Today we have so many products to help with ease of photo copying to fabric and most of them are readily available, very simple to use, and give excellent results.
Copying photos or memorabilia to fabric is a fairly simple process and can be done with a minimum amount of equipment. You will need a color inkjet printer, a supply of pre-treated fabric sheets especially for the inkjet printer, and your photos or memorabilia and an iron.
Inkjet cartridges -- Before beginning any photo to fabric copying process be sure your inkjet cartridges are still full enough to do the copying you need. You don't want one of your expensive sheets of fabric to be wasted because you ran out of ink during the copying of that page. If in doubt install new cartridges and finish up the partially empty cartridges later for printing on paper.
Pre-treated fabric sheets -- Prepared fabric sheets are available at quilt shops, fabric stores and in the craft department of superstores. Quality fabric is pre-treated with chemicals to hold the ink and then the fabric is adhered to a paper backing to facilitate feeding through the inkjet printer or copier.
With an inkjet printer-copier, you may copy photos directly onto specially treated fabric. If you wish to enlarge or reduce photos you will need to scan them into photo software and make them the size you require. Once the photo is scanned and in your photo software, you may lighten or darken, crop or rotate, or otherwise "tweak" your photo in anyway you wish.
There are several brands of pre-treated fabric sheets available and each one has different "how-to" instructions, so be sure to read and follow directions on the package exactly. Most brands will require heat setting of the ink after copying. Heat setting can be done with your basic home iron. Some products may ask that you rinse the fabric in cold water and press with an iron to dry. Instructions for one brand of pre treated fabric sheets will not be exactly the same as instructions for another. So be sure to read and follow directions exactly as stated on the package from your pre-treated fabric sheets.
If you will be using a small number of photo sheets purchasing pre-treated fabric sheets would probably be the most economical and would definitely have less labor involved in the process. But if you wish to pre-treat your own fabric below is a basic outline of how it is done.
Bubble Jet Set and Bubble Jet Rinse
Some quilters who plan to do a very large amount of copying onto fabric may want to treat their own fabric sheets with Bubble Jet Set and Bubble Jet Rinse. Bubble Jet Set is a liquid product available online or in some quilt shops. It comes in a quart bottle and will treat many sheets of fabric.
Be sure to read the instructions before starting and follow them carefully. There are no shortcuts here. If you follow the steps in the order given on the container you will have best results.
When making your own treated fabric sheets use 100% cotton fabric that is tightly woven. 200 count pima cotton fabric is preferred for photo transfer. Muslin has a lower thread count and has a rough texture and the photos won't print as clear. 200 count pima cotton fabric is very smooth and the photos will transfer quite clear.
Making your own treated sheets is very labor intensive and time consuming but if you need a lot of sheets, you might find in slightly more economical to treat your own fabric.
I will discuss the basic instructions below but be sure to read the instructions for the specific product you are using before you begin.
First wash your cotton fabric to remove all sizing and chemicals used in manufacturing. A second wash is helpful to make sure you remove all sizing and chemicals. Dry in the dryer but DO NOT use fabric softener.
Lightly press your fabric. With a rotary cutter cut fabric into 9 x 11 1/2" rectangles. You need to cut them slightly larger than a sheet of paper to allow for trimming later. Purchase a rectangular dishpan and keep it specifically for your Bubble Jet Set chemical. Do not use this dishpan for any other purpose.
Soak the 9 x 11 1/2" sheets in the Bubble Jet Set chemical for the length of time stated on the bottle. Do not rinse. Hang to dry and press.
Cut 9" x 11 1/2" pieces of freezer paper. Set your dry iron to wool setting. Place a sheet of freezer paper shiny side down on the reverse side of treated fabric. Press well. Do not have any air bubbles between the paper and fabric. Trim freezer paper fabric sets to 8 1/2" x 11" with a rotary cutter. You now have your sheets ready to use in your inkjet printer.
Copy photos or scan and print through your photo software. Feed prepared sheets through printer one at a time. Remember most printers have the fabric side of the sheet down in the feeding tray but check your printer and place your sheets in the tray as needed for your specific printer.
Photo transfer is different than making copies or printing scanned photos onto pre-treated fabric. Photo transfer is a process where a special transfer paper is used and the photos are copied with a laser color copier to the transfer paper. The transfer then is ironed to the fabric transferring the image.
If you plan to do photo transfers you need to have your copy shop make your copies onto the special transfer paper using mirror image. If you don't copy them at mirror image, the photos and any writing will be backwards when they are transferred to the fabric.
You will need to use a hot iron set at the temperature given in the instructions. Press, do not slide the iron. Make sure the heat is evenly applied before pealing the backing paper from the transfer. Many transfer papers recommend using a commercial ironing surface at a T-shirt transfer shop as home irons simply cannot do the transfer as nicely as commercial shops.
Photo transfer was very popular several years ago when the process of putting photos on fabric was very new. Once the inkjet printer system was established it is much simpler for the quilter to do at home with equipment that we already have and much less expensive.
More than just photos
Don't limit yourself to only copying photos to fabric. You may copy birth certificates, diplomas, and marriage licenses. Make a collage with theater tickets, programs, and flower petals. Place your items on your copier and transfer it to your specially treated fabric sheets.
Quilt labels -- You may also use special treated fabric sheets for making quilt labels. Choose a fabulous font and simply type your information into word processing software. Add clip art or small photos and print it on the pre-treated fabric sheets. Set the ink as directed and simply stitch the label to the back or front of the quilt.
Quilt Quotes -- Cute quotes and poems are popular on quilts. Make your own by using pre-treated fabric sheets and your inkjet printer. Use your favorite font and type your quote into word processing software. Print onto pre-treated fabric and you have your personalized quote quilts.
Photos to fabric are a very unique way to personalize your quilt. Each quilt will be individual and will celebrate a family, a special occasion, or a memory. Have fun!