There are many reasons why you might want to print on fabric. For example, you might want to print a photo to use in a quilt or print text for a quilt label. To print on fabric, you need four basic things:
An ink jet printer (not laser)
Fabric that’s been prepared for printing
A method of stabilizing the fabric so you can run it through a printer without getting all jammed up
A way to set the ink once you’ve printed on it so it doesn’t bleed or fade
Ink Jet Printer
Sorry, but a laser printer won’t work here because of the way in which ink is used. Although you can always give it a try!
It also helps if the paper is run through the printer in a straight path, rather than a path that curves back on itself. This isn’t required but it almost should be because a straight path really helps to keep the fabric paper from jamming.
The most important thing is to load the paper properly. For some printers, this means loading the paper with the fabric side down; for other printers, you load it with the fabric side up. Check your printer manual for help or run a test sheet of paper through the printer to double-check if you’re not sure.
Another thing you might want to know about your printer is whether or not it uses waterproof ink (pigmented ink rather than dye-based ink). If it does, you can use regular fabric for printing because your inks won’t run. To test this, print something on paper then moisten your finger and rub it across the printing. If it doesn’t smear than your ink is waterproof.
Note: Your printer may use waterproof ink for black but not for the colors, so you may experience fading with some of your inks and not others.
Fabric Prepared for Printing
There are many commercial fabrics you can buy for printing. All of them are designed for use in your ink jet printer. These fabrics have been stabilized with paper on the back so you can load them into your printer without jamming. You can find fabric for printing in your local quilt store or online. Here are a few types.
Note that you can also find commercially prepared fabric sheets on 8-1/2” rolls. I love these because I can cut them to the size I need and not waste the fabric. After cutting the roll fabric to size, I simply tape it to a piece of paper and run that through my printer. Works like a charm!
There are also commercially prepared fabric sheets in non-cotton, such as these organza sheets. Aren’t they wonderful?
You can prepare your own fabric using a commercial product called Bubble Jet Set. After printing, you fix the ink by using Bubble Jet Rinse. I’ve used both of these products with great success. Be sure to purchase the type of Bubble Jet Set you need for your printer!
There are homemade recipes on the internet for making your own Bubble Jet Set using washing soda (not baking soda), fabric softener, and Alum; I haven’t used this recipe though and have no idea how well it work.s Likewise, there are some on the internet that suggest using a vinegar rinse to set your ink but for many this does not work. I suspect it all depends on your printer and the ink it uses.
Personally, I’ve had best results with commercially prepared fabric sheets versus the ones I’ve prepared myself—less fading and no smearing after washing. If you don’t plan on washing your finished item, you could try just printing on high quality cotton and heat setting it with an iron, but you will still get fading. Personally though I’ve never had the results run when I’ve tried this so it’s relatively safe although you should test it before using unprepared cotton for printing.
Stabilizing the Fabric for Printing
If you use commercially prepared fabric sheets, they will come stabilized with paper on the back. After printing you peel off the paper and your fabric is ready to use after you’ve set the ink following the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you’re using your own prepared fabric, you can stabilize it easily by fusing it to the back of freezer paper. Simply place the freezer paper, shiny side down on the back of your fabric and iron it with a medium hot iron. Then cut the fabric sheet to a size appropriate for running through your printer (such as 8-1/2” x 11”). Use your rotary cutter for this; you don’t want any stray threads along the edges of the paper that might jam your printer.
If needed, iron the edges of the fabric paper right before printing. It’s important that the freezer paper has adhered completely or it might jam when printing.
Tip: You can purchase freezer paper sheets precut in 8-1/2” x 11” size. I find these really easy to use!
Tip: You can fuse a double-sided paper (such as Heat n Bond) to the back of your fabric to stiffen it. The advantage here is that your printed fabric is immediately ready for fusing if that is your intention. In addition, since the paper fusible is fused to the back of your fabric you won’t run into any problems with it coming off the fabric at the edges (as with freezer paper). You probably have some double-sided fusible in your sewing room right now, whereas you might not have any freezer paper so this might be your “good to go” option.
If you want to print a photo onto fabric, use a higher resolution image (200 to 300 pixels) for best results.
When printing your image on fabric, be sure to select High print quality, Standard printing. I know, some people say to use Photo printing but the problem for me is that too much ink is used and it just seems to smear on the fabric. So I choose Standard/ Vivid or High Quality.
You might want to choose Grayscale if you’re only printing text; use the regular Color settings if you’re printing something in color.
Remember to run a test paper first so you’ll know how to load your fabric sheet. Than load it fabric right side up or right side down depending on your test results. Load only one fabric sheet at a time. Stay near while printing so you can stop the printer if it jams. Now that your image is printed, it’s time to set the ink.
Setting the Ink
With commercially prepared fabric sheets, you should always follow the manufacturer’s directions for setting the ink after printing. Typically, this involves waiting a bit (such as an hour or two) then heat setting the fabric with a hot iron.
With fabric you’ve prepared yourself using Bubble Jet Set, use Bubble Jet Rinse to set the ink. You’ll still experience some fading but results are pretty good especially if you use the right Bubble Jet Set for your type of printer.
If you wish, you can rinse your fabric after it is set in cool water and then let it dry. This should remove any excess inks, making it safe for use in a quilt.