3 Ways to Transfer Photos to Fabric

Flowers and playbill

Maybe you want to make a keepsake throw pillow, dress your table with dinner napkins full of vintage snaps or make your own fabric photo postcards to send via snail mail. Whatever the reason, we’re here to teach you the tricks and transfer your photos to fabric.

Method 1: Using Photo Transfer Paper

This one should feel nice and comfy because you’ve likely seen it done before. Just buy some photo transfer paper, shoot it through your printer and iron the resulting image onto a T-shirt or other fabric. For my photo, I used an actual record and placed it onto a white background.

1. Pick your paper

Printer paper

Make sure to buy the kind of paper that’s right for your printer (ink-jet vs laser jet). You can also buy transfer paper specific to the type of fabric you’re using (light or dark). And it helps to read the directions before buying, just to make sure it works with the type of fabric you choose.

2. Print and trim

Cut image

If the image has text, you’ll need to reverse the photo using a computer program before printing — otherwise your print will be backwards. Then print the image onto the correct side of the transfer paper, using a test sheet first to determine whether you should place the paper right side up or upside-down. Trim around the image with scissors or a rotary cutter, about 1/4″ from the edge.

3. Iron it on

Iron

Place a pillowcase onto a hard surface (not an ironing board!) for the best results here. Smooth out any wrinkles, then put your fabric right-side up and the transfer paper right-side down. Press with a hot, dry iron and — if you’re feeling nervous at all here — refer to the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your paper.

4. Peel away

Peeling a transfer

Gently peel back the backing paper in one smooth motion and you’re good to go!

Method 2: Using Freezer Paper

This method’s pretty cool because it lets you to run an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of fabric through your printer and print the image directly onto the fabric. We make this possible by fusing the fabric to freezer paper for added stiffness!

For best results, you’ll want to use a laserjet printer. If you’re using an inkjet, set the image with vinegar or look for a commercially treated fabric that’s made for printing. Try a test piece first before the real deal, and play around to see what gives the best results.

1. Prep your materials

Freezer paper

Press your fabric and cut off a piece of freezer paper that’s larger than standard printer paper. (Don’t use wax paper — we want freezer paper because it’s only waxy on one side). Use an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of card stock as a template to trim around both the freezer paper and the fabric. Precision counts here!

2. Iron ’em together

Iron

Press the waxy side of the freezer paper to the back of the fabric.

3. Print on the fabric!

Printer photo

Now change your printer settings to “photo” for best results. Run a test sheet of paper through the printer to make sure you’re clear on the correct orientation. Then run your fabric through so the printing applies on the cloth side.

Method 3: Using a Gel Medium

This method is the most magical of the three, so I’ve saved the best for last. As a kid, I collected tons of postcards and mementos from family trips, and wouldn’t it be cool to share those on fabric? Gel medium to the rescue!

Supplies:

  • Liquitex Gel Medium
  • Paint brush
  • Solid linen, cotton-blend, or canvas fabric with no stretch
  • Dry-toner printed image (reversed if it has text). You can cut out a picture from a magazine or use your home laser-jet printer, or go to the copy shop.
  • Spray bottle with water

Note: Mod Podge Photo Transfer is another product you can try with either laser-jet or inket printed images. As long as it’s a dry toner, it should work. Use a small test square to see if your printer cooperates.

1. Copy your image onto paper

Rent playbill

Photocopy a postcard, magazine image, photograph or similar — I used a playbill booklet from the first play I saw on Broadway. If your image has text, remember to flip it first using a computer program or photocopier.

2. Coat it up

Coated Rent playbill

Apply a thick coat of Liquitex Gel Medium to the printed image using a paintbrush.

3. Press to fabric

Rent playbill on a t-shirt

Press the image right-side down onto the fabric and smooth out all the wrinkles. You might also want to place a heavy book on top to weigh it down while it dries overnight.

4. Soak and rub

Sprayed playbill

When it’s dry, use a spray bottle of water to wet the entire image, or use a wet rag to soak it. Starting in the center of the image, gently use your fingers to rub the paper off the back. Keep calm here: If you rub too hard, the image will come right off.

5. Soak and rub… again

Playbill with paper rubbed off

Once you’ve gotten most of the paper off, douse the image in water again. Then continue rubbing gently (especially the dark-printed areas) to remove the last bits.

6. Rinse thoroughly

Take the fabric to the sink and rinse the image with water to get the remaining paper crumbs off.

7. Let it dry

Drying transferred images

Hang the fabic to dry or lay it flat in the sun. If you plan to wash the fabric, you can paint a final layer of gel medium on top of the finished image to make it more durable.

Reply to Michele Casey
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8 Responses to “3 Ways to Transfer Photos to Fabric”
  1. zelma fuller
    zelma fuller

    Could I buy a piece of fabric from the store and just put a picture on it. I don’t have any type of printer or actually any materials. Need help

    Reply
  2. Chrissy
    Chrissy

    Can you leave the image on the shirt for more than 24 hours to dry? If so, how long can you leave it on there without messing it up when you take it off.

    Reply
  3. Karen
    Karen

    hi could i do this onto fabric to make kids aprons that they can then colour the image after ?
    thanks karen

    Reply
    • zelma fuller
      zelma fuller

      Could I buy a piece of fabric from the store and just put a picture on it. I don’t have any type of printer or actually any materials. Need help

      Reply
      • Amy
        Amy

        I suggest u make a copy of the photo at a place like the UPS Store or FEDEX Print shop. Tell them u need laser copy on the lightest paper they have – like standard 20 pound. It will be cheap to free. Good luck!

        Reply