Whether you want to bring new life to an old pair of jeans or add your own personal flair to a denim jacket, both drawing and painting on denim can be fun ways to express yourself.
Although it’s generally pretty easy, it’s important that you learn the techniques to bring the designs you want to life, and ensure that your denim art stays on your jeans.
Below are step-by-step instructions to guide you. Once you know how, you’ll be ready to paint on any denim surface. The pocket of your jeans, the back of a denim jacket, it’s up to you.
How to Paint on Denim
Painting on denim offers a wide range of possibilities.
Once you have acrylic paint, textile medium, brushes, and masking tape, you’re ready to paint on denim.
Below are 7 steps to help guide you.
1. Plan your creation
Before you paint on denim, try sketching your idea on paper first. Try to make your paper the same size as the surface you plan on painting on your denim, so you can practice making your design fit in its designated area. A lot of people keep the art to the pocket area.
You may even want to try painting your design on paper first, although it is not a necessary step. This can help you work on the specifics of your design before you try it on fabric.
2. Prepare your denim
It’s important that your denim is clean and dry before you paint on it. If the jeans have been bought second-hand or you know they’ve been worn before you start your art, it’s important to wash them. Washing denim can be quite tough, as it isn’t the most forgiving material. Follow this guide for the best results.
If you’re painting on a small area, like a pocket, you should tape around the area with painter’s tape to prevent paint from getting on other parts of your denim.
Many artists prefer using a white painter’s tape since it shows up more easily on denim. It may be harder to see where your boundary lines are if you use blue painter’s tape, which will blend in with your denim. We recommend Frogtape as this is green and gives a contrast from the blue denim.
3. Paint your background
If you want your colors to pop, you should cover the area you plan on painting with 1-2 coats of white acrylic paint mixed with textile medium. You should add white paint until you can no longer see the denim blue color coming through. This will allow your light colors to show, since many acrylic paints are semi-transparent.
This also prevents colors from soaking or blending in with the denim. For example, yellow paint on unprepared denim will end up looking green. When you use yellow paint on top of a white base coat, the yellow will show up better.
After painting your background, allow the paint to fully dry before moving on to the next step.
4. Sketch your design on the prepared surface
Sketch your design lightly with a pencil or pen on your prepared surface. Lightly drawn pencil lines are unlikely to show through after painting. Even lines drawn with a thin, black pen can be covered as you paint, so give yourself whatever guidelines you need to create your painting.
If your lines are still showing through as you paint, you can mix your paint with a little bit of white paint to better conceal the ink.
5. Mix your paints
While acrylic paints may show up on denim without anything added to them, textile medium will help keep your paints from cracking. Because the exact paint to textile medium may vary, it’s important to read the instructions on your textile medium’s packaging before mixing your paints.
Once mixed, the textile medium provides your paint with flexibility, making your painted design a part of the fabric’s design. When acrylic paint is mixed with this textile medium, your denim piece can be freely washed and dried (a necessity for anything you plan to wear).
6. Paint your design
Use your paint mixed with textile medium to paint your design on your piece of denim. Use small to medium-sized strokes. Because your painting surface has been prepared with a few thin coats of white paint, painting on the denim will be fairly similar to painting on a piece of canvas.
If your design has layers or fine details, you may want to allow time to dry between coats. This will help prevent the smearing of your design or unintended blending of your colors.
7. Finish your piece
If you put painter’s tape on your denim, wait 24 hours before removing the tape. Once the paint is completely dry, remove the tape, being mindful not to leave any pieces behind.
After all tape is removed, use an iron to seal the design into the fabric. Once cool, wash and dry your painted denim piece before wearing it. The textile medium should make your design flexible and without cracks. Because the textile medium is meant to be used on clothing, you can wash your painted denim pieces in the washer.
How to Draw on Denim
Drawing on denim is easy. Although you can use sharpies or bleach pens on denim, you’ll need fabric markers to bring bright colors to life on denim. Below are six steps to guide you as you draw on denim.
1. Plan your creation
Figure out what denim piece you are going to draw on. If you’re drawing on pants, will you be drawing on the legs or just the pockets? If you’re drawing on a denim jacket, will you be covering a small section or a large one?
Plan exactly what size, design, and colors you plan to use before you put any ink on your piece. By planning out your creation, you give yourself space to figure out any problems that may sit between you and your ideal creation.
2. Prepare your denim
Your denim should be clean and dry. If you’re using fabric markers, you should prepare the area you’ll be drawing on by bleaching it or painting it white with fabric paint. Before you can start working on your drawing, your denim will need to be completely dry.
Just like if you’re painting jeans, if you’re covering a small area, like a pocket, use masking tape to outline this section. This will help prevent ink from getting outside of your planned drawing space.
If you plan on using a plain black sharpie or a bleach pen to draw on your jeans, all you need to do is make sure your denim is clean and dry.
3. Sketch your design on the fabric
Use a pencil to sketch your design onto the prepared surface of your denim. If you have pens or pencils that wash off of fabric, you can use them. However, since you’ll be going over your sketched area with fabric pens, your lines will be covered when you’re done.
Make sure you sketch all of the detail you’ll need to accurately draw your design. There is no rule about how much or how little detail you need to include in your sketch. What matters is that the lines you add will help you to draw your design on denim.
4. Color your design
Use your fabric pens to fill in blocks of color on your design. If you want to outline your pattern, fill in blocks of color before adding black outlines to your work. This way your dark lines will cover any areas where you colored outside of your penciled-in lines.
If you’ve prepared the fabric by painting or bleaching it a lighter color, bright colors should show up clearly. Yellow, orange, and other bright colors may not show up as easily on unprepared denim. If your design incorporates these colors, make sure your denim is lightened enough for them to show.
5. Add details to your coloring
If you want to outline your design, you can use dark-colored fabric pens to outline the blocks of color on your drawing. If you want to add smaller details to your piece, do so now. You can even add shading to great effect.
6. Finish and clean up your art
After the pens have completely dried, remove any masking tape you used on the denim. After all, tape has been removed, clean and dry your denim before wearing it. If you used fabric markers, read the care instructions before washing. Most fabric markers can be washed and dried in the washer and dryer, but you should always make sure you read the care instructions before washing your denim piece.
What to Paint on Jeans and Other Denim
If you are looking for denim painting inspiration there are a lot of approaches you can take. It’s really up to you what you want to paint! While some things are easier than others, your artistic ability should dictate what you draw on your denim.
Some people choose to recreate a famous piece of artwork. Check out the incredible denim pocket art below:
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Other simple ideas for drawing or painting on your jacket or jeans include:
- Smiley faces
- Text – your jeans can turn into your own graffiti
- A band logo
- A beloved pet
- A cool and quirky abstract design
What Kind of Paint Should You Use on Denim?
You should use acrylic paints on denim for the best results. Acrylics are vibrant and viscose, and if you do a good job they will give a bright design for years to come. Acrylic paints don’t seep into the jeans or fade on contact with denim.
This Liquitex set can be a great solution, and gives you 48 colors to work with!
Once you know how to paint on denim or how to draw your designs on jeans or a jacket, your imagination is the only limit.
You can add color to denim jackets, blue jeans, and more. You don’t even have to wear the clothes! Ink or paint can be applied to upcycled denim to create unique pieces of art for your home or office. Use these techniques to create your own unique creations and let the artist within you shine through.