Can You Paint or Dye A Tent? (Here is How!)

One thing to do while out of hiking season is to paint your tent in awesome colors! But can it be done?

Whereas canvas, vinyl or cotton tents are easy to paint using ordinary fabric paint, those tents made from synthetic materials like nylon or polyester are much more challenging to paint due to the waterproofing treatments used, but there are still some options, like textile dyes and spray paints, that I will go through here.

However, not all tents are equally suitable for painting and there are many things to consider before doing so.

Here is some thought about giving your tent a new color and how to do it if you decide to move on!  

Can you paint a camping tent?

For the most part, yes. You can paint your camping tent whether synthetic fabric or other materials. And although you could just buy a new camping tent, dyeing your own will require some work and investment but you will get a unique and personal tent in the end!

The type of paint you are using will have to match the material of the tent. Whereas synthetic tents such as those made from polyester or nylon will need paint containing organic solvents, canvas tents can be painted using a broader palette of water or acrylic-based paint products.

If your tent isn’t made from any of these materials (or if it’s an old one), it’s still worth checking what kind of fabric it’s made from before deciding whether or not to paint it.

For camping tents, the best option in my opinion is to use tent dye. This is because it does not require any special equipment (just a stove and a large pot) and it dyes the whole tent throughout.

Whereas dying through soaking in the dye products listed above is the preferred method, you can also spot paint a tent using regular painting equipment.

This is preferred if you only want to paint a certain part of the tent e.g. the floor or vestibule, but impractical if the whole tent is to be painted.

The look of the tent is not the only reason why you might want to paint it. A layer of certain protective paints can add more weather resistance and longer-lasting protection to your tent.

Woman Painting a Yellow Tent
A synthetic tent can be painted by hand, but it will take time and the paint has to be applied in a very thin layer. Therefore dying the tent is much preferred unless you want different parts to have different colors.

A tent can be painted with as simple equipment as a brush or a roller, but spray painting is often preferred.

If you only need to paint parts of the tent the best way is to use a sprayer. Using a sprayer makes sure that the paint is targeted, yet distributed in a very thin layer, to get as light and even a result as possible.

Airless sprayers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, making them the best choice for DIY projects like this.

But the best option for occasional use is simply to use normal spray paint cans intended for vinyl products.

Make sure that whatever type of applicator you choose allows for precise application and offers smooth coverage so that there isn’t any texture left on the canvas once finished painting it; otherwise, it won’t look very nice!

Can you paint a nylon tent?

The short answer is yes you can, but dying the tent using a fabric dye made for nylon and polyester fabrics is the easiest way forward!

Nylon is an all-synthetic fabric, however, unlike polyester, it does absorb water to some extent and can therefore also be dyed more easily with water-basted paints.

However, many more expensive tents are treated with a layer of silicon that makes them repel water and therefore water based paints will not absorb well.

a person painting a nylon camping tent
Anything can be painted by hand – even nylon tents! But we recommend dyeing following the protocol later in this post.

Therefore silicon or other water repellent treatments will make it harder to paint your tent or needs to be removed using boiling water before the dye can really be absorbed.

This is because most emulsion-based paints are made for materials that absorb water, which most nylon tents will do to some extent, but a completely new and waterproof tent will not absorb much water and will therefore be hard to paint with water-based paint and should be dyed instead.

This is, however, not a problem when using a dye as the dye will be absorbed from both sides of the tent fly sheet and therefore will “find its way” despite the waterproofing layers. However, you might have to reapply the waterproofing afterward to make sure the tent will sustain extended rainfall.

So the best option for spot painting a water-repellent nylon tent, as well as the polyester tents discussed below, will actually be a paint material based on a hydrophobic base like that used for vinyl or other plastics.

Can you paint a polyester tent?

The dyeing methods described below and also mentioned for nylon tents will also work fine for polyester tents, although they will typically need longer soaking and higher temperatures. But it depends on the type of polyester your tent is made from.

Read more about different kinds of polyester here and how polyester compares to nylon in tents.

There might, however, be times when you just want to paint certain parts of your tent and here the dye will not work as the entire tent needs to be soaked.

In terms of partial painting methods used to paint a polyester tent, a brush and roller are possible if you are on a tight budget, but If you’re looking for something more durable and long-lasting, spray paint would be your best option.

Spray painting is a good option for any tent fabric if you just want to paint certain parts of the tent.

Because polyester does not absorb water-based paints well, you will have to use a solvent-based or oil-based alternative instead.

When it comes to spray paint, there are many options available on Amazon.

Whatever method you choose, make sure to plan – especially when dealing with hydrophobic polyester tents.

Which synthetic tent materials can you dye and paint?

In theory, you can paint pretty much any material, but some are much harder to paint than others. For example, the otherwise superior Dyneema material used for ultralight hiking tents is almost impossible to paint, whereas nylon and polyester can be painted with care.  

You can paint, nylon, silnylon, and polyester. If a tent material isn’t on this list (like Cuben fiber or styrene), don’t try to dye or paint it because you will ruin your tent.

What should you look for when buying paint for your tents? Look for products labeled “fabric/tent” or “synthetic textile,” as these are specifically designed for fabric surfaces.

There are many options in terms of brush/roller and spray paints.

They are also easy to apply and have a very low odor compared to conventional paints, making them ideal for painting your large canvas tent in the backyard!

Can you paint a canopy tent?

Yes, you can paint a canopy tent. Most people recommend using spray paint, but you can also use a brush with good oil or organic solvent-based paint.

Canopies are usually made of synthetic fabrics like polyester, polyethylene or vinyls (which means they’re not natural fabrics) but some are also made from canvas, which will make it much easier to paint!

You can, however, not dye a purely plastic or fiberglass-based canopy as the dye will not get absorbed well and you cannot easily soak a whole canopy in boiling water as is often required for dyeing!

Like camping tents, most canopies are surface treated with a hydrophobic coating to keep water from absorbing into the fabric, which will therefore require either removing the treatment with turpentine or other organic solvents or using a strongly hydrophobic organic solvent-based paint.   

You will need a paintbrush, a can of paint, and a drop cloth. First, set up the canopy tent on a level surface. Spread the drop cloth underneath the tent to protect the ground from paint splatters.

Next, open the can of paint and stir it well. Dip your brush in the paint and apply it to the tent fabric in long strokes. Let the first coat of paint dry for at least an hour before applying a second coat.

Canopies are often made from water-resistant plastics that can be painted by most solvent-based spray paint methods but cannot usually be dyed!

Can you paint a vinyl canopy?

Yes. You can paint a vinyl canopy. Vinyl is one of the most common materials used for canopies and is a natural choice. It’s durable and waterproof, but not super easy to paint and almost impossible with water based paints.

The best option for painting a vinyl canopy is to use hydrophobic spray paints used for other vinyl products as well.

Vinyl can also be water resistant and fire resistant. This makes it a popular choice for campers or garden owners who want to protect their possessions from rain or sparks during a bonfire at night.

Depending on the surface treatment used on the canopy, the easiest is likely to use spray paint or a brush and roller with an oil based paint.

Can you paint a fiberglass canopy?

You can paint a fiberglass canopy, but you’ll want to be careful. The best way to paint fiberglass is with a spray gun, but it’s also possible to use a roller or brush.

The first step when painting your tent is ensuring it’s clean and dry before applying the paint. This ensures that there aren’t any oils left on the surface that might prevent adhesion.

You’ll also want to ensure that your tent’s surface is smooth before applying any primer or top coat-dents and scratches can cause issues later in the process.

When priming or painting with either method (roller/brush), make sure you’re using acrylic paints; oil-based paints won’t adhere properly due to their chemical makeup, which makes them incompatible with polyester (the material used in most tents).

Once you’ve primed and sanded down any rough surfaces as needed, you should apply two coats of whatever color finish you’ve chosen: one thin coat followed by another thicker layer will give better results than trying for perfection right off the bat!

So how exactly do I dye a tent?

If you are dying your tent using something like the Rit DyeMore Liquid Dye, you will want to follow the instructions that go roughly like this:

  1. Remove the tent from the ground to make sure it is dry and free of dirt.
  2. If there are metal parts inside the tent like zippers and poles, take them out before dying begins so they don’t get damaged.
  3. Prepare your surface for painting by cleaning and repairing any holes or tears in the fabric. Ensure all seams are sealed by sewing them up or using a seam sealer if needed.
  4. Apply the paint by soaking in the dye (depending on the product). The paint will often need to be dissolved in boiling water and then heated while the tent soaks and absorbs the dye.
  5. Let it sit for an hour in the dye.
  6. Wash the tent in a laundry machine at the most gentle rinsing program available. Use a low RPM centrifugation.
  7. Hang it to dry overnight and longer if needed.
  8. Apply new waterproofing by spraying or washing in the laundry machine if necessary.

Below are two (somewhat messy but informative) videos on how to do this:

And here is the next video showing how the final pitched tent looks and how to reapply waterproofing:

The tent he is using is a Cloud Up 2 tent from Naturehike made out of nylon.

Can you spray paint a tent?

So, can you spray paint a tent? For the most part, yes. There are some exceptions to this rule, however.

The spray paint method is best if you only wish to paint parts of the tent, otherwise, a full fabric dye is recommended.

If the tent material is Dyneema, polycarbonate or polyethylene, tapered shapes like canopies or tents won’t work as well because they don’t stick well enough to the surface when sprayed.

With spray painting you can be as artistic as you want when it comes to coloring your tent!

Polyester and nylon tents will work fine if sprayed with the right solvent-based spray paints.

Remove tent poles from the tent before spraying so that they don’t get damaged by overspray or trapped under wet paint, causing them to warp/deform over time from humidity changes caused by condensation inside the tent walls once it’s set up again after painting has dried completely.

Here is my general outline for how to spraypaint a tent:

  1. Set up your tent in a well-ventilated work area, such as an open garage or outdoors on a calm day. Cover the floor around the tent with newspaper or a drop cloth.
  2. Shake the spray paint can vigorously for one minute to mix the contents.
  3. Test the spray paint on a small, inconspicuous area of the tent to be sure you like the color and opacity. Allow it to dry completely.
  4. Hold the can 8 to 10 inches away from the surface of the tent and apply paint in even, sweeping strokes, moving from top to bottom. Allow each coat of paint to dry completely before applying additional coats. Depending on your desired look, two or three coats may be sufficient.
  5. Let it set for around 24 hours.

You might need to reapply a waterproofing agent to retain the maximal waterproofing of the fabric after spray painting your tent.

How to paint a nylon tent?

No matter what method you choose, always clean the tent first. Before you paint your nylon tent, wash it with soap and water. This will clean off any dirt or grime that may be on it. Let the tent dry completely before painting it to prevent any possible damage caused by moisture.

I would recommend they fabric dying method as described above if you want to change the color of the entire tent and spray painting if you just want to repaint parts of the tent.

Make sure that any parts of the tent that will be painted are completely free of dust and debris so that extra coats don’t need to be applied later on because they didn’t stick properly.

How to paint a polyester tent?

Use good quality paint. The best paints are those that are made for outdoor use and have been tested by experts to be durable. Make sure everything is nice and clean and follow the instruction on the package.

I would recommend fabric dying if you want to change the color of the entire tent and spray paint if you just want to repaint parts of the tent.

For polyester tents, you will need to sustain the water very close to the boiling point and soak it for longer than is necessary to get the same color intensity for nylon tents.

Because polyester is harder to dye, it may need a bit longer soaking times than nylon does.

Conclusion

In short, yes, you can paint a tent. It’s not as easy as it sounds and will take some time, but you’ll soon have a new look with patience and persistence.

The best option is using a dye product designed for textiles, but solvent-based spray or brush paints can also be used.

You might also want to consider using spray paint instead of the traditional brush-on method, which makes it easier for beginners or those who don’t have much experience painting canvas material.

Again, I would recommend the fabric dying method as described above if you want to change the color of the entire tent and spray painting if you just want to repaint parts of the tent.

Or you might just consider buying a new budget-friendly tent in a new color!