Inkjet Printing on Fabric

I mailed one of my new no-sew fabric postcards to a Postcrossing friend in Italy. In her profile she talked about her passion for creating handmade things including sewing and découpage, and said that she’s always looking for new techniques. 
Wood hyacinth fabric postcard

Wood hyacinth fabric postcard

When she got the postcard she asked for the link to my blog to find out more about printing on fabric. I found an old post that gave an overview but not much concrete info, and it’s high time for me to give you a full-fledged post with the basics of my favorite art process. After you read this if you’re itching to learn more, please check out my Inkjet Printing on Fabric ebook or online workshop.
Printing fabric
Printing on fabric with your inkjet printer isn’t hard, but knowing a few things before you start will save you lots of time and money. There are two main components: your printer and the kind of ink it uses, and the fabric you’re printing on.
First: inks. To get the lowdown on the difference between dye and pigment inkjet inks and why that matters in printing fabric, go on over to CraftArtEdu to watch my free basic workshop about inkjet inks. Or here’s the really quick version: dye inkjet inks are not colorfast or waterfast, so they fade over time and run when exposed to moisture. Because pigment inks are colorfast and waterfast, they are by far the best option for printing on fabric.
Fabric printing color shift dye ink

Dye ink prints: colors fade and shift

Second – you need to choose what kind of fabric to print: (1) untreated, (2) fabric that you treat yourself, or (3) pre-treated commercial fabric. There are pros and cons for each, and what you want to use the fabric for is a factor, but in this post I’ll tell you about commercially pre-treated fabrics, because they’re the most versatile and give the best results for most purposes.
Untreated vs pre-treated fabric

Untreated vs pre-treated fabric

Pre-treated fabrics are backed with paper or plastic to stiffen them so they’ll go through your printer without crumpling up and jamming your printer. You want the fabric sheet as flat as you can get it so the edges don’t catch as the printer heads go back and forth, which can make the fabric shift or leave ink on the edges.

Fabric shifted in printer

There are a lot of different ways to flatten fabric — some tips: try curling it the other way by hand, flattening the sheet under a stack of books, or ironing it.

With so many pre-treated products to choose from it’d get expensive fast to sample them all to find the ones that work best for you. I advise starting out with a few that let you buy small quantities so you can test and compare. I’ve tried most of them, and my favorites for printing with pigment inks are Cotton Satin and Cotton Lawn by EQ Printables. The fabric feels wonderful and the quality of the print is great. In my opinion the plain EQ Printables (the package says only “Inkjet Fabric Sheets”) is not worth the money, so make sure the packages are either the Cotton Satin or Cotton Lawn. I also like June Tailor’s Colorfast Sew-in Inkjet Fabric. It’s stiffer than the EQ but the print quality is great and the stiffness can be ideal for certain projects: I use it for some of my fabric postcards and a lot of my home decor creations like fabric vases and bowls, covered light switch plates, etc.

Fabric vases

Fabric vases

After printing all you have to do is remove the backing from the fabric sheet. If you’re using pigment inks there’s no need to heat set or wash; you can use it right away in your sewing or other art projects. However, even though the fabric will feel dry to the touch, it actually takes quite a while for pigment inks to thoroughly dry. If you don’t need to use the fabric right away you’ll get best results by putting it aside for a week or so.

That’s it for the basics! If you want to learn more this is the link to my blog post about my ebook “Inkjet Printing on Fabric.” My website has a page with links to all of the different options to find my ebook, including the kindle version where you can see a preview of the book.

 Or click here to go to my online workshop on CraftArtEdu, which also includes a free preview.

Lars quilt

Lars art quilt, made with different kinds of printed fabric

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Inkjet Fabric Printing – step by step instructional ebook

I just finished my very first ebook, on my most favorite subject: inkjet printing on fabric.  After writing an extensive booklet for the workshops I’ve been teaching, I decided to put it into ebook form so people who can’t come to my workshops could get the same information.

Inkjet fabric printing ebook

I take you through the entire process to quickly and successfully begin printing fabric on your inkjet printer. You will learn about types of inks, differences between treating fabric yourself or printing on pre-treated fabric, how to prepare fabric for printing, printing the fabric, post-printing treatments, and more.

The information and tips I’ve learned over years of printing on fabric will save you hours of time and much wasted ink and fabric. I have included many illustrations, questions and answers, and trouble-shooting tips.

Illustration: peeling off backing

Illustration: peeling off backing

There’s even a gallery of my original fabric creations to spark your imagination and creativity.

Gallery: butterfly art hanging

Gallery: butterfly art hanging

There are many books on the market about printing on fabric, but because the technology is moving so quickly, a lot of them are outdated. My guide is up to date, and I will revise it as often as needed to reflect changes in the field of inkjet fabric printing. Also, most of the books give general information that might not apply to your personal printer/ink setup. I tell you how to figure out what kind of inks your printer uses, and I can also answer by email personalized questions about your setup, or other problems you run in to when you print fabric. I also discuss the pretreated fabrics that are available commercially, and share the results of my extensive experimentation with printing using the different inks.  In the second edition of the ebook, now available, I added information about using two great products with fabric, inkAID and Golden Paints Digital Grounds (both coatings that make any surface inkjet printable.)  I’ve written a lot in this blog about Digital Grounds, and I wanted to expand the book to include these coatings – most appropriate for art fabric uses.  I also deemphasized the use of Bubble Jet Set 2000, a liquid solution that is the most common product used by people who want to treat fabric themselves for inkjet printing.  BJS contains formaldehyde, and I know a lot of people are concerned about any potential danger.  If you’re interested in the subject, the manufacturer addresses the issue in an article (read it by clicking here).

My ebook is in the format of a PDF file, which you can open and print using Adobe Reader.  I’m offering it through my etsy shop or lulu.com for $10.  Click here for the link to my ebooks section on etsy. If they are sold out and you would like one, please let me know and I will post more copies.  Or click here to see a preview and get it through my lulu shop.

More fabric printed by spoonflower

For my second order from spoonflower.com I decided to have them print a few large images on a yard rather than a tiled, repeating pattern.  My cousin had ordered a pillow from me months ago, and I was dragging my heels on it because I couldn’t  print it myself as large as she wanted.  This is the image she wanted:

Photograph of an angel's trumpet flower

Photograph of an angel's trumpet flower

I took this photograph of an angel’s trumpet (brugmansia) flower in our back garden.  I amped up the colors a bit and took out some detail, then smudged the lines to give the image a dreamy effect.  I used it for the front of one of my Open Studio postcards, and my cousin loved it.

I resized the image to 12 by 16 inches and had a friend convert it into LAB space for me, because I didn’t have Photoshop at the time.  As I mentioned previously, my cherished Photoshop Elements doesn’t have the capability of converting to LAB space.  It turns out that of course I couldn’t do anything with the converted file other than send it as is to spoonflower, because Elements wouldn’t open the file in LAB.  So my plan to address the colors that were out of gamut in LAB space didn’t work out.  As you can see from the picture above, the colors are quite vivid, and a lot of them were out of gamut.  I  decided to send the file as it was to spoonflower, to see what happened.   To fill out the entire yard I included some other designs that I planned to make into pillows or sachets.

This is how the fabric with the angel’s trumpet image on it turned out:

Angel's trumpet flower fabric

Angel's trumpet flower fabric

I’m satisfied with it, especially for the price.  The colors aren’t quite as they are in the file, but they are nicely saturated, which was the effect I wanted for the pillow.

This is how the pillow turned out.  The second pillow is also for my cousin, it’s my ‘Iris & Bromelia’ mandala design.

Pillows from spoonflower fabric

Pillows from spoonflower fabric

I know I keep mentioning the price in relation to spoonflower. If I wanted fabric printed that looked as good as it can on high quality inkjet paper, I would have to pay far more to do it myself with some of the very high quality treated fabrics, like EQ Printables or Colortextiles.  But then this pillow would end up costing far more than I want to charge.  As it is, I don’t sell many of the smaller pillows I make from pretreated 8.5 by 11 inch fabric, I suspect partly because of the price I set for them ($30).

I made another pillow from one of the other images that I included on this same yard order.  Here’s the image:

Butterscotch rose kaleidoscope

Butterscotch rose kaleidoscope

This is one of my favorite kaleidoscope designs, which to me evokes the Arts and Crafts style.  I started with my photo of a butterscotch rose in our garden and cropped it so that kaleidoscoping it put the edges of the rose together, and created a simple geometric design from the foliage and stem. The color of the rose is true – the rose is a rich, saturated caramel color that gets a tinge of blush as it ages.

I had spoonflower print it to about 8 by 14 inches.  Here’s the pillow I made from the fabric:

Butterscotch rose kaleidoscope pillow

Butterscotch rose kaleidoscope pillow

Again, I’m satisfied with the fabric.  The colors are a little bit out of gamut, which is my fault because I didn’t address that before I sent the file to spoonflower.  The resolution isn’t as sharp as the fabric I print myself, which matters more to me than the colors.

I haven’t spoken to the hand of the spoonflower fabric.  At this time, spoonflower only offers printing on Moda cotton.  Their blog states that they’re going to be adding more fabrics,  but that hasn’t happened yet.  I like the fabric for pillows.  It’s a nice tight weave, which is very good for detail.  It’s soft but has substance.  And it was a dream to sew.  I have found that some of the pretreated fabrics I use are hard on my sewing machine needles.  When I need to sew several layers, or have used stabilizer or timtex for a fabric vase, I can have trouble getting the needle through.  I have even broken some needles when sewing purses.  None of those problems with the spoonflower fabric.

I had some more images on that yard, stay tuned….!