07 Jun

Printing onto fabric

A good friend of mine and I were talking about different ways to personalise shoes and apparel. So behind the scenes, I have been experimenting with different print methods. I have tried to get one-off print jobs done but I couldn’t find people willing to print just one t-shirt, so, I thought, I would just do it myself.  I can hand paint onto fabric and this does last a long time but it also takes me a long time and I wanted to offer something else, a little cheaper. If you’d like to have a go yourself, here is a summary of my research so far:

Did you know that you can print your own shirts and bags using your printer and freezer paper? All you do is reverse the image, print it onto freezer/greaseproof paper and immediately (it has to be immediately) iron it to the shirt.  It lasts longer if you use a fixative substance like Retayne.  So simple, and a method available to anyone with a printer, and iron and some non stick kitchen paper.

Again using the printer you already own, you can buy photo transfer paper which like the freezer paper you print onto and then iron onto your choice of shirt, or even shoe.  It helps here if you have a clear image.  I used an image of a pug and it worked ok, but the colours looked a bit murky and on a t-shirt, there is a definite stiffness, a coating on the fabric.  I don’t know whether that was my budget printer ink or the method itself, or even if I needed a bit more practice but I felt that method was handy to know but not what I was seeking.  It has washed well, but cracked over time. I tried applying the image to a shoe but it’s kinda hard ironing onto a small curved surface and I messed it up.

Photo transfer medium lets you print onto normal printer paper and transfer it to your  desired surface.  This is an interesting method, with no irons involved and it works really well but does leave too much of a stiffness on the fabric which is not ideal for a fabric such as a t-shirt. It has not cracked in the wash though and the design lasted through different temperatures.   It would work better on an already stiffer fabric like denim , or on a bag, or even a wood block maybe. It’s a bit like a glue, you put the stuff on, pop the printer paper on, (following the instructions on the product) wait for it to dry and then rub the paper off. Magic!

I have wanted to learn about printing for a long time and have been eyeing up courses locally but they are prohibitively expensive and require early and daily attendance which is just not possible for a single mother.  Then by sheer luck, I stumbled across an online course called Learn How to Screen Print.  So I dived right in.  It’s an extremely intense course and requires a fair bit of familiarity with Adobe Photoshop, but I figured I could handle that. The learning curve is steep but right from lesson one , I realised that screen printing was the thing I had been looking for.

Before I had finished all of the modules I had built my own press for less than a tenner (and some wood I had round the house, I’m an inventor, I hold onto useful things), ordered a couple of inks, a screen and a squeegee and printed my first t-shirt using the stencil method, with a less than cheap but still very useful and eternally versatile Silhouette cutting machine.

Screen printing by hand is so satisfying and the waterbased ink I use is such a wonderful smell.   Unlike other methods or other inks, the waterbased ink becomes one with the fabric and lasts as long as the shirt does, with no peeling or cracking.

I think I’ve made every schoolgirl printing error now, so, if you know of any fixes to common mistakes or have tips on how to avoid them, please, let me know in the comments below.  They will be gratefully received.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.