Saturday, August 7, 2010

Printing on Fabric: an idea whose time has NOT YET come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've been enjoying puttering in the studio this summer, working on a variety of small projects.  Many of these will become gifts, so I'm not talking about them yet.  I like doing things slowly and letting the ideas mature as the work progresses, so even the things I am working on are not ready for publication here yet.

I just finished a course at Quilt University titled Printing on Fabric.  I've been very impressed by most of the Quilt U courses, but not this one, which seemed to be light on content.  It did provide the impetus for me to experiment with this technique and use up the supplies that I bought when I took the OTHER Quilt U course on this topic, which also did not ring my chimes.

I'm going to sound like a cranky old lady here (oh wait!  I AM a cranky old lady!) but most of the quilts I see with photos on them leave me cold.  I'm sure they have meaning to the people who produce them, and that's really all that matters.  But aesthetically most of them look pretty crappy to me.  I'd rather have my photos in frames or scrapbooks, thank you very much.

So I decided to print topographic maps and aerial photos on to fabric.  I'm searching for a less cheesy title for this project, but the working title is "places of the heart".  I had a wonderful time selecting maps and images, and editing them down to the places I love:  McGonigle and Reily and Oxford in Ohio especially, and several of the places I have lived.  I mourn the loss of which used to have free topos of good quality.  Google is wonderful for the aerial images but somehow I can't seem to find decent topos anywhere online, at least not for free.

I have experimented with 2 different commercial fabric sheets (EQ Printables and Printed Treasures) and also made my own with Bubble Jet Set.  I have two different printers, one with pigment inks and one with dye  inks.  I included information about the printers, inks, date of printing as text below each image and I'll leave this info visible in the quilt I create so that I can track the performance as the quilt gets washed.  I plan to include a label on the back with a spot where I can write the date of each washing.

Even though I am not finished, I have come to one huge conclusion:  Printing on fabric is a BAD IDEA. 
  • Printers were not meant to do this.  They don't like it.  Fabric leaves lint down in their little bellies.  LOTS of lint, at least compared to paper.  I have run the head cleaning cycle on both printers DOZENS of times during this project, and one of them has still not recovered.
  • Fabric is not the ideal medium for photos or other images, at least not where printers are concerned.  They are NEVER going to look decent no matter what you do.
So for anyone contemplating printing on fabric, keep this in mind:  the quilting industry has one goal and one goal only:  TO SELL PRODUCTS.  All those magazine articles about printing on fabric are meant to get you to buy fabric sheets or the chemicals to produce your own.

You COULD ride your riding lawnmower to work, but just because you could does not mean that it would be a good idea.  You can print photos on fabric, too.   But I wouldn't if I were you.  And when this project is finished you can bet that I will never do it again.  I'm just hoping that I haven't permanently ruined the heads on my continuous ink systems.

Rant over.


  1. I print my labels all the time and it works well. But I use pretreated fabric (by the yard) from here:
    They have sheets too, but I buy 2 yards and it last a long long time.They don't seem to have any lint.

  2. Thanks, Wilma, I appreciate the advice and the link. How do they hold up with repeated washing?

  3. I've had these suspicions about printing photos on fabric and it's good to hear your experiences! Thanks for the write up.

  4. Well, try actually painting on the fabric. I've been doing it for decades and the results can be breathtaking.
    I like doing things slow, too, catching new ideas as the projects sit patiently waiting for me to catch up with them. I never know what I might come up with next. For now, I'm planning on making painted blocks for a quilt.


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