How to Print on Cotton Fabric

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Print images on cotton fabric with an inkjet printer.
Print images on cotton fabric with an inkjet printer. (Image: The printer image by vin5 from Fotolia.com)

Print photos and text onto fabric to create a permanent and washable image for use in quilts and other projects. You can buy printable fabric sheets to use in an inkjet printer at many fabric and craft stores, or you can print on cotton fabric with homemade printable fabric sheets. Use 100% cotton fabric with a thread count of at least 200, and pretreat the fabric with an ink fixative. Use either freezer paper or a label sheet to stabilize the fabric for printing.

Things You'll Need

  • 100% cotton fabric
  • Ink fixative
  • Iron
  • Firm ironing surface
  • Scissors or rotary cutting tools
  • Freezer paper or full-sheet adhesive label
  • Ruler
  • Lint roller
  • Wallpaper roller (optional)

Prepare Fabric

Pretreat your fabric with an ink fixative product, per the manufacturer’s directions.

Preheat your iron to the cotton setting and press your pretreated fabric smooth. Do not use steam.

Cut a piece of ironed fabric to 9 1/2 by 12 inches.

Freezer Paper Backing

Cut a piece of freezer paper to 9 by 11 1/2 inches.

Lay your fabric wrong side up on a firm ironing surface. Lay the freezer paper shiny side down, centered on the fabric.

Pour the water out of your iron, if necessary, and preheat to the cotton setting. Move the hot dry iron across the freezer paper from the center to the edges to adhere the paper to the back of the fabric. Turn the piece over and iron the fabric side.

Cut your fabric sheet to 8 1/2 by 11 inches.

Adhesive Label Backing

Lay your label sheet face down on a firm surface. Peel back a two inch strip of backing paper across one end of the label sheet. Fold the loose backing paper against itself and crease the fold.

Lay your fabric wrong side up on a firm surface. Center the exposed adhesive edge of the label sheet, sticky side down, 1/2 inch from one end of the fabric and smooth into place with your hand.

Place one hand atop the fabric-bonded end of the label sheet. Reach between the fabric and label, and grab the loose strip of backing paper with your free hand. Peel the backing paper away from the label sheet while simultaneously smoothing the fabric into place with the other hand.

Turn the piece over. Slide your hands firmly across the fabric from the center to the edges, or use a wallpaper roller, to remove air bubbles.

Carefully trim the edges of the fabric even with the edges of the paper backing with scissors or rotary cutting tools.

Finish the Fabric Sheet and Print

Gently roll a lint roller across the fabric to remove lint or stray threads from the surface. Cut away protruding threads from the edges of the fabric sheet, if necessary.

Place the fabric sheet in your printer with the fabric side positioned as the print surface. Set your printer quality properties to “Best” and print.

Allow the ink on the printed fabric sheet to dry thoroughly. Remove the paper backing and wash, rinse and/or iron the sheet as recommended by the ink fixative manufacturer, to set the ink.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use white or off-white fabric for best results.
  • Neither freezer paper nor label sheets leave residue on the fabric once removed.
  • Use fabric sheets immediately, or store prepared sheets flat until ready for use.
  • Use full-sheet ink jet or laser printer labels; copier labels do not adhere well to fabric.
  • Labels smaller than a full-sheet size may peel off during printing and damage your printer.

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