Painting faux suede with acrylics

Faux suede fabric comes in a rainbow of colors, but sometimes you need a pattern on your suede, and patterns can be difficult to find in this type of fabric. While you might be able to find cheetah prints or spots or the like, your cosplay’s demands might be a bit different. So it’s time to paint them on yourself.

Cheetah-like spots painted on chocolate brown faux suede. The spots are irregular, some looking like a circle filled in and others looking like an O
Cheetah-like spots painted on chocolate brown faux suede

While working on a Link cosplay, I found the concept art had a strange Hyrulean monster cheetah-print fabric that wouldn’t match any sort of printed pattern unless I had it custom printed. So I set to paint it with acrylics mixed with fabric medium to make a flexible fabric for my bracers and skirt fabrics to match the concept art.

So let’s get to painting those custom patterns! This method works better for patterns and smaller designs. Covering large areas of fabric or something like shoes may not work with this method.

Skill level: beginner-friendly

Cost: Moderate (for suede costs)


  • Faux suede fabric, 100% synthetic
  • A cover for your table (tablecloth, scrap fabric, etc)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Acrylic paint in color(s) of choice
  • Textile medium (comes in a liquid bottle at the craft store!)
  • A dish, bowl, or cup to mix paints (don’t use this same thing for food!)
  • Ballpoint pen

Creating the design

Before you put paint on your fabric, you’ll want to map out your designs. You can do this in a number of ways including making stencils out of mylar or posterboard and tracing the pattern onto your fabric. Or you can freehand it, which is what I did for my Hyrulean cheetah monster spots.

Spots sketched out in pen.
Spots sketched out in pen

When sketching your design, note that pencil will not work with suede due to its fluffy texture nature. Instead, you’ll need to use a pen. For darker fabrics, press down on the fabric to get the ink to show. For lighter, you can draw more lightly so that the marks do not show in the end result. Don’t use a permanent marker as those bleed through the fabric fibers.

Since pen cannot be erased, make sure you know where you want your design before setting pen to fabric. That way you can avoid wasting any fabric or having pen marks show in the painted result. If you’re not sure where you want to paint something, the size, or the design, create a prototype using paper or poster board and place it on the fabric. Check the shapes and size then use the prototype as a guide when drawing your final design.

Paint that suede!

Now that you have your pattern, it’s time to paint. Work one color at a time, allowing each color to completely dry before moving to the next. If you are planning on mixing your own colors, mix the paints before mixing in the fabric medium.

For each paint color, the ratio of acrylic paint to fabric medium is 1:1. It doesn’t have to be exact, and you can make a guestimation. The result should be smooth like a thin cream (but don’t eat this cream). Fabric medium is also milky so make sure to fully mix in the medium.

When painting, you want to work from your indominant side to the dominant one. Since I paint with my right hand, I paint left to right. This ensures that I’m not leaning in the paint when it’s wet and getting unwanted spots all over your fabric.

Painting a small spot with a small flat brush
Painting a small spot with a small flat brush

The type of brush used for painting can vary greatly depending on what your pattern is. Personally, I find that small flat brushes work great for getting into corners and painting smaller areas while larger ones can work for bigger areas. If you need thinner lines, a round-point brush works best. You can get pretty small with your designs and details when painting suede, much like painting any other kind of fabric.

Painting will cause the fuzzy fibers to push downward and stay that way. So if you’re painting large designs, take note of this if you want a more fuzzy appearance to your fabric.

Once you’ve finished painting, leave about 30 minutes to an hour for the paint to dry. If you’ve painted a large area, leave it a bit longer to make sure it’s fully dry before working with your fabric. The paint won’t drip but it can touch other parts of the fabric and make marks.

You do not need to seal or finish the paint like you would with a prop or accessory. Once dry, the paint is permanent. You can get it wet, though you don’t want to run it through the wash (actually you don’t want to put faux suede in the washer anyway). You can also bump against things, manipulate the fabric, or rub your hand across it and it won’t come off. So paint to your heart’s desire and make cool designs!

I hope you enjoyed this short little tutorial about painting on suede! Acrylics with fabric medium work great on this material and don’t require expensive suede paints to create custom designs The fabric medium ensures that the paint doesn’t crack when you move, making it perfect for all the movement you’ll do around the con.

Finished bracer with the painted Hyrulean cheetah monster spots. Bracer has fluffy white borders with beige suede cord crisscrossing across the fabric. The spots are dark brown while the main fabric is chocolate.
Finished bracer with the painted Hyrulean cheetah monster spots

Let me know what designs you paint on suede. @ me on social media so I can admire your work!

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