Making textile paint and fiber friendly acrylic ink

After having a bit of trouble quilting Polychromatic Predilection, painted with acrylic inks on my new-ish Bernina 750, I decided I wanted to see if it was possible to make a more fiber-friendly acrylic ink.

In the past, I never had problems with stitch tension when quilting painted textiles… until I got a new sewing machine. I loved my 20 year-old Bernina 1630; it could sew anything, including copper metal scrim. Unfortunately computers get old and my machine blew its motherboard. It had go to the resting grounds of all beloved machines of un-upgradable modern technology.

I love my Bernina 750, but it’s so finely engineered that it’s persnickety, and I have to mess with the tension settings whenever I’m quilting a stiffer fabric.

In most cases, using acrylic inks on fabric isn’t a problem. However if the pigment load is very heavy, from either building up several  layers of ink, or not thinning the ink with water or  textile medium while painting, the fabric can get a bit stiff.

I have been using Golden brand high flow acrylic inks on fabric for more than 5 years, and a few other brands for close to 10. I love the quality of Golden brand ink, and the availability of traditional paint pigment colors, as well as the fact that the ink is permanent when dry.

A couple of months ago, I was looking for information on the Golden website about paint mediums and found some new information about painting with acrylic inks on fabric. Specifically Golden  states that they don’t recommend using high flow acrylic inks on fabric.

(insert sound of a needle being violently pulled across a record)

Wait, WHAT?!?!  (well, actually they never had anything on their site before this about using acrylic inks on fabric. Using acrylic inks on fabric is something I discovered on my own and I really like the results.)

Instead, Golden suggests using their ”fluid” acrylics with airbrush medium. Fluid acrylics are thicker than acrylic inks (like very thick cream), and are often used for mixed-media techniques on paper and canvas.

I had been wanting to try airbrush medium since reading elsewhere to use it instead of water to thin acrylics when painting on canvas. Water dilutes the binder in paint, giving it a weaker bond to the substrate.

I immediately bought a bottle of airbrush medium and several small bottles of fluid acrylic paint to experiment with. I mixed airbrush medium and Gac 900 equally with fluid acrylic on a palette.

The purpose of adding Gac 900 to paint is to give it more permanence, as well as providing a softer hand on fabric.

Then, I painted a large piece of fabric as a starting point for my next quilt.

After it was dry, I loved the colors, visual texture and everything about it… until I picked it up. Yuck! It was stiff as a board. You could never quilt it. It was stiffer than anything I have ever painted with acrylic inks, and it felt and sounded like sail cloth when I moved it around.


Enter the creative alchemist

I didn’t think airbrush medium was the problem, it’s something t-shirt artists have used for years, and I knew Gac 900 is not the problem. Its purpose is to create a softer hand, not a stiffer one. The fluid acrylics were clearly the problem. I started to think about other options.

I use Jacquard’s colorless extender all the time with textile paints and acrylic inks. Colorless extender is essentially clear paint (I believe it’s textile paint binder without pigment added). It’s purpose is to make textile paint colors lighter and more transparent, instead of adding water, which makes paint bleed and weakens its adhesion to fibers. The other option is to add white which makes colors more pastel and opaque. Colorless extender also leaves fabric with a soft hand, which led me to consider it as a potential acrylic ink binder ingredient.

I was concerned that I would end up with very light, washed-out ink colors if I created a mixture then added purchased acrylic ink to it. So, I decided to explore using dispersed pigments instead of acrylic ink to get the color.


Dispersed Pigments

A dispersed pigment is a pure, finely-ground pigment suspended in a water base. Having pigments dispersed in water makes them much easier and safer to use, because dry- powder pigments can be toxic if inhaled (like dyes). They also require careful mixing with the binder, using a pestle or palette knife to break up any lumps to make a smooth-consistency paint.

Dispersed pigments can be mixed with any paint binder depending on what the desired final product is, e.g. watercolor, or heavy body acrylic paint.

A few months earlier, I bought Kama dispersed pigments (made in Canada and pictured in the photo above), from Blue Rooster in Los Angeles, to try making textile paint.

A week later, I ordered a few more pigments from Guerra Paint in New York City. Guerra has a huge inventory of powder and dispersed pigments, as well as paint-making supplies.

I want to reiterate these are pigments only and can not be used alone because there is no binder in them. The binder is effectively the “glue” that makes the paint stick to whatever surface you put it on.

Dispersed pigments can seem very expensive for the size of the bottle, and different colors vary in price, depending on pigment. However when making paint the quantity of pigment you use is very small compared to the amount of binder or paint base.

Comparing the dispersed pigments from Kama and Guerra, I found the pigments from Kama (at right) a bit brighter (or perhaps a bit more “synthetic”), and the Guerra (below) appeared a bit earthier.



Making textile paint

My desire to make textile paint began when my favorite brand, Pebeo Setacolor textile paint, started to become very hard (if not impossible) to find by the liter. For years, I have ordered paint in bulk for my workshops. I think having students pay a $15 supply fee for shared use is far better than making them buy a $40 set of paints (or bring a hodgepodge of questionable quality paints and expect to have successful results). Thus began my quest to make my own textile paints.

To make textile paint; start with Jacquard brand colorless extender, or Pebeo brand lightening medium as the binder. I regularly use Jacquard colorless extender because it’s available by the gallon from Dharma Trading or directly, from Rupert, Gibbon and Spider.

In my experiments, I began with a ratio of one part pigment to approximately six parts colorless extender. Some colors were very saturated and bright with that ratio and other colors needed one part pigment to four, or five parts binder to achieve the same result. The point is each pigment needs a different blending ratio, so experimenting will be necessary to get the desired intensity of color.


Several years ago, Setacolor discontinued one of my favorite primary colors: vermillion (which is a warm red).  I was determined to see if I could duplicate the color on my own, and  was very pleased with the result I acheived using the Kama Napthol Red PR112.


(By the way, since I started experimenting with making textile paints, I discovered Marabu textile paints from Germany, which are now distributed in the US. I like them very much, and will probably use them as an alternative to Pebeo Setacolor — or making my own paints — for workshops. Unfortunately, I still can’t buy Marabu by the liter.)


To make a heavy-body acrylic paint; for working on canvas or other substrates, use semi-gloss acrylic gel medium as the binder for a traditional-looking acrylic paint. Use matte gel medium to make a flat-matte acrylic paint. To make opaque colors, mix gesso with the gel medium.


Mixing an acrylic ink binder

In order to formulate an acrylic ink base or binder that had the qualities I was looking for (permanence when dry, and a softer hand), I mixed  equal parts of airbrush medium, Gac 900 and Jacquard Colorless Extender, and shook it up. To make it easy, I used an 8-ounce bottle which I marked with 3 equal measurements using a sharpie.

I know this is not super-precise, but with paint, I find there’s a bit of leeway when it comes to ratios of ingredients, and I figured if this mix didn’t work the way I intended, I would adjust the ratios until I got something I liked.

(By the way, if you want to try making acrylic ink, you don’t need to buy large quantities like I’ve shown here. These products are all available in smaller quantities. Because I teach, I regularly buy liters and gallons of various paint products to save money.)

To test this mixture, I blended a small amount of dispersed pigment with the mixed-ink binder on a plastic tray and painted several pieces of fabric, then hung them out to dry. The resulting fabric felt very much the way fabric painted with textile paint feels. It was soft and pliable, yet had the visual texture that purchased acrylic inks have.

After mixing several bottles of my custom acrylic ink in the colors I wanted, I  painted a large piece of fabric to begin my next quilt.

(On a side note: I buy soft-plastic squeeze bottles with screw top lids online from SKS Bottle. This particular shape is called a “Boston Round” and it comes in a variety of sizes. Place an order with a friend and save on shipping.)



Painting “Inky”

This squid I painted on canvas several months ago (on the left), is the inspiration for the quilt “Inky” I just finished.

The squid began as a blank canvas that I randomly put color on (see arrow on right), then I drew a squid on top, painted the background in shades of blue and then added shading and details on the orange and yellow area to make the squid.


I painted my base fabric primarily with warm colors, in order to make the textural and colorful golden-orange body of the squid. By painting various shades of blue on top of the yellow and orange “base” fabric, I created even more variations of blues and greens for the sea water.

See all that drippy splattery texture? This is exactly why I like acrylic inks. If you dilute textile paints thin enough to get that effect they lose all their bright intense color.


While painting, I kept the bottle of mixed binder nearby and added it to colors on my palette to make them lighter and more transparent (instead of using water).

To control the ink for painting details and shading, I used straight colorless extender, to thicken the ink so as to avoid bleeding.

I didn’t bother mixing white acrylic ink, because I usually prefer to use white textile paint for making pastel colors or adding opacity. White acrylic ink is fairly translucent and doesn’t alter the color enough for my taste. On this quilt, I used white and black textile paint instead of ink for the eyes and tentacles because it’s opaque and doesn’t require thickening.


On the finished painting, the blue tape represents the finished size of the quilt plus several extra inches to adjust for shrinkage from quilting. 


After I quilted the outline of the squid, I decided to add seaweed to make the background more interesting. I drew my design on tracing paper, in order to figure out where the branches of seaweed would lie around the tentacles, and used chalk paper to transfer the design.

I painted the seaweed after the outline was stitched. I rarely work this way; I usually prefer to have all the painting done before quilting.


This is the finished quilt named “Inky”  30″ x 50″



I made Inky to enter into the 10th (and final) Dinner@8 exhibit under the category of Beneath the Surface,  and yay! Inky made the cut, so check him out if you go to International Quilt festival in Houston this November.

Keep creating,


I’d love to spark your creativity at one of these upcoming events:

July 27-28 Meissners, Santa Rosa, Blessings in the wind; mixed-media prayer flags

August 14-18, 2018 Woodland Ridge Retreat, WI –sold out
5 – day Paint and Print-a-palooza retreat

October 19-21 Ephemera Paducah, Paducah, KY
Tea and Ephemera and Blessings in the wind: mixed-media prayer flags

October 27 Meissners, Sacramento, Fiesta Ornaments


January 16-20 Craft NapaPaint & Printapalooza, Collage, Paint, Create!, Make an Impression! 


IMG_5538Judy is an artist, explorer, image wrangler, knowledge seeker, instructor, speaker, creative alchemist, and purveyor of inspiration, helping others channel creativity on a daily basis.


26 Responses to “Making textile paint and fiber friendly acrylic ink”

  1. Wonderful blog this week, so informative.

  2. gerib says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your process for creating fiber friendly acrylic ink. Your creative spirit to try something and your knowledge combine to give us great new techniques.

  3. Nancy Gear says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  4. Sharry says:

    Wow Judy!!! This is wonderful. Thank you so much!!!

  5. Pat Grice says:

    So much detail that I know took time to write. Thanks so much for sharing Judy. My art class for the week!

  6. Barbara Fox says:

    Your very thorough experimentation on making your own fabric paint is absolutely enlightening! Thank you for sharing this info. Such a resource for those who create on fabric.

  7. Chris Chambers says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all the great info!

  8. cindy says:

    Fascinating, in-depth discussion. I was surprised to hear that you used to use Setacolor – me too. I have dabbled a bit in acrylic inks but not even close to what you do. Thanks Judy, this was so interesting.

  9. jeannievh says:

    What a fantastic post. I now appreciated those little bottles of paint so much more after seeing how much experimentation goes into development. Are you satisfied with the hand of the cloth. More importantly is your 750 happy with it? I love Inky. Art that makes me smile is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing your experiment. I look forward to buying Judy Paints soon. 🙂

  10. Susan Fletcher King says:

    Thanks Judy for some good information. I have been hoarding the last of my Seta color paints because I had heard they just aren’t going to be available at all (not even small bottles) so this is all welcome news. I wasn’t sure what I would have ended up dong and now I have a good bit of info from you for a possible alternative.
    Thanks for doing the “heavy lifting” for the rest of us!
    Can’t wait to Inky up close!

  11. Great researching Judy. As you know I too use fabric paints to create many different effects, and especially look for non plastic, non shiny, soft hand finish on fabric for my painted and stitched botanical studies. Same problem I had with Pebeo in Australia and had far less reliable supply of colours. Kraftkolor in Melbourne created a similar product, essentially for schools at about 1/4 the price, far less plastic medium and in litre bottles. When I quizzed owner Bonnie, (who supplied the Pebeo and all procion dyes etc id bought over the years in schools,) how they did it she replied “that they were chemists and third generation dye makers”. She then sourced small bottles of sun paints for my quilt teaching and then they took off. Why I mention this is because at KK they had a real interest in the chemistry of the product and in finding solutions for textile artists. Eg they packaged smaller 5 litre kits of indigo dyes; natural indigo, pre reduced indigo and synthetic indigo kits, which are fab for textiles workshops coz students take home and continue their own way. And the kit costs half the price of the same Indigo ones I buy in Japan. So, if I was doing all of this research and discovering, I would approach someone like Bonnie and see whether you can’t build and patent and produce your own line of fabric inks. I’d be your first customer! Best of luck

    • that’s great info Julie! I think Kraftkolar is who Kerry Glen reached out to to get screen printing inks for my classes in New Zealand. I remember their prices were really good too and they potted up small jars for students to buy in Kerry’s booth. They seemed like a great company.

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