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Background story: I bought a 3'x5' cotton flag and I painted it as seen in the photo. I made a mockup in photoshop and used a big T-square and pencil to sketch the shape of the numbers. They turned out super parallel, very straight, and very accurately sized.

I covered the edges with painters tape and filled in the tricky white areas with painters tape also. I taped down a trash bag on the larger white areas to save time and lots of tape. I then sprayed the flag with spray paint purposed for fabrics. After I peeled off the tape I was disappointed that there were spots I thought had been sealed but paint snuck underneath the tape leaving blue spots on the flag (which I couldn't get rid off). In other places, the tape apparently didn't stick too well to the fabric so paint bled past and ruined my straight lines.

In conclusion: I want to make another flag, but without making these same mistakes. What should I use as a better alternative to painters tape on the edges? Wax paper? I'm open to any ideas that may help me avoid this problem next time I paint.

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Your best option for "precision" may be a craft known as batik. It involves applying melted wax onto the fabric in areas you wish to remain clear of the color currently being created. This effectively creates a stencil for the portion to be colored. Either paint or dye would then seep into the fabric.

The wax is then removed/washed out and new wax applied over the recently colored areas as well as any others to reject the latest color. As with many things organic and not particularly technological, you will get some less-than-perfect lines, but very likely much cleaner than with paint and tape.

I'd known of the process since my early years (so last century) but other than admiring others' work, never explored it. Your query and my resultant searches have me astonished at the development of the craft. Rather than drop a handful of links here in the forum, I suggest that you use your favorite or perhaps your second favorite search engine for "batik methods" and/or "batik supplies."

I'm going to pursue some of the links for my own entertainment. Another tool for the toolbox for me!

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Is the paint landing in the wrong place, or landing in the right place and then "blotting" or seeping to the wrong place?

There might be tiny holes in the plastic bag, the paint pools on them and the cloth pulls it through by capillary action. Try using card instead, cut it to the rough shape and use tape at the edges. If the tape isn't stying down, try placing small weights - coins, stones - to hold it.

Build up the colour slowly, make multiple passes and let each one dry before doing the next.

Trial and error, it seems. If that's your first effort it's not so bad.

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  • Yes it is seeping through capillary action. But in addition, the paint also snuck in between overlapped layers of tape and got onto the fabric. Thanks for the suggestion! – Ryan Jun 20 '17 at 21:55
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    In particular with a lot of spray painting tasks the first few coats (of many) should be a very light dusting, so they dry before they have time to wick. These then seal the surface against later coats wicking. – Chris H Jun 21 '17 at 12:51
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• You will not get a very crisp line using Batik.

• Michael's method (above) will work perfectly for you! Just be sure to use a non-yellowing shellac/sealer. Even some "clear drying" products can yellow slightly over time and UV exposure.

• Option 2: Follow Michael's instructions except use paint instead of shellac to seal your fabric. Then apply tape to define your stripes or numbers. Before spraying on the new color, first spray the tape edges with paint matching the existing background color.

  1. Spray flag with white paint (front and back) to seal fabric.*
  2. Apply tape to mask-out (blue) numbers.
  3. Spray the edge of the tape (or the entire number) with white paint (the background color/the color adjacent to the number color). If any paint seeps under the tape, it won't show - it's the same color as the background. The tape edge is now sealed so no blue paint from the next coat will get under the tape.
  4. Spray the numbers blue and let dry.
  5. Slowly peel off the tape as soon as paint is "dry to the touch", but before it is fully cured. If the tape is left on too long, the bond between the two paints (blue and white) can become stronger than the tape, and the tape will be difficult to remove, and the line may not be as crisp. NOTE 1: Use caution when taping over new paint - some tapes will cause paint to lift when removed. NOTE 2: Test your fabric. It may not be necessary to spray the back of your flag with paint or shellac.
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In order for paint and even markers to be applied and not bleed the surface must be sealed. Get a clear shellac or spray clear off the paint shelf and coat the surface lightly on both sides. The fabric will remain flexible. The mediums dry quickly and you will be able to paint on the dried surface and retain sharp edges.

Since you are using tape there is another step to take. After tape is laid down spray or paint the edge of the tape with your sealer of choice and it will fill the voids between the tape and the surface that your paint would have otherwise seeped into.

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