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Photos on Fabric

Photos on Fabric
Ideas, Projects and Supplies

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Would you like to personalize your quilts by adding a printed label or a photo? Do you like to make your own fabric foundations, such as Inklingo? Do you need just a little bit more of that long out of print fabric? It's easy to make it yourself using your home computer and ink jet printer. (A laser printer cannot be used with the techniques shown on these pages because it gets too hot.)

There are basically two different methods of printing photos on fabric, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

A sample of pictures printed on fabricThe first is Iron-on Transfer Paper . You print on these, then iron the resulting transfer onto fabric.  Results tend to be a bit stiff.  Choose photos that are clear and the background not too dark. Attach them to a piece of typing paper and have a color photocopier copy the pictures onto the paper. Use color no matter if the pictures are in color or in black and white. Copy them in reverse so any written images will come out in the right direction when they are ironed onto the material. Use a high thread count white cotton muslin. DO NOT PREWASH THE FABRIC!!! It will make a big difference in the quality of the final image. Finally, iron the image onto the muslin using a steam free iron and a strong arm. Refer to the package for more directions.

The second method is to print directly on fabric using your computer inkjet printer. You can buy fabric already prepared for this purpose such as Printed Treasures and Electric Quilts' Printables.  You can also make your own, using Bubble Jet set.

If you are going to print on fabric, we recommend Epson printers because they use archival ink.  Most Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers will work, but be aware that HP has currently released some new printers which can only achieve a 50% permanency rate. This new ink is placed in cartridge no. 10 and 11. If your printer uses cartridges 10 or 11, use a different printer for printing on fabric.  For more information, read this article by C Jenkins Company.

To print on fabric, first you need to load the item that is going to be printed on fabric (i.e. the picture, label or foundation block) into your computer.  The foundation block can be drawn in a graphic program, and the label can be typed in a word processing program, but a photo or piece of fabric must be scanned in. If you don't have a scanner, ask your local photo shop for assistance. Now all you need is the fabric (choose 200 thread count pima cotton or PFD muslin) adhered to a stabilizing foundation so it won't jam in your printer.

There are several ways to stabilize this fabric. You could iron it to the shiny side of a piece of freezer paper. Freezer paper is that wonderful stuff you can find in your grocers storage aisle or at a butcher shop. One side is paper and the other has a light coating of wax which melts when you iron it. It does tend to curl, so try to cut it into 8 ½" x 11 ½" sheets ahead of time. (Learn more uses for freezer paper here.) Flatten them under your cutting board for a few days, or press them to a pressing sheet . When ironing fabric to freezer paper, use a hot (1200 watt) iron on the hardest surface you can find. A cutting board works well.  If you are using pretreated fabric sheets, you can skip this step as it is already adhered to a stabilizing backing.

Quilters have been using freezer paper for years for designing stencils, making appliques, photo transfer backing, painting and myriad of other uses. Available in a pre-cut 8 1/2" x 11" size perfect for computer printing paper, these reusable sheets are specially coated for better adhesiveness to fabrics and to prevent rolling and curling. Works with very low heat.  Pay extra attention to the side that is going through the printer first - you want that side to be extra solidly adhered to the freezer paper.  Be sure to remove any stray lint, strings or threads. To avoid paper jams as the paper/fabric combination is being fed through the printer, try cutting off a small corner on both the right and left sides at the end that is going through the printer first.  Actually taping the fabric to the freezer on the edge that will be fed through the printer works well, too. 

Instead of freezer paper you could use Palette paper, available from your local art supply store, NASCO Art Supplies or Dick Blick's art supplies site. Choose Canson,  Bienfang or Strathmore Paper Palette palette papers. ProArt Acrylic Media Palette is made differently and won't work for this project. Avery 8 ½" x 11 labels work too, if you can get the fabric to stick without bubbles. It stays sticky through up to 10 applications.

Cut your stabilized fabric sheets to just shy of 8 ½" x 11" so stray threads don't get caught in the printer. Under your printer properties, set your printer to accept heavy paper, increase the amount of ink flow if you can, and set it for manual feed. (Do not use the photo ink, which is meant for paper.  Use regular ink, or Vivera ink if you have an HP.)  Feed the sheets one at a time. If your quilt is going to be washed, you should treat the fabric with Bubble Jet set. and Bubble Jet Rinse first. Let your project dry, put it in your quilt and BRAG!  (Learn more about how to use Bubble Jet Set here.)


Electric Quilt has just come out with a new product similar to Printed Treasures but with 6 sheets in a package.  You can print sharp, photo-quality images right from your computer to be used in your next quilt, quilt labels, pillows, scrapbooks, purses, clothing, and more.  Click here to order EQ Printables.

Electric Quilt also makes a version using lawn, a luxuriously silky cotton fabric with a thread count so fine that fabric texture will not be noticeable. First you scan in photos, flowers, love letters, or whatever. Then print, let dry, peel off the plastic backing and soak in cool water for 10 minutes. When the fabric dries, sew!  The warm white fabric makes photo- complexions glow. You'll be amazed at how beautiful your photographs look.  Use for those special wedding, anniversary and other memory heirloom projects that deserve the best! Complete instructions included. Washable and dry cleanable.  240 thread count, 100% cotton lawn, 6 sheets per package.  Click here to order EQ Printables in Lawn.

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EQ Printables Inkjet Sheets on Freezer Paper