If you’re in the market for acoustic panels, the number of options can be daunting. After you figure out how many you need (our guide), you may prefer to make acoustic panels yourself, to control all the variables and better design them to match your space. But you can make great panels that fail if you don’t get one crucial thing right: the fabric covering.
Guilford of Maine fabrics are the industry standard for custom acoustic panel fabric, but their high price point pushes some toward other options like 12oz cotton duck cloth, which is cheaper and has the right acoustic properties.
There are a couple of other options, so keep reading below for a few more details. Making your own panels can be a great experience and a way to save a few bucks, but if you don’t make the right decision on the fabric you can compromise the effectiveness of your panels. If you've already been through our articles on how acoustic panels work, and how effective they can be, you're in a great spot to start planning out your custom panels!
Some good news here is that you aren’t in uncharted territory. Plenty of people have made their own acoustic panels, so there’s a whole history of evidence around the right way to do it.
Some of the main acoustic panel fabrics people have had success with are:
It may seem like a problem that’s being overcomplicated: after all, can’t any old fabric work? You can “hear” through a blanket, so doesn’t that mean sound is getting through? Unfortunately, it doesn’t...it only means some of the sound is getting through. And for acoustic panels, we want all of the sound to get through.
This is called ‘acoustic permeability’. The amount of sound that makes it through a piece of fabric. And you can test this yourself in a simple way: hold a piece of fabric up to your mouth and exhale slowly against it. Using your other hand, see if you can feel the air coming through the fabric.
Remember, sound travels through the air. So this quick air test will reveal to us if air can make it through the fabric, and if air can, then the sound can too. Let’s look in detail at some of the most common materials used for acoustic panel fabric, and talk about some of their pros and cons.
In the world of custom-made acoustic panels, Guilford of Maine has the market on quality fabric solidly cornered. If you’re making your own panels so that you have more aesthetic control of the space, Guilford of Maine almost certainly has a style and fabric for you.
And you can be sure if you go with Guilford of Maine that you’re getting quality materials that will meet your needs. Since they specialize in acoustic panel fabric, they know which details to get right. For instance, none of their panels are made of nylons, which can soak up humidity out of the air and sag over time.
Guildford of Main fabrics are also tried-and-tested in the DIY audio panel community, with plenty of good reviews and customers raving about the quality and durability of their fabrics. Some are even bleach cleanable, which is a nice touch that will ensure a long lifespan with a little maintenance.
The one downside of Guilford of Main fabrics is the price. For such a niche, premium product, you won’t be surprised that there’s a price-tag to match. But if that cost is what it takes to make your acoustic panels blend in with your room and really look good, it may be worth every penny.
Another contender for best acoustic panel fabric is plain cotton duck canvas. Also called “duck canvas”, “cotton duck”, or simply “duck fabric." This fabric is woven a bit finer than canvas, and no, it’s not made from ducks!
The name originates from a Dutch weaving term, and simply means that this “duck canvas” is woven a bit finer (with a higher thread count) than normal canvas.
Why this matters for acoustic panels is because cotton duck fabric is breathable, with just enough give to stretch it across panels so that it’s taught. 10oz or 12oz cotton duck fabric is perfect for acoustic panels, offering durability, breathability (so that sound can get through), and a high degree of customization.
It’s not uncommon to find printed duck canvas that you can use to add to your decor, although there are plenty of plane options like the Mybecca Natural Cotton 10oz Duck Cloth (on Amazon) that will look smart in your space. There’s also the option to get some cotton duck canvas and die it to suit your color scheme. Since it’s cotton, it can take any dye or color you’d like.
Where cotton duck fabric really excels, though, is in the price category. Unlike the Guilford of Maine fabrics, cotton duck cloth is basically a commodity, not a niche product. That means the price is dramatically lower, enough that you’ll probably still be under three digits for cloth even if you’re putting together as many as ten panels. It’s a smart choice for the budget.
This one seems like a no brainer: the same cloth that covers high-end speakers grills must work well, right? After all, if it allows speaker sounds through it, then it should have no problem letting them into the acoustic panel. Speaker grill cloth is a little lower on the list, though, because of the aesthetic limitations and price.
Make no mistake: grill cloth will work for your acoustic panels, and it will even work well. But you’ll be very limited on your choices of colors (mostly black), and the price is higher than duck cloth, though not quite up to the Guilford of Maine level.
That said, maybe your space is modern and/or dark enough to make speaker grill cloth the right decision for you. It has the right acoustic properties, and when it comes to actually making the panels it has enough give to stretch over the panel and to also stay taut over time.
Last but not least, there’s burlap. I guess that description isn’t exactly right...burlap will be the least pricey option. Burlap has a certain look to it--it will either go great with your decor or be a non-starter. But if it does go, then that is one big expense for your acoustic panels that can be dramatically lowered.
Burlap checks all the boxes for acoustic panel performance as well. It’s permeable to sound, reasonably lightweight, and won’t sag over time. It may be a touch flammable when compared to other fabrics though, so if there’s a fire safety check factoring into your decision, there’s that.
By now, maybe you have a better idea of what fabric you’d like to use for your acoustic panels. If money is no object, the Guilford of Maine fabrics can allow you to make panels that look super smart and fit your space, maybe even becoming a design element themselves.
However, if your budget is a little tighter, don’t worry: cotton duck cloth gives you plenty of color options (though dying) without breaking the bank. And then there’s speaker grill cloth and burlap for some of those more off-the-beaten-path aesthetic looks.
And if you've made it this far, be sure to firm your plan up with our articles on how to choose the best insulation, how big your panels should be, and how many of them you'll need. These details will help you pick the right amount of fabric.
Truth be told, you can use any fabric you like, but be sure to perform the breath test described above to make sure you’ve picked a fabric that is going to do what you need: letting sound through so that the material underneath can do its job and trap it.