Ink Jet Printing on Fabric

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I’m working on a project right now that requires some fabric printing, so I got out the bottles of Bubble Jet Set 2000 and Bubble Jet Rinse this morning. I’ve had fairly good luck with this type of thing in the past, but I always dread going down this road because it’s kind of a PITA to mess with it all, so it’s been sitting here waiting for me to get motivated for a few days. I got to thinking today about why it feels like such a pain, and I guess the biggest thing is the soaking fabric/liquid mess to deal with.

Fabric Printing Supplies

First it’s drag all the bottles and fabric to the kitchen, and dig up a pan that’s big enough. The fabric is supposed to be soaked flat in the pan, so a fairly large pan is necessary since it’s likely that you’ll end up printing on a regular 8½ x 11″ sheet that fits in the printer. I don’t really have a pan that’s that big with tall enough sides that I’m not going to slop the liquid all over when it’s time to pour it back into the bottle, so I end up using something smaller and folding the fabric in half for soaking.

After soaking, then I have to find somewhere and somehow to drain the fabric off a bit until it’s not too drippy, and I usually just stand there and hold it above the pan with tongs until I feel like I can spread it out on a couple of paper towels to dry without making a total mess all over. The leftover solution can be reused, so then it’s time to get a funnel out and try pouring it back in the bottle without dribbling it everywhere off the side of the pan, which is usually only moderately successful. The pan and tongs and funnel then need to be run through the dishwasher so that they’ll be safe for food use once again.

Even after all that, there’s still the rest of the process to tackle: once the fabric is dry, it has to be ironed to freezer paper and trimmed to pinter size. When I run it through my HP photosmart 1215 printer, I set it for thick paper, brochure or cardstock, set the print quality to “Best” and crank the ink volume up to maximum to get a really good print. I do find that ironing from the freezer paper side one last time on high heat after trimming is a good last step; the paper/fabric page curls a bit toward the freezer paper side, which works nicely with my printer to prevent page jams and smudged printing. If I’ve ironed carefully and well enough, the fabric/freezer paper page doesn’t get stuck in the printer with ink smeared all over, and I don’t have to start fresh from the beginning! The actual printing process is pretty easy though, after I get through the soaking mess to get started.

I do know about the pretreated fabric you can buy to print on, but friends of mine have had bad luck with scorching and disintegration of the fabric when using it, and if you want to use a certain fabric that’s in your project, or something other than white or cream, you’re out of luck. I’ve never needed to do this fabric printing thing on just any old white or cream fabric, so I’ve always used the Bubble Jet Set method.

So here’s what I really want: I want a flat pan that’s at least 10″ x 12″, with 2″ sides, a dripless pouring spout in one corner, some type of stand thing or tray thing that lifts up out of the solution but is self-supporting for draining/drying the fabric, with a set of tongs to match. Oh, and it needs a lid too, so that it can all be kept together and neat when not in use. Yes, I know, it’s a tall order, but anybody got a line on something like that? Failing that, any suggestions for making this process easier?

Nadine

8 thoughts on “Ink Jet Printing on Fabric

  1. Is this type of printing truly permanent? I have wondered if you can wash the quilt. I put myself on Spoonflower’s list as they have such an interesting idea for printing your fabric designs for you professionally on 1/4 yard to 3 yards on RJR greige goods. I actually thought of you when I was on their website.

  2. I’ve done a couple of print-on-fabric projects (ok, exactly two – the first was on red fabric and the other was a label for a baby quilt). I use one of those disposible aluminum cake or roast pans from the supermarket (a 9×12 one like Leslie suggested, some brands come with plastic lids as well). However, I find you don’t have to worry too much about whether the fabric lays completely flat only that you swish the fabric around in the solution so it thoroughly absorbs the liquid) in the pan since you will iron it later onto the freezer paper anyway and I’ve found that gets out any wrinkles.

    I usually hang the fabric to dry either on a pants hanger or if you have one of those hangers with the clips it can drip dry flat vertically on the shower curtain rod (or if the top of your hanger swivels you can hang it from a towel rod and this also helps with the wrinkles) and the pan can be placed on the tub edge (or the floor) under it to catch the drips.

    The great thing about these pans is that you can easily bend the corner to make the spout you wanted (to pour leftover solution back into the bottle) and they are not too expensive (well here in the states – I don’t know how much they go for in Germany) so if you want to discard it after use you can without too much guilt.

    However, I keep mine and after rinsing the pan out and drying it, use the pan to store the Bubble Jet bottles along with the pair of cheap rubber kitchen gloves I use when doing this so I know where everything is when I need ‘em.

    And thanks for the info about the pretreated sheets, I’ve often thought about buying some for quick projects but always felt they were a bit expensive and now definitely so if they are prone to scorching.

  3. Hi Kelly! As far as I’m aware, the point of the Bubble Jet Set solution is to make the ink permanent on the fabric. I haven’t really done this a huge number of times, and so don’t have any experience with the longevity aspect of it all; I’ve mostly used it for quilt labels, and have had good luck, but I expect it’s just like any other fabric. The more you wash it, the more it fades.

    Leslie, great idea! I don’t spend much time hanging out in the housewares department, so I’d forgotten about those pans with lids. Still need the rack and all that though, and I imagine that pouring would still be a bit messy, though probably better than what I am using at the moment.

    Hey Vivian, thanks for the details about your process. I like the disposable pan idea, especially with the bandable corners to pour the solution back in the bottle. Your process also made me realize that I could hang a pants hanger (or that clip hanger, even better) from the cabinet door handle above the sink in the kitchen to dry the fabric. For just two projects, you really have the process down!

  4. Hi…have you looked at pans for photo developing? I googled darkroom equipment and found pans in several sizes with about a 3 inch side edge. In plastic, many were under $10…just a thought! Sheri

  5. Have you tried one of those cooling racks you use to cool cookies to lay your fabric to drip? Those are usually the same size as the baking pans.

    Can anyone tell me how permanent this is? Can I make washable placemats with this product?

    Thanks

    • Hi Clem, and sorry for the delay. The cooling racks are a great idea! As for how permanent, I’d say that this type of fabric treatment would fade slightly faster with washing and usage than pre-printed cotton fabric, but I don’t have any data to back that up. That’s just my personal opinion. Using pre-treated printable fabric sheets might make it last longer, but again, I’m just guessing. Try it out, and report back! :)

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