How to set pigment printer ink on fabric & Thank Friday It’s Finished!

Some weeks ago I shared with you a wedding anniversary photo quilt   I was making, and I mentioned that I had experienced some difficulty getting the printer ink to set on the fabric. I have now managed to resolve that problem and I wanted to share what I learned. But first it has been rather remiss of me not to show the finished photo quilt so here it is.

Wedding photo quilt wall hanging

Showing the close up first. You might have been thinking that photographs on fabric will be grainy and ill-defined, but actually you can get some very clear pictures by choosing a tightly woven fabric and making some adjustments to the photograph in a photo editor.

The background fabric is a white on white, you can just about make out the pattern if you squint. I chose the colour to tie in with the wedding theme. Similarly the red thread used to define and ‘frame’ the photographs, is a similar shade to the red in the bridal bouquet and bridesmaids dresses. I used a polyester wadding, so it can be washed without fear of shrinking. The backing is just a plain calico (muslin) fabric. For the quilting I obviously was not going to stitch through the photo’s themselves, instead I have stitched in the ditch around each photo.

This is a wall hanging. It’s finished size is 84cm X 71cm (33 X 28 inches). Here is the full view.

Wedding photo quiltSo back to the issue of getting pigment ink to set on fabric. When I began printing photographs on to fabric a few years ago I followed one of the many tutorials out there, which directed me to use a product called ‘Bubble Je Sett’. Bubble Jet Set is a liquid that the fabric is soaked in prior to printing, it then enables dye based ink jet printer ink to ‘bond’ with the fabric. This process also produces a fabric that can safely be machine washed without the photo fading away. This was the method I had used very successfully for years.

Around March time, my trusty old printer died. I did loads of research about printers, I wanted to get one that would be good for printing photographs on to fabric. The research led me to conclude, an ink jet printer that used pigment ink would be most suitable for me. (Ink jet printers use either dye based inks or pigment inks. The type of ink used varies between manufacturers and even between printer models.) Pigment inks produce more vibrant colours than dye based ink. I decided on an Epson printer. Epson have a long history of manufacturing printers for printing photographs, and even have a printer that is dedicated to printing on fabric. I decided against the specialist fabric printer because I also wanted some extra functionality in the printer for standard printing. Eventually I decided on an Epson Workforce model.

When I printed the first set of photographs on fabric I was amazed at the difference in the ink. These photo’s were sharper, with more clarity and vibrant colours than my old dye based printer. I had done lots or reading around how pigment inks set on fabric and found many articles claiming that pigment ink is permanent on fabric by nature and the fabric does not require any special preparation or treatment. Whilst this may be true of some pigment inks, it is not true for my Epson workforce inks, as soon as I washed my fabrics, the images came out faded and dull.

Further digging around the internet led me to find others who also had experienced this, but no one had found a solution. I mentioned in my previous post that I had used a fabric medium. Fabric or Textile Medium is used to mix with acrylic paints to turn them in to fabric paints, they require heat setting with a hot iron to make the paint permanent on fabric.  I had painted the fabric medium over the top of the photographs after leaving them to dry for 24 hours, but I was not entirely happy with the results. It left the fabric with a hard hand and poor drape and there was some slight colour changes that appeared whilst ironing to set the medium on the fabric. It did stabilise the ink so it was able to be washed without fading but I was not at all happy with the result.

A few months ago I took a Craftsy class on painting on fabric using acrylic paints. Cindy Walter, the tutor explained that she had contacted various acrylic paint manufacturers who had told her that acrylic paint could be left to ‘cure’ itself, instead of heat setting,  and this could take up to 1 week. I wondered if this was true of the acrylic fabric mediums as well.

I tried it and had fabulous results a lovely soft hand to the fabric, no colour distortion and no fading after machine washing.

My solution for setting pigment based ink jet printer ink on fabric…

I used Ceramcoat Delta Creative Textile Medium. I diluted this with water 50/50 (there is a lot of information out there about diluting  mediums) and put this solution in a bowl large enough to fit the fabric. Then I dipped the fabric (which had already been printed with the photographs) in to the solution ensuring it was well saturated, I then removed the fabric and hung to drip dry. When dry  I put the fabric away in a drawer and left it there for a week and a half just to make sure it had enough time to cure.

After the week and a half (it was hard waiting !) I washed the fabric in the machine at 40 degrees, using a non-biological washing powder. The fabric hand was soft, and the photographs looked the same as they did before the wash. I hung the fabric to dry, then ironed it…no colour distortion. Success!

The other benefit to using the Fabric medium is that it is water based and non toxic, so I can feel completely confident using it on fabric for a bed quilt. Of course this step is only necessary if you want to be able to wash the fabric after printing.

I love printing on fabric and I am so pleased I now have my technical issues sorted.

Lisa at The Quilting Bird


I will be linking up with Needle and Thread Thursday, Crazy Mom Quilts




3 thoughts on “How to set pigment printer ink on fabric & Thank Friday It’s Finished!

  1. Lisa this is really helpful! I like that you did the testing for us! I print with pigment dyes on fabric and will have to try your technique! Thank you for sharing.


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