Can You Paint Canvas Tents?


When it comes to working with canvas, you can always trust the experts at Airdrie Canvas to provide great advice and a friendly demeanour. One of the questions they often receive is “can you paint canvas tents?”

The short answer is yes, you can paint canvas tents. Acrylic paints work best and it is important to let the paint dry between each successive coat. However, there is a bit more to painting canvas than this simple explanation.

Dye or Paint?

The first question you should ask yourself before purchasing paint is “would this be easier to dye?” This is an important question as if you are planning to paint the entire canvas tent or tarp, you might be better off with a professional dye job. Not only will it save you tons of work, but it is more likely to last and retain its colour over time.

Spray, Brush or Roller?

If you know that your canvas tent painting project is better performed by you personally, the next question is one of application. If you plan to do a lot of fine detail work, then brushes are going to be your best option. If you want to cover large areas, or you have stencils, then a high-pressure low-volume (HPLV) spray gun will be the fastest option. And, for the middle ground, there are rollers. These are good for applying successive thin coats of paint.

Canvas Tents

Types of Paint to Use

Acrylic paints. There are recommendations that say to use both medium and low-viscosity paint, but the truth is this; if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you will have a great time. So, if they tell you to paint at 20°C or above, do that. It will ensure the viscosity is correct for the application specified, and they’ll like tell you how long to set it, and how many coats to do for a desired finish.

Remember, you want to ensure the paint is pliable and stretchy. It has to be able to withstand the dynamic movement of the canvas. Therefore, it is best to apply successive coats rather than applying a thick layer. The added surfaces between the layers of paint act like ribbing in an accordion, giving it more flexibility overall.

Tips for Painting

You’ll want to use a seam sealer to prevent paint getting inside the tent. Masking tape will also do wonders for protection and design. Of course, you should also follow standard fabric handling practices. Spread out your canvas tent, ensure the surface is free of debris and secure it to prevent unwanted movement.

Tips for Taking Good Care of Your Painted Canvas Tent

Canvas tent at night

Taking good care of your canvas tent is just as important as designing or painting it. Canvas tents are made from a thicker, heavier material. Some are made of cotton, some are synthetic, and some are mixed. Depending on the kind of material, improper technique will leave your tent brittle, cracked, and needs to be replaced. Luckily, it’s easy to take care of your painted canvas tent to make it last longer.  

  1. After use, inspect the tent’s seams, paint, and interior. Hand wash the tent with mild soap and a sponge. A gentle sponge wash with soap and water will keep your tent clean for years. You may remove the dirt using a hose but make sure that the pressure is not too much that it will leave the paint ripped off.
  2. Do not set up your tent or leave it in direct sunlight for a long period of time. Paint and tent fabrics may fade and deteriorate faster if exposed to direct sunlight for too long. Reapply sealant and place the tent in a shaded part if possible. Also, when keeping the tent, always roll or fold your tent into a square. Never put it in a bag crumpled, as the paint will fade or chip quickly.
  3. If you notice paint cracks, fading, or chipping, fix the paintwork immediately. Clean up the part where chirping shows as if left unattended can worsen over time. Reapply a fresh layer of the same tint. However, note that the wrong paint color weakens a canvas, so be very careful.

Painting Canvas Tents: Wrap-up

Here is a list of the supplies, should you be interested in painting your canvas tent:

  • Acrylic paint
  • Brushes
  • Rollers
  • High-pressure Low-volume (HPLV) spray gun
  • Seam sealer
  • Masking tape
  • Paint thinner (according to manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Canvas tent
  • Securement

It is important to remember that this list includes all the possible supplies. Using the information provided above, you should be able to discern what items are right for you.

What to Paint?

If you haven’t considered painting your canvas tent and would like to learn more about what people paint on them, we have answers for that too.

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