Things I’ve learnt: transferring images to fabric

18 Jan

Transfer prints to fabric: useful tips from Wolves in London blog

I’ve got a confession to make.

I started this blog with all the best intentions. As I wrote, in my first ever post four months ago, I was planning on “building a fabric empire” – creating new fabric designs, making beautiful things from the newly-printed fabric and, oh yes, actually starting up a business to sell said fabrics and gorgeous artefacts. And this blog had a high purpose: I was going to record all my trials and tribulations along the way in these pages…

I had visions of small business people around the world (that’s people from small businesses, not business people who are small) chatting in my comments sections, sharing information about how they’d mastered marketing their business, or selling on Etsy, or turning their initial ideas into business plans. Oh, it was going to be great! And inspirational, for me and for all my readers (short or otherwise).

And now I’m four months in to the blog. I’ve talked about cooking I’ve done, and presents I’ve made. I’ve shared a few pictures of some knitting projects I’ve finished. I’ve had a brief foray into some inspiration for the fabrics. And then I’ve returned to daily life, even telling you about the homemade cleaning products I haven’t made. Buuuut, there hasn’t yet been any actual chat about the fabric company. Mostly because, I haven’t actually done anything about that yet.

What can I say? It’s been winter, I’ve not felt like leaving the sofa for too long.

However, in my articles over the past four months there has arguably been one post that actually included something I might do in this nascent company and that was my tutorial for transferring printed images onto fabric.

Though I didn’t explicitly state it in the original article, I was toying with this method for getting images onto knit fabrics like T-shirts as a possible venture for the company. I love the idea of producing a range of T-shirts or baby-grows with attractive designs printed onto the front (it is ridiculously hard, I think, to find nice baby-grows, especially…)

So when I stumbled across the possibility of just printing out a computer image onto some paper and then ironing it on to your fabric it seemed just too good to be true. Which, of course, it was.

That’s not to say this isn’t a brilliant thing to do at home, but it definitely doesn’t create an end result with durability that would be good enough to sell for cold hard cash. (In my opinion, anyway…)

Transfer prints to fabrics: tips from Wolves in London blog

Great T-shirt with octopus book cover, image found on NYPL digital gallery

That said, I am still a bit obsessed with the process and I made quite a few T-shirts for friends’ children as Christmas presents, as well as finishing off another one for my partner.

So I thought I might share a few extra pointers from my experience using transfer paper for putting images onto T-shirts (and kid myself, at the same time, that I’m getting that one little bit closer to starting the dratted fabric business of my dreams).

If you’d like a step-by-step tutorial, return to my original post as well.

Choosing images

Transfer images to fabric: tips from Wolves in London blog

Amazing vintage image of horse and carriage races, found on the Graphics Fairy blog

This is the most crucial part, as the finished product will only look as nice as the image you’ve selected. So:

  • If you’re looking for copyright-free images, there are some amazing sites on the internet. My three favourites, which I return to time and again, are the Graphics Fairy, which has all sorts of vintage ephemera, cleaned up and ready to use, the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, particularly good for scientific stuff, I’ve found, like old drawings of animals and so on, and Clip Art Etc, which has loads of black and white illustrations of just about anything you can think of.
  • Images that will work best with transfer paper are ones that have no “blank space” in them. You want to choose whole pictures, or silhouettes you can cut out, rather than line drawings. Any blank space shows up as a shiny bit on your finished fabric. (See my original post for an example of what I mean…)
  • Print out the image onto plain paper first and put it onto your T-shirt. Make sure the colours work together. Sounds obvious, I know, but it makes life easier to realise it doesn’t work at this point, rather than once you’ve ironed it on.

Preparing the images

Transferring prints to fabric: tips from Wolves of London blog

Silhouette of horse T-shirt. (Most pointless caption ever? You could already see that, couldn’t you?)

  • The easiest shape of image to use is a square, to make it easiest to cut, but don’t be put off doing a more complicated shape.
  • Silhouettes can look really great, but just take care with the cutting stage. It’s easiest to use a scalpel on a special surface (such as self-healing board for sewing). If in doubt, cut slightly within your silhouette, rather than outside. Anything you have left outside the outline will show up shiny and clear and won’t look so great.
  • Before you start with the iron, check a few times that the image is in the right place. Is it horizontal? Is it positioned where you want it? Again, this sounds obvious, but I’ve often got a bit carried away and wanted to start the exciting part, only to realise afterwards I haven’t put the picture in the optimum place…

Using the transfer paper

Transfer images to fabric

Raaar, bright red dinosaur T-shirt

  • The transfer paper I’ve used has worked in slightly different ways so be sure you check the correct method first.
  • For images that are being ironed onto light fabrics, you will need to reverse the picture first (choose mirror image on your printer setting), as you put the image face down and iron it on from there.
  • For images that are being ironed onto dark fabric, you print it out as is, remove the backing (rather than the front) of the paper and iron it straight on. Double check before you print, so you don’t end up with writing the wrong way round…
  • Not all transfer papers are equal. Shop around, check reviews, try out a few different brands to settle on one that gives the finish you’re happiest with.

Aftercare

  • I’ve not found that my T-shirts wash as well as I would like. It’s best to put them inside out in the washing machine and wash them on a lower heat.
  • Don’t iron the image again, as it will start to come off and stick to everything. Yeah. I tried.

And I think that covers it! If you’ve used this method of transferring images onto fabric, do drop me a comment and let me know if there are other tips you think I’ve missed off.

If you share my love of vintage images and are looking for a different project that uses them, take a look at my homemade paperweight tutorial. For more images, including the ones I’ve used for these T-shirts, check out my Pinterest board Free graphics.

Things I’ve learnt is an occasional series, where I talk about stuff I’ve picked up while trying to set up a new business of printed fabrics. I’m hoping that the information in these posts might be informative / interesting / amusing to anyone else setting up their own craft business. If you’ve any suggestions for other topics for this series, or any thoughts on what I’ve written about, please do post a comment at the end of the piece…

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9 Responses to “Things I’ve learnt: transferring images to fabric”

  1. Cheryl January 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    I have been transferring images and started a blog and etsy shop recently. I use Leslie Riley TAP transfer paper because it washes well and it leaves a softer shine-free surface. However, it doesn’t work on dark fabrics. I am going to follow your blog because I am the older version of you that you describe. See my blog.

    • Wolves in London January 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      Ooooh, thanks for the tip on the transfer paper, I’ll have to check that one out.

      Ha ha, I love the idea that you are the older version of me! Please tell me you actually have knitting needles sticking out of your bun…

      I love the cushions on your blog, so beautiful, especially the one showing the girl on the sea shore with a snail.

  2. Kelly Garay January 22, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    I’m so glad that you commented on my blog so that I could find yours! I just received Leslie Riley’s TAP transfer paper in the mail and have been itching to transfer a vintage image of an octopus to something, but I’ve been nervous about doing it wrong (that paper is pricey!). I am totally bookmarking this page for these tips to re-read before I finally transfer the image. Excited to read more of your blog! Loving your honesty.

    • Wolves in London January 22, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Oh that’s a great coincidence! So glad these tips help. I’m just learning as I go, really, but agree, the paper is so pricey I don’t want to make mistakes.

      How funny that you’re thinking of putting a vintage octopus print onto something as that was the very first thing I wanted to try out as well! (See this post, here, it’s the third of the projects I list: http://wolvesinlondon.com/2012/10/15/three-secret-projects/)

      The octopus book cover I used in the end probably worked better than that image would have done though. I’ve got a few other vintage octopus prints on my graphics board in Pinterest too (http://pinterest.com/LondonWolfe/free-graphics/). I’m quite a fan, ha ha.

      Do let me know how you get on, and I’d love to see what octopus you end up using too…

  3. lovenotesrestylestudio January 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    like! So sweet – Found you via Craft Junkie Too T.G.I.F. Linky Party.

  4. Rupa February 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    I found you via graphics fairy. I love your sense of humor! Of course I love your tutorials for paper weights, image transfers etc. By the way, for those that love Lesley Riley’s TAP, I found them on sale at Joann.com for under $5 a packet and ordered two last year. So keep an eye out for sales there. Now, I am yet to use them in a project :)

    • Wolves in London February 5, 2013 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks so much Rupa. Really pleased you’ve enjoyed the tutorials!

      Drat, I’ll have to get one of my friends in the US to look at for the transfer paper for me. Over here in the UK it’s WAY more expensive…

  5. hodgepodgecraft February 12, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Great comprehensive post with super-helpful tips – thanks for linking up at #Pintorials :)

  6. Trudy August 25, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    I’ve just discovered your blog and wanted to pass along another great site for great free images. I use this one almost as much as I use the Graphic Fairy’s. Have fun playing with it! http://freevintagedigistamps.blogspot.com/

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