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Whether you are learning how to make a photo quilt, or simply looking for a fun project, printing onto fabric can be recreational and educational. If you are the owner of an inkjet printer, you can easily print on fabric with various personalized designs. The process and techniques are similar to printing on paper and no special printing equipment is needed. The results can highly exceed your expectations.
Many quilters chose to print their own fabric on fabric sheets with inkjet printers to create personalized quilts with a special touch. Inkjet printers can be used to print small portions of the quilts, which the quilter can then combine to form a larger quilt.
Although printing a design onto fabric is fairly simple, there are a few tips and techniques to follow when you are preparing, selecting and printing designs onto fabric.
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Inkjet printers use two different types of inks: pigment and dye-based ink. Although both can be used for fabric printing, pigment ink is better suited to print on fabric. Dye-based ink is less costly than pigment ink, but colors react unpredictably on fabric, and can wash out entirely when the fabric is washed.
Pigment ink, although more costly than its counterpart, is used to print on a variety of different surfaces and will give a better finish to the printer fabric. You can determine whether your printer uses dye-based ink or pigment ink by referring to the printer’s manual.
Physical examination of the ink can also be used to determine which type of ink is used by the printer. When the printer cartridges need to be replaced, remove a small amount of yellow ink and place it on a piece of glass. Examine the ink for color variations. Pigment ink that is yellow will be vibrant but opaque. Dye-based ink with yellow dye will be transparent and somewhat brown in color.
Note: Remember that when you are printing a design with white spots, the white spots will end up being the same color as the fabric selected because some printers do not print white. Although this depends on the printer, it is important to choose the designs accordingly.
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Printing with inkjet printers at home allows for some great personalized pieces. Photographs, artwork and patterns can be customized as needed to print on the desired fabric. However, there are a few guidelines to follow when selecting the image to print on fabric. Understanding image resolution is necessary in order to select the appropriate images for fabric printing.
- Select a high-resolution photo if you are using digital photos, scanned artwork, or artwork you have created in image-editing software. A resolution of 300 pixels per inch or higher is enough to create a printed image that will not be pixilated when printed, which means the image will be clear when printed. Check the resolution by using image-editing software such as Photoshop. You can also change the resolution with image-editing software to the desired higher-resolution.
- If text will be printed on the fabric, ensure that the text is also set at a 300 pixels per inch, or a higher resolution, in order for the text to be readable when printed. You can select any desired font to print on fabric. If you are scanning your own handwriting, ensure that you have the proper resolution as well.
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There are various types of fabrics available for printing on fabric with inkjet printers. Quilt stores and specialty paper websites offer a selection of fabric that can be printed on, known as fabric sheets. It is important to consider the types of fabric you should select for the printing process. Ideally, 100-percent cotton or silk fabric should be used for inkjet printing. Rayon fabric can also be used.
Fabric can also be sold in rolls, which can be more economical than purchasing fabric pieces individually. Rolls come in a variety of widths including 8 1/2-inches wide or more, to accommodate different printers. The user then need only worry about cutting the fabric to the length desired, because the width is uniform along the roll.
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How to Prepare the Fabric
Before printing on fabric, the fabric itself must be prepared and treated. Treating the fabric allows the fabric to later be washed without removing the ink from the fabric, or resulting in faded ink.
- Bubble Jet Set
- Freezer paper
Step 1: Use scissors to cut the fabric to a size that is slightly bigger than the paper size your printer will accommodate. Although you will have to cut the fabric to the appropriate print size later, having a larger fabric piece will help with the preparation process.
Step 2: Soak the selected fabric in Bubble Jet Set solution. This product is sold commercially to prepare fabric for inkjet printing and allows the ink to remain permanently on the fabric. Remove the fabric from the solution after approximately five minutes.
Step 3: Allow the fabric to dry completely and place the fabric on a flat surface. Position the shiny side of a piece of freezer paper on the fabric. Iron the freezer paper onto the fabric to form a backing for the fabric. Avoid using steam when ironing the paper onto the desired fabric. Ensure that the fabric is smooth and wrinkle-free.
Step 4: Cut the fabric to a size that is slightly smaller than what the printer will accommodate. The most common size is 8 1/2-by-11-inches. Remove any stray threads from the fabric edges with scissors.
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How to Print
Once you have completed the fabric preparation, you are ready to print the selected design on the fabric with the inkjet printer of your choice. Although the actual printing process is fairly simple, there are a few steps to follow when printing on fabric.
Step 1: Print the design on a sheet of paper before printing your design onto fabric, to ensure that you are happy with the design and how it will be printed. Remove one of the papers from the printer’s tray and mark one side of the paper with a pen. Re-insert the paper with the marked side facing upwards. Print the design on the paper for a test-print.
Step 2: When the paper exits the printer, check if the pen mark is on the side the design was printed on or on the underside of the paper. This will allow you to determine which side to place the fabric on inside the printer. If the mark is on the underside of the paper, place the fabric in the printer with the freezer paper backing facing upwards. If the mark is on the design side of the paper, place the fabric inside the printer with the backing facing downwards. Ensure to remove all the paper from the printer and insert only one fabric sheet at a time.
Step 3: Print on the fabric with regular printer settings and controls. Allow the fabric to dry for approximately 30 minutes for the ink to set.
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- Printers used at home were not originally designed to print on fabric, which means that not all printers will print properly on fabric. Putting fabric through the printer can be hazardous and potentially damage the printer.
- Avoid using laser printers to print on fabric. Always use inkjet printers. The heat from a laser printer can melt the fabric sheet.
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Lewis, Andrew. “How-To: Print on Fabric with an Inkjet Printer”, http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2010/07/how-to_print_on_fabric_with_an.html
Hewlett-Packard. “Print on inkjet fabric sheets”, http://h71028.www7.hp.com/hho/cache/344435-0-0-39-121.html
Hanson, Gloria. "Inkjet Printing on Fabric", http://www.gloriahansen.com/articles.php?p=1&ID=3