Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Embroidery Pattern Printing – More Excursions


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Remember last week when we talked about printing embroidery designs on fabric, using a home printer?

Well, I continued with some experimentation, and I’ve chatted with some other stitchers about the subject since then and done a little more research and whatnot.

If you jumped on the home-printing idea for embroidery patterns transfers, there are a few things you might want to know before you plunge headfirst into using your home printer for printing all your embroidery designs straight onto your fabric.

I know, I know! We’re always seeking the perfect (and easy and most painless) solution for design transfer – but there are several things to consider before settling on the inkjet printer as the ideal solution.

First, further experiments:

Printing Embroidery Designs with an Inkjet Printer

To recap, the embroidery project is an embroidered book cover, and the image is a rather detailed one that is reduced in size to fit the cover. The problem for me was transferring this detailed image to the fabric in such a small space, the whole design being about 4″ high.

It can be done, and it can be done by hand – I could meticulously trace it; I could use prick and pounce. But it would take time and a lot of focus and care, and frankly, I was looking for an easy way out!

I decided to run some fine linen fabric, affixed to a sheet of freezer paper, through my inkjet printer to see if the design would print. I detailed all this in last week’s article.

The important point in the previous article was that I faded the opacity of the line, so that the design printed in a very pale gray.

Inkjet printer ink is not colorfast. And unless you use some kind of fixative solution (like Bubble Jet Set – which is discussed in this tutorial on transferring embroidery designs using silk gauze and a printer), then the ink may very well – and in fact, most likely will – run, if you wash the article.

Even if you heat-set the ink with a dry iron, this does not guarantee that it won’t run.

With the light gray lines, it’ll be a lot easier to rinse the ink completely out.

After running the very fine linen through the printer, I decided to try two other types of fabric: silk dupioni and a heavier, medium-weight linen (Alba Maxima linen).

As you can see in the photo above, the silk was successful.

Printing Embroidery Designs with an Inkjet Printer

I did end up with a bit of an ink build up, and it showed up on the edges of the silk and freezer paper.

After sending this through the printer, I printed some normal paper, just to clean up any inky problems that might be going on inside the beast.

All was well.

Then, I sent the Alba Maxima through the printer – this is the medium weight linen.

Printing Embroidery Designs with an Inkjet Printer

The printer just wasn’t happy with the heavier linen. It jammed and refused to go any further. I tried again, taking the sheet out and running it back through, but no dice.

And it made a mess of my beautiful piece of Alba Maxima linen. Waaaaaaaaah! (Ok, I didn’t really cry, because I knew what I was getting myself into, but after the fact, I berated myself for the waste.)

Many printers have different settings for different types of paper, and I did take all that into consideration.

Anyway, printing with the inkjet printer offers a solution under some circumstances. If you want to use a fixative like Bubble Jet Set, you’ll have better luck getting a permanent transfer, but if you don’t want the residue (I’ve chatted with some stitchers who say they can feel a residue and they don’t like stitching through it), then make sure your lines are very, very light – the lightest you can get away with – so that, if you are washing the embroidery afterwards, you can rinse it until the ink washes completely out.

As always, test test test! Take the time to test exactly what you plan to do ahead of time. Using the same fabric and same threads, work up a sample and treat it exactly how you plan to treat your planned piece, from start to finish. It definitely takes extra time and effort to work up samples, but in the long run, it may save you some serious grief.

Finally, for those asking about the effect of printer ink on fabric and threads long term, I don’t know if inkjet ink is conservation-friendly. I somehow doubt it. So that’s another point you may want to consider.

Any Input?

If you have any advice, input, experiences you want to share on this subject of printing embroidery designs onto fabric using your home printer, feel free to chime in below.

There are many helpful comments on last week’s article, too, for those wanting to read more about the subject.


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(33) Comments

  1. First the disclaimer: I don’t personally know beans about inks. But I am a quilter. Discussion about printing on fabric years ago said that something about Epson’s inks means it works very well on fabrics. That convinced me to buy an Epson printer. Research might show if that old discussion about inks is still accurate for Epson, and might tell if other manufacturers are now making inks that work well on fabric.

    I regularly print fabric labels for my quilts. I always do a practice print or more on paper to make sure that the size, color, layout, and so on are what I want.

    My printer sounds far more basic than Mary’s. Sad to say–not every sheet of fabric-on-freezer paper goes through the printer well. Sometimes the ink smears, sometimes the “page” jams, sometimes I didn’t iron on the freezer paper well. The printer is forgiving when paper is set into the feeder carelessly–but not fabric. Bring your patience when you do this job.

    A note of about using freezer paper. Apparently quilter extraordinaire Anne Oliver came up with the idea of using freezer paper for appliques on her prizewinning quilts several decades ago. She tried to get a major manufacturer (Reynolds, I think it was) interested in producing freezer paper for quilters and other fiber artists. They were not interested. How interesting that you can buy precut sheets now.

    Does cost make it worth buying a roll and cutting your own? The roll of generic freezer paper I bought at the grocery store many years ago to use for printing and applique still has a lot of uses left; I use regular printer paper as my template when I cut a sheet from the roll.

    You might be tempted to use the freezer paper to run multiple pieces of fabric through the printer–but I would avoid that. Adhesion the second time isn’t quite good enough to hold as the fabric/paper goes through the printer. Those used sheets are good for doing appliques.

    1. I also quilt and wanted to print labels. I ruined quite a few practice pieces and finally read that the inkjet ink must be pigment which my HP apparently isn’t. I recently bought an EPSON WF-2630 4 in 1 printer and I am soooo pleased with my labels. It cost less than $100 on sale. I use copyright free designs (the quilted items are not for sale) and print in black ink. I use Prismacolor color pencils to color the design and then I make it permanent.

  2. Instead of wasting the linen, couldn’t you embroider a pattern using dark colours over the inky area, making something that won’t need washing? I couldn’t bear to waste it, even in the name of research! I look forward to your email each day, fascinating! Thank you 🙂

  3. I’ve been very interested in following these posts on transferring by computer. I recently purchased Transfer Ease. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems that instead of printing directly on fabric it prints on a fine water soluble film, which you then adhere to your fabric.
    Has anyone tried this product?

    1. Thank you, Mary. I’ve read your review, which was so helpful…as all your reviews are. I’m going to give it a try on some dish towels as you did. I have a ton that I keep meaning to do.

  4. I use the letter size freezer paper and have come up with a system that works 90% of the time perfect. I always cut my fabric so that it is 1/4″ all around littler than the freezer paper…no tape needed. You do need to iron the fabric until all the edges of the fabric are adhered completely around the front so that they won’t come loose when the paper enters the printer. Lastly, and most importantly, I always iron it from the back of the paper so that the paper sort of bows backwards before I put it in the printer. Doing this last step is what solved most of my printer eating the fabric problems.

  5. Some inkjet inks will work. I use an Epson printer and it prints colorfast on fabric once heat set. It is all what kind of ink is used.

    1. Thanks, Nancy – that’s’ why I’m pretty confident with this particular project. I have an Epson, too. After ironing the design, and the fact that I’m using really pale gray lines, I’m pretty confident I won’t run into any serious inky problems! (Of course, I always keep my fingers crossed!)

  6. Dear Mary

    I don’t have any experience with this type of transfer as I’m not sure if my Deskjet will even print on fine fabric. I’m glad the silk duponi printed out but it is a shame about the Alba Maxima linen, after reading some of the comments I’m glad you managed to save most of the linen. Thanks for your advice on the advantages and disadvantages with printing on fabric it certainly is very, very useful information and as you say testing techniques is always an advantage before stating or finishing any project. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of fabric transfer.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  7. I have used the Brother Scan n Cut machine a few times to transfer designs. I photocopy the design then stick the copy to a scanning mat. Scan the design. Then I “print” onto my fabric which is stuck to a second mat. The “adhesive” on the mat is meant for fabric and it releases fine when done. There are various pens than can be used for drawing including a blue water-soluble one and a purple one that fades with UV exposure. The scanning isn’t always perfect but I just fix it by hand.
    I always enjoy your e-mails. Thank you Mary!!

  8. I’ve printed embroidery patterns with my injet printer for years. Totally agree that a key consideration is the thickness of the fabric. Also, it works for images that fit well within the normal size of a piece of printing paper…but larger designs still need hand working. Adjusting the opaque setting is a good idea, do that do. Also, I sometimes just change the ink color to light blue instead of black…can’t see it much except really close up. Other light colors are also options, depending on the fabric color used. Thanks for all you do for us Mary! Hugs, Kathy

  9. I stay away from embroidery linen when running fabric through my printer, I am never happy with the printed results and it seems my photojet printer is happy with that lol! Silk has been the best success, but only on pieces that I do not intend to wash (spot cleaning seems to work ok so far). I as Ruth says don’t know a hill of beans about ink, but I do know that my printer ink comes off clean and that if I make the “sandwich” of silk and wax paper thin enough I have no problems

  10. I have an Epson printer that uses Epson’s DuraBrite pigment ink. This particular ink is pretty nice for printing on fabric — while I haven’t used it for embroidery purposes, I’ve printed on silk habotai and cotton muslin with decent results. The silk print came out crisp and the cotton a bit fuzzier (nature of the beast). I hand-washed the cotton print once and noticed some fading with pure black, but no running. I also think the ink is supposed to be archival, but that’s something I researched years ago so I can’t remember for sure.

    I think most if not all Epson printers come with this ink — I was rather surprised to see that my cheapo $30 printer came with quality ink. The more expensive ones tend to be better with print quality, of course.

    1. Barb, I’m pretty sure that laser jet toner is not water soluble, the process really uses heat to set the image and I know it doesn’t run at all on paper, though I haven’t tried it on fabric.

  11. I don’t know the answer to this but have you considered a laser printer? I wonder if it would still have the same problems. You may have to take your project on the freezer paper to a print place but it might be worth a try. Also I have tried the Pilot Frixon pen and I like it very well. You still have to trace but the lines will iron off when you’re done stitching. (If you don’t cover them entirely) I do know that the lines will ghost back on very dark fabric but I’ve never had a terrible problem with this. Also a friend said she had trouble getting them to iron off but we’ve all decided it might be her water, because the rest of us don’t have that trouble. Just a suggestion! 🙂 Thanks Mary for all the valuable info!

  12. Try using Terial Magic, http://terialarts.com. Follow the instructions that come with it. There’s also videos & lots of how to’s on the website. Essentially, you spray it on the fabric. When it’s almost dry, you iron it. It stiffens the fabric so you can just run it thru the printer. You don’t need to back it with freezer paper. You may be able to get the heavier linen thru the printer using this product. You can wash it out, probably after you embroider, and the fabric will feel as it did before you treated it. This product is all natural. I do not have any affiliation with the company. I used to live in CA near where the creator of this product lives. I’ve used it almost since the beginning & so have a lot of other people I know. There are so many uses for it & people are finding new uses every day. She has a difficult time keeping it on the shelf.

  13. I have just looked at the Material Safety Data Sheets for several printer manufacturers. I found that the ink for HP inkjet printers has a pH of 7 which is the pH of water.

    Other inks may be caustic and more likely to damage the fabric.

  14. I found that when printing on fabric, it helps to take all paper out of printer and hit the print button. The computer will try to print and you will see the info box on your computer screen telling you you are out of paper. Now load your fabric and hit “OK”. The initial grabber machanism is open and will now more easily take the fabric without crunching it at the start. This is especially helpful with slubby or slightly thicker fabrics.

  15. I think this method might work really well for making reusable patterns for Romanian Point Lace and even Bobbin Lace. The printed fabric could be stabilized either with fusible interfacing or with clear contact paper. I’ve used both stabilizers for patterns that I’ve copied by hand, but this method would be much easier and probably more accurate for doing the actual copying.

  16. There are archival photo inks available for most printers – may have to hunt around for the Genealogy photo sites for sources. I don’t know if they work for fabric, but I don’t know of any reason why not.

  17. I’ve played with this for several years, and I can only print on my Walmart HP printer using smooth surface fabrics – cotton lawn, silk, fine linen – nothing coarse at all.

    I use light gray or light blue color.

    The ink you use is the most important thing, in my opinion. Generic inks or refills are typically cheaper because the pigment particles in them are larger: They don’t print as smoothly as name brands.

    Also, keep in mind that ink is not the same as dye, and the fabric may react differently to each.

    Some printer companies offer fabric printers that also work with paper. They are a bit more expensive than the cheap office printer I use, but they have settings to accommodate the fabric thickness, ink saturation, and they usually give larger fabric/print area options.

    Electric Quilt Company offers pretreated fabric rolls for printing. I’ve never tried them…has anyone?

  18. Just by coincidence I just happened to be doing some testing this week for my own ends. Epsom inks are colourfast although they will fade with many washings as most dyes will. Brother and HP inks are not colourfast. For me, I was wanting colourfast as I was printing artwork which I embroider on. I think the non colourfast inks are more useful for embroidery patterns. printed in a pale colour, not necessarily black, they can be washed out after, however I would check my embroidery thread for colourfastness, because for washing out the pattern, obviously the thread needs to be colourfast

  19. Mary, there is one other type of ink/printer to consider. For ink/colorfastness and that would be a Pigment based ink. Which becomes part of the fabric. Water based just sits on the paper/fabric, where as the pigment based becomes part of the fiber, especially after heat setting. Epson makes an ink and printer that uses Durabright inks, I believe that Canon and HP also make a printer that uses pigment ink, but I found the Epson at a very reasonable price… many years ago and since it still works….

  20. This is a subject I’ve done quite a bit of experimentation with too. I’ve printed directly onto architects’ linen for French knots to replicate hooking in miniature, and it has worked very well–much easier than tracing a design with a pencil. Another successful technique is to print onto Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy. I’ve gotten great detail for miniature crewel embroidery using this product. I have some in-progress and finished work pictures if you’d be interested in seeing them. My specialty is miniature needlework.

    1. Hi, Sue – Yes, I like the sticky solvy for some applications, too. I’ve worked with it (and transfer-eze) a bit and written about both here on the website. It won’t really work for the project I’m starting, but in some types of embroidery it works great!

  21. Something at the back of my mind is telling me you can use the freezer paper to print on, then dry iron the design on to the fabric. I dunno where I heard it or if Ive imagined it.
    I looked around the internet and found it. It applies to fabric and wood.

  22. I have friends who have used Transfer-eze which made the size 12 red Aurifil thread not colorfast though is supposedly is. It then has to be washed off as it is a water soluble product. I have another who like to put her design on tissue paper than sew through the lines and tear off the paper. I have used linen which comes already for the printer but I use it to print silkies which I then embellish with ribbon and thread. Someone somewhere will eventually create the perfect product for us.


  23. Just received a copy of Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom, what a delight. They jars just waiting to be interpreted in stitch. Thanks for the recommendation Mary. Your web site continues to inspire me.
    Swansea, Wales

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