How to Print on Fabric - Transferring Images to Fabric

Page content

Printing Images on Fabric

So you have that breathtaking photo from your recent vacation which you’d love on your t-shirt? Or a beautiful graphic just perfect for a personalized bag to gift your beloved. Or maybe a nice floral image for a unique pillow cover. Sigh…if only printing on cloth were as easy as printing on paper. Wait a minute…is it not so? Of course it is! The next few paragraphs will outline just how simple it really is. Read on, and be prepared for all the admiration that’ll soon come your way!

The Basics

There are two ways images can be transferred onto fabric

  1. Directly printing images on fabric using an inkjet / bubblejet printer.
  2. Printing images on ’transfer paper’, using any printer, and transferring them onto fabric.

Method 1: Direct Printing

The advantage of direct printing is that you are able to directly print on the cloth, due to which images are very crisp and clear, and the output quality depends only on the quality of the printer used and resolution of your image. The main disadvantage is that one can only print on sheets of fabric the size your printer would accept, which would mostly be that of an A3 or A4 sized paper sheet. Hence, direct printing on t-shirts or tops is not possible, and one would have to sew the printed photo onto the desired fabric.

What You Need

Here’s a quick list of things needed:

  1. An inkjet or bubblejet printer
  2. Freezer paper (paper with one side waxed)
  3. A sheet of fabric
  4. Scissors and a ruler
  5. A non-steam iron
  6. The image to be printed, at a resolution of not less than 300 dpi
  7. A computer or your camera (or scanner) which can directly connect to your printer

How to Directly Transfer Images onto Fabric

  1. Cut the freezer paper the size of an A3 or A4 sheet, depending on your printer (consult your printer manual for this).
  2. Cut the fabric to a size just shy of that of the freezer paper. Recommended fabrics are cotton (200 thread count pima cotton) or muslin.
  3. Place the freezer paper waxy side down over the fabric.
  4. Iron it on high heat so that the paper adheres to the fabric. Don’t worry if it crumples a bit. Its important to use a high power (around 1200 W should do) iron, and a hard surface as a base, for best results.
  5. Cut off any loose strands/thread from the fabric. Also make sure the fabric is tightly bound to the paper and that it’s not peeling off anywhere, as that may cause the printer to jam.
  6. Remove all sheets of paper from your printer tray and insert the fabric-freezer paper sheet in it, taking care to place the correct side-up. Depending on the make of your printer, you’ll have to either keep the fabric side up or the paper side up, though most printers would require you to keep the paper side up.
  7. Open your image on your computer and give the print command, preferably using the highest quality setting.
  8. Once printed, wait for a minute for the ink to dry completely. Peel off the freezer paper. Heat set the image by running it over with a hot iron.
  9. That’s it, you’re done! You can now use this printed sheet to either sew onto a dress, bag, pillow cover, photo memory quilt…you’re only restricted by your imagination! (There’s also a product called ‘Bubble Jet Set’ which can be used to pre-treat the fabric to make it retain ink much better. But as I’ve never used it, I’ll refrain from commenting on it here.)

Method 2: Transferring Images onto Fabric with Transfer Paper

With this method, you first print the image at a high resolution onto the transfer paper and then transfer it onto fabric by one of the following methods.

What’s Required

  1. There’s a special kind of paper called t-shirt transfer paper, which your local stationer might be stocking. Another product for the same use is called ‘Fabric glue’ or ‘stichless glue’.
  2. A non-steam iron

How to Transfer the Photograph onto Fabric

Transfer Paper Method:

  1. Print the image onto the transfer paper.
  2. Place the paper onto the fabric and iron using high heat and a firm hand. It’s important to apply pressure evenly and firmly for the best results. Again, make sure you have a hard base over which you’re ironing.
  3. That’s it!

Stitchless glue Method:

  1. Apply a generous coat of stitchless glue over the printed image.
  2. Place it on the fabric face down and allow the glue to dry.
  3. Peel off the paper, and you’re done! (There’s also a similar acrylic-based matte medium available.)

Precautions and Tips:

  1. Image resolution less than 300 dpi may result in pixelated (boxy) results. Most images downloaded from the Net are less than 300 dpi and may not be suitable for printing. But hi-res images from the Net, or images from your digital camera, or photos scanned at 300 dpi or higher would do just fine!
  2. Always take care to cut off any loose strands from the fabric before inserting into the printer. Not doing so may lead to messy paper-jam situations.
  3. Re-check the fabric is tightly adhered to the paper. Any peeling fabric could also cause paper jams.
  4. Make sure your fabric is not wrinkled or warped, as images won’t print properly on such fabric. Iron it out to make it smooth before printing.
  5. Remove all other sheets from your printer feed-tray. Only place the fabric-paper sheet in it.
  6. Always test-print on normal paper to make sure the image is coming out the way you want, before taking the final print onto fabric.