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How To Print On Fabric: Different Methods Discussed

Creativity can come in many forms, and, for some, printing beautiful designs onto shirts or pillows is theirs. There are currently a few ways to print art onto fabric using various inks and techniques. If you want to get into fabric printing DIY, keep reading to find out how.

Digital fabric printing is the process of transferring inks to fabric or textiles. While this was a much more manual process, a streamlined and cost-effective digital take on the process began to flourish in the early 2000s. Printing digitally instead of traditionally has its perks, including:

Short Print runs

Traditionally, quality work and setting up for individual prints meant that printing businesses had to print many items to make the investment viable. However, digital printing removes many of those steps, lowering costs and enabling businesses to do short to medium runs of items to break even - doing trial runs. Sampling is a much easier process now.

High resolution, flexibility, and fine patterns

With advances in technology, it is possible to print clear images with sharp edges and intricate designs due to the accuracy of the transferral equipment. This ability means that creatives and artists can make their ideas come to life without holding back on details.

Higher quality and greater customization

By removing the extra steps, modern fabric printing leaves little room for error and makes it easier to change with the trends. Copying is exact, and you can get an exact color match or even change the color on a whim, leaving more choice for consumers and artists.

Reduced cost

A streamlined process that does not require individual screens automatically reduces costs in several areas, including:

  • Storage due to less stock
  • Smaller runs and trials are more viable
  • The setup costs are reduced or non-existent
  • Fewer mistakes mean less deadstock
  • Fewer delays
  • Faster samples
  • Less spent on bills from the manufacture
Less Waste and Eco-friendly

Any way to produce art without it harming the planet is positive. In the past, printing on the fabric used a lot of electricity and water, often leaving waste in the process. Modern methods use less water and electricity and create less waste, making it safer for the planet overall.

floral prints

Inkjet Printers Vs. Laser Printers

An inkjet printer sprays microscopic drops of water-based ink onto the fabric to create the print. On the other hand, laser printers melt toner powder onto the fabric to make the image.

Inkjet printers
Pros
  • Great for photos and image-heavy documents
  • Better at blending smooth colors
  • Low start-up cost
  • Suitable for many paper types, textured stationery, and some fabrics
  • Almost no warm-up time
  • Refill and reuse cartridges
  • Smaller and lighter home models
Cons
  • Expensive ink
  • Needs regular cleaning
  • Slower than laser printers
  • Low capacity trays – better for smaller or irregular prints
  • More expensive over time
Laser printers
Pros
  • Faster prints
  • Perfect sharp text, fine lines, small fonts
  • Better for high-volume jobs
  • Less wasteful
Cons
  • Long warm-up times
  • High upfront costs
  • Toner leaks are terrible
  • Not as flexible in terms of materials
  • Not best for photos

Which should you use? It depends on the projects you have in mind. Consider how much you will be printing, what types of designs you want to print, and what you can afford to see which type is right for you.

If you want to learn how to print on fabric, you can find various methods using a home printer below.


5 Most Common Methods of Printing on Fabric: DIY Techniques

1. Spray Adhesive Method - Creating Prints on Fabric

For those looking for a cost-effective and straightforward way to make prints on fabric, consider trying the spray adhesive method.

Supplies:

  • Spray adhesive
  • Fabric scissors
  • Plain cardstock
  • Pre-ironed muslin or light fabric
  • Roll of paper or newspaper
  • Computer
  • Inkjet printer

Method:

  • Cover your work surface with paper or newspaper
  • Place the cardstock on top
  • Lightly spray the adhesive onto the paper
  • Place adhesive side down onto the fabric, being careful to smooth any wrinkles
  • Trim around the cardstock with scissors
  • Insert the cardstock so the fabric will be printed on
  • Select your image and print it
  • Leave your piece to dry for 10 minutes
  • Peel the paper off of the cardstock
  • Soak in a vinegar bath for five minutes and air dry for more permanent ink prints
2. Freezer Paper Method - Printing on Canvas Fabric

A unique and cost-effective fabric printing method is to use freezer paper.

Supplies:

  • Freezer paper
  • Pre-ironed fabric or canvas
  • Iron
  • Scissors
  • Printer
  • Computer

Method:

  • Cut out approximately 8.5 x 11 inches of freezer paper
  • Place the shiny side of the paper fabric side down and iron until it sticks
  • Trim the fabric using a standard piece of paper as a guide, avoiding fraying the edges and overhang
  • Place in the printer, so the fabric faces the ink side
  • Select your image and adjust your printer settings to 'best photo' or similar, and print
  • Guide the fabric through if needed
  • Peel off the freezer paper
  • Set non-waterproof ink with a vinegar bath
3. Label Method - Printing Images on Fabric

Got many office labels? Try using them to print images onto fabric for a quick and easy DIY project.

Supplies:

  • Large white self-adhesive labels – one per sheet packs
  • Pre-ironed drop cloth
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Fabric scissors

Method:

  • Carefully stick the label onto the fabric, smoothing wrinkles out as you go
  • Carefully cut around the edges of the label, avoiding fraying the edges or creating an overhang
  • Put the fabric ink side up
  • Select your image and print, adjusting if needed
  • Let the pattern air dry
  • Peel off the label
4. Printable Fabric Sheets - Printing Designs on Fabric

If you want to streamline your fabric printing process as much as possible, consider picking up some photo fabric. This allows you to print any image you wish to onto cloth quickly and easily with little room for error.

Supplies:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Photo fabric
  • Computer
  • Printer

Method:

  • Print your required image onto the photo fabric according to the packet instructions
  • Leave your image to dry for around 10 minutes
  • Peel the backing from the fabric and cut out the image to your desired size
  • Iron the back of the image to make the edges as even as possible
5. Photo Fabric Printing Solution - Printing Photos on Fabric

Those who are not artistically inclined but want to give unique gifts, printing a photo of a loved one onto fabric can make for a good craft project.

Supplies:

  • 2 tsp alum
  • 2 ½ tsp washing soda
  • ½ tsp fabric softener
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 100% white cotton fabric
  • One large bowl
  • One sealable jar
  • Freezer paper
  • Fabric scissors
  • Printer
  • Computer
  • Iron

Method:

  • Mix the alum, soda, softener, and water in the bowl
  • Add fabric to the bowl and soak for 15 minutes
  • Wring out the excess as much as possible and dry. You can dry in the dryer or on the line.
  • Put the excess liquid into a jar and label it accordingly
  • Iron the fabric onto the shiny side of the freezer paper
  • Cut the paper to size using a standard piece of printer paper as a guide
  • Iron the piece again
  • Put the fabric through the printer ink side up and use the highest quality print settings
  • Cut the image to size
  • Remove the freezer paper from the back of the fabric

Best Fabric Types for Printing

For those looking for a cost-effective and straightforward way to make prints on fabric, consider trying the spray adhesive method.

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  • Cotton 
    Cotton is a natural, affordable material commonly used in t-shirts and other home items. While this is a versatile and eco-friendly option, you need to ensure that your cotton is pre-shrunk before printing a pattern onto it to avoid issues down the road. Cotton works best with water-based ink rather than other types.
  • Polyester 
    Polyester is a sturdy material that can survive many washes, dries quickly, and is very flexible. Typically used in sportswear, it is a light and breathable fabric that typically works best with vinyl or plastic ink rather than other types.
  • Rayon 
    Rayon is a synthetic derived from natural materials like wood and cotton. This casual or special occasion fabric feels like silk and can handle any printing style. The one major downside of rayon is that it is not made to last, which can cause issues depending on the project you have in mind.
  • Natural / Synthetic blend 
    Natural or synthetic blend material has the benefits of both cotton and polyester. It can handle any fabric printing method, absorbs ink well, and can hold its shape well over time. Natural/synthetic blend material is often used in printing transfers, speaking to its usefulness and versatility.
t-shirt

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What size is the printable fabric?

That depends on what your printer can handle and what you can afford. We recommend getting more fabric than your need and cutting it down to size.

What is heat transfer print?

Also known as thermal printing, heat transfer printing uses heat to transfer an image created in wax to a piece of fabric.


Conclusion

The only limit to creativity is your imagination. If you feel inspired to start some DIY fabric printing projects, we hope that this guide can help you bring those artistic visions to life.