Printing on fabric – washing and fading

Printing on fabric at home.  How washable is it?  How to make the ink stick so you can wash your print at home fabric.

We looked before about how to print on fabric and I carried out a review of 4 different methods.

  1. Freezer paper sheets
  2. Freezer paper on a roll
  3. Ready-made printable fabric sheets
  4. Fusible web such as Heat N Bond

Check out the earlier article for the review and information on all of the different ways I tried to stiffen the fabric for printing.
How to print on fabric at home. 4 different methods and products tested and reviewed.

What settings to use on your printer

I tried various different settings on my printer to see if photo or standard printing gave best results.  You may see some tutorials that suggest you use photo print settings, but actually I found that this added too much ink to the fabric, made it too wet and the colors ran and bled into each other a little, making the end result less sharp.


The recommendation on the ready-made print sheets I used from June Tailor (Amazon US here and UK here) recommended ‘standard’ high quality print settings and indeed that is what I found to work best across all the methods.

My suggestions:

  • Print in color for a color design or switch settings to black and white settings for black only printing
  • Go with your ‘standard’ printer paper settings and set it to print on regular paper, not photo paper
  • Go with high quality rather than draft or fast print settings
  • Use a good quality ink, ideally manufacturer cartridges rather than knock-off refills for best color
  • Be prepared to test and see what settings work best for you – every printer is different!

Will the print fade if you wash it?

Ah, the big elephant in the room we’ve not talked about until now.  Just how washable will your home-printed fabric be?  Well, that depends on your ink.  There are apparently two sorts of ink – pigment and dye based inks.  If you need your project to be washable then you’ll need a pigment based ink, or you’ll need to use those pre-treated fabric sheets to make it stick.

Many cheap compatible cartridges will usually use dye based inks, so always use a genuine cartridge from the printer manufacturer for printing on fabric.  But even then there is no guarantee!

print cartridgesphoto credit: Dell Color Laser Network Printer 1320cn via photopin (license)

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 there should only be slight fading.  Pigment based inks are also usually UV resistant so the printing won’t fade in the sun.

Dye inks are not water resistant on their own, and the ink WILL wash out and MAY also fade over time in the sunlight.  However you can use the pre-treated colorfast fabric sheets to reduce this.  Follow the instructions on these sheets carefully to get the best results.

There are also other products on the market to pre-treat your fabric and make the dye based ink stick – try Bubble Jet Set  (Amazon US  or Amazon UK).  Anyone used this before to treat your fabric prior to printing?

You can’t necessarily tell which your printer or cartridge is using.  I am using genuine Canon printer inks so I thought, those are good quality, I should be OK. But no.  The black seems fine, but the color cartridge must be dye inks because a quick rinse under the cold tap took off most of the ink right away.  Strange!

Here is a really good article about inks and printers for fabric.

My colorfast testing results

Here are my three results.  In each case, I followed any instructions given.  I allowed the ink to dry for 10 minutes, then I ironed each piece for 2 minutes to ‘set’ the ink.  Then I left it to cool, cut each piece from the sheet, removed the backing paper and sewed it onto my sample.

This is what the sample looks like before.  You can already see some differences in the results of the printing.  The center one is certainly superior to the others at this stage.

How to print on fabric at home. 4 different methods and products tested and reviewed.

The first one was printed using freezer paper on white cotton fabric.  The center one was printed on the June Tailor pre-treated sheets and the third one used the same fabric as the first one, but was fused to the tester using the Heat N Bond backing and not sewed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo now here they are after washing in cold water.  Quite a remarkable difference.  See how my black ink sticks quite well, but the colored inks washed almost completely away.  Apart from the pre-treated fabric sheets, where the ink stayed looking as good as new!  So it looks like the investment in the pre-treated sheets is well worth the money.

Here’s the links again – now you’ve seen the results, you’ll probably be converted like I was !
(Amazon US here and UK here)  You can buy bigger packs too of course, and I’ll do that now I’ve seen how good these are. Look out for some project ideas coming soon for print-at-home fabrics 🙂

Just to make sure that wasn’t a fluke – I printed a full size image using the freezer paper sheets, took a before photo, washed it and took an after photo.  Yup – that’s all the colored ink washed out but the black ink remains.  You may get different results of course, so do test your printing to see if its waterproof before sewing up a project.

PicMonkey Collage

Upcoming projects

So now we’ve covered lots of info about how to print on fabric with your home printer and get the best possible results, and whether or not you can wash your printed fabric.

I hope I’ve given you all the information you need to get started.  I’d love to see some examples of your own projects.  Made a memory quilt?  Or another project with photos on fabric perhaps?  Please do share them with us all in the Sewing Chat Group and let us know your tips and tricks for printing on fabric.

Coming up next – you’ve seen some examples above and in the earlier article for the Handmade For You Labels.  Next I’ll be providing those for you to use and showing how you can use them in your sewing projects.

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9 Responses to Printing on fabric – washing and fading

  1. Has anyone tried heat setting printed fabric with iron? I do and get better results than using Bubble Jet Set.

  2. ukuchic says:

    What printer did you use?

    • I have an old Canon Multifunction machine, about 8 years old now. But any color printer should work. The ink and settings are most important, so if you can print photos from it, then it should be great for fabric printing.

  3. Cindy says:

    Excellent information! Thanks for doing the research and sharing!

  4. cherie says:

    hi deby, check the numerous printable fabrics these guys do, and although they are uk based do ship internationally too

  5. Crickett says:

    I made a huge memory quilt for a retiring teacher, with printed photos of as many of her former students as I could get, and printed sayings. There were so many photos to print that I went the cheaper route, and prepared all the fabric myself, using a roll of freezer paper, and a bottle of Bubble Jet Set. It all looked great! Until I washed the entire quilt…in hot water. I don’t know if it was the batik running (yes I pre-washed), or just the hot water, but everything faded. It still looked good, just not as sharp as I wanted. for some pics of the quilt.

  6. Great post! Thanks for taking the time to investigate so thoroughly.

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