Painting a tent: How to do it the right way

by | Jul 11, 2023 | Backcountry camping

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So, you’re thinking about painting your tent and giving it a creative touch?

Great idea!

Customizing your tent can not only express your personality and style but also make it easier to spot your temporary home among other similar-looking tents in a busy camping area.

Is it possible to paint a tent?

A colourful tent lit up at night

Yes, you can paint a tent to give it a fresh look or customize its design.

The most common types of tents that can be painted are canvas tents, vinyl tents, and nylon tents.

When selecting paints, you have various options such as acrylic paint, latex paint, and spray paint.

Before you start painting, make sure your tent is clean and dry.

Dirt or moisture may interfere with the paint’s adherence to the fabric.

Set up the tent in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, because you’ll be working with paint and may need to leave the tent to dry for a few hours or overnight.

When choosing a paint, it’s a good idea to test the desired colour on a small, inconspicuous area of the tent to ensure compatibility.

Spray paint is recommended because it’s easy to use and provides even coverage.

Hold the spray can 8 to 10 inches away from the tent surface, applying paint in sweeping strokes from top to bottom.

Let each coat dry before adding another.

It’s important to use the right type of paint for the material of your tent.

For example, canvas tents work well with a wide range of paints, while vinyl tents may require a specialized paint formulated for plastic surfaces.

If you’re unsure of your tent’s material compatibility, consult the manufacturer for guidance.

When painting intricate designs or patterns, you may want to use stencils or painters tape to create clean lines and keep the paint contained to specific areas.

After completing your design, allow the tent to dry completely before packing it away or using it for your next camping adventure.

Materials needed to paint a tent

Acrylic paint bottles

Before you start painting your tent, gather all the necessary materials to ensure a smooth process.

You’re going to need the following items:

The right type of paint

Choose a paint suitable for your tent’s fabric.

For canvas tents, you can go for acrylic paints like Arteza outdoor acrylic paint. If you have a vinyl or nylon tent, it’s best to use latex paint or spray paint.

Always test the paint in a small inconspicuous area first.

Painter’s tape

Use this tape to cover any zippers, poles, or other parts of the tent you don’t want to accidentally paint.

It’ll help you achieve clean lines and a more professional look.

A clean, well-ventilated workspace

Pick an area with enough room to spread out the tent while painting, and make sure you have proper ventilation for safety and faster drying.

Brushes or foam rollers

Depending on your desired look, you can use either brushes or foam rollers to apply the paint evenly to the tent’s surface.

Drop cloth or plastic sheeting

Protect your workspace from spills or drips by placing a drop cloth or plastic sheeting underneath the tent while painting.

Newspaper or masking paper

Cover the inside of your tent with newspaper or masking paper to avoid paint seeping through the fabric and onto the floor.

Now that you’ve got everything together, you’re ready to start painting your tent.

Prep your workspace and tent by laying out the drop cloth, taping off areas you don’t want painted, and covering the inside.

Mix and test your chosen paint, then apply it evenly using brushes or foam rollers.

Make sure to follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions for drying time between coats.

Choosing the right paint for your tent

Spray paint cans

When you decide to paint your tent, selecting the appropriate paint is crucial for achieving a long-lasting, fade-resistant finish.

Not all paints are suitable for tents, as certain types may not adhere properly or could damage the material.

Let’s explore some paint options that will work well with your tent.

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a popular choice for painting tents, as it’s water-resistant and dries quickly.

It works well on various tent materials, and you can easily layer it for different shades or textures.

However, keep in mind that acrylic paint may become stiff, potentially affecting the overall flexibility and packing of your tent.

Spray paint

Spray paint is another option for painting your tent, offering better coverage and less chance of leaving brush strokes.

Remember to test the spray paint on a small, inconspicuous area first, as it may appear differently on the tent material than on the paint can.

Additionally, be sure to maintain a consistent distance when spraying and apply multiple layers if needed to achieve your desired look.

Latex paint

Latex paint is also suitable for tents, but it may require an additional sealer to ensure long-lasting, water-resistant results source.

Before applying latex paint, remember to clean the surface of the tent thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris, which will help the paint adhere better and produce a more even finish.

When painting a canvas tent, consider using a high-quality outdoor paint specifically designed for canvas, such as Behr’s premium fade resistant paint (available at Home Depot).

This type of paint is specially formulated to withstand the elements and maintain a vibrant colour.

Step-by-step guide to painting a tent

The seams of a green tent.

Before diving into the painting process, it’s essential to take some safety precautions.

First, ensure you’re in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling harmful fumes.

It’s also a good idea to cover your skin and eyes with protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, to prevent irritation from the paint.

Now, let’s get into the step-by-step process of painting your tent.

Step 1: Choose the right paint

When painting your tent, it’s crucial to pick a durable, weather-resistant paint that can withstand the elements and last for years.

Acrylic paint is typically the best choice for canvas tents.

Step 2: Prepare the surface

Thoroughly clean your tent, removing any dirt, debris, or grease that could impact the paint’s adhesion.

You can use mild soap and water for this task, being sure to rinse thoroughly and allowing the tent to dry completely before moving on.

Step 3: Tape off edges

To achieve clean lines and avoid painting unintended areas, use painter’s tape to protect zippers, seams, and any other parts you don’t want to paint.

Step 4: Apply the paint

Start painting your tent, applying the acrylic paint evenly using a brush, roller, or even a sponge.

Remember to use thin, consistent strokes and avoid going over the same area multiple times to prevent peeling.

Allow the paint to dry for the recommended time indicated on the paint’s label.

Step 5: Add details and designs

If you want to add some flair to your tent, now’s the time!

You can use stencils or freehand designs to give your tent a unique look.

Just make sure the base paint is fully dry before applying any additional paint layers.

Step 6: Seal the seams

After the paint has dried completely, it’s necessary to seal the seams with a seam sealer to prevent water infiltration.

Follow the sealer’s instructions carefully to achieve the best results.

There you have it—a straightforward guide to painting your tent safely and effectively.

Keep in mind that proper maintenance and storage will help ensure your painted tent looks great and stays functional for many camping trips to come.

How to design and sketch your tent before painting

Bright paint colours

When you decide to paint your tent, it’s important to plan and sketch a design before you start.

This way, you’ll create a visually appealing and unique work of art on your canvas tent.

Here’s how to get started.

First, gather some inspiration.

Look at pictures of painted tents or other artwork that you like.

You can visit websites, scroll through social media, or even go outside and observe nature.

Feel free to mix and match different design elements, such as shapes, colours, and patterns.

Remember, this is your tent, so personalize it and make it a reflection of your personality.

Next, consider the tent’s structure and features.

Take note of the tent’s seam lines, doors, windows, and poles.

You want to incorporate these into your design as they can add visual interest, but also be aware that they may limit your options.

For example, painting over seams might require extra care to maintain the tent’s waterproofing.

Once you have a general idea, it’s time to sketch your design.

You can use paper and pencil, or try using a tablet or computer if you’re more comfortable with digital drawing.

Start with a basic outline of the tent and fill in your design elements.

Don’t worry about making it perfect yet—this is just your first draft.

Now that you have a rough sketch, refine it by adding details and fine-tuning the colours.

Ask yourself if the design feels balanced and if the colours complement each other.

If something doesn’t look right, don’t be afraid to make changes until you’re satisfied.

Lastly, consider how your design will look from different viewpoints.

Remember that when your tent is set up, people might see it from various angles.

Make sure the design appears cohesive and harmonious from multiple perspectives.

Tips for painting different types of tents

Most tents are made with canvas or nylon material.


A canvas tent

When painting a canvas tent, it’s best to use acrylic paints specifically designed for outdoor use, such as arteza outdoor acrylic paint.

This type of paint is weather-resistant and adheres well to canvas surfaces in various temperatures.

Before you begin, make sure to clean the tent thoroughly with a soft brush or cloth to remove dirt and debris.

This will ensure proper paint adhesion and prevent peeling or cracking over time.

  • Test the paint color on a small area first to avoid damage
  • Apply multiple thin layers for even coverage
  • Allow each layer to dry completely before adding another


Red tent nylon fabric.

Nylon tents can also be painted, but you’ll want to choose the right type of paint, such as acrylic, latex, or spray paint designed for nylon materials.

Make sure to test the paint on a small, inconspicuous area first to confirm that it won’t harm the fabric.

Clean the nylon tent well before applying any paint to ensure proper adhesion.

  • Use a paintbrush or sponge for an even application
  • Protect any non-nylon parts (such as zippers) with painter’s tape
  • Be patient and work in small sections to achieve the best results

Remember to allow adequate drying time between each coat and be aware that, depending on your tent’s size and desired design, painting may take some time.

Maintaining a painted tent

A person laying out a tent to dry.

To keep your painted tent looking fresh and functioning well, follow these simple care and cleaning tips.

Hand wash only

When cleaning your tent, it’s best to hand wash it with mild soap and a sponge.

Avoid power spraying or using a high-pressure hose, as these methods can shorten the lifespan of the paint on your canvas tent.

Avoid direct sunlight

Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause the paint and tent fabric to fade or break down.

Try to set up your tent in shaded areas or limit the amount of time it spends under the sun.

Proper storage

When not in use, store your tent in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Make sure it’s completely dry before storing it to prevent mould and mildew growth.

Inspect regularly

Check your tent periodically for any signs of wear, damage, or paint chipping.

This will help you to address any issues before they become more significant problems.

Use acrylic paint for outdoor use

If you plan to use your painted canvas tent outdoors for camping, weddings, or other events, it’s best to use acrylic paint.

This type of paint is more durable and less likely to peel or crack over time.

Remember, taking good care of your painted tent ensures its longevity and maintains its appearance.

Inspirational tent painting ideas

A painting of the night sky and a forest

Here are some creative and fun painting ideas to help personalize your tent and wow your fellow campers.

Nature-inspired designs

Bring the beauty of nature to your tent by painting your favourite outdoor scenes or elements.

Depict a tranquil forest, a serene ocean, or even a vibrant sunset.

Feel free to use acrylic paints to bring your vision to life.

Geometric patterns

Consider adding bold shapes and patterns to your tent for a modern and stylish look.

You can even create your own custom design by using a combination of stripes, chevrons, hexagons, or triangles.

Use blue painter’s tape to create clean lines and sharp edges.

Whimsical creatures and characters

If you have artistic skills, try painting cute and whimsical creatures or characters on your tent for a touch of playful charm.

From colourful owls to magical unicorns, the options are endless.

Travel-inspired theme

If you’re an avid traveler, reflect your wanderlust by painting various landmarks, maps, or destination names on your tent.

This way, you can carry a piece of your favourite places with you wherever you camp.

Personalized monogram or slogan

For a simple but meaningful touch, paint your initials or a family slogan onto your tent.

This could be a fun way to showcase your personality and let others know whose tent it is.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different colours, techniques, and ideas when painting your tent.

The impact of paint on tent’s waterproofing and sun protection

Camping tent in the shaded trees.

Before you grab a can of paint and start transforming your tent, it’s important to understand how paint can affect your tent’s waterproofing and sun protection.

Though it’s possible to paint a tent, choosing the right type of paint and technique is crucial for maintaining its functionality.

When it comes to waterproofing, the paint you choose could interfere with your tent’s existing waterproofing abilities.

Some paints might seal the pores of your tent’s fabric, making it difficult for water to escape, while others may not adhere well to waterproofed surfaces.

If you’re not careful, your painted tent could end up leaking in the rain.

To avoid this issue, try using a paint specifically designed for outdoor fabrics, like those used in tents.

Test the paint on a small, inconspicuous area of the tent first, and make sure to let it dry completely before deciding whether or not it’s suitable for your tent’s fabric.

Sun protection is another major concern when painting your tent.

Extended exposure to uv rays can damage your tent’s fabric, leading to significant reductions in tear strength.

Painting your tent with a darker colour may increase its absorption of sunlight, potentially causing it to heat up quicker and reducing its overall lifespan.

To reduce the risk of uv damage, select a paint that provides UV resistance or apply a UV-resistant coating after the paint has dried.

This way, your tent will still look fresh and maintain its integrity under the sun’s harsh rays.

Remember, when painting your tent, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and let each coat of paint dry completely before adding more.

This will ensure that you achieve an even, durable finish that won’t compromise your tent’s performance in the great outdoors.

Common mistakes to avoid when painting a tent

Acrylic paints and brushes

When you’re painting a tent, it’s easy to make a few mistakes that can affect the final result.

To help you create a fantastic tent masterpiece, here are some common errors to steer clear of:

Using the wrong paint

Picking the right paint is essential for a successful and long-lasting paint job.

Avoid regular household paint, which may not be durable enough to withstand an outdoor environment.

Instead, opt for high-quality, waterproof paint designed for canvas.

Neglecting to prepare the surface

Before grabbing a brush, make sure to clean the tent’s surface thoroughly, removing any dirt or debris.

This step will help the paint adhere better and create a smoother finish.

Painting over the same area

When applying paint, use even strokes, and don’t go over the same spot multiple times.

This approach will prevent the paint from peeling off and keep it looking great for longer.

Rushing the drying process

It’s tempting to pack up your tent right after painting it, but allowing the paint to dry completely is crucial.

Depending on the paint you use, this can take from a few hours to a whole day.

So, be patient and let your tent dry before using or storing it.

Ignoring ventilation

Some types of paints contain harmful or volatile chemicals.

Make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area, or choose paint with a safe formula, to avoid inhaling fumes while painting.

By keeping these simple tips in mind, you’ll be on your way to creating a beautiful, functional, and personalized tent for your next adventure.

Give it a try, and have fun unleashing your creativity!

Next up: 23 genius camping tent setup ideas

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What type of paint should I use for a tent?

When choosing paint for your tent, it’s essential to pick a water-resistant paint that can adhere to your tent’s fabric.

Acrylic paints are generally recommended, as they work well on various materials like canvas and nylon.

Make sure to select an outdoor acrylic paint to ensure durability and weather resistance.

Avoid using oil-based paints, as they might damage the tent fabric.

How can I waterproof a painted canvas tent?

After painting your canvas tent, you can waterproof it to ensure it stays protected against the elements.

One way to do this is by applying a waterproofing spray or treatment specifically designed for canvas tents.

Apply the treatment evenly on the painted surface, following the product’s instructions.

This will help seal the paint and provide a water-resistant coating, keeping your tent dry and protected.

Is it possible to paint a nylon tent?

Yes, you can paint a nylon tent, but it requires a bit more care, as nylon is a more delicate fabric than canvas.

Use acrylic paint, preferably an outdoor acrylic paint designed for use on fabrics like nylon.

Make sure to apply the paint in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry completely before adding another.

This will prevent the paint from cracking and peeling.

What are the best techniques for painting a camping tent?

Start by cleaning your tent thoroughly, removing dirt and dust using a brush or vacuum cleaner.

Repair any holes or tears in the fabric before painting.

If you’re using a stencil or design, trace or draw it onto the tent with a pencil or chalk.

Begin painting using a brush, sponge, or roller, depending on your preference and the painting techniques you want to employ.

Allow the paint to dry thoroughly between layers, and make sure to apply waterproofing treatment after the final layer of paint has dried, if needed.

Can I use fabric paint on a canopy tent?

Fabric paint can be used on a canopy tent if it’s made of fabric-like polyester or canvas.

However, keep in mind that fabric paints might not be as durable or weather-resistant as outdoor acrylic paints.

Ensure the fabric paint you choose is suitable for outdoor use and follow the application and drying instructions provided on the product label.

Are outdoor acrylic paints suitable for tent painting?

Yes, outdoor acrylic paints are suitable for tent painting, as they provide good adhesion, flexibility, and weather resistance.

These paints are designed to withstand the elements and are ideal for painting tents made of various materials, including canvas and nylon.

Select a paint formulated for outdoor use, and make sure to follow the application and drying guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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