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By Andrew Lewis
Sometimes I have a great idea for a textile project, but I get put off by the thought of trawling through the seemingly endless bolts of fabric at the store. Then I think about the hassle of haggling over the price and ending up with three times as much fabric as I actually needed.
I decided to try printing my own fabric on an inkjet printer, and the results really exceeded my expectations. The advantages to this technique are tremendous, and I don’t have to haggle over prices any more.
I get my own designs, in the quantity I need, at a fraction of the price I would normally pay. The only drawback is that people keep asking me to print something special for them, too!


About Ink
Printing your own fabric is not as difficult as it sounds, and you don’t need any special equipment to get started. The only secret to a successful print is to make sure that you have the right type of ink. Cheap printer cartridges and refills often use a dye-based ink that colors unpredictably on fabric, and may even wash out completely in water.
More expensive printer cartridges use pigment ink. Pigment ink is colorfast on many different surfaces, and is much more useful for printing on fabric.
Unfortunately, finding out if you have pigment ink or dye is not always straightforward. Your printer manual is a good place to start, and a physical examination of the ink should settle the matter beyond doubt. When the printer cartridges need changing, remove the yellow ink and place some on a piece of glass. Yellow pigment ink will be vibrant but opaque, while yellow dye will be transparent and almost brown in color.
Disclaimer: Not all printers can print on fabric, and putting fabric through your printer could damage it permanently. This is an experimental technique, and you should only try it if you understand that it involves an element of risk.

Materials

Light-colored fabric
Printer that uses pigment inks
Scissors
Card
Sticky tape

Directions

Fabric Printing Step1
Step 1: Choose a light-colored, flat fabric, and cut it to the maximum width that your printer can handle. I have an Epson R1800, so it can take just over A3+ width of fabric. If your printer supports printing from a roll, then you can make the fabric as long as you like. Otherwise you will need to cut the fabric into sheets. If you are using a long length of fabric, you might want to roll it onto a cardboard tube to make it more manageable.
Fabric Printing Step2
Step 2: Take a piece of card the same width as the fabric and fix the end of fabric to the card using sticky tape. The card works like a leader, giving the printer something to hold onto when you first start printing. I use a piece of card about 10″ long, and tape the fabric about 2″ in from the end. Once the card is through the printer, the weight will help keep the fabric running smoothly.
Step 3: Feed the card into the printer. On the Epson R1800, I use the roll feed to accept the paper, because the paper enters the printer at a more shallow angle and also because I can print unlimited lengths using the banner mode of the printer.
Fabric Printing Step4
Step 4: Create your design on the computer, and then print it out. Keep a constant eye on the printer while it is running, and watch that the fabric doesn’t get creased or jam up the head. If you do have a problem, turn the printer off at the wall and clear the fabric manually before restoring power. Do not pull or move the fabric while it is still being printed. Slight changes in fabric tension can make your design distort, and increase the chance of creases forming.
Fabric Printing Step5
Step 5: You will need to fiddle around with the brightness / color settings on your printer to get the design looking right. Each fabric is slightly different, and experimentation is absolutely necessary if you want to get good results.
Step 6: When the printing is finished, you should leave your new custom fabric to dry for about an hour. You might find that some of the ink comes off on your hands when you first handle the fabric. This is normal, and is nothing to worry about. Simply rinse the fabric in warm water to remove any excess pigment, and then hang it out to dry.
Fabric Printing End
Step 7: When the fabric is dry, iron the reverse side at low temperature. From this point onwards, the fabric can be treated just like shop-bought fabric. I recommend using a cool wash and ironing on the reverse side where possible to help preserve the colors.
About the Author:
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Andrew Lewis is a journalist, a maker, an ardent victophile, and the founder of the www.upcraft.it blog. He is currently studying for a PhD. in archaeometrics and 3D scanning at the University of Wolverhampton.


Related

Comments

  1. Artemis says:

    I have heard, although I haven’t tried it, that you can also iron fabric onto the slick side of freezer paper to run through the printer. Freezer paper is probably sold by different names in different countries, but it’s a butcher paper with a slick side and a matte side for wrapping meats for the freezer. The slick side is a very thin plastic material which will act as a temporary adhesive when heated a bit, so it would hold your paper uniformly across the surface of the fabric, not just where you place the tape. Once through the printer, you just pull it off. Worth a try, if you can find it in your supermarket!

    1. Sharon Horn says:

      The freezer paper method works very well and is easy to do.

    2. Ms Nomer says:

      I use the freezer paper all the time for my quilt labels. I cut my freezer paper the size of a regular piece of paper to fit in my printer. I then cut the fabric I want to use a little larger than the size of my label that I create in a Word document. This enables me to use whatever style/size of font I want and to add any clip art or designs/borders, etc. Then I put a pressing cloth on my ironing board, place the fabric and the shiny side of the freezer paper together and place that face down onto the pressing cloth and then run the iron over the back side of the freezer paper (it only takes a second or two). NOTE: I make a trial run of my label on regular paper to see where it falls on the paper and adjust accordingly to give me margins of fabric on all sides to turn under when I sew it on to the back of my quilt.

  2. kat says:

    I’ve tried using Freezer paper method and was very successful with it but it can be very time consuming ironing the fabric onto the paper depending on the type of fabric you’re using. Can’t wait to try this tape on method!

  3. Winjes Farm says:

    What a GENIUS idea! Well done. Can’
    t wait to try it.

  4. aprilladeville.livejournal.com says:

    Firstly, this is really cool! Kudos to you for all the effort involved in producing the final product. I am curious about what you make with your fabrics once finished!
    That said, you should check out spoonflower.com. You can upload an image, tweak it and they’ll print the custom fabric for you. Prices and quality seem decent too but I haven’t actually used them yet since I can’t sew yet! (I’m not associated with them in any way- just a fan)
    In the very least, you cmight direct all those friend requests that direction and keep your time free for your own work. :)
    Again, an inspiring tutorial! Thanks for sharing.

  5. jnward says:

    Has anyone tried and of Golden acrylics? Last year they came out with Golden Digital Media, Mix More Media. It’s for running cloth or plastic or foil or whatever through your home computer. You paint it on whatever you want to put through the printer, let it dry, and then run it through the printer. They make it for porous and non-porous materials, and it is inexpensive. Call your local art store about it or go to http://www.goldenpaints.com/.

  6. emilyjoy says:

    I made an entire quilt out of inkjet printed fabric for a school project. I used InkAid, which is sort of like a paint that you put on the fabric. After it’s dry it provides a great surface to take up the inks evenly (to the point that it’s even machine washable) and accurately.
    Things I learned that you should know:
    Securing your fabric edges is extremely important. You could break your printer if you don’t. I learned this the hard way.
    I used freezer paper, to which I taped (using blue painter’s tape) the leading edge of the fabric (which needed to be reinforced with a couple of layers for sturdiness) and the sides down, and left the back open. This worked great, and I had two such sheets made up and alternated them as I went–printing while prepping the next sheet.
    Finding (or making) the correct color profile makes a world of difference. I was lucky enough that a generic Epson ICC profile worked great (I think I just used “Enhanced Matte” and set everything as if that’s what I was printing on.) The fiddling around talked about above is certainly necessary, but you can save a lot of time if you just find the correct printer profile. I’m willing to bet there are even suggestions around the internet for different types of fabrics…
    That said, this was a lot of work, with a potential for breaking a fairly expensive printer. If you have the money, spoonflower is awfully nice… :)

  7. Kaye says:

    I tried it and got a beautiful print.
    I set printer to mirror image and transfer paper, color
    normal printing.
    Thanks for the tip, now I’ll be busy for a long time and may invest soon into a larger printer.
    Thanks Kaye

  8. Sandy says:

    Dear Andrew
    Is it possible to print photo onto quit using your techinque?
    Sandy

  9. Carmen says:

    Has anyone tried to use a laser printer (they use toner)? This idea is great I can’t wait to try it? Printer was very pricey so I want to check & see if it’s been attempted already before trying to do it.

  10. Shirley Gardner says:

    This article exciting, was looking for foundation piecing panels. Anxious to try this technique on printable fabric to print foundation piecing blocks.

  11. Shirley Gardner says:

    Great idea, planning to making pattern blocks.

  12. pat shearing says:

    Can anyone recommend an inkjet printer for use with fabric. I need to replace my current one and I don’t want to make a costly mistake ! Would be grateful for any advice available.Thanks.

  13. Adam says:

    I’m looking into printing on fabric to create the graphics on a home made set of skis, will this way of printing withstand pressure and heat?

  14. Susie Otto says:

    I’ve got to try this. I just bought some muslin to make custom packaging for all my printing orders and sample packs. I was about to order a custom rubber stamp, but if this works out well I might not have to spend the extra $$$. Thank you for the simple tutorial!

  15. Betsy says:

    I’m into scrap booking, and I have even copied my completed scrap book pages. It makes cool blanket squares.

  16. I need to know if it is water proof. Can it be washed?

  17. Rosemary says:

    I don’t know if anyone has posted this in the replies above, but there is a cotton fabric that is referred to as PFD (prepared for dyeing) that has no finishes on it and is used by quilters and other crafters for dyeing.

  18. Corey says:

    Can you print designs on a thicker fabric like socks?

  19. kim says:

    I’m a beginner. I have two inkjet printers and I would like to know how I can print a shower curtain?

  20. kim says:

    I would like to use my own personal images

  21. JOY ANDERSON says:

    In South Africa, I used to take a piece of fabric and the picture I wanted to put on it, to a place to transfer it for me. I then embroidered the picture using silk ribbon. Any suggestions here in Bixby OK?

  22. debby allen says:

    i print photos for quilts. i had to buy a new printer and it just doesn’t pull it though. i need to know a good printer that will pull the fabric right. which one works the best that is ink jet.

  23. Robert says:

    The use of a leader works well for printer feed problems, also. My Epson Workforce 1100, which had printed on inkjet canvas reliable, quit feeding anything thicker than glossy photo paper. I ran onto your blog, tried it and, voila – no more feed problem. It does use up a bit of the length of the canvas, so if there is no extra length it would be a problem.

    1. Mike. Mitchell says:

      Hello Robert
      Trying to print on a cotton fabric thicker stock, Any luck with that . And did you
      Have to print one peice at a time or could you print one long strip then cut in
      To sections . Thanks for your help,,,,,Mike

  24. Steve says:

    I’ve printed onto fabric two ways. The simplest way is to buy the iron-on inkjet paper, print the image in reverse onto it, iron it onto the fabric, and then peel away the paper backing. I used it on a canvas tote bag, and the image survived one machine washing, but I haven’t tried to find out how well it withstands repeated washes.

    The more finicky method is to run the fabric directly through the printer. In that case, I stiffened the cloth (quilting cotton) by wetting it with very dilute white glue (such as Elmer’s regular), letting it dry on a smooth surface (a formica kitchen counter), peeling it off, washing the counter with warm water, and feeding the cloth through the printer. If the amount of glue is right, the cloth feels like card stock, and feeds pretty well. If there’s too much glue the cloth ends up too stiff and the ink doesn’t stick as well; too little glue and it doesn’t stiffen enough.

    I’m not sure about the waterproofing — in particular how well the ink stays if the glue is washed away — because after printing it I glued the whole works to a sheet of plywood (and then coated it with a translucent paint based on linseed oil), so I had no reason to try to wash away the glue.

    My next printing-on-cloth project is a necktie with my own art on it. I’m going to try printing on both cotton and polyester and see which works better. I know cotton takes ink, but polyester makes a better silk substitute for a necktie surface. I’ll stiffen them with white glue as before, and test on scraps before I waste time trying to print my actual art.

    In all cases I’ve used either an Epson C88+ or a C88 (which I had before the C88+) and either Epson ink or Rapid Refill Ink brand. Reviews say it’s supposed to be waterproof, but until I try it I won’t know whether it’s waterproof or just water resistant enough to withstand incidental exposure to water.

    1. JOY ANDERSON says:

      Thank you for the helpful answers. What I did in SA was find a picture I like, have it copied onto fabric and then embroider it using silk ribbon. As it’s never washed, waterproof is not a concern. I used to have it done at a Canon copy shop in SA, but will try the transfer paper route here.
      Thanks again.

      1. Steve says:

        I’ve done the printing on the necktie project now. For the cloth, I used polyester lining cloth with extra-light fusible interfacing pressed onto it. For the printing, I used the C88+ with Rapid Refill Ink, and set the printer to 44×8.5 inch page size and “Photo”. (“Best photo” looked over-saturated on a test printing, and “Text and Images” looked fine except for a hint of banding.) I taped four sheets of 8.5×11 paper together, and printed my design onto it to see exactly where it would end up on the pages. Then I taped the cloth-with-interfacing (pre-cut to a rough outline of the image as printed on the paper) onto the paper. I ran the whole works through the printer, and it looks very good, except for some ink smudges at the edges (not an issue for me, since they ended on the seam allowances). Next job is to cut the other pieces (tip linings, heavy interfacing in the center, and a loop to hold the small end), press out all the edges, and assemble everything.

        Using a printed pattern for embroidery sounds like a useful idea. For that I think I’d put the cloth directly through the printer, rather than using iron-on, because the iron-on leaves a film of gummy stuff. But maybe the embroidery ribbon covers that up so it doesn’t matter.

  25. Matthew says:

    Just want to point out that there are a lot of different commercial options for printable fabric as well for those who don’t want to go through the hassle of finding suitable fabric, cutting it to the appropriate size, and finding and applying a suitable stiff backing to prevent printer jams.

    The Electric Quilt Company actually provides a nice selection of printable fabric in varying fabric thread counts and sizes:
    http://electricquilt.com/online-shop/category/printable-fabric-paper/

  26. It is fabulous work done by the Andrew,
    I have visited several shops around the globe via Google and found a wide range of colors available for the painting of your mind’s approach. I will appreciate the new comer to search better site than this http://getcanvasplus.co.uk and let the community know :)

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