How to Paint On Jeans (5 steps with pictures)

Van Gogh Sunflower jeans by Kessler Ramirez


Originally published March 2018

If you follow along on my art Instagram (@kesslerramirezart), you have already seen my numerous pairs of painted vintage jeans. You can also see larger pictures of them HERE.

I have gotten so many people asking the same questions about these jeans, so instead of continuously responding to each individual person, I decided to make a full informational tutorial so you can make your own at home! If you don't have the time or patience to make these yourself, I sell them HERE.

This post isn't intended to teach you how to paint an exact image, but instead give you the tools and tips you need to be able to paint any image you choose!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links – buying through those links helps me fund my mini art biz!

To start, buy a pair of jeans or grab a pair you already own and gather your materials.

I source all my jeans from local thrift shops to keep the cost low and vintage jeans are the coolest. I recommend using jeans that have blank pockets without any stitching. Once you've picked out your jeans, wash and dry them to get any dust off them. The paint will not stay as well otherwise.

For materials I use:

  • acrylic paint

  • paper plate as a palette

  • paint brushes made for acrylic/watercolor

  • an old cup I've re-purposed into a paint water cup

  • jeans (of course)

Acrylic is permanent and does not easily come off clothes. Washing information will be at the bottom of this post!

the paint I use:

Amsterdam Paints:

Liquitex Basics Paints:

These may not be as high-quality as Amsterdam, but they are still great paints that I use on all my jean paintings.

The images below picture Artist’s Loft paints, but I DO NOT recommend using these as they are extremely low quality and can lead to cracking, peeling, and flaking.


––> here <––

painted jeans-

STEP 1: Taping

Choose which pocket you want to paint on and tape around it. You want to get underneath the edges of the pocket to make sure the paint does not get onto that part. I have used both blue painters tape and artists' tape, but I've found artists tape peels off much more easily. The white tape is also better to accurately see the paint colors you are using.

STEP 2: Base Paint

Paint the whole pocket with 1-2 layers of white acrylic paint. You should not be able to see blue jean color coming through. This base paint will make the colors POP instead of blending into the blue denim. It also creates a barrier so the colors do not soak into the denim. Some acrylic paints are transparent, which means whatever they are painted onto shows through. If you try and paint a transparent yellow onto blue denim, you will end up with greenish-yellow and the denim peeking through.

STEP 3: Draw Your Design

Usually, this is the step where I draw my design/image onto the white background. When I painted The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh onto jeans, I drew it all out onto the white and then painted it in because there were large shapes that were easy to paint around.

With these jeans I painted Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, which have a much more detailed outline and so I painted the background first. I have also painted this painting by drawing the outline onto the white and painting around which actually worked better than painting the background first.

Whichever way you choose to do it, use a thin black pen that will draw easily onto your (fully dry) painted pocket. I opted for my Faber Castell PITT artists' pen, but it can get worn down easily if the jeans are rough-textured. The Papermate Profile is actually my favorite pen in the world for all things – including drawing on jeans!

STEP 4: Begin to paint!

Once you have all your lines drawn in, you can start to paint your design! Squeeze out small amounts of paint on to your palette, fill your paint cup with water, and lay out a paper towel or rag to dry your brushes on. Since I did the background first on this pair of jeans, I painted white onto the flowers so the yellow would stand out and not blend with the aqua color. If you are painting from a reference photo, print it out or open the photo on your computer.

As you can see, I go a bit outside the lines so the tape is really useful. I made halfway marks on the tape which help me keep the image proportional and accurate. Everyone will have their own way of painting and you probably will be doing a different image than me.

My favorite brushes.

Step 5: Peel off the tape

Let your painting completely dry and then slowly peel off the tape. This is my favorite part because it is so satisfying to peel and it cleans up the painting so nicely- like magic!

Add heat to "set" them

The best way to ensure the paint stays on the jeans is to get it really hot. This is called heat setting. It is super easy and there are 2 ways you can do it:

  1. Iron the back of the painting for 5-7 minutes on high. DO NOT iron the front of the painting – turn the jeans inside out and iron the inside. As I paint more jeans, I have found that ironing is the best way because it is direct heat onto the pocket and ensures they are heat set well.

  2. Throw them in the dryer! Make sure the paint has fully dried (acrylic dries almost immediately if it isn't painted on too thickly) and then throw them in the dryer on high or medium heat for 15-25 minutes. Easy!

Acrylic paint turns into plastic once it is dry and creates a hard/shiny "skin". Heat setting helps to enforce the durable plastic.

washing and care

If you've painted with acrylic paint before and you're messy like me, you probably got some on your clothes. I have jeans, shirts, and leggings that have been through over a dozen washes and still have that acrylic paint on them. This is how I knew acrylic paint was a good option when it came to painting on denim. Of course you can use fabric paint, but I already had acrylics on hand and don't have much experience with fabric paint.

Although acrylics are permanent on clothes*, they can slightly fade in the wash. I've washed on pair in a regular cycle and they came out still looking almost exactly as they went in. The painting was slightly faded and a couple corners had rubbed off, but it seemed okay otherwise.

Most likely you will have spent hours on these and want them to stay PERFECT. Me too.

I recommend hand-washing inside out or washing on a delicate cycle inside out. Dry as usual.

I wore these jeans for a full day of walking and sitting in Los Angeles and did not have any marks, fading, or cracking. Again, acrylic paint turns to plastic once it is dry which makes it durable and not likely to get scuffed.

*Alcohol of any kind will cause the paint to deteriorate and destroy your painting. This cannot be used to remove paint in large areas.

If this tutorial was helpful + you created your own pair – tag me on instagram! (@kesslerramirezart)

I would LOVE to see your creations!

Have more questions? Check out my FAQ!

Hello, I'm Kessler!

I’m an artist, wannabe world traveler, and self-proclaimed social media expert. Born and raised in California with a persistent travel bug.

Sharing all my adventures and tips with you!


Follow on instagram @KESSLERRAMIREZart


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