DIY Painted Denim Shorts

Fun up your old jeans.

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There are lots of tutorials all over the internet showing how to rip or distress or stud your jeans. I want to show you another way to fun up your denim that uses less materials and less physical labor (Do you know how much time it takes to hand-stud something? SO MUCH TIME), but looks just as cool. It’s a good way to pass some time with a friend or a cutie-pie, too. Here’s how to make your clothes into aaaaaart.


What you’ll need:

  • A cute friend to hang out with (optional, always recommended); I used my friend Brandon.
  • Fabric paints and/or oil-based crayons; we used Pebeo.
  • Denim shorts. I used a pair of vintage Levi’s I bought at a Goodwill a few years ago and then wore to death. If your denim is newer and darker, use paints instead of markers or crayons. Thicker denim is easier to work with, because the paint can’t bleed through as easily (older jeans seem to use thicker denim than a lot of today’s styles); if you’re using thinner fabric, slide cardboard into the legs to prevent the paint from leaking onto the other side of the pants.
  • An iron (to heat-set your finished product).
  • Optional: Gloves and a tablecloth. The paints and crayons will wash off your skin with regular soap and water, but be careful not to get any on your couch. We did our experiment outside in the grass, but use a tablecloth if you’re indoors, to keep things neat.

How to do it:

We didn’t go in with a solid plan of action as to what paints or theme we would use, so feel free to play around with your paints and crayons when you start your project! The best designs are the ones that show you are having the most fun.


Oil-based fabric paints, paint sticks, and markers will each give you different results, so be sure to do a test swatch first: Just grab a corner of your shorts and rub your crayon/smear your paint in to see if it looks how you want it to. We used paint sticks to start, but they required a lot more physical work to get them to show up, so we gave up and just dropped paint all over my shorts and smeared it around. No actual planning was involved in this! Don’t think about it too much—just jump in!


Brandon and I each worked on a different side of the shorts, using different methods and colors. I did random paint splatters by dipping my fingers in the jars and flicking paint at the shorts, then I smeared the paint with my fingers. (I like finger-painting, but you can use gloves or sticks or brushes if you’re neater.)


Brandon got his look by dripping different paint colors onto the denim and using one end of a crayon to swirl them together.

When you’re happy with your design, you’re done! Set the shorts out somewhere in the sun (or near a window in a well-ventilated room) to dry—but be warned that this takes a long time. It could be a few days before they’re completely dry. (You can speed up the process with a hair dryer, but be sure to hold the dryer a good 12 inches away from the shorts.)

Once the wettest parts are completely dry, use your iron to heat-set it so the paint won’t come out in the wash. You don’t want to ruin your iron by getting paint all over it, so set it to low and either iron the shorts inside-out or place a piece of thin fabric (like an old T-shirt) over the shorts before you iron.

That’s it! Wasn’t that easy? I want to do this to all the cheap denim I find now! ♦


  • emseely August 16th, 2013 7:15 PM

    omg, can i just do this to all of my clothes and also my room and my house and my dog please

    • Ladymia69 August 16th, 2013 9:26 PM

      pls don’t do it to your dog kthanxbei

    • dandelions August 17th, 2013 1:39 AM

      :) ♥

  • The_Idler_Wheel August 16th, 2013 7:23 PM


  • rottedteeth August 16th, 2013 7:29 PM

    Ooo so pretty! It looks a lot like if you water marbled.

  • speakthroughvision August 16th, 2013 8:36 PM

    Imagine 70′s-ifying bell bottoms by creating psychedelic swirls and painting flowers! What an inspirational tutorial :)

  • TessAnnesley August 16th, 2013 9:18 PM

    sghudsfhdsjfnjdsko SO DOING THIS

  • Holly August 16th, 2013 10:21 PM

    Hi! This really has nothing to do with this article but I have an idea for next month’s theme, and I was wondering if you’re still accepting articles?

  • Lilianc August 17th, 2013 6:26 AM

    This is completely unrelated to this article, but I live in Sydney, Australia and I cannot find a thrift store ANYWHERE. Is there anybody here who can help me (or perhaps go thrifting with me) (please)? Also, let’s be friends!

    • Zoe August 17th, 2013 9:00 AM

      There are thrift shops all over Sydney! St Vinnies and Salvos are the major op shop chains, and they’re all over the place. Do some Googling, and you’ll get heaps of results for where to find them. I know that there’s a Vinnies in Newtown, and one in Leichhardt… They’re quite literally everywhere! Hope this helps (-:

      • Lilianc August 17th, 2013 9:25 PM

        oh now that I think about it, I remember passing a salvos once when I had to walk 2 kilometers to get home after I missed my stop on the bus. Thanks! :)

    • Graciexx August 18th, 2013 4:33 AM

      A lot of churches also have thrift stores in their old halls. I know of a few in the burwood-rhodes area. Hope this helps <3

  • Fee August 17th, 2013 7:47 AM


  • diniada13 August 17th, 2013 3:50 PM


  • Sophie ❤ August 17th, 2013 7:05 PM


  • Adrienne22 August 18th, 2013 4:50 AM

    Such a great idea! You guys never fail to inspire me.


  • Livia August 18th, 2013 11:14 AM

    brandon as in teacakes?

    • Arabelle August 18th, 2013 10:59 PM

      Nope, I have another friend named Brandon. Baby brother teacakes is still very far away in Arizona. :(

  • EmmaS August 19th, 2013 4:19 PM

    I cannot wait to try this, I think doing it to jeans would look really cool too!

  • abby111039 August 19th, 2013 6:26 PM

    I’ve been on a DIY spree ever since I rediscovered my Pinterest account, so this is perfect for me right now. Time to go thrifting for more denim. ^_^

  • Fashion Babel August 20th, 2013 5:21 PM

    Arabelle, this one is totally wicked!
    Great way to hang out with friends and actually do somethin, right?


  • babyboomerang August 22nd, 2013 11:34 AM

    are these safe in the wash/dryer or do they need to be handwashed and air dried?

  • Nikilodeon September 28th, 2013 10:42 AM

    i don’t know about you guys, but i wanna see this brandon!