LARP Banners


There are two major factors when thinking about what kind of fabric to use for your banner (well, three counting price):
1. How durable is it?

If you're going to hang a banner outdoors be aware that it will get wet, muddy, it will whip about in the wind and drunk people will probably yank on it at some point. You have to balance durability with lightness. Light fabrics dry quickly and take up less space in your car. Heavier fabrics will last longer and hold their shape better in the wind and rain. Heavier fabrics also tend to look more opulent and will not distort if you are sewing trim or designs onto them. I've used a variety of different materials, usually (frankly) based on price. If going for a lighter, cheaper fabric you want to find one that absolutely will not fray if subjected to wear and tear and dries quickly. Synthetic fabrics are actually pretty good for this, but don't get one that looks modern otherwise you're defeating the whole point. If you want a good sturdy banner that looks olde fashioned (and doesn't need to be lined!) then you can't do better than cotton canvas. Calico also comes highly recommended.

2. How easy will it be to paint (or sew) on?To paint on a fabric without going crazy you need it to have as little 'pile' (fluffiness) as possible.  You absolutely cannot paint on something like velvet or brushed cotton. You want the fabric to be fairly non-absorbent (obviously it will absorb some paint but it's better if the paint sticks to the surface of the fabric instead of soaking in for multiple reasons) with as smooth a surface as possible. Rough weave fabrics are not really suitable for painting on.

If you're sewing on the design you should choose fabrics that are not slippery. Satin has a nice finish but tends to slither about unless you're really careful in pinning it in place, which results in a horrible mismatch between the base fabric and the appliqued piece.

If you are buying fabric from a proper fabric shop it will almost certainly be colourfast. However if you are working with contrasting colours of uncertain provenance you might want to check that the fabrics are colourfast. If in doubt pre-wash the darker colour to prevent it running when it gets rained on.

Your design

Obviously your design will be based on your heraldry, religion, or other icon relevant to your character so I'll stick with some suggestions.
  • Simple and striking is best.
  • Avoid fiddly lines, big blocks of colour look better from a distance. Very decorative line banners can look great, but I recommend a single colour of paint.
  • Do not exceed your own artistic ability to copy the design onto the fabric.
  • In my (biased) experience, the best-looking banners are Colour + Black + Gold trim. You can have more than one colour but don't go beyond three absolute maximum.
  • Do your research, use google images.  Do NOT steal designs off the Internet unless you're pretty sure they're public domain. Feel free to adapt them though. Try wikimedia commons or flickr commons.

Getting your design onto the banner

  • Use photocopiers to get your design up to size, sellotape your a4 sheets together, and then cut around it if you're not confident about free-drawing it onto the banner. 
  • If your fabric is thin enough, you may be able to trace the design through it.
  • If you have a solid vertical surface and a projector you can even project your image direct onto a hanging banner. I do advise drawing the outline and laying it horizontal before painting though!
  • To draw use tailor's chalk (preferred) or a soft pencil, or even a biro. Don't worry overmuch about the sketch lines, they'll disappear under paint unless you're really messy.
  • Do not think that you will get it symmetrical/perfectly circular/all the lines the same thickness without extremely careful measuring. The bigger the banner the harder this is. When drawing, keep stepping back from the design so you can see it from a distance. You'd be amazed the stuff you don't see when you're three inches away. Leave the room, make a cuppa, then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.
  • Matching banners look great. Make sure they really do match. Decide if you're going to mirror your design (e.g. for each side of a doorway) or have them identical.
If you're going to be playing at Odyssey, the cultural icons and other potentially useful designs are  at Odyssey Icons. To use the vector files you'll need a program such as Inkscape. You can import them into programs such as photoshop as well.

Paint and brushes

Use acrylic paint. (Actually, if you can afford it use fabric paint as it will dry fully pliable, not the stiff way acrylic dries, but it does cost a LOT comparatively). Student acrylics are available really cheaply at art stores (about £3.50 - 5 for a decent-sized tube). Do not, for the love of god, use watercolour paint. Acrylics are water based so easy to wash your brushes, but dry plasticky so can even go through the washing machine without coming off (usually). I advise lots of black, and a tube of gold if you're painting the edges for impact.

You want a stiff-bristled brush, not an expensive 'proper' painting brush. Not quite as stiff as a toothbrush but getting there. This helps get the paint properly worked into the fabric and will help keep your edges crisp. A square brush is better than a round or tapered one. The cheap rubbish brushes sold at pound shops are perfect.

There will be an ideal consistency based on how absorbent and fluffy your fabric is. Straight out of the tube is great but can be a bit blobby to work with. Add water tiny bit by tiny bit, just enough that the paint's easy to work with. Do NOT be tempted to water down the paint too much as a) it will seep sideways and bugger up your design and b) you'll think it looks ok, but when dry it will go a patchy grey colour. Do not mix water with metallic paints, beyond the absolute minimum needed to get it to a paintable consistency.

This sounds obvious but paint with care. Keep drips and the mixing saucer away from the fabric. Keep your edges crisp using sideways sweeping motions perpendicular to the brush's bristles. Keep the side of your hand and your elbow and knees out of the wet paint. If you're right handed, start painting at the left of the design and move right. Nice thick canvas you can get away without putting newspaper underneath but most fabrics will have a bit of soak-through.

Spray paint

I've had mixed results with this. It's tempting if you're doing a lot of identical designs but the colour intensity tends to come out less (black becomes grey) and for any design with spiky bits you tend to get blurry edges where the stencil lifts off the fabric. Make your stencil out of sturdy card, NOT flimsy newspaper and mask around the edges of the stencil much much further than you think... spray paint does scatter a fair bit. I'd only recommend it for designs under a3 in size and without any thin-line detail. Good luck.

Sewing on a design

This tends to be more work than painting and has its own set of issues. Some tips:
  • Use iron on interfacing. This makes the fabric to be appliqued much stiffer and therefore less likely to move about or ruck up as you sew it on.
  • Carefully tack or pin your design on before you start. Check it from a distance. Is it symmetrical?
  • Use a zig zag stitch to prevent fraying. You'll likely need to stitch it on once, then do a finishing stitch, or trim around the edges.
  • Consider fabrics with different reflectiveness. A black velvet 'background' is brilliant at absorbing light so will make your design really stand out.
  • Reduce costs by using a cheap fabric as your base layer, and a more lovely expensive one for your design.
  • I suspect it would be far easier to attach a design using an iron-on sticky product such as Wonderweb, rather than sewing it. Cut out your design, iron both it and the underlying piece flat, then apply wonderweb and iron on in place. You'll need to sew the edges as well as the glue will eventually wear off.

Or, if you have the money, cheat!

For lettering, you could try using T-shirt transfers. Or take your design to a print shop for direct printing onto the fabric (tends to be A3 maximum size). If you are good at digital design, you could even have your fabric custom printed on demand using a service like Spoonflower, although this ends up costing a minimum of £12.50 per yard.


Banners tend to look much more striking with a highlight trim around the design. I tend to do blocks of black colour, surrounded with gold (either painted on or an actual trim sewn on). Sewn-on trims are great for hiding non-crisp painted edges and have the added advantage of making a painted banner look more convincing as a stand-in for a dyed or appliqued banner.

Trim or decorative edges can also be used to help weigh down the bottom edge of the banner.

A good, cheap, option for trim is curtain cord. Avoid the really 'glittery' stuff and go for more natural golds, or choose a colour that complements your banner. If you've painted in colour onto a coloured fabric, consider a black trim, although black outlining (whilst it looks really striking) could end up looking a bit graphical or modern... depends on your design.

If you're really keen, buy glass tubular beads and sew them around the edge. This gets expensive (and irritating) quite quickly though.

You can also get fringing for the bottom of banners from fabric shops, in the curtain section.

Hanging your banners

No hanging help, just hem the edges.
Pros: Less work, versatile, banner can double as an altarcloth etc.
Cons: Fiddly to hang, hard to get hanging straight, will require safety pins and/or drawing pins to hang. Vulnerable to not having something suitable to hang it off.

Simple channel at top.
Pros: No more work than just hemming it. Keeps the top edge straight, helps to hang vertically.
Cons: You need to thread the pole through the banner as you are erecting the tent it's going to hang from. Needs pole to not be interrupted by any other attachments.

Tabs or ties at top (with velcro or similar)
Pros: Very versatile to hang, can go over pole after tent is erected, can be hung to cover vertical poles. Easy to hang.
Cons: Doesn't look quite as neat, especially with ties. Neater than safety pins though.

Integral pole at top (and optionally at bottom too)
Pros: Can hang off pretty much anything, even just a wall hook or flagpole. Prevents banner bunching up on the pole.
Cons: Much harder to transport. Can't be put in washing machine.

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