A helpful buying guide for outdoor fabric roofing. Covers materials used in awnings and DIY fabric roofing projects like cotton duck, acrylic fabric, and more.

A popular and versatile alternative to solid roofing for outdoor structures is the new generation of outdoor fabrics. Like solid roofing, they can block sun and shed rain, but they can also allow in diffuse light and even be removable to allow in full sunlight. Available in a range of colors and textures, outdoor fabrics can be installed in a number of different ways to different effect, and because they are lightweight, they do not require a heavy-duty supporting structure.

You can find the following fabrics at awning dealers, who will custom-sew them to your application:

Cotton Duck

Usually called simply canvas, cotton duck comes in painted or dyed versions in solids and in stripes.

Installing an awning is a inexpensive way to reduce solar heat gain. Photo: © HomeTips
Installing an awning is a inexpensive way to reduce solar heat gain. Photo: © HomeTips

Painted duck has one surface that has been painted with a matte-finish acrylic paint, leaving the texture of the linen visible. This outer-facing surface makes the canvas opaque; when viewed from beneath, the surface appears pearl green. The effects of exposure on painted duck result in the fabric becoming brittle, but, with care, it can last up to eight years.

Unlike painted duck, the color of dyed duck permeates the fabric. But because the fabric is not coated, it is more susceptible to the ravages of weather and its results, including mildew. Waterproofing can add to its life span, but it still will not hold up as long as painted duck.

Acrylic Fabric

Manufactured from a man-made fiber, acrylic fabric is durable—it will last up to 10 years—and available in a wide range of colors and textures. Though it lasts longer than canvas, it is priced similarly, and it also sheds rain. Acrylic fabric is translucent, but to varying degrees depending on the color. Though the color runs through the fabric, it is not as vivid as painted canvas.

With moderate maintenance—occasional brushing and then rinsing off of dirt and debris—it will not mildew and will have a longer life span. Acrylic fabric typically comes in rolls 46 inches wide, though you may be able to find rolls 60 inches wide in marine grades.

Vinyl-Coated Cotton Canvas

Like painted cotton duck, the coated surface faces outward, and the fabric when viewed from underneath is opaque with a greenish cast; unlike painted duck, it has little visible texture. With occasional cleaning and proper maintenance, it can last up to seven years.

Vinyl-Laminated Polyester

This fabric is a layer of open-weave polyester between a layer of painted acrylic on the top and one on the bottom. The open weave of the polyester lets diffuse light shine through.

Like cotton duck, vinyl-laminated polyester comes in solids and in stripes. Its outer surface is matte and the side visible from beneath can appear white or colored. The fabric is resistant to mildew and can last up to eight years if it is not frequently folded and unfolded, which will compromise the polyester scrim.


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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort