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Intense Brights On Dark Fabrics By Shen



Have you ever tried desperately to make a vivid white show up on a dark shirt, jacket, or other cotton/poly garment only to have the paint soak into the fabric and practically disappear? For several years, this frustrating phenomenon forced me to refuse orders from customers who wanted work done on dark colors. I definitely wasn’t happy about losing those orders. Who would be? So, I started experimenting, and finally came up with a formula to really punch color out of dark garments!

In this process, a clear coat is sprayed on and heat-set to prime the fabric so paint will not be absorbed into it. The image is drawn and the painted in a series of steps, adding color (or white, as in this Cobra painting) and cutting detail back in with the color of the garment (black, in this case). For full color creations, the image is first painted in white, then glazed over with opaque and transparent colors to create extreme vibrancy. As you will see, this is a very forgiving way to work, so have a blast with it!



Try projecting an image onto a dark background, and you’ll quickly discover that the image simply will not show up! Here’s a remedy. Just hold a white piece of paper up against the garment and move it slightly to the left or right so that a small portion of the image disappears off the edge of the paper. Using a white charcoal pencil, extend the important lines onto the fabric to complete the image. Continue moving the paper and filling in the lines until the entire image has been transferred.


The first and most important step is to steal the surface of the fabric to prevent paint from soaking through it. I spray the entire surface with Aqua Flow Top Binder. Be sure to clean your gun thoroughly afterwards, because this stuff is sticky! Then the garment must be heat-set. For optimum results, you’ll need a hea press. I purchased a used model from a t-shirt shop, and it has worked very nicely for me. I do not recommend a heat gun, because it will not press the fibers down evenly. However, an iron at a very high setting should work. When you’re done with this preparation process, you’ll have a very smooth surface that paint adheres to like a charm!

Step 1


After the jacket is prepared with top binder and heat-pressed, I stretch it onto a board, and get ready to transfer my design. Because the Cobra image is one I frequently re-create, I have a stencil for it. I made it out of fairly heavy acetate (pellon also works nicely), and used a stencil burner to cut out my lines.

Step 2:


I spray Aqua Flow Opaque White through my stencil to produce this line drawing. To connect the lines, I will either airbrush move white or draw with a white pencil. Refining the drawing at this stage allows you to become more familiar with the image.

Step 3:


I use Artool Shields to create the image’s hard edges, but rely on my freehand skills to airbrush most of the Cobra. Overspray can be corrected later by coming back in with black paint – so no worries.

Step 4:


In this stage, I focus in on the image, making sure my shapes, lines, and values are correct. I try to achieve very bright whites and get them as opaque as possible, which may take two or three coats in the hottest spots. To gain even brighter whites, the garment can be heat-set at any time during this process. In areas where I am planning to add color, (the painting light, for instance) I make sure the white is exceptionally vivid.

Step 5:


Using Aqua Flow opaque Black begin cutting out the white overspray (not to mention, any white mistakes). For color garments, simply mix the color and cut overspray with it.

Step 6:


This is the exciting part, adding the super detail with my black! To avoid black overspray onto the white areas, I use Freehand Shields and always keep my gun facing away from the white. Lowering the air pressure a bit helps too.

Step 7:


The image really gets sharp after adding the black detail. I go back in with white to sharpen and pop out the strongest highlights as well as to refine the white details. More black eliminates any further overspray and tightens up the final details.

Step 8:


I find that adding opaque color on top of the white builds the best foundation for very hot, intense colors. So I spray opaque yellow on the parking light and the surrounding reflections to achieve the base color.

Step 9:



In the final phase, I shoot the lamp with coats of transparent golden yellow, hot pink, and a touch of red to create a glowing effect. The jacket is then heat-set one last time for durability through washing.

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