Embroidery From Digital Artwork (via Acetone Toner Transfer)




Introduction: Embroidery From Digital Artwork (via Acetone Toner Transfer)

This instructable focuses on getting digital artwork from your computer onto fabric for embroidery. This is done via an acetone toner transfer, a cheap and fast transfer method using readily available materials and tools that you probably already have in your home. I've also seen this method used for transferring artwork to wood or canvas.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

-Fabric on which to embroider (100% cotton is what I used, be careful if you're using any synthetic fibers since the acetone may melt them)
-Embroidery Floss or normal all purpose thread
-Interfacing - optional
-Embroidery needle or standard sewing needle (preferably small sized)
-Embroidery hoop
-Acetone/ nail polish remover - I used nail polish remover because it was on hand. If you can, get pure acetone, since most nail polish removers have perfumes and other additives that may stain your fabric. Always test on a scrap piece of fabric, to see if it stains or if the acetone dissolves it. Other solvents such as xylene may work.
-Digital Artwork (outline/line artwork works best)
- Laser Printer
- a spoon
- tape

-some tips-
This method of pattern transfer only works with images printed with a laser printer/copier. Inkjet images will not work.

Leave some space when cutting around the actual design because the acetone will dissolve the tape.

Be careful of working on a finished table surface as the acetone may bleed through the fabric and dissolve the finish of the table. I worked on a glass tabletop.

Remember to cap your acetone/nail polish, because it evaporates quickly, and the typically tall & skinny bottle may fall down due to the rubbing motion.

If your artwork is not symmetrical or contains text, you will need to reverse it before printing. After the transfer is completed the artwork will be the mirror image of what you had originally printed.

due to different types of printers and fabrics- perform a small test on some scrap material or in an inconspicuous spot to make sure this transfer method is compatible with your printer and materials.

Prewash and dry your fabric - this gets rid of some of the excess dye in your fabric, and the preshrunk fabric will hold its shape better

Step 2: Prep Work

In this instrucable the artwork I am using is a Caduceus shape - by Retoucher07030 on deviant art I removed some of the smaller feather lines above the snake head since I didn't think I could reproduce such fine detail in thread. Leave some excess space around the artwork, so don't print it tight in the corner of the page.

Reverse you artwork if necessary and print it using a laser printer on normal paper. Cut out your design - leave some extra space when cutting around the design because the tape may be dissolved by the acetone.

Tape the design, printed side down, onto the fabric.

Step 3: The Magic

Using a cotton ball apply the acetone to the back of the paper, just enough that you can see through the paper. Apply firm pressure and rub the paper with the back (not edge) of a spoon. Rub left to right for a while then switch to up and down. You want to make sure the paper does not shift in relation to the fabric and you do not want the paper so wet that it tears. Overlap the areas you are rubbing with the spoon, you want to make sure you don't miss a spot.

The acetone will evaporate or will be absorbed by the fabric, if the paper starts looking dry apply more acetone from the cotton ball. Working quickly I got 3 or 4 applications from a cotton ball dosed once from the bottle. I found I got the best transfer by removing the paper when it was wet.

Step 4: Embroider

Wait a few minutes for the transfer to set, then iron some interfacing to the back. Now it is ready to put into the embroidery hoop. The interfacing and hoop help to keep the fabric taught so you can pull the stitches tight without puckering the fabric. I used an outline stitch for the staff and feathers and a satin stitch for the snakes.

Outline Stitch
Needle come up through 1A, down through fabric 1B, Up through 2A down through 2B etc. Bring the needle up through the fabric slightly behind where it just went down on the previous stitch. This causes a small overlap in the stitches on the top side and a solid outline. Keep the stitches short, especially around curves.

Satin Stitch
Tight side by side stitches. Easy to understand with pictures. You can see a good tutorial on the satin stitch here or here When working around the curves I found it easier to bring the needle up on the inside (tight) side of the curve.

The finished patch was for the pocket of a Dr. Horrible jacket (instructable for that is finally finished) .



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    22 Discussions

    Be careful. Acetone is toxic. I teach this method to my college students, but insist they go outside and leave all acetone-soaked materials in the trash outside. Wash hands after use. If they use more than what you would use to do fingernails, they must use the correct type of facial mask and gloves.

    4 replies

    I used a single cotton ball, moistened once from the bottle. It really doesn't take much to do the transfer, you wet the paper only to the point of it becoming transparent, nothing should get to the point of being dripping wet.

    Exactly. Not too much. Wintergreen oil works also, but it is also toxic, and the smell is overwhelming when I have a class of college students walking back inside with their art work. The results vary by how much acetone is used, the freshness/type of toner copier used, and the absorbency of the paper.

    Acetone is not actually particularly toxic and beyond basic precautions (ie. don't drink the stuff or work in an air-tight closet), it shouldn't be much of a hazard. The main dangers of working with acetone are related to it's flammability. It is theoretically harmful by skin absorption, so if you're planning on dumping the stuff all over your hands, wear butyl rubber or nitrile gloves (vinyl gloves will dissolve). I should think that getting enough acetone vapour in the air to be dangerous would be pretty difficult unless working in a confined space. We use 2 or 3 litres of acetone in a typical lab session to rinse glassware, in a modest sized lab and the smell is not too bad. The kitchen with a window open is probably a decent place to work. But remember, when in doubt about handling a chemical, consult the MSDS.

    Awesome, been looking for a method like this for ages, thanks,

    Hey! I love working with transfers! A really awesome technique I use for embroidery is printing something off, then using a red transfer pencil (available at jo-ann fabrics, etc) I trace the lines on the paper. Then iron it on your fabric, voila! It is also great if you want to use an acrylic medium to make your regular acrylic paint into fabric paint (heat set in a venitlated area, the medium gives off formaldehyde fumes). Just paint inside the transfer. It's great!

    Did you try nail polish remover that contains ethyl acetate (instead of acetone)? It can be an alternative. Another idea: what about inkjet printer? Does your method work with its ink? Unfortunately I can't try your technique at the moment, but I am greatly inspired. It gives a vast field for my imagination. Thanx a lot!

    I have found that an easier technique is to iron the back (non-image) side of the paper. The heat from the iron melts the resin in the toner allowing it to re-fuse on the fabric. Turn the iron to high heat (no steam) and iron until the paper is hot. Then peel the paper off and the image remains on the fabric. It doesn't require any chemicals. You can also use this process to transfer patterns to wood, metal, or any other material.

    1 reply

    It really does seem to vary depending on the printer, I haven't had much success with the iron technique. Acetone seemed to work well with prints from my Samsung B&W and a Dell B&W printer. I haven't tried with any color laser prints yet.

    Woo-hoo! Looks like an awesome Dr. Horrible coat shaping up!

    Some laserjet toners don't transfer well with acetone. Wintergreen oil (Methyl salicylate) has worked on every toner that I've tried. You can get wintergreen oil at pharmacies and heath food stores. Wear gloves and don't eat it.

    Instead of reversing the image, you could just print it on the back of the fabric. That would also make sure that none of the guidelines are visible in the final piece.

    I'm still looking for a good way to transfer detailed images to silk screen without using photo-type resist materials. This might work! I'll have to find a solvent that will melt the printer ink but won't melt my screen fabric.

    3 replies

    I've often used acetone to remove photo emulsions from my screens. It never seemed to bother them any. That being said, toner is fairly fragile after being transferred; it might not hold up to actual printing.

    That's good to know. Photo emulsions must be oil based. The acrylic paints I use don't seem to be affected by acetone. I would be using the paper print transfer as a guide to make the screen negative. The actual screen would be painted with either glue or acrylic paint to make the negative and acrylic paint is used after the negative dries to make the print.

    I think xylene should be safe for silkscreens, its a popular solvent/thinner in printmaking.

    This is a really cool technique, I've never seen it before! I have a lot of embroiderer friends, I'll be linking to this.

    This is awesome! Any clue how long would the ink hold up on the surface you put it on?