Ballpoint Painting 101

Ballpoint paint is exactly what it sounds like: paint in a tube with a ballpoint pen-type tip on the end. You paint straight from the simple-to-use tubes without a brush. It’s a wonderfully easy way to paint, because you don’t need to be a master artist. If you can write with a ballpoint pen or color a picture in a coloring book, you can create with ballpoint paint. From personalized clothing to home accessories and décor, the possibilities are endless!


Materials Needed

  • Ballpoint paint in your choice of colors
  • Item to be decorated
  • Embroidery transfer patterns or transfer pencil and tracing paper (optional)
  • Ballpoint paint hoop and blotter set (optional)


Preparing Your Surface

The best part about ballpoint painting is how tremendously versatile it is. You can paint on almost any material you choose: fabric, plastic, glass, wood, and more. However, some surfaces will require extra work to ensure the paint adheres correctly.

  • 100% cotton: Wash unstamped fabric before painting to remove sizing for better paint penetration and prevent shrinking after applying the design. Do not wash stamped fabric, as the stamping marks will come out.
  • Blends and double knits: Some synthetic fabrics are treated to resist stains, which will not permit adherence, so it is best to test the paint on a small, unseen area before applying the design.
  • 100% wool: Because of the lanolin content of wool, your completed design should be ironed on the wrong side with a warm iron to “set” the paint. Be sure to place paper on both sides of your fabric to absorb any excess paint which may come through.
  • Wood products: Unfinished wooden items to be painted should not have any spots or greasy fingerprints on the surface that is to be painted. After painting and letting it dry, the design may be further protected by shellacking lightly or spraying with a clear acrylic fixative. Allow to dry thoroughly before using.
  • Leather: Leather items need no prior preparation before painting.
  • Plastic: Plastic items should be cleaned thoroughly with either alcohol or a solution of 1 tablespoon of washing soda to 1 quart of water. Rinse thoroughly, avoiding finger marks.
  • Glass: Glass items should be cleaned thoroughly with either alcohol or a solution of 1 tablespoon of washing soda to 1 quart of water to remove any traces of oil or fingerprints. Put the design on the underside of flat, clear glass items.
  • Metal: Metal should be cleaned thoroughly with either alcohol or a solution of washing soda and water to remove any traces of oil or fingerprints before painting the design.


Applying the Design

Original designs may be sketched freehand directly onto the article to be painted. If you are not a freehand artist, you can use embroidery iron-on transfer patterns or transfer pencils and tracing paper if you wish to make your own iron-on patterns.
Iron-on transfers: Place the transfer facedown on your item to be painted and press with a warm iron. Remove the transfer and paint in the outline left on the fabric with the colors of your choice.
Tracing paper: If you are using fabric, tightly stretch and tack or pin the fabric over an even, hard surface covered with blotting paper. Trace the design you have selected with a pencil on ordinary tracing paper. If your design has lettering, you must first trace your design with an ordinary lead pencil first. Then turn the sheet of paper over and retrace your tracing lines with the transfer paper. This method will have the writing facing the correct way when the design is ironed onto the fabric. Place the transfer facedown on your item to be painted and press with a warm iron. Remove the transfer and paint in the outline left on the fabric with the colors of your choice.



Once a design has been added to your item, you can prepare your paints. Test first on a scrap piece of material. If the tip is clogged, exert pressure while scribbling on a piece of soft cardboard. When the paint starts flowing freely, practice on a piece of cloth to familiarize yourself with the techniques. This will also get the paint started through the tube and eliminate any excess oil that may have accumulated. Make sure you are working on a level surface. If you are working on fabric, stretch the fabric in a hoop before painting. Place wax paper under thin cottons, nylons, organics, linens, and other light fabrics to prevent paint getting on the surface underneath.

Paint may be blended to create new colors, and darker colors may be painted over lighter colors for shading. Make sure to add the second color of paint while the first is still wet. If the first stroke has dried, the paint may not be colorfast. To blend two colors together, apply the darker color first, then light colors to achieve the desired shade.
To create a shading effect, completely cover an area with a lighter color and then outline the area with a darker color in that color family. For example, a leaf could be painted with a light green and outlined with forest green. Or, pretend the sun is shining on your image from one direction. Imagine how the shadows would fall. Paint the imaginary shadows with a darker shade.

Tips & Tricks

  • Hold the tube vertically and press down slightly with practically no pressure on the tube, but press firmly on the ball point tip.
  • If the tube is not flowing, press gently from the top of the tube to work the paint toward the point, then try again.
  • In some colors, the paint is slightly thicker due to the pigments. On these colors, put a little more pressure on the tip to get the paint flowing well.
  • Never squeeze or roll the tube. As the paint is used, gently press the remaining paint from the bottom of the tube toward the point. Do not roll the end, as the full length is easier to hold when drawing or writing.
  • Keep the tip of the paint tube clean. This ensures the paint will continue to flow freely.
  • Always apply ballpoint paint with smooth strokes. Do not allow too much paint to come out at one time.
  • Use long, smooth strokes to outline the area you are painting. Color in the outlined area solidly with all strokes going in the same direction to create a smoother look.
  • Recap the tube after using and store for future projects. If the cap should come off while stored, a seal will form around the ballpoint tip, protecting the paint inside. Simply break the seal by stroking the point across a piece of sandpaper or emery board.


Cleaning Your Item

It is best to allow your completed items to dry thoroughly (at least 48 hours) before washing or dry cleaning according to the instructions for that particular fabric. If there are many layers of paint due to blending or shading, the item should be allowed to dry for several days.
China or glass items can be baked to harden the paint and make it more durable after it is dry. Place the item in a cold oven, turn heat to 260 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes. Let the item cool in the oven.
Best color retention occurs when your finished article is washed by hand. Don’t allow decorated glass, plastic, or similar items to stand in hot water containing detergent. To machine wash a fabric item, use warm water and mild detergent with no bleach. Painted pellon can be washed by hand, but the less washed, the better. Brush off any dust, or spot clean lightly soiled areas.