I was drawn to the idea of printing on fabric when I saw some amazing memory quilts shared by one of our readers in the sewing chat group. She used vintage family photos to create unique quilt blocks for her breath-taking quilts that will surely become treasured family heirlooms.
Sadly Facebook decided to mysteriously remove the lovely photos she sent me so I can't show you those, but here are a couple of other memory quilts shared by our group members using their own printed fabrics.
Of course you don't have to just print photos, and you don't have to use them in memory quilts either. There are lots of other applications and reasons why you might want to print your own fabric. We'll take a look at a couple of examples.
Print your own fabric series
So how difficult might it be to get your photo, text or any other image onto fabric? Well, it's easy and it's hard – but there are several different options and several things that can go right and wrong along the process. We'll look at the whole process and the options that might or might not work for you, over this and the next two articles in this series:
- This one – How to print on fabric at home – 4 different ways
- Coming up next – Print your own fabric – what about washing and fading?
- Making your own sew in ‘designer' labels
- Last one – Using your print at home fabrics in a sewing project
Let's take a look first at how to get the fabric into your printer.
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How to print on fabric at home
In all of these examples, I'm using my regular (old and cheap) Canon Multi-function bubble jet printer. It may also work on Laser Printers, but you'll have to test that for yourself. You'll need to make your fabric stiff and stable enough to feed through a printer successfully. There are several different methods, and I've picked the 4 most popular to try and test below. Here are my experiences.
Method 1 – freezer paper sheets
They went on quickly, easily and smoothly. Then trim around the sheet with scissors or a rotary cutter. Despite the description saying that ‘Sheets lie flat' mine did roll on the corners a little after fusing. I think one of my corners wasn't properly fused because it came away a little during the printing and created a smudge in that one corner.
I tried it again with a second sheet, made sure the corners were good after trimming but that one was the same too. It came away during printing and created a smudge in the one corner. Not sure if it was my fabric, my printer or my trimming, or something else, but I didn't get perfect results with these ready cut freezer paper sheets.
Method 2 – make your own freezer paper printables
So assuming these freezer paper sheets are just that – sheets cut from freezer paper, can we simply make our own? I cut some freezer paper roughly to size, ironed it to my fabric and then trimmed the lot with a rotary cutter to a size to fit through my printer. The freezer paper went on easily and smoothly, felt no different to the sheets above.
Obviously a little less convenient than simply pulling out a ready cut sheet, but it does mean you can make sheets any size you want, and that it would be cheaper than the ready cut sheets.
It's on a roll so I expected the end result to be curled, but it wasn't really any different to the curling on the ready cut sheets. It seemed to fuse better than the sheets and fed through my printer perfectly every time without any coming away or smudging. Right first time.
Method 3 – ready-made fabric printer sheets
The most convenient and the most expensive method. I bought this pack of 3 pre-treated ready-made fabric printing sheets by June Tailor for about $10. (Amazon US here and UK here.) They also have another very big advantage – they are pre-treated with an ink-fixing treatment. We'll talk about inks and fading later on.
These were by far the most superior and for me, the best and most preferred method. The sheets were completely flat, thick and strong and fed through the printer perfectly every time, with no smudging. I was very confident in using them, and they gave a very crisp printed result, bright colors and a nice quality.
The color is described as white, but it was a little less bright white than the cotton fabric I was using. You can see here a comparison of color and of printing between my cotton fabric I was using with the freezer paper and the ready-cut fabric sheets in this package. Printing is generally clearer, brighter and crisper.
Method 4 – using a fusible web
I used the Heat N Bond fusible web to stiffen the fabric for printing in this final test. (Amazon US here and UK here.) Works similar to freezer paper but with an added advantage. Comes on a roll, so quite economical, and fuses to the fabric with a dry iron. Then trimmed to size same as the freezer paper method. Still curls when fused, but it was a little heavier weight than the freezer paper and fed perfectly through the printer every time, no smudging.
Added bonus – the fusible web is double-sided, so when you peel off the backing paper, your fabric sheet is now fusible and has a glue layer on the reverse so you can cut out shapes, photos etc and fuse them to other projects or simply fuse them to another piece of fabric for strength and stability.
Pros and cons of each method of printing on fabric
Freezer paper – easy to use, making your own sheets is cheaper than buying the ready-made freezer paper sheets. Sheets might be reusable several times, but probably best not to. Possibility of some creasing, curling or smudging if your corners or leading edge aren't properly fused or have little threads.
Ready-prepared fabric sheets – easiest option and the best printed result. Pre-treated to be colorfast (read more about why this is important later), but expensive. Save for your ‘best' projects, anything that needs to be washed, and test print on the freezer paper method first. If you are going to choose – I recommend investing in these sheets instead of the cheaper methods. If a thing is worth doing, its worth doing well!
Fusible web – leaves a fusible layer on the reverse of your printed sheet – this can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you plan to use it. Easy to use and reasonably priced.
Coming up ….
Next in the series, we'll look at print settings to use, and whether your printed fabric is washable or not, and what to do about that! Until then, start to gather a few of those fabric printing supplies together because I'll have some printable files to share and we can work on a project.