throwing your time, effort, and money out the window. As we said, painting fabric is not like painting a house or room nor is it like painting on a canvas that has been stretched tight.

You have to follow all instructions carefully and make sure the paint is dry before you seal it. Any missteps could render your work useless or ruin it. because you spent many hours perfecting your artwork on your chosen fabric, make sure to preserve it in the right way so that you can show it off to others with pride.

Instructions are not meant to be broken and should be followed to the letter in most cases.

How to Seal Acrylic Paint On Fabric

Some people suggest that you find a clear fabric medium, mix it up or use it straight from the bottle and paint that solution over the top of your painting. As it dries the medium should form a bond with your fabric and the other paint.

When it does that, you should have a perfect looking picture that should last through many washes. Make sure to follow the instructions and if you are in doubt, go to your local craft store or fabric outlet and ask the experts for some advice.

The other way to seal your acrylic paint is to heat set it. To do that, just make sure not to use the steam setting on your iron. Also, turn the fabric inside out or over to the other side so that you do not iron what you just painted.

Or place a scrap piece of material over the painted side and place your iron on that. This protects your iron from any paint transfer as you work. Then set your iron to medium or hot and that setting is determined by the type of fabric you have painted.

Next, you need to iron for about 3 to 5 minutes and try to do small sections at one time. You should find this easier to move your iron than if you tried to do long or big sections.

If you have waited till the paint dried, then there should be no risk to your iron. It is a good idea if you are going to do this type of artwork more than once, then you should keep an old iron around the house and avoid using your good one.

What to Use to Seal Fabric Paint


You can buy fabric sealer. It does come in a bottle and it should be on the same shelves as fabric paint, fabric medium and should not cost a lot of money. This may be the easiest way to seal your artwork once it has dried.

Or you can use your iron and follow the method we just described. This takes a little work and time but at least you know your effort should not be wasted. Just make sure to adjust your heat setting to match the fabric you are working on.

Next, you can use your dryer to heat set the paint. The time setting should be set for 45 to 50 minutes and be careful with delicate fabrics. The dryer might be too hot for them to handle. You want to use a medium to high heat when you use this option.

Another option will be your oven. This should be a bit safer than your dryer as your fabric will not be tumbling as it dries. But it may not be safe for your fabrics if you set the oven over 250 degrees or leave the fabric in for too long.

Paint Sealer for Clothes

There are different paint sealers that you can use to seal your artwork when you paint on fabrics. The same ones that work for sofas, and other furniture or decorative artwork should also work on the different clothing materials you own.

Heat sealing is the most recommended way and the top heat sealer that everyone suggests you use is your iron. It is the heat method that keeps you in the most control and you can catch mistakes long before they become a problem.

There are a variety of fabric sealers over at Amazon and you may have to scroll down a bit to find one that will work on acrylic paint and fabric at the same time. The key to using any one of those sprays is to read the instructions and see if they will protect your paint for a long time.

The biggest worry you will have is what will the washer and dryer do to your artwork if you wash your clothes. You need a good sealant to make sure your painted clothes survive the rigors of washing and drying by machines.

Can You Varnish Fabric?


If you are using the term varnish in the traditional sense then it would not be a good idea to use that option. The varnish that you use on wood to preserve the look and the stain used to make the wood look unique dries very hard and is very inflexible.

That means that if your clothes move too much, you can crack the varnish. What makes this type of varnish so good when applied to solid surfaces like wood is that it interacts with the air and forms a very strong bond.

That strong bond may be seen as a good thing when you apply it to clothes but if you ever want to clean it off the shirt you were wearing at the time, you may not be so happy with that product.

Also, this type of varnish may yellow on you over time. While your artwork is preserved, you may not see your creation in the best possible way. This varnish will eventually grow brittle.

It is possible to strip the varnish off but in doing that you most likely will remove your painting as well.

Can Varnish be Used On Fabric?

Only if it is made to be used on clothing. The type of varnish you need has to dry and protect your painting as well as be flexible at the same time. If it is not flexible, the varnish can become brittle, crack and help peel off your paint.

That is why a medium is added to regular acrylic paint. if that medium was not added acrylic paint would dry hard and when the shirt was folded or stretched or twisted out of shape, it will crack and peel off.

The added medium makes sure that does not happen. Check the label of the varnish to see if you can use it on clothing or not. if you are hanging the fabric up on the wall like a painting, then it is possible to use the traditional varnish.

But you will only be able to enjoy that painting until the varnish begins to yellow and block your view of the artwork. it is best to heat set your work of art to make sure that you can view your painting or clothing item for along time and without interference.

Best Varnish for Fabric


The best varnish for fabric will be the one that is made to be applied to clothing or clothing materials. This may not be an easy product to find. There may be a clear medium that will act as a varnish and that will be found in the fabric paint section.

The hard part here is that you may have to spend a few minutes going through the different bottles to find the right product. Craft varnish is not made for fabrics and we checked the labels of the three top options and none were showing that their varnish could be used on fabric.

You can try craft varnish if you want as the labels do say ‘and more’ on them but you also may be taking a big chance by doing so. When we checked Joanns their sets of fabric paint, did not hold one bottle of fabric varnish or any type of spray or liquid that could be used as a varnish.

This option will have to be done on a location by location search if you want any good results. Or just use an acrylic sealer that your craft store has for sale.

How to Seal Fabric Paint On Shoes

Acrylic paint sealers are made for fabrics and this is the best option when you paint your shoes and want the new look to last. These are easy to find as they should be in the craft section of any large store or the fabric paint section of your fabric or craft store.

To find the one for the material used to make your shoes, you will have to read the label. Different sealers are available for different fabrics. Plus, there are different types of finishes so you have to make sure you get the one that will look the best on your footwear.

Or you can try a good waterproofing spray. You do not want to spray in large amounts as you run the risk of having the paint run and spoil your effort. Short bursts should do the trick and remember not to overspray.

Maybe 2 quick bursts on any one spot should do the trick and when you have done that, you move on. Waterproofing spray is not a varnish so you may not see long-lasting results when you use waterproofing spray so be prepared to do touch-ups if needed.

How to Seal Fabric Paint On Denim


Fortunately, denim is just like any other fabric you paint on. Since it is a cotton-based material, you will want to use a fabric paint that is made for cotton or denim. Then you need to let the paint dry.

If you use regular acrylic paint, make sure to add a medium to the color so the paint won’t crack or peel. This is the easiest way to paint clothing items as you get a very large color selection with regular acrylic paint.

To seal the material and the fabric paint, you can heat set in using one of the three methods already mentioned. There is nothing special that needs to be done when you are painting on denim.

Or if you do not want to heat set the paint, you can try the acrylic sealer that is available in different craft and fabric stores. A waterproof spray may work as it is a form of sealer and helps protect your paint from the rain and snow.

Just be careful how you seal the denim items as it is easy to make a mistake or overspray when you get distracted.

Seal Fabric Paint On T-Shirts

T-shirts are like denim and other fabrics. The same methods will work on these clothing items as they will on other ones. You can try the oven method if you do not want the t-shirts moving as you heat set them.

But remember that t-shirts are made from very thin material and do not hold up that well when it comes to ovens. You only need a few minutes in the oven to set the paint on a t-shirt or other clothing item.

Before you heat set t-shirts or even denim, make sure to let the fabrics and the paint dry for about 24 hours. Some people may give you a shorter drying time span but it is always best to err on the side of caution and 24 hours should be enough time for the materials to dry.

The iron method is the one in which you have the most control. It too has to be applied after the fabric and paint are dry. If you do not wait long enough, you can smear the paint ruining your work and effort. Also, you may have paint go on your iron, your ironing board, table, and so on.

How to Seal Fabric Before Painting


The best way to do this is to use a primer coat. When you are painting furniture that is made with fabric, a good primmer coat helps seal the material and cover the previous design or color.

Some people use paint mixed with water when painting their furniture. The mixture should be 60 40 paint to water when the material is thin. The water level should be higher when painting a thicker fabric.

The primer coat helps seal the pores in the material making it better to paint on. Sort of like preparing a painting canvas as that takes some priming to get the surface just right for your masterpiece.

You may want to sand your fabric after putting on the primer coat. This will take any lumps or bumps out of the paint and make the surface nice and smooth. Use fine-grit sandpaper and a spray bottle filled with water. The spray bottle will mist the fabric for you and make it easier to sand.

Just remember to use a fabric medium or a primer that is made for fabrics before you start to paint.

How to Preserve the Paint On Clothes

Most people generally want to remove paint from clothes instead of preserving it. The best way to preserve painted clothes is to let them hang dry after washing. The sealer should keep the water from damaging the artwork but the dryer may be too powerful for that sealer.

Clear fabric paint is a better option and it should go on your painted clothes with ease. There is no special application process for this option and it may even allow you to put your painted clothes in the dryer.

Or you can use an acrylic sealer, waterproof spray, or some other sealer that goes on nice and easily. Check your fabric or craft store to see what options you have available and pick the best one for the fabric you are going to be painting on.

Some Tips for When You Paint Your Clothes

  • 1. When you go to paint, make sure you place a non-porous cover over the surface you are placing the material you want to paint. There is a good chance that the paint will seep through and stain the surface.
  • 2. You can use tin foil, thin metal sheets, plastic tarps, plastic sheeting, and other protective materials to protect your painting surface.
  • 3. It might be easier to paint a light border around your design first. This helps the rest of the painting to go easier and faster. Do this when you are using a stencil also.
  • 4. Using regular acrylic paint gives you access to innumerable colors and shades. You have a lifetime of colors to work with. Just make sure you add that fabric medium to make that color or shade permanent.
  • 5. Do not forget to clean your fabric before you paint on it. Washing and drying the material first, will remove any shrinkage and allow you to paint without fear of ruining the design later on.

Some Final Words

When you go to paint your fabrics, the terminology is important. The crafts or fabric store’s sales clerk may not understand what you mean by the word ‘varnish’. They may lead you to the type of varnish used on wood crafts.

The best terms to use would be acrylic paint sealer, fabric paint sealer, or clear fabric paint. The right terminology saves you a lot of time and confused looks by the sales clerk.

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