Direct Fabric Printing
with a Computer
I have done two articles on using computers to print on fabric. The other article is about Transfer Printing on fabric - click here to read it. In transfer printing you print images onto an intermediate special transfer paper and then that paper is used to print on the fabric. There are transfer print papers for ink jets and also for color copiers.
Direct Printing on Fabric:
When doing Direct Printing the fabric itself is run through the computer as if it were paper. The printing is done directly on the fabric with the computer inks. In the "old days" (just a few years ago) there were no color printers at all and some fabric was printed using only black images, line drawings or text with laser printers or with dot matrix ribbon printers. This may still be of interest for printing line drawings or labels. There are some links here on using these inks or toners. Color laser printers are dropping in price and will form permanent images on fabric if heat set with an iron. But, you risk voiding the warranty on an expensive laser printer, so use caution.
Quilters struggled to figure out how to get the new color ink jet printers to work on fabric. The problem was that the inks used in ink jet printers (sometimes also called "bubble jet inks" due to the Bubble Jet name Canon uses for their ink jet printers) are water soluble and not fast to washing and so the color would not stay in the fabric.
Various experiments were tried to keep these inks from running and fading from the fabric. People tried acrylic sprays or silicon, but this was never very successful.
But a solution was on the the way!
Bubble Jet Set Arrives:
In 1999 a new product began being talked about on various quilting and textile arts mailing lists and newsgroups called "Bubble Jet Set" (often called simply BJS by quilters). BJS had been developed by a necktie manufacturing company (see the link further down this page to the company's web site) for their custom-printed, unique neckties of silk or cotton. The Jenkins Company started to sell the "magic potion" and called it Bubble Jet Set. A newer, better version was introduced the next year "Bubble Jet Set 2000" and is still being used and sold (in 2006).
The method of use is simple: a piece of fabric, precut to a size suitable for your printer (usually 8.5" x 10") is soaked in the liquid and hung to drip dry. The treated fabric is ironed and then ironed to a backing of freezer paper to help stiffen it to allow it to be run through the printer. Any loose threads should be trimmed to prevent them from catching in the printer mechanism. The sheet of stiff fabric is run through and printed with the image. See the manufacturers' recommendations and the tips on Caryl Bryer Fallert's site here as well for further techniques and tips.
Links to Direct Printing
& Bubble Jet Set information:
I'm dividing the information below on Direct Printing into B-BJS and A-BJS (that is, Before-Bubble Jet Set and After-Bubble Jet Set). It's rare that a single product makes such an impact on a textile technique, but this is a unique addition. There will likely be other types of procedures soon for printing directly on fabric (including new types of inks, perhaps thermal inks, and other fabric treatments) - but for now - this is it. I'm expecting as the prices come down on color laser printers that we'll see more of their use in fabric printing.
Techniques pre-1999 (B-BJS Before Bubble Jet)
- Connie explains how to mount fabric on freezer paper
- Dawn's Pages on using Krylon fixative
- Planet Patchwork Review of The Quilter's Computer Companion by Judy Heim and Gloria Hansen, Judy is very interested in computer printing on fabric.
- Photocopying onto Fabric (thanks to Brenda Groelz)
A-BJS (After Bubble Jet)
- Caryl Bryer Fallert's Extensive Information - lots of help here on using BJS and a place to buy it - see the MENU of Information part way down the page
- C. Jenkins Neckties - the manufacturer of BJS and Bubble Jet Rinse
- Rosie's Calico Cupboard - sells BJS and is posting comments on use.
- Soft Expressions has tips on using BJS and also sells it.
- Dharma Trading Co. - sells BJS as well as transfer paper and other textile dyes & pigments.
- Needlecraft Distributors - A New Zealand source with page of how-to illustration
Other Products for printing on fabric
©2000-2005 - copyright Susan C. Druding
last updated 03/19/2006