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Printing on Fabric

Betsy Szymanski

Using an ink-jet printer, you can print directly on fabric to create labels, fabric foundations, or custom fabric designs. Don't try this with a laser printer though - they get too hot.

Cut a piece of fabric and a piece of freezer paper approximately 10" x 12". Iron the freezer paper to the wrong side of the fabric. Trim to 81/2" x 11". Load the stiffened fabric into your printer. Be sure to load it so that the printing will be on the fabric side, not the paper side. After printing, let the ink set for at least 24 hours then remove the paper and heat set the ink for 1 minute with a hot iron.

Treating for Colorfastness

I tried a variety of treatments then machine washed the fabric in cold water on a gentle cycle with Orvus quilt soap.

What worked? Mix 1/2 teaspoon of Retayne with 1 cup of water. Soak the fabric for 20 minutes. Dry immediately. I used a hair dryer. The ink ran lightly during the soak, but there was no further running or fading after several washings. You can buy Retayne at many quilt stores and catalogs.

What didn't work? After all of the following treatments, most of the ink washed out.

  1. Heat setting alone.
  2. Spraying the fabric with Krylon fixative.
  3. Heat setting with Vinegar. I soaked a press cloth in 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water, wrung out the cloth, and used it to heat set the ink. The ink ran badly during the heat set.
  4. Vinegar soak. I soaked the fabric in 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water for 1/2 hour. The ink ran badly during the soak.

Other Alternatives

Iron-On Transfer Paper

With iron-on transfer paper, you don't print directly on the fabric. Instead, you print or copy the image onto the transfer paper then iron it on to the fabric. I used two different types of iron-on transfer paper. One that you can print on with an ink-jet printer, and one that must be used with a color copier. Both made bright and colorfast images on the fabric.

Transfer paper for Ink-Jet Printers

You can buy transfer paper for your printer from most office supply stores. I used  Iron-On Transfer Paper.  Doing the transfer properly can be a bit tricky. Be sure to apply a lot of pressure and heat the transfer evenly to get the best copy. The result can be stiff and slightly yellowed.

Before printing on the transfer paper, you must reverse any text. You can do this by saving the image as a bitmap and opening it in Windows Paintbrush. In Paintbrush, make a cutout of the image by dragging a box around it with the Scissors tool. Then use Pick-Flip Horizontal to reverse the image, and File-Save to save it to another file. You can also reverse the image (or just the text it contains) in other drawing and painting programs.

Transfer Paper for Color Copiers

You can buy iron-on transfer paper that must be used with a color copier from many quilt stores and catalogs. I used Photos-To-Fabric(tm) transfer paper (6 sheets for $18). Print the image on plain paper and take it to an office supply store that can make color copies. You don't have to reverse the text on your printout; you can just ask the copy center to make a mirror-image copy. Transferring the image to fabric is a lot easier with this paper, and the result isn't as stiff and yellowed as with the printable transfer paper.

Tracing with Permanent Ink

Another alternative is to draw over the image with permanent pens after you print it on the fabric. This produces a nice handmade look. I used Pigma Micron pens and brushes. Leave the freezer paper on the fabric until after you've drawn over the image. Draw with a light touch and be sure to heat set the permanent ink before washing the fabric. You can either fill in all of the colored areas completely or just trace and shade the outline. Before printing, you may want to lighten all of the colors in the image to minimize any bleeding of the printer ink.

Creating Images

You can create your images with any number of different programs, including drawing and painting programs (like Corel Draw), printing programs (like PrintShop), or quilt design programs (like Quilt-Pro). All of these programs come with many images and borders you can use. If you have scanner, you can also scan in an image and change it or add to it with one of these programs.

 

 

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