Painting lampshades is a fun and inexpensive way to update your decor. There are countless lampshade ideas to inspire you. Using paint, you can create a whimsical look for a child's room or a statement piece for a living room. Some crafters may use fabric paint, spray paint, and other finishes to change the look of old lampshades. In this tutorial, we opted to use watercolors because these paints create a one-of-a-kind look that is eclectic and art-inspired. One drawback with watercolor paint is the color may fade over time, but the good news is you can repaint it or add a design for a whole new look down the road.
When using any paint, protect your table or workspace from spills or splatter with old newspapers or contractor paper. When it comes to paints, watercolors are among the least toxic types of paint you can use. You don't need special protective equipment like a respirator, gloves, or goggles when using watercolor paints. If you get watercolor paint on your hands or skin, it rubs off with soap and water.
Equipment / Tools
- Paint brush
- Vacuum or lint roller
- Watercolor paint
- Paper towels
- Fabric lampshade
- Watercolor paper (optional)
Any watercolors will do, so don't feel like you have to invest in a costly set of paints for this project. Pick out three to six colors that work well with your existing decor.
Pick a Lampshade to Paint
We opted for an all-white shade that had a felted design. This built-in design gave us an instant pattern to follow instead of needing to create our own. If you can't find a shade with a felted design, recreate any pattern freehand, and decide if you want to give it an ombre effect.
What Is Ombre?
Ombre is an artistic technique that blends a kaleidoscope of hues, moving from dark to light or vice versa, similar to how a gorgeous sunset blends orange, red, blue, and purple shades.
Vacuum Any Lint or Debris
Starting with a clean lampshade is essential because any dust or debris will get stuck in the paint. Make sure you vacuum the fabric before the next step. If a vacuum doesn't work due to the fragile nature of the lampshade, try a lint roller.
Start Painting With the Lightest Color
Pick out your first color. If you're going for an ombre effect, it's best to start with the lightest hue first and build up layers from there. Add a dab of paint to a palette and slowly begin adding water until you get the color and consistency you desire. Using a small paintbrush, paint the color onto the felted design. Don't worry if the paint goes outside the lines.
If you've never worked with watercolors before, it might take a bit of practice. Try some strokes on a sheet of watercolor paper until you understand how the addition of water changes the paint. To visualize the lampshade's final look, paint all the colors you intend to use on the watercolor paper to check that you're happy with the color palette.
Blot the Watercolor With a Paper Towel
In most cases, the watercolor will bleed into the surrounding fabric, especially if you use a lot of water when painting. To have more control over the finished look, take a wet paper towel and blot the watercolor around the fabric and blend it into the surrounding white before it dries.
Blend in a Second Color
Once you have added the lightest color around the entire shade, add a second color. Use the same paper towel technique to blend the excess color into the surrounding fabric. Expect that the watercolors will be unpredictable and organic in how they drip, bleed, and blend on cloth.
Continue Adding New Colors
This painted lampshade technique is highly customizable because you can choose the number of colors you want to add. The more layers you add, the more dimension the finished result will have. If you want your colors to mix evenly, consider brushing a small section of the fabric with a layer of clean water before painting.
Layer Darker Shades Last
Once the lampshade is entirely painted, add some darker colors. Paint the darker shades on top of the existing paint and blend it into the lighter colors using water. If an area is too dark, wet a paintbrush with clean water and lift away some of the tint.
Continue Layering Until You're Done
Much like coloring books for adults have become a relaxing, meditative hobby, this painting technique is similarly zen. After several layers, put the lampshade down, take a few steps back, and see if you are content with the result. The idea isn't to paint between the lines but to create a blotted, beautiful mix of colors.
You might need to wait until the paint is fully dry to see what it looks like. Once dry, you might see spots needing some work. Painting with watercolor is a forgiving process; there's no harm in adding more paint at any point.
Using Other Types of Paint
You can use other water-based paints, acrylics, or spray paint. Each has its merits and drawbacks. The type of paint you use should depend upon the time you want to spend on the project, the style or look you want to achieve, and the level of detail or complexity you want to add to the project.
If you want to go with a solid color and complete the project quickly, grab a can of spray paint. Paint one coat, let it dry, mount it, turn on the light and see if you missed any spots. You'll likely need two even coats. This method will require goggles and a respirator, and if possible, you should do this project outdoors due to the fumes and finely atomized paint particles.
You can also make an ombre shading effect using water-based furniture paint, mixing it with water and thinly painting it on with a paintbrush until you reach the desired result. Use a fine misting spray bottle to facilitate the bleed of the color and use gravity (by turning the lampshade upside down or vice versa) to draw the color in the direction you want.
Fabric paint is another great option. It's made of an acrylic polymer that bonds to cloth and will stand up to some abuse from dusting and heat from a hot light bulb. It should not crack or fade. You can go heavy with it or lightly apply it, depending on your design idea. If you plan to use adhesive cloth tape to mask out an area, fabric paint is your best choice.