How to Print on Fabric at Home

Unique prints on T-shirts, bags, caps, and other clothing items have become especially popular today. With the help of an image printed on a T-shirt, a person can, without saying a word, tell about himself, if not everything, then the most important thing.

You can buy a T-shirt or cap with the image of your favorite band, movie, or book character at any specialized store. Photos of a loved one or just a unique picture will help you apply in one of the many souvenir workshops. In the same article, we will look at how to print on fabric at home with our own hands.

Materials for Printing on Fabric

transfer paper iron printer

The process of transferring the image to the fabric is called thermal transfer. In the process, you will understand why. So, what is useful to us for printing on fabric at home:

  • Home printer (better inkjet printer),
  • Special transfer paper
  • Iron,
  • Base for drawing
  • Piece of matter.

Do not use ironing boards and metal, glass, or wood countertops as a desktop. For example, a marble slab is suitable. The main thing is that the material you will work on is heat-resistant.

Do-it-yourself Printing on Fabric

Now let’s proceed directly to the process of thermal transfer. First, you need to prepare the image for printing. If you do not own any graphic editors, such as Photoshop, and do not have time to master them, you will have to be content with ready-made pictures that you can download on the Internet.

When preparing a picture, it is essential to remember that a home printer is not capable of printing with white ink. All white areas of the image will be unprinted. That is, white during thermal transfer will acquire the color of the base. Keep this in mind when choosing an image.

If you have decided on the image, you can start printing. However, before that, carefully read the instructions on the pack of paper. The fact is that some types of paper transfer images in a mirror image, and some “as is.”

If you print only a photograph, it does not matter, but if there is text in the image, you should pay attention to this moment; otherwise, you can read the “message” on the T-shirt only with the help of a mirror.

If you decide to start printing on fabric with your own hands, consider that printing an image is only half the battle and the easiest one.

Professionals have a special heat press at their disposal, and transferring an image from paper to fabric takes them no more than 30 seconds. We have to be content with an ordinary iron and spend at best five minutes on the whole process.

Image Transfer to Fabric:

  • Cut around the perimeter of the image, leaving about a centimeter of the unprinted area around the edges.
  •  After that, lay the printout face down on the fabric and cover it with a piece of soft cloth.
  •  Next, carefully iron the entire surface with the most heated iron, especially in the corners, and let the fabric cool slightly.
  • If it is better not to hurry with the “ironing” procedure, then the second phase, on the contrary, should not be particularly long. Otherwise, removing the substrate without damaging the image already transferred to the fabric will be tough.
  • It should be noted that you are fortunate if you succeeded in printing on fabric at home the first time. But do not despair at the first failure.

The image applied in this way will last quite a long time and endure more than one wash. But such products should be ironed from the inside; otherwise, your print will “peel off.”

Drawing on Fabric Using a Printer

Time goes by, and technology changes. A couple of decades ago, such needlework was possible only with the help of Chinese stickers, which were not of high quality, quickly lost their original appearance, and wiped off. Today, to solve the question of how to make a drawing on fabric with your own hands, a home printer, a textile product directly, thermal transfer paper, and a household iron will help you.

Give up synthetic models to get a high-quality pattern and not ruin clothes. The iron will melt the fabric under the influence of high temperatures. Items that are at least 80% organic cotton are preferred.

The drawing process is quite simple:

  • You need to find a suitable image layout or create it yourself in a graphics editor, but do not forget that there will be a mirror image.
  • Transfer the design to a carefully smoothed thing, attaching a sheet of paper with the image down. To do this, iron the sketch with a hot iron for 1-2 minutes.
  •  To avoid damaging the paint, carefully remove the sheet of paper from the surface of the textile.

This is how you get a stylish update to your wardrobe in such a simple way. There is only one thing to consider when choosing thermal transfer paper. It comes in several varieties depending on the purpose. There are products for light and dark fabrics, as well as for different models of printers.

DIY Silk Screen Printing

Many of us are familiar with the relaxing effect of activities such as knitting, making homemade pizza, or reading a good book. It may seem strange, but applying silk-screen printing to kitchen towels can also relieve nervous tension and cause a feeling of calm and relaxation. We invite you to try yourself in this business to comprehend the basics of the art of creating screen printing.

To any inexperienced person in this matter, it may seem that screen printing (also called silk-screen printing) is an incredibly complex process that only specialists armed with special equipment can do. Not true! It turns out that you can create silk-screen prints without much difficulty at home.

So, let’s get acquainted with silk screen printing technology. In general terms, it looks like this: you cover the grid of the printing plate with light-sensitive ink and let it harden; when the surface painted with photographic emulsion dries, you place the image for printing on top of the ink layer and expose the whole structure under the bright light of the lamps. Cover with an image on top; the stencil screen will not harden as it is not exposed to light. Therefore, after you have “illuminated” and dried your printing plate, the unexposed photographic emulsion of the grid, which is under the image, will be easily washed off with water. In the form of a picture or text, this area is your stencil drawing. Bypassing the ink paste through it, you will get a clear screen print on a T-shirt, bag, or kitchen towel. Is everything clear?

Not Really? OK. Let’s Try to Explain Again with the Help of Photographs:

  • First, you need to decide on the picture, the print of which you would like to receive. As an example, we decided to focus on the image of the silhouette of a Christmas tree. For the first experience with screen printing, we recommend choosing large solid images without fine lines and small details. Images like this Christmas tree or lettering would be perfect for beginners.
  • You can print the selected picture on plain paper and then carefully cut it out or copy the image onto special transparent paper. In any case, remember that the picture must be LIGHT-PROOF. Try looking through it at a bright light source if you’re unsure if your stencil art isn’t showing through. If the rays of light pass through the image, it will not be sufficiently opaque to obtain a quality silk-screen print. We recommend printing another copy and superimposing the pictures on top of each other or coloring your sample with a black marker.
  • You will also need a frame with fine-mesh “silk” mesh stretched over it. Polyester is used as silk. Such a grid can be purchased in specialized stores. Make sure you buy 110 sizes of polyester screen mesh.
  • At this stage, we suggest you take advantage of the opportunity to choose: you either buy a ready-made frame with a mesh stretched over it or purchase a frame and several meters of polyester fabric and fix the material on the frame yourself. If you are fond of handicrafts, you can build a frame yourself.
  • To stretch the fabric on the frame, you can use a conventional construction stapler. The material is pulled tight, but not so much that the fabric spreads at the attachment points with staples.
  • After attaching the fabric to the frame, cut off the excess material around the edges.
  • To prevent the paint from spreading, glue the edges of the frame with tape inside and out. To do this, you can use ordinary electrical tape. Still, if you do not want to spend time scraping off the remnants of electrical tape from the surface of the stencil mesh, then it is better to purchase a special paper adhesive tape in the art store and use it.
  • Now that your stencil form is ready, it’s time to coat it with liquid emulsion. This is a special composition that reacts to light. Therefore, this stage of work should be performed in a darkened room. Leave the mesh impregnated with photo emulsion there until it dries completely. Attention! The stencil mesh should dry in a completely dark room. If you decide to dry the frame in a closet, make sure that light does not enter through the door cracks.
  • Usually, emulsion comes in two parts. This is the container you can see in the photo and a small bottle of chemical reagent that needs to be added to the container to activate its contents. Nothing supernatural. Instructions for use are attached. And it would be best if you shook the solution bottle several times vigorously.
  • The photographic emulsion is applied with a rubber scraper. You can use an existing scraper or buy a new one.
  • In a dark room, apply a photographic emulsion on a stencil grid. We recommend using the chemical composition from top to bottom, carefully painting over all areas of the mold surface.
  • Using a rubber scraper, the emulsion is applied to the surface of the entire mesh. Try to apply the composition in a good even layer, do not forget that this type of work must be carried out carefully and quickly. After using the photographic emulsion, place the mold in a dark place to dry. The frame should install horizontally, not vertically. Drying will take from one to three hours, depending on the thickness of the applied photo emulsion layer.
  • While the prepared stencil is drying, you can start setting up the exposure area. You can technically expose your shape to just the sun, but that comes with some risk. The fact is that the frame must irradiate for a certain time. If you overexpose the grid to light, you will not be able to wash off the photo emulsion from unexposed areas. If you underexpose, your image will not fix but will wash off the frame and the uncured emulsion.
  • The best way to do the exposure is with light from a 150-watt light bulb. Usually, the instructions for the photo emulsion indicate the time of ultraviolet irradiation of the grid, depending on its size. The instructions also provide the optimal distance between the light source and the exposed object. For exposure, photographic lamps are very convenient. Usually, they are equipped with special dome reflectors that help focus the light on the desired area. If you don’t have such a lamp, you can try directing the light using a metal cup or jar with a shiny finish or slightly increasing your image’s exposure time to the light.
  • In addition, a matte black stand is required for exposure, on which you will place your stencil screen. You can use an old board. A black piece of cardboard will work too.
  • After the exposure area is prepared, you can start cutting out the printed samples on the paper for silk-screen prints. You can cut out the picture’s outline with a special knife with a swivel head or use scissors.
  • Cover it with a dark cloth to block light and place it on your prepared exposure area when your screen is dry.
  • Place the frame with the grid on the black matte surface of the stand by placing the surface with the applied emulsion “face” to the light source.
  • Place your image on the grid in the REVERSE DIRECTION. Get your hands on the picture by rotating it the way you would like it to be placed on the T-shirt, then flip the picture over and place it on the stencil frame grid.
  • Press the image firmly against the grid with a clean piece of clear glass.
  • Turn on the light source.
  • The exposure time of our grid (dimensions 60×60 cm) was 35 minutes when exposed to a 150 W lamp placed at a distance of 45 cm from the picture. Depending on the size of the frame and the image itself, the exposure time to the light may be different. Perhaps your first exposure experience will be unsuccessful. Do not despair. Determining the correct exposure time for images can take some time.
  • Set a timer and leave your image alone. No need to press the glass or correct the picture. After the required time has elapsed, remove the glass and the cut paper sample. You will immediately notice the faint imprint of the image that appears on the stencil grid.
  • Take your frame to the bathroom and rinse with a good stream of warm water. Just point the showerhead at the stencil screen, and you will see how gradually, as the photo emulsion is washed out, the contours of the image will become clearer and the pattern itself brighter. You have just created your first silk-screen stencil. Impressed?
  • Place the T-shirt or any other item you wish to print on in the pre-prepared work area, protected from possible ink splashes.
  • Lay your newly made stencil on the t-shirt. The outer side of the frame with the stretched mesh should be in contact with the T-shirt’s fabric, and the sides of the frame will be at the top.
  • Layout the paint on top of the stencil. In our case, a mixture of black and white paint was used to achieve a deep dark gray tint. Remember that the paint will take on a darker shade than during staining when dry. Using a rubber scraper, apply paint to your image. There is no need to press down on the scraper trying to push the ink through the stencil onto the fabric’s surface.
  • Then, while applying pressure, slide the scraper over the image again in the same direction.
  • If you press down on the scraper with little force, the resulting screenprint will look slightly faded.
  • The harder you press on the scraper, the more saturated the printed image will be.
  • Dry the printed product. After the paint has dried, you need to fix the image by ironing it with a hot iron. The silk-screen print is ready. Agree that screen printing is not such a complicated process and the efforts spent on creating an imprint pay off with the pleasure received from work.
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About Tom

Tom is a blogger and artist who also loves technology. He spends his days blogging about the latest developments in the world of art, and he enjoys sharing his thoughts with readers on what it means to be an artist today. Tom has always been interested in technology - but it wasn't until he was 13 years old that he discovered how much fun making websites could be! Tom is a fun-loving, adventure seeking creative type. He enjoys reviewing art products and technology gadgets on his blog and has been doing so for over 5 years now! He spends most of his time in the studio, at the beach, or out exploring new places.

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