My Early Experiments with On-Demand Fabric Printing

I started making my own fabric designs in 2009, partly because I discovered a company (Spoonflower) that would take your digital image and print it on fabric.  Prior to that time, I’d done some printing on fabric using my own ink jet printer.  However, I never got results that I was satisfied with when printing on fabric.  I had color-calibrated my computer monitor, and when I printed on good quality ink-jet paper the results were fine, but I could never get that to translate to good colors on the fabric.  Combined with the potential for the inkjet prints to fade over time, and the high cost of ink, using the inkjet printer wasn’t a good option for me.

I decided to give one of the print-on-demand services a try.  I thought I’d make a quilt for my nephew using a few photos he’d taken – photos of dramatic clouds, a close-up shot of a rusty grill, and a photo of a leaf.

I made various kaleidoscopic images using Photoshop and a free plug-in (available here).  I then laid out all these kaleidoscopic images into one file that corresponded to one yard of fabric (i.e. 42 inches wide by 36 inches long).  I uploaded the file to Spoonflower and waited for my fabric.  It was really exciting when the fabric arrived—there’s something very cool about seeing a yard of your own fabric design.  I had rushed through the design part in my impatience to get the fabric, so not all the squares are the same size and not all are exactly square, but I loved the fabric and I was hooked.  This picture shows the yard of fabric, and you can view the resulting quilt here.

With all the fun I had making kaleidoscopes from photos, I designed another yard of fabric, this time with 132 different 2.5 inch square kaleidoscopes, made using flower photos I’d taken.  From this fabric, I’ve made a few small quilts for the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative, and you can see a couple of them here or here.  Following this, I designed another yard of fabric with kaleidoscopic images — this time based on photos of Chicago architecture I took while on a river cruise (you can see one of the Chicago quilts here), and then another yard using photos of a lake and lily pads.  I still have quite a few of these squares left ;)

For holiday gifts a year ago, I printed some photos on fabric, using Spoonflower, and made one small whole cloth quilt (here) and a couple small quilts where I fused the photo onto a larger piece of fabric (here and here).

This photo compares the same image printed 3 different ways — on the left is the image printed with an ink jet printer on glossy photo paper; in the middle is the Spoonflower fabric sample; on the right is the image printed with the ink jet printer onto fabric.  Each of these samples is 2.5 inches square.  Compared to the print on photo paper, the Spoonflower swatch has colors which are fairly true and the detail is quite crisp.  The swatch printed with the ink jet on fabric has colors which are quite washed out.  This comparison shows why I’m hooked on printing fabrics using Spoonflower.

Note:  while I only have experience with Spoonflower, there are other on-demand printing services, including Fabric On Demand, Karma Kraft and Eye Candey.

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5 thoughts on “My Early Experiments with On-Demand Fabric Printing

  1. I print on fabric using an Epson printer with DuraBrite permanent ink. The colours are truly vibrant, and will not wash out. I can print on any fabric – cotton, organza, silk, satin – and the result is the same.
    I believe it is the quality of the ink that makes the difference, not the fabric. … though of course if you print on a minimal weave fabric like synthetic organza, you lose bits of the picture – great for art quilts where you want an impression of the image.

    • The printer I use is also an Epson with Durabrite pigment inks. My results when printing on fabric are very hit-or-miss and usually the colors are too washed out. I know many people are able to achieve great results with an ink jet printer, but I haven’t found the secret yet. Though, if I use a medium like Golden Digital Ground, then I can get very bright, crisp prints on fabric. The Digital Grounds make the hand of the fabric a bit stiffer, which I don’t particularly like.

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