Introduction: How to Print Fabric at Home

Picture of How to Print Fabric at Home

Learn how to print on fabric using an ink-jet printer. There are great places like spoonflower, where you can get yards of fabric printed with your own design, but did you know that you can print custom designs at home too? Oh, the possibilities.

This Instructable will also go over some helpful tools and tips that will produce the right print for your project.

What you need:

- Ink Jet Printer

- White 100% Cotton Fabric

- Cutting Mat

- Rotary Blade

- Metal Ruler

- 8.5" x 11" packing labels

- Somewhere to soak and wash fabric

- Computer with photo editing software installed (GIMP is free)

- Bubble Jet Set (you may not need this, please read all steps before buying materials)

Step 1: Check Out Printer and Ink - Do I Need to Pretreat Fabric?

Picture of Check Out Printer and Ink - Do I Need to Pretreat Fabric?

If you need the prints to be washable, check to see if your printer uses pigment or dye inks. To be on the safe side, I also highly suggest printing out a test swatch and vigorously hand washing it to see how it does.

Pigment inks are water resistant, so they will not wash away from your fabric. A small amount will rinse away on the first wash, but no more than 10% should be lost.

Dye inks are not water resistant on their own, however you can pre-treat your fabric with C. Jenkins Co. Bubble Jet Set 2000. Or buy pre-treated fabric, which is linked to in the next step.

Open the printer and look at the ink cartridge number, sometimes the kind of ink is posted right on the printer, so take a minute to inspect it, inside and out.

Doing a search online with the cartridge number + "pigment" or "dye" will help to figure out which it is. I also found a label that boasts "DuraBrite Ultra Inks" on the front. Searching "DuraBrite Ultra Inks", I learned that this trademarked ink is indeed pigment based.

The printer I use is an ink-jet, Epson WF-7010, it's affordable (about $350) and it can print up to 13" x 19" pages. It uses DuraBrite Ultra Ink.

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Notes on Printers and Inks:

I have heard that people also use laser printers, but I do not have experience with them. You can easily research online if you have a laser and would like to know if you can use it.

If you plan on doing a lot of fabric printing or need to print long pieces of fabric for a project, you can find large-format printers that can print from a roll. Like the Epson R3000. Here is a video that shows you how to attach a roll of paper (perhaps fabric?) in the back. If anyone decides to try this out, please comment on how it went!

Step 2: Prewash Fabric

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Pre-wash your cotton fabric to wash away any sizing and to preshrink. Dry and iron it out nice and flat.

This instructable is for a printer with pigment inks, so you do not need to pretreat fabric with Bubble Jet Set 2000.

Step 3: Notes on Fabric

Picture of Notes on Fabric

I'm going to break in here and say some things about choosing a fabric, this instructable uses the best fabric for color and clarity. Read on to learn more.

Fiber Content

If you want the best reproduction of an image, I would stick with 100% cotton or silk. Polyester comes in many textures and weaves and can work well too, it may take more research and testing to find the right one. You can buy pretreated fabrics already backed from Avery and Jacquard. If you are looking for industrial-size, large format treated fabric, you can find that here.

To compare, I printed and washed a swatch of 100% cotton and 100% polyester. You can see this in the attached images. The polyester image was of a lower resolution, but could be really awesome for a watercolor effect, it also washed out easier than the ink on cotton.

To pretreat fabric at home use Bubble Jet Set 2000, this will help the ink become washable if they are dye based and there is a rinse for after you print.

Color

The brighter and whiter the fabric is, the truer to color your print will be to the original image. Whatever color your fabric is will be the whites and highlights of your image. Depending on the color, you can produce some really beautiful effects, such as an old, vintage feel if you print on an unbleached cotton muslin.

Texture/Weave

A tight weave is what you want to aim for in order to achieve the best resolution your original image has to offer. The looser the weave, the lower resolution your image will appear. It helps to use a lint roller to swipe off any debris or particles, the printer will go right over them and once they fall off, spots of the original fabric will be revealed. If you do not necessarily want or need clarity in your print, check out the water color effect the loosely woven polyester gave me in the attached images. Have fun and experiment!

Step 4: Cut Fabric

Picture of Cut Fabric

Lay your fabric flat on a cutting mat and use a rotary cutter and metal ruler to cut your fabric to the dimensions of a letter 8.5" x 11".

In the future you can cut to any dimension your printer supports, but let's start with letter size.

Step 5: Back Fabric

Picture of Back Fabric

To get the fabric to feed into the printer well, you need to back it with something. This is where the packing labels come in. They are 8.5" x 11", so they are already cut to letter size.

Peel off the backing and carefully position and stick the label on the wrong side of the fabric.

The packing labels pictured in this instructable stick very well, almost too well. Depending on the fabric type, when I peel them off they leave a residue, so lightly smooth it down. As long as you don't have any edges peeling up, the sheet should feed into the printer without problem.

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Notes on Backing:

You can also use freezer paper by cutting it to size to match fabric and ironing it down shiny side down to fuse it to the fabric.

I prefer the packaging labels because the freezer paper gets jammed easier and if you can get it off cleanly, you can reuse the labels. I encourage you to try both and see what works best for you.

Step 6: Prep Photo for a Test Print

Picture of Prep Photo for a Test Print

Adjusting Image in Photoshop

For the image to show up on fabric looking it's best, you will want to adjust some levels and contrast before you send it to the printer. Make sure to save the images after making different adjustments so you can go back to that image if it's the one you end up liking the best!

- Open your image in Photoshop (or other photo editing software)

- Adjust the light levels so the image looks how you want, I suggest making the highlights and mid-tones bright so the details are clear.

In Photoshop:

Image > Adjustments > Levels and drag the two arrows, highlights and shadows towards the middle to lighten and darken the image up to where it looks more defined.

- In addition to you can adjust the overall contrast and brightness

In Photoshop:

Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast to get the blacks even darker.

- Feel free to choose any other adjustments you may want to in order to achieve a vibrant image that has good contrast.

Test Print

- Cut and paste a sample of your image in a new letter size document, with each one representing a different adjustment.

- Save this as a "test print"

Step 7: Print!

Picture of Print!

Once you have your test image you can go to the printer and some backed pieces of fabric you are ready to print!


Test Printing

- Load the fabric sheets in one at a time without any other paper in the printer. You will either need to load your fabric face down or face up. Do a quick print on paper if you are not sure.

- Make sure your paper is nice and snug against the guides in the paper tray and touches the back. I had some problems with the printer picking up the fabric, but then realized it was because I hadn't pushed the fabric sheet back far enough. Depending on the size you are printing, you may need to adjust the guides.

- Send your test image to the printer and check to make sure that the fabric feeds from the tray. If there is a problem, check the errors your printer is communicating to you and the paper to see that it is loaded correctly.

- Watch your fabric being printed! It's like magic, but not. :)

Print Away!

- After you are satisfied with your test print. Go to your saved image with the adjustments that you like and send it off for the final print!

Step 8: Dry, Unpeel and Rinse

Picture of Dry, Unpeel and Rinse

- Let the print dry for an hour before rinsing it to make sure it doesn't smudge. Some suggest 24 hours, an hour has worked great for me, it probably depends on the fabric content and type of inks used.

- Peel off the backing slowly, the labels have left residue on some of my fabric, on others, it has not. If residue is left behind, you can easily get it off by letting it soak in water.

- Hand wash the print to remove excess ink, dry and you are done! Like I mentioned before, a small amount will rinse away on the first wash, but no more than 10% should be lost. If there is more lost, I suggest using the Bubble Jet Set 2000 linked to in previous steps.

Post any projects in the comments section. There are so many possibilities!

Check out my Cat Face Purse that uses this technique to print a custom cat fabric!

Comments

MonicaW20 (author)2016-04-30

Instead of using freezer paper I bought 8.5 x 11 labels and stick them on. My problem is I want some of my picture to have white background, but I want to print on color fabric... is there any way?

parisusa (author)2016-04-18

Like Todd Gehris I have only heard of using freezer paper. A cheap and easy to find option (near wax paper/Tin foil at any grocery store). I have made so many personal items this way. I use my printer more for fabric than paper! Thanks for the ideas and options!

bohemianlinda (author)2014-10-12

This in a most informative site. The instructions are so well written that we neophytes have no fear attempting and succeeding new ideas, crafts and gifts for loved ones on a very limited budget. Bonus. This printing of material I am very happily planning. Thank you for allowing me to join the community

CatTrampoline (author)2014-09-04

Excellent tutorial with clear, concise directions plus notes on possible pitfalls. I'm going to have to try this and compare it to my iron-on transfers.

push_reset (author)CatTrampoline2014-09-09

Thanks! Please do and report back! :D
I would like to see the difference in color vibrance and am interested in what iron-on transfers are available today and how soft they can feel.

psezulfe (author)2014-09-02

Nice!! I will try with a color laser I have at work. Tell me something, I print directly on the fabric, right? If I want to make a T-shirt, I have to sew it, is that right? Is there any way to glue it? Is this better than that special paper that you print and iron on the T-shirt?

push_reset (author)psezulfe2014-09-09

Hi there!

Suzanne brought up a product, Heat-n-Bond, that you can use with an iron to create a shirt. There is also a product called Stitch Witchery, which I used to create shirt, I will link to it as soon as I get the Instructable published!
This does go over how to print straight onto fabric, which may not be as vibrant as some of the iron on sheets you can run through the printer, but it feels much better. The sheets that are iron-on work because you essentially iron on to a thin low melt polymer and then transfer that to your fabric, so they feel a little plastic-like and can crack over time. This process dyes the fiber with the inks in the printer/

There are paper-backed, iron-on glue products that you can use to make a sew-free project. One product line is Heat-n-Bond. It comes in various weights to match the fabrics that they are laminating together.

My best advice is to take your materials to the fabric store and throw yourself on the mercy of the clerks. I've had good luck finding what I've needed at Joann's. You want any store that cuts fabric.

Suzanne in Orting, WA

windshadow (author)2014-09-03

Thanks for that tutorial. Always interesting to see new techniques.

Gartholameau (author)2014-09-03

Wonderful Ible, thanks so much for the extra links, that's always very helpful. I can see using this technique for a bookbinding project. Take one favourite well worn & loved paperback; glue some heavy cardboard to the covers; add cloth printed with your design and voilà, a cloth bound book. I've done this, but using the T-Shirt transfer paper technique. This should work just as well.

pattymadeit (author)2014-09-03

It's just amazing the things we can do with our home computers and printers!

I have used my ink jet printer to print on fabric many times. I use freezer paper - love the simplicity. I like to take a photo that is special to someone and make a small zipper bag (aka coin purse) with it. I usually "paint" the entire surface with Mod Podge for durability.

Thanks for the tips on pigment vs dye inks. I did not know the difference - and I see now that my Epson printer does use pigment ink. I did use the Bubble Jet 2000 - but didn't see much difference in the washability - this explains it!

dave367 (author)2014-09-03

To get deeper blacks, it is often possible to change the object's CMYK setting (in the photo software), from 0-0-0-100 which is typical, to 100-100-100-100. This causes the printer to overprint with all 4 colors at 100%, not just black, resulting in deeper richer blacks.

Jake Maverick (author)2014-09-02

Very nice! thanks for this...

however, what I'm looking to do is print on possibly canvas or parchment type paper....burn up the dges, soak in cold tea, soak in water down latex....to try and produce old looking pages printed on skin/ leather....now i had written that project off as i dnt own a laser printer.....now i'm wondering if it might be possible? pretty sure they're dye inks- HP officejet 7000

Todd Gehris (author)2014-09-02

I've used the freezer paper method to print up tags to attach to sewing projects. I like that you addressed adjusting the color.

MrsDJE (author)2014-09-02

It was nice of you to put in the links for supplies and such. Thank you.

clewis21 (author)2014-09-02

Thanks for the instructions. I do this all the time but have never soaked the fabric due to not planning on washing them so far. I usually iron on the cotton muslin over freezer paper, shiny side sticks to fabric because of the wax. When I print on canvas, I don't add a backing because it's stiff enough to feed through OK. I have had times when the fabric jams and I have to use my imagination to make use of it by fabric painting, printing again starting on the other side. I once had the same fabric jam in the same spot leaving printing on both edges for a couple inches that basically matched so I hand painted the center and made a pillow. See attached photo.

johnstat000 (author)2014-08-29

Does this work with Canvas?

Klappstuhl (author)johnstat0002014-09-02

Oh my god, you gave me a great idea. I could print mondo movie posters on fabric! :D

push_reset (author)johnstat0002014-08-30

It depends on what weight you choose. There is canvas that compares to what I used in weight, which was a medium weight white twill, with a very small file. If your printer takes card stock, perhaps you could use that to compare against. Canvas gets very thick, I would stay in the light-medium weight.

gravityisweak (author)2014-08-29

Wow, super in depth instructable. I'd love to be able to print out a few things on fabric and stretch it over a frame for DIY decorating. Any thoughts on how to get a whole tshirt to fit through my printer? LOL. I like your test strip method too, that's pulled right out of the photography books of the old days. You know, back when we had things like developer, stop bath, and fixer.

alannan (author)2014-08-29

Label paper eh. That's a great technique. Thanks for sharing.

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Bio: Specializing in sewing, soldering and snacking. More stuff I do... I teach an interactive fashion and textile class called Wearable and Soft Interactions at California ... More »
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