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4 Surefire Ways to Decorate a Backpack to Make It Look Brand-New

If you want a new backpack without buying one, here are four ways to give it a fresh look before the school year starts.

Robin Mosley Former CNET writer
Robin Mosley (she/her) formerly wrote commerce deals for CNET about beauty, fashion and other essential gear. Before that, she freelanced for Healthline, Simply Recipes and Nerd Street. She is a Chicago native living on the East Coast who is a fan of all things beauty, food, gaming and tech. When she isn't writing, she's at a restaurant, shopping online or making YouTube gaming videos.
Robin Mosley
4 min read

Summer is flying by, and once again a new school year is almost here. And with it comes the familiar rush to your favorite retailer for back-to-school supplies so that your child is prepared for the year. 

If you're concerned about inflation, a backpack might be low on your list of back-to-school items that need to be replaced, especially if your old one is still in decent condition. But your child doesn't have to be bound to an old backpack. In fact, with just a few simple steps, some patience and maybe a trip to Michaels, you or a young kid under your supervision can create a whole new backpack that's one of a kind.

I'll walk you through four ways to decorate a backpack, from simple to elaborate designs. And while you're here, don't miss out on our lists for the best back-to-school backpacks and lunch boxes and back-to-school gifts for your teacher.

1. Use iron patches

Avocado, strawberry, watermelon and lemon iron patches on blue background

Using iron patches or fabric stickers is arguably the easiest and most affordable way to transform a backpack. What you need for this are the iron patches of your choice, a fabric backpack, parchment paper (which may or may not come with the iron-on patches) and an iron.

First, sit your backpack on top of a sturdy table or ironing board. Next, plug in your iron and get it hot. From there, you can pull the adhesive from your iron patches and place them on the area where you want it to stick. Then you place the parchment over the patch to protect it from the iron heat. Finally, run the iron over the patch until it's stuck on. 

How long it takes for the iron patch to stick depends on how high you have the heat as well as the fabric of the backpack. 

2. Try embroidery

Multicolored embroidery thread on a green background

You've probably seen embroidered backpacks with cool patterns on them. And, if you have a talent for embroidering, you can get a nice design on a backpack in no time. 

For this method, you need at the fundamental level a pattern that you'll follow. Then using a fabric pen, you'll sketch out your design. Next, you'll gather your materials -- needle, embroidery thread and scissors. 

When working on your backpack, hold it taut to keep everything stable. Otherwise your design may not come out as expected. Using your desired thread thickness and color, you will begin to stitch your design. Typically, you start from the center of the design because you can adjust as you go, and once you're done, you simply tie off your design and clip the loose ends with scissors.

3. Get creative with paint

Multicolored acrylic paint on a pink background

For people who are looking for an easy way to turn a plain backpack into an abstract or graphic masterpiece, paint is the way to go. All you need is acrylic or fabric paint, primer (this is optional) a colored pencil (color depends on the color of the backpack) paint brushes, water and your design.

Using the color pencil, you'll sketch out the design of your choice and then follow up with some primer. Doing this before you apply your paint will make the paint adhere to the surface and will also give it a clean look when everything dries. 

From there, you're essentially painting by numbers. Whatever color you decide you need, you'll simply paint it in and let it dry. If you have a lot of creativity, this method will yield you the most variety, especially because you can paint over old designs. 

If you're using spray paint, make sure you're using a painter's drop cloth to protect any surrounding surfaces. And you can use textile spray paint (if you want) since it's easier for your children to manage. Once you have your design completed, you just need to let it dry.

4. Keep it simple with fabric markers

Multicolored fabric markers on a blue background

Just as you would if you were painting your backpack, with this method, you'll want to sketch your design. But, there are far less steps with using fabric markers. All you need is a clean fabric backpack (preferably in a light color) and fabric markers. 

Depending on your level of skill, you might want to sketch out the design on your backpack with a pencil before you dive in and start drawing with a marker. But if you already know what you're doing, you can simply draw your design with the fabric markers and fill it in however you like. 

While this method is easier, it's not going to be as sleek as paint would be. But it will still be unique, plus younger children can handle designing and decorating on their own.

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