Fun Ways to Decorate a Suitcase | Painting Fabric Luggage



Introduction: Fun Ways to Decorate a Suitcase | Painting Fabric Luggage

About: Multi-crafter, jewellery maker, card designer and frequent procrastinator.

For a while I've had it in my mind that I'd like to decorate my suitcase - after all, how often do you see just boring, plain black suitcases come out onto the conveyor belts at airports?

People end up buying brightly-patterned straps or ribbons to attach to their suitcase so they can recognise it...but what if your suitcase was VERY difficult to miss in a crowd? Well, that's where painting your suitcase comes in :)

I haven't done this before, so the basic idea is to try a few methods and see what seems like it would be the most effective and most durable.

I hope you enjoy this experiment!


- Paints: For this project I used a few different paints, including spray paint, a 3D metallic paint, acrylic paint and fabric paint. Find something suitable for the material of your suitcase. As you'll see, spray paint is perhaps not the best for a fabric suitcase, but would likely be good for a hard plastic case. For fabric suitcases, you want something that dries with some flexibility.

I also used Paint Markers.

- White gesso

- 'Magic' or Disappearing Fabric Pencil

- Ruler

- Masking Tape

- Scissors

- Felt or other material for appliques

- Glue that is suitable for fabrics

- Scrap paper/newspaper/card, or anything else that can protect surfaces from paint

- Paintbrush

Step 1: 3D Paint - the Setup

The first paint I wanted to try was a 'Comic Moon' 3D metallic silver paint that has all the attributes I want; it's permanent, suitable for fabrics including canvas, and dries flexible. Perfect!

So first, I drew out some symmetrical lines on the top pocket of the suitcase, so that they splayed out from one point, as shown. I used my white disappearing fabric pencil to do this.

I had beforehand decided on - and sketched out - a simple mandala style design so I knew pretty much what I was going to do. After all, there's no going back once you begin! As a result, I knew that I needed additional marks on each of the lines to guide me and help me paint symmetrically.

Step 2: 3D Paint - Painting

This particular paint bottle has a fairly fine tip so it's just a matter of squeezing the paint onto the suitcase fabric. I started from the centre and moved outwards.

I would advise that you try to smooth the paint a little before you leave it to dry, as any areas where the thick paint is sticking up will become a scratchy 'point' when dry.

I found this paint to be easy to use, although I was hoping for a smoother application (you'll see the lines aren't perfectly consistent). It adheres very strongly to the fabric, so for the most part I would think this will be very durable...however, because it's 3D it will rub and catch on other surfaces more easily and will likely sustain damage as you use it.

Overall though, this method was successful and I would use it again.

Step 3: Painting the Gesso Base

In order to prevent the coloured paints sinking into the fabric and not being vivid colours any more, I decided to paint white gesso where I'll be wanting to paint the suitcase later on.

The gesso adheres really well to the fabric, and the white colour will brighten any paint added on top. Painting straight onto the black suitcase would not be as successful.

I first painted dots where I wanted the flowers to be positioned on the main pocket, and then added lines where I wanted the petals.

Note that at this point I took some photos and dawdled before painting the rest of the flower shapes, and this led to the gesso lines drying. You'll see that this made them visible through the gesso and the paint later, so don't do as I did - paint the gesso layer all in one go so it all dries at the same time!

Step 4: Painted Flowers

Once the gesso is dry, you can then add paint on top. I experimented here first with some textile paints, then with acrylic paints.

The textile paints turned out to be watery and not have much pigment, which I'm sure is not supposed to be the case and is probably just because they're cheap! I'm positive that better quality fabric paints would do the job, but mine were weak, and when I painted directly onto the suitcase, the dots dried to become basically invisible.

So then I tried acrylic paints (which were also a cheap brand), and these were much more successful. I made dots directly onto the suitcase, which remained clearly visible when dry, and I also painted onto the gesso. They weren't perfect - I needed to do 2 or 3 coats to cover the gesso - but they did the job, and once dry the fabric can still move well without the paint cracking at all.

Step 5: Paint Markers

I then wanted to add details using Posca paint markers, but I also used them to go over some of the previously painted areas once more.

And my conclusion is that I love these markers :D They add solid, vivid colour without having to add multiple layers, and I would definitely recommend these over the other paint methods I used.

The chisel tip was nice for adding basic details, and I'm sure the fine tip variety would be great for more fine detailing.

Once dry, I rubbed the paint with my hand and with other fabrics, and no paint rubbed off, so I'm also pretty confident in the durability of these paints. They have the advantage over the 3D paint as well, because these paints won't snag or 'catch' on other surfaces.

Step 6: Spray Paint

The final paint type I tried was a white multi-purpose spray paint.

I wanted to do a simple test, so I just left an exposed stripe pattern at the base of the suitcase. The rest I covered with masking tape and scrap paper.

I then donned a breathing mask and took it outside to spray paint. I did 2 coats, and once dry I removed the tape and found that the paint had strayed a little underneath the tape.

It was always going to be tricky to securely cover areas of fabric to stop paint getting underneath, since fabric moves and absorbs, but the colour itself worked pretty well. I would, however, only recommend using this method on hard plastic cases :)

Step 7: Felt Shapes

For this method, I simply cut shapes out of thin felt and glued them into place on the suitcase - making sure the edges were particularly well glued down.

Again, even though these decorations feel very strongly attached, they do stand out from the surface so will be more vulnerable to being caught/rubbed on surfaces and being ripped off. I would therefore recommend that you hand sew around the edge of these appliques to stop the edges catching - using either whip stitch or blanket stitch.

Along with the gesso & paint markers, I think that fabric appliques have the most potential to produce creative, eyecatching and durable decorations. It's all down to creativity!

Step 8: Finished!

I hope that this Instructable has given you some ideas, and inspired you to have fun decorating your own case!

Thanks for reading :D

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