A simple guide to inkjet printing on fabric

Designing a fabric of my own – that is a dream come true. My home inkjet printer seems the most easy and viable option for me to print the designs I have conceptualised onto fabric . I print on paper almost daily on my printer and it is as easy as using the shower and the colours are vivid enough. It seems a no brainer to me that I can similarly print on fabric. So Easy. But I can’t be more wrong.

 

The two main problems in inkjet textile printing with your home inkjet printer are fading and bleeding, other than the obvious problem of fabric being floppy and soft to go thorough the printer.  The new age printers with special water resistant fabric inks donot bleed much but fading is a REAL problem. Of course if you are making one-off things like for a poster or a collage or for making a bag which would not be washed it is ok; but for making things that lasts on your home printer – very difficult

I have read that with each printer, even among models, the results are different. So one method that works for a person maynot work for another with a different printer model and ink from the same printer company. You have to take this into account as well as many other factors like the fabric and ink used, image used and use of the work before embarking on the exciting method of printing your own fabric

The advantages of inkjet printing as mentioned in this study  are  extensive -higher availability for short-run production, no screens needed, photo-realism with precise details, simpler pattern modification, less waste water, higher production speed, and partial replacement of traditional printing. If only this is applicable at home, on my printer.

textile printing on inkjet printer

Inkjet textile printing.

What do you need for  printing on fabric at home

1. A computer with images  or photos for printing

2. Inkjet Printer ( cannot use laser printer ) Canon, HP, Kodak, Epson.

3. Fabric prepared for printing 

6 Optional : An ink fixative spray that  protects computer prints from smudging ; brown paper for ironing 

How to select a printer that  prints on fabric

You can print fabric on any inkjet print – but with varying results. Printers vary, inks used vary – all affecting the final outcome. Even different models of the same company produce different fabric printing results. 

Some  printers have settings for fabric built into them ( like some models of  Epson printers )  they have water resistent pigment inks (though  water resistant  inks doesnot mean that they are water proof. The ink will fade somewhat after many washes, if not at the first wash)

Pigmented ink & dye-based inks are used in inkjet printers. Pigmented dyes are vivid and donot fade so much with time but they are also susceptible to washing. But as they are designed for fade resistance and long print life they are better than  Dye based inks which fade very fast.So look out for a pigment based inkjet printer

 

How to use inkjet printable fabric

You can follow any of the following methods to prepare your fabric so that it is suitable to pass through the inkjet printer.

1. Use Fabric sheets specially designed for printing ( available in cottons, linens, nylons, polyester and silks) These are Specially treated  fabrics with a paper backing. They are water-resistant, although not necessarily washable/ dry cleanable. If you wash them expect some fading

There are fabric sheets called procoat which are waterproof &  machine washable – but they need special inks (reactive, acid, or disperse dyes) and a steamer. Color is fixed  by either heat pressed, steamed in a steamer or colandered

To make silk scarves you can use pretreated silk available ; they need to be printed and then steamed. I have no idea about the colour fastness. They are not supposed to be washed I assume.

2. Freezer paper  &  Cotton fabric (medium weight plain fabric with no designs) – this is a DIY solution to make fabric suitable to be printed.( Checkout the post on making stencil for  making your own freezer paper from printer paper and plastic garbage bags)

3 The fabric is coated with a special solution . This will make the fabric stiff like you have applied the freezer paper and this fabric will be better able to keep colour.Iron(dry iron)  fabric sheet after the solution has dried to make it smooth.

 

How to make the fabric colourfast

To ensure that the colours on the fabric would not fade later you can try any of the two methods described below

  • Immerse fabric in a special commercial formula (  a liquid used to precoat  surfaces making them receptive to inkjet ink) for 10 minutes (as per instructions on package) and allow to dry. This formula is available in shops ( like the brand Bubble Jetset) .
  • Then there is this home made formula – You will have to checkout this  post for the diy  idea. It is used the same way that is described in the previous point – the fabric is soaked in this solution before printing . Dry throughly and iron smooth.

Cut the fabric and freezer paper or fabric sheet to the size suitable for your printer or according to your design . I would cut it  a tad smaller than the standard A4 size paper for my printer – 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches long .

Keep the fabric piece on the shiny side of the freezer paper. Iron in place .

How to print fabric with the inkjet printer

Step 1.

Go to pixabay.com or any free photo sharing site and select a free photo you want to print on fabric  or take your own original photographs. Transfer and save it to your computer .

Make custom changes to the photo. You can layer images , add letters or messages, give a border or  leave white space for embellishing. You can enhance the photo in many ways – go to any of  the photo enhancing sites or apps  and make your image brighter and better as well before printing or Make the  necessary modifications to the image in your computer using a program like Photoshop  or free online platforms

You will need to crop the image to the A4 size or whatever is your printing area.

Ensure that the photo is having a good resolution. You cannot expect a small photo you saved from a random site to print out with great clarity. Ensure that a minimum resolution for your printer  is maintained  for best output . Checkout the post here for more on this. – My take away from this ”  240-360ppi for your average professional grade ink jet printer will be sufficient for the vast majority of prints viewed within a couple feet.” Most photos available on the net are low resolution images and will make for horrible prints.

Step 2

Select the best photo setting on your printer properties. Test print on paper to see that the photo is set the way you want it

Step 3

Place the fabric on your inkjet printer the same way you would a sheet of paper. I would load the fabric sheet face down on my printer . The setting in your printer may be different. Refer to the manual or do as you do with paper. 

Make sure that you keep only one sheet on the tray at a time.

Print the image onto the fabric. Donot try to force the movement of the printer by pulling at the fabric – this will distort the image that is being printed.

Step 4

If you are using freezer paper,wait till the image is fully dry before removing the freezer paper. You can keep aside this freezer paper for further usages

You have to heat set the colour on the fabric by ironing . Wait for the ink to dry for atleast  a couple of hours ( or as per the instructions on fabric sheets if you are using them). Waiting for one or two days is ideal.

Keep a sheet of brown paper between the iron and the fabric or iron on the reverse side of the fabric. The temperature used on the iron should be the hottest the material can withstand, without scorching or burning the material.Pass the iron over the fabric from one side to the other ensuring you do not hold it still in any area.

If you intend to use the printed fabric for a project  which will be washed a lot,  wash the fabric it a couple of times before using it 

Step 5

Coat the fabric to prevent fading (optional step)

To make the ink somewhat permanent many experts recommend spraying  the image with a fixative spray( many such sprays are available at stores) ; don’t spray on too thick, but a couple of thin layers.

There are many diy ideas floating around like using a salt bath or a vinegar bath to set colour and prevent fading which may or maynot work. 

Another idea is to use a neutral ph PVA glue and water solution  to set the colours, depending on the use of the fabric. When brushing the glue solution it looks as if you have applied white paint over your printed photo, but it will dry clear. But the plastic feel of the glue coating (slight gloss and slippery surface and somewhat stiff) may put you off or maynot be the effect you want

 

Whatever you have printed or however you have done it, wait at least 24 hours before you use it. Generally fabric printed on inkjet printer is better not washed. But if you want to wash it hand wash the garment or machine wash on a gentle cycle in cold water and mild soap.Avoid direct exposure to light and expect fading over time. 

As already said, printing on fabric is not easy. There are many pitfalls you and your fabric can fall into – like your old refilled cartridge inks creating a blotched up job on your precious fabric piece,  or the fabric getting stuck inside the printer and all the tugs in the world  not getting that one out unlike the flimsy paper you always manage to get out, albeit with a tear or two or your  photo ending up looking like  your  grandmother’s.

If you can tolerate one or all of these consequences  you can go ahead and explore all those unlimited possibilities of printed fabric – like a pre printed fabric for embroidery. 

 

 

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Comments 4

  1. How about the opposite? Are there any special water soluble inks for printers that can be easily erased. I
    I’d like to print patterns for quilting that could then be transferred to the quilt top and easily removed after quilting (like a water-soluble marking pen). quilting through the paper is problematic and specialty water soluble interfacing is expensive. I’m hoping to find an ink-based solution or a way to treat inkjet ink so that you don’t risk staining the quilt top

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi James
      There are pigment and dye-based inks. pigment inks are fade resistent. dye based inks fade faster and much more faster with exposure to sunlight. But frankly I have no idea whether it will completely dissovle and disappear with washing. But I totally get you. printing with water dissolving inks on fabric would have been great

  2. Thank you for posting this article. I’ve used the freezer paper/cotton fabric method with my inkjet computer for printing out my own labels. I’ve had good results with a product called RETAYNE to help control bleeding of ink on the fabric. For very small projects, the solution of salt and white vinegar also worked well for me when Retayne was not available. After rinsing the printed fabric in a salt and white vinegar solution, I air dried it, and then carefully pressed it with a hot iron, using a pressing sheet..

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Judy, I read about Retayne – glad to know it works . Salt and Vinegar is what most people would have in their homes though. Thanks for the tips

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