Colour Printing On Fabric

Hello everyone

Hope your week is going well.  One of my readers, Gail Jones asked if I could talk more on the fact that some people do needle painting over a photo on photo fabric.  Printing colour pictures onto fabric is something that I have attempted numerous times in the past without success – however nothing is impossible so lets take a look at the various ways this could be done:

Photocopy Print

You can take a photo to your local Photocopy shop and they will print it on fabric for you.  The downside is that it leaves a plastic film on the fabric which is difficult if not almost impossible to stitch through!

Iron On Transfer Paper

You can print your picture then iron onto fabric.  The result again is a bit stiff and will leave a residue on your fabric.  However there are different transfer papers available – there is an interesting article by Kristen of Sophia’s decor blogspot on the use of transfer paper.  So how do we achieve a print that transfers the dye only onto the fabric without any unwanted residue?  There are a few ways:

Inkjet Print

Apparently you can iron freezer paper to the back of your fabric and feed it through your inkjet printer.  There is a great article on how to do this here.  I have tried this many many times – it works fine on small prints that will fit into your printer but anything larger than the standard paper size will not feed through.  The fabric for my smallest miniature pieces measures approx. 28 x 28cm which is too large for a regular printer.  I am also not sure if your piece could be laundered afterwards?

inkjet print
inkjet print


This is the most accurate way to print onto fabric, used by professionals and screen printers.  This is a process that uses heat to transfer dye onto fabric or other materials.  There is a good article here on the process.  I have had many trips to the screen printer trying to print onto linen and cotton without success, at best we got a very faded, wishy washy print on the fabric.  This is because you can only sublimate on Polyester fabrics.  This is due to the temperatures needed to achieve a high quality print and depth of colour.  However, the Chinese Su embroideries are often worked from a printed picture on silk fabric, so perhaps it works on silk?

chinese su embroidery
chinese su embroidery

I have been unable to find any information on the process of colour printing on silk but  Mary Corbet gives some information on Su embroidery kits and shows an example of the print on silk fabric here.  You can also purchase Chinese silk embroidery kits at Oriental Cultures.   Di Van Niekirk has a beautiful selection of embroidery/silk ribbon  kits with full colour screen printed panels on her website.   Perhaps you could try and use these for needle painting?

Di Van Niekirk fabric panel
Di Van Niekirk fabric panel

Commercial Fabric Printing

There is also a company called Spoonflower who will print your photo onto fabric/design for you.  Depending on the fabric they use the prints are good.  I have had some prints done by them, but unfortunately you are limited to the fabric selection they have available and cannot provide your own linen or cotton.

Hand Painting

I have seen examples of hand painting using watercolour/acrylic paint and tried it out in small pieces and it works well.  There is a great article by Ingrid Lee on her website here.  I must say this little exercise has led to so many interesting websites and blogs!

Hand painting
Hand painting


I have promised myself that I will stay clear of venturing any opinions, 🙂 however my personal preference is to use a nice clear, dark grey outline and refer to a colour print/photo for filling in the detail.  It is the way I have always worked and I feel comfortable with it.  This does not mean we are limited to stitching on white/off white fabrics only – I am in the process of experimenting with different coloured background fabrics and will report back soon.   If you would like more information on the screen printing process I use for my embroidery kits you can see a previous blog post here.  (An update to this story is that the Screen Printer went bankrupt a few years ago and I have since found another, more suitable printer).

I am sure there are lots of other ways to print colour pictures onto fabric, if anyone is able to contribute more information on the process we would love to hear from you.  Meantime, wherever you are be it winter, spring, summer or autumn, have a wonderful week, keep smiling and many happy hours of stitching.  Trish

22 thoughts on “Colour Printing On Fabric”

  1. Thank you to everyone for contributing such great info on colour printing it seems that nothing is impossible! have a nice day Trish

  2. I did a little more research and there is another online store in Cape Town which have sheets available from the Electric Quilting Company; A link to their website:
    It is listed here:

    Eq Printables – Barcode # 657920813458
    Eq Printables – Barcode # 657920813458 Eq Printables – Barcode # 657920813458
    Price: R 350.00
    (1/26/2014, 9 units in Stock) Add to cart
    Love Elza Bester

  3. I have been trying to work out what the printable sheets are that Elza Bester uses with no success. Could we have the name of the product and if possible the supplier of it please?

    I did like working on Trish’s cotton sateen and will have to get some

      1. Hi Trish,
        I know of two places in the USA where you can buy online/ Here are the links:
        and a link for shops in the USA :

        According to the Electric Quilt Co. locally ( SA) one can buy their sheets from the following shops:
        Loslappies Land 429.0 miles
        Ouklip Road
        Wilrokrans Shopping Centre
        Wilropark, Roodepoort 1731
        Phone: 27117681283

        P Viljoen Trading as Electric Quilt Training 448.5 miles
        195 Pretoria rd
        Benoni, Gauteng 1514
        Phone: 27828702459
        Get Directions
        Categories: Retailer

        The link I got the information from:

        The shop locally here in the Cape Town where I bought some of my sheets, no longer exists and I am not sure if the shops I have listed above still exist.
        I have bought sheets from both companies and as far as quality goes, they are the same. I hope I could have been of help.
        Love Elza xxx

    1. Hi Trish, I know one of the brands of fabric sheets that Elza recommends is called “Miracle Fabric Sheets” put out by the C. Jenkins company. I believe this is the brand that is easier to get here in the USA. The other name escapes me but was easier to get where you are I think. Anyway… here is a web link for Miracle Fabric Sheets.

  4. Dear Trish,
    I have used the following with great success. I have bought printable fabric sheets from a quilt shop locally and from another supplier from the USA. These sheets are A4 size ( As big as normal computer printing paper ). The fabric is a 200 count 100% cotton.
    These sheets are being used by quilters for photographs they then add to their quilts.
    You just select your image on the computer and print it on the sheet as you would on paper. Afterwards you peel of the backing and set the image by ironing it on the wrong side, I usually stitch a thin voile fabric on the back of the image to give it a bit more body. I also print a copy on paper to use as a reference, if possible a slightly bigger image.
    The image you use should be sharp and of a high resolution The higher the resolution, the better the image. If the image is big ( not bigger than A4) but fills about the whole surface, I sew extra strips on the sides to increase the surface so that image fits clear in a hoop to prevent hoop marks on it, I leave these strips on as it it makes it easier to frame.
    I find the sheets very easy to work with. Where an image was too big, Di van Niekerk has printed the image for me at a very reasonable cost.
    I include an example of my work. It is a Female Cardinal bird. This was a painting by a dear friend of mine Roby Baer from Redding USA and I used the image with her permission. In fact it was a gift to her. Just
    click on the link.
    Regards Elza Bester, Cape Town .

    1. Hi Trish, I am currently working on a King Parrot done on photo fabric, under the tutelage of Elza Bester. It is working well for me and is a lot of fun.

  5. Trish there is inkjet fabric by Blumenthal Lansing that can be washed. You can find it at your local craft store in sheets or online in rolls. Check to make sure that it is the washable one which costs more. Great article!!

  6. I don’t know much about this so forgive me if this sounds weird. What about Bubble Jet Set? As I said, I know next to nothing about this stuff or how it works but I have heard people raving about it.

    I like Mary Corbet’s preferred method: tracing directly onto the fabric using a lightbox with the original design under the fabric. I believe she uses a Micron pen in brown on pale fabrics and I have no idea how she would do it if her background were dark. That would be a-whole-nuther story. Pricking and pouncing also sounds like a good idea if a bit drawn out and possibly tedious.

    Recently I did one of your kits (the red butterfly) and I confess I found the screen printed design a little thick in places, and would have preferred finer lines. Sorry about the negative feedback, I am not trying to be nasty, just honest.

  7. Thank you for the detail information. I am with you, I like to work on a plain background. Thank you so much for this research.

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