Learn how to print fabric! If you are one of those ultra-creative people, then printing on fabric with a printer is probably something you would like to explore. Learning how to print your own labels with an inkjet printer, some freezer paper, and a simple design is not that difficult. If you decide to go big and bold, the principle is the same, but the quantity and width of fabric vary as you use a bigger machine. Starting out with labels is a great idea and easy to manage.
How to Print Fabric
There are 5 main ways to print fabric using:
- A Printer
- Commercial Printers
- Screen Printing
How to Print Fabric Using a Printer
Here are some of the basic requirements and how to go about a simple A4 or letter-sized design.
First things first and that is the materials required.
- 100% cotton – Plain cotton fabric is best. Fabrics containing polyester do not generally print well or hold the ink.
- Freezer paper - This is a wax coated paper for baking. It is only coated on one side. Learn more about what is freezer paper for crafts.
- An inkjet printer - Try your printer for personal success, but remember there is a disclaimer on using this machine for printing on fabric. Always try out on a scrap first. Only injet printers will work.
- Vinegar - A setting solution like white vinegar. You can also purchase commercial setting solutions.
- An iron - You will use the dry iron not the steamer.
- Fabric interfacing - This just helps to give the fabric more body if your base fabric is a little soft or flimsy.
- Soap - A pre-wash soap for the fabric to erase any extra starch.
Here are the simple steps to take when learning how to print on fabric with a printer.
DISCLAIMER - Print fabric with your printer at your own risk. I have used this method many times on my HP printer but most printers are not designed for printing anything other than paper.
Step 1 - Cutting
Cut your fabric into a piece measuring about 8.5”x 11” or the same size as the paper that feeds through your printer. Then cut a piece of freezer paper the same size.
Step 2 - Press
Place the working side (the side you plan to print) onto the ironing board and the freezer paper plastic side facing down. Now iron the two together. The two pieces with the hot iron must become one. Check the two pieces are properly fused. If any corners are lifting up, iron it again. The wax on the freezer paper is only on one side, so if it doesn't fuse with the fabric, flip it over.
Step 3 - Trim
Trim your ironed paper and fabric to be the right size for the printer. Most printers take A4 or letter size.
Step 4 - Print
Now you are ready to print. Work out what your printer does to the paper to print it. Some printers flip the paper and print on the other side. Figure out what yours does so you can feed the paper, with its freezer backing, the right way to get the print on the side you want it to be.
You can feed any amount of paper to get different patterns or repeat patterns. The determining factor is the size of the printer and its ability to accept your fabric. There are a wide variety of printers available and yours at home could be different from others. It is best to experiment before setting out on your special new fabric. Make up a variety of swatches using different fabrics and see what turns out the best.
Step 5 - Finishing
Let the print dry thoroughly and then peel the backing off slowly.
Immerse the fabric in a solution of white vinegar or commercial dye setting solution. This makes a big difference to the longevity of your print. Dry the fabric and then press with a hot iron.
Tips for Artwork
These steps from one to five only mention the actual printing process. Before you get started on printing you have to have an image to print. Now, this could be your own creative design or something you take off the internet through a program that allows you to use their images. Added to that you can scan and save a special photograph to print. A program like Photoshop allows you to adjust lighting, color, and other properties of the picture.
Here are a few tips and things to look out for if you decide to take this printing project further.
- INK TYPES - Always do a test dye sample and see if your printer is set to use dye or pigment inks. The difference is dye inks are not water resistant and would need to be made colour-fast. Pigment inks are water resistant. How do you find out this information? The ink cartridge in the printer should have these details on the cartridge. Or you can search online with the type of ink and if it is pigment based. Black ink always prints the best over colored ink. I also found when printing, that original cartridges worked best.
- FABRIC TYPE - The best fabric for printing has to be 100% cotton or silk. Polyester can work well, but will need testing. Choose your color carefully. Bright or white cotton fabrics dye best. The texture and weave of the fabric plays a part too. A tight weave will give the best resolution of your picture. That means the best picture detail and imprint. A loose weave gives a lower resolution and not such a sharp picture.
- ADJUSTMENTS - Make adjustments to your image before preparing it for the final print. Play around with light levels and tones of color.
Make Your Own Clothing Labels - The Video
Here is a 5-minute video I made to show you the process of how to make your own clothing labels. This will show you the process of how to print fabric using your printer.
How to Print Fabric with Spoonflower
Perhaps you are feeling really creative and not confident enough to go on your own printing mission. Well, there is an answer to that dilemma. It is called Spoonflower.
Spoonflower is a print-on-demand service. You will need to know how they want their sizes and what aspects of designing affect your chosen design. It is possible to upload designs or create your own. Start with a small project like a tea towel or table runner before moving on to large volumes of fabric. Spoonflower takes your design and turns it into a repeat pattern or a one-off design. They can produce color prints or black and white.
Spoonflower prints are ideal for quilting because your printed piece of fabric can be designed in the ready-made blocks you want to use to make up your quilt. Intersperse your Spoonflower pieces with other fabrics or with a chequered pattern and your quilt will look totally unique.
If you are stuck for creative ideas here are some other interesting techniques you may like to apply to printing on fabric.
How to Print Fabric with Stencils
Types of Stencils
- Make Your Own - The best way to print on fabric using stencils and an inkjet printer is to use the printer and any designs you want to use to print on your freezer paper. When you have your design printed then cut out the parts of the stencil that are going to be printed. This will leave your freezer paper ready to iron onto the fabric and act as the stencil.
- Purchased - Many art and fabric stores have an array of stencils for you to purchase. These may be paper, plastic or even wooden.
Once you have your stencil ready play around a bit to see exactly where you plan to place it. This is the time to change your mind rather than once you have positioned it onto the fabric.
Step 1 - Hold in Position
- FOR FREEZER PAPER STENCILS - Place the stencil with the shiny side down on the right side of your fabric. You will iron on the freezer stencil design with your iron at the right temperature. Press well to make sure all the edges have adhered to the fabric. This is especially important if you have little curves or indentations that may not have adhered to the fabric. Cutting out letters in particular makes it necessary to check the edges are all stuck down to have a clear outline.
- FOR PLASTIC AND OTHER STENCILS - Use masking tape to hold the stencil in position on your fabric. If your stencil is made from a thin material, you may be able to use pins to hold it in position.
Step 2 - How to Print Fabric with Paint
When the stencil is attached to the fabric then you are ready to print the design using fabric paint. Use a soft sponge or brush to apply the paint.
Step 3 - Remove the Stencil
Carefully remove the pieces of the stencil. The pieces will come away easily, but be careful not to get any paint onto the fabric. Wait for the design to dry before ironing again. Use a piece of brown paper or cloth over the design to protect your iron. Unfortunately, most stencils will only print and be used once.
How to Print Fabric Using Stamping
Here is another idea – Create your own stamp or print design.
Block stamps or rubber stamps can be used directly on fabric or be used to reproduce the design on a computer and then transfer to fabric using commercial printers like Spoonflower.
Using a Stamp to Make Repeated Designs -
Print out your stamp or block design on paper and then scan the design to be used on your fabric. Printing in this way gives a more uniform design and even pattern. Remember with a digital printer you can make adjustments to your image and crop your image to the size you want to print. Practice on scraps and make sure your item is color-fast before you are ready to sew it into something.
How to Print Fabric with Screen Printing
Screen printing is a great way to print on fabric when you want multiple items with the same design. It is perfect for t-shirts and homewares. With screen printing, the image is burned on the screen and these areas let the paint through.
How to Print Fabric - In Conclusion
If you are a hoarder, hold onto the scraps and mismatches. There may be some misprints here and there and it is fun to keep your stash of bits and pieces somewhere for some creative project that just might come to mind. Beanbags, patchwork cushions, tiebacks, and more. There is always something small that can happily become a neat little gift item once you learn how to print fabric.