Beware: Printing on fabric with your inkjet printer

Well hello there! It has been a while since I posted on the blog. After my last post, I reached that point of overwhelm again when writing a blog post was the proverbial straw that… well, you know what I mean.

But I am back and this week I am returning to my Making Marks on Fabric series. Today I am road-testing printing on fabric with an inkjet printer.

This project started off so well.

Inkjet Printing on Fabric-3
Test prints on white cotton and calico. Notice the black marks across the top of the cotton where it didn’t feed well?

I got really excited about using my inkjet printer to make marks on fabric. But part way through things went horribly wrong. The printer jammed up and I found that loose threads that had frayed away from the fabric had got caught around the feed mechanism in my printer. With some fiddly work with a pair of long tweezers I managed to clear the debris in order to get the printer working but I fear that there will forever be cotton threads trapped in my printer. Surely not a good thing!

So, all in all, I conclude that this is a risky method for making marks on fabric! If you have a cheap, old printer to use for this purpose, you might still be interested in giving this a go. I will tell you how I did it but proceed at your own risk! Because I am not wholeheartedly recommending this method, I’m not going to set this out like my usual tutorials. Practically Functional has a tutorial if you want a more step-by-step method.

Inkjet Printing on Fabric-1
Reynolds Freezer Paper $19.95 for 12m. Ouch!

I managed to source some of the elusive freezer paper. A specialist sewing and quilting store near me called HobbySew stock not just one but two or three types of freezer paper. I bought a “50 square feet” (12.19m x 381mm) roll of Reynolds Freezer Paper for the bargain price of $19.95. A 150 square feet roll costs US$6.48 from Walmart. Humpf! However, this stuff has a number of craft applications so I think it will get used – eventually! Amusingly the crafting properties of this stuff are even listed on the box so the manufacturers have obviously twigged to the diverse demand for it.

A multitude of craft uses for freezer paper listed right there on the box!
A multitude of craft uses for freezer paper listed right there on the box!

Freezer paper has a plastic coating that, when ironed, adheres temporarily to another surface – in this case fabric. To get a floppy thing like fabric to feed through a printer, it has to be stiffened somehow. There are a few ways to do this (see my earlier post Ten fun ways to make marks on fabric) but freezer paper is simple – if you can get your hands on it!

Basically, you need to make a freezer paper backed piece of light coloured fabric the same size as the largest paper your printer will take, in my case A4. I cut a piece of freezer paper and fabric a little larger than I needed and then used a sheet of A4 paper as a guide to cut it down to size with a metal rule and rotary cutter. In theory, I could print a longer piece of fabric so long as it is the A4 width.

Create your artwork on the computer to fit the paper. In my case I created a Game of Thrones inspired dragon print with an image I bought from Adobe Stock. Go to your print settings and select the highest quality you can. You might also be able to select thick paper as well. Use the manual feed function of your printer to feed the stiffened fabric into the printer. Making sure the leading edge doesn’t curl was the most difficult part about this. I gave it a helping hand as best I could. Send your document to print and – hopefully – the fabric will come out the other end printed with your artwork. Now you can peel the freezer paper from the back of the fabric and you have successfully printed on fabric with your inkjet printer.

Now if you don’t plan to wash your finished item you can just go ahead and create whatever it is you want to with your fabric but anything that will be washed requires that the ink is set in the fabric. It seems that just vinegar is sufficient for this purpose so make a vinegar bath and soak your fabric for about 5 minutes. Rinse out the vinegar and dry your fabric and you are all done!

Inkjet Printing on Fabric-5
Wow! What a result! The beautiful image is from Adobe Stock.

I really loved the results of this method and, if it hadn’t nearly written off my printer, I’d be up for doing a whole lot more of this. I can imagine a whole lot of uses for it. However, I’m not going to risk my relatively new printer/scanner again but it is almost worth seeking out an old inkjet printer just for this.

So, if you are game to try this, I’d love to hear about it. I love Practically Functional’s tutorial for making your own fabric labels for your handmade goodies. But, please heed my warning, and don’t sacrifice your good printer.

Now, let me just go and have a look on Gumtree for a second-hand printer…

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4 thoughts on “Beware: Printing on fabric with your inkjet printer

  1. Elizabeth Rose says:

    I have been using an inkjet printer to print on fabric for over 15 years.
    One of the keys to success is having a rear feed on the printer so that the fabric/ freezer paper passes straight through, rather than using the duplex path and risk getting stray thread around the rollers.
    I currently have an Epson brand printer that has Durabright ink- it doesn’t need the ‘fixing’ with vinegar.
    Before that I had Canon brand printers and used a product called Bubble Jet Set to soak my fabric BEFORE printing.(It needs to dry before use.)
    Freezer paper- I have sourced it from a number of places over the years, including bringing back a box in my luggage from the US. The supplier I use now is Punchwithjudy. They are an online shop, based on a property near The Rock in NSW. They also have a stand at the various Craft & Quilt Fairs that are on in Australia. Melbourne is on at the moment, Canberra will be 11-14 August.
    I buy the packets of the cut sheets – it is from the US so the size is a little different to A4. This is more convenient and you don’t have to deal with the curl when it comes off a roll.
    I have used long strips off a roll and tha banner function to print long strips.
    Liz in QBN

    • Blue Radish says:

      Thanks for that great info Liz. This process is definitely worth investigating further given the lovely results it produced.

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