Textiles and Iron-On Transfers
What You’ll Need
- Inkjet printer with pigment inks (for printing directly on fabric)
- Ink-receptive fabric (e.g., cotton) or ribbon thin enough to feed through your printer
- Scissors or utility knife
- Loomtack, cardstock or other material to use as backing
- Double-sided tape
- Iron-on transfer paper
- Test fabric (because you’ll definitely make mistakes)
Tips and Tricks
You can’t print your own clothing (yet), but with the right supplies and some persistence, you can bring new life to old clothes with an array of printable designs. Printing on fabric is a bit of an art form, however, so we recommend starting with iron-on transfers and working your way up.
Iron-on transfer paper is readily available in office-supply stores, and creating your iron-on is as easy as picking a template (check out the available options from HP.com, for instance), or even selecting your favorite photo, and printing it onto the paper’s transferable surface.
You’ll need a hot iron – steam off, of course – to press the design into your fabric, after which you can wear it, wash it and show it off for as long as your creation lasts. Speaking of which: To get the most life out of your iron-on, you’ll want to launder your fabrics with the design turned inside out and hang them out to air-dry.
When you’re ready to make the jump to printing directly on fabric, be sure you have a printer that’s up to the task. Many inkjet printers use inexpensive, dye-based inks, which are perfectly fine for printing on paper but a disaster when you put them to fabric. Instead, look for pigment inks. These are colorfast, and they’ll give you the results you want.
Because your printer isn’t designed to handle pure fabric, you’ll want to give your medium something to stick to. Loomtack is a flexible, adherent backing that’s pre-made for just this purpose. You can also use sticky tape to attach your fabric to card stock, photo paper or another heavier-grade, printer-friendly backing.
Cut your fabric and backing to fit your printer’s width – if you have a printer that accepts spools of paper, you can also run a longer sheet of fabric or ribbon through – and print your selected design just as if you were printing to paper.
A few tips for making your fabric projects last:
- Tempting as it may be to set your print resolution to the max, some fabrics, such as cotton, invite bleeding. Experiment with resolution settings until you find the sweet spot.
- Keep some old T-shirts or fabric swatches handy so you can get familiar with your printer’s quirks first.
- Preserve your design by running over it with a cool iron to set the ink, and take care when laundering. As with iron-on transfers, you’ll want to wash your printed fabrics inside out to minimize fading.
Keep in mind that printing on fabric is an experimental technique, so expect some trial and error, as well as the potential for your printer not to work with fabric at all. If you are successful, however, you’ll find that printing your own textiles can be a rewarding, cost-effective alternative to relying on designer labels to give you just the right style.