How to print on fabric professionally? Choose the right method depending on the fabric you're using. We list the different methods and which is best for each particular product.

Want to know all about printing on fabric? We have all the answers for you.

There are several different techniques, and each method works best for different fabric types.

Choose the fabric (your base fabric that you intend to print on), depending on the product you’re making. We use different materials for different purposes, from upholstery and clothing to sportswear, soft furnishings or linen.

You also have to think about the tones you intend to use. Consider the weight of the fabric and how much you plan to print. Also, take the colour-fastness and durability of the print into account.

Here’s an in-depth look at how to choose the right material for your product, which method to use as well as maake’s fabulous selection of 13,000+ designs to print. If you like, you can also upload your own designs.

How to print on fabric: Methods

Popular techniques used for reproducing designs on textiles include virtual, lino, rotary, foil and screens fabric print methods. Here’s an in-depth look at each of these techniques and the results you can expect…

What is digital fabric printing?

Manufacturers use this fabric printing method mostly for reproducing detailed images and patterns, a photo or a complicated image. Additionally, it is most advantageous when designs have multiple hues and the required meters or run rate is lower.

A computerised fabric printer is effectively a huge version of your desktop inkjet printer, with print heads for each shade that ‘jet’ the ink onto the material as it passes over with incredible accuracy. Hence the name ‘inkjet’.

The base fabric chosen is usually white, ecru or ivory, as this will give the best reproduction of the design. It is possible to use coloured material. However, like your desktop printer, it will only add the shade on top and may affect the overall effect.

Typically the amount of ink used in a computerised fabric printer ranges from the 4 process tones of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) to between 8 and 12 shades. These additional hue channels will add to the overall ‘gamut’ or tones pace of the fabric printer – expanding the range of tones that the machine can reproduce.

How a printer reads shades correctly

The wider the gamut, the greater the ability to reproduce fine tones, hit specific spot tones or outlying bright hues. You may have a printer that uses Orange, Blue, Green, Red etc to improve the strength of certain shades. If this is the case, use light hues such as Light Magenta or Light Cyan to improve skin tone gradients, or greys and blacks to help with Black tones.

Some machines even allow the addition of fluorescent shades channels. However, currently with a computerised printer, you are unable to print metallic hues.

A computerised fabric printer digitally reproduces any pattern you want to create and allows you to use as many tones as you wish, at any scale. 

Software called a ‘RIP’ converts the virtual image to tones for each channel.

There are two main types of printers – a direct-to-material and a sublimation printer. They both use similar or even the same machinery with slight modifications to allow and optimise to variance in material handling.

Direct-to-textile printing

Direct to material printing works by printing directly onto the fabric itself. We often 'prepare' the fabric with a special coating to improve the print quality, colour-fastness, vibrancy and sharpness of print.

Manufacturers use various inks in this method depending on the type of fabric – including one that uses reactive dyes, Acid, disperse, VAT and pigment ink. Reading our blog about this printing method will give you all the information you need.

At our North London mill, maake uses special pigment ink in the printer for cotton, linen and other natural and blended-fibre material such as polycottons.

Using a virtual printer offers several advantages:

  • Ability to print multiple designs at no additional cost
  • Eco friendly as we only print what you need
  • A relatively inexpensive and fast process from beginning to end
  • As many tones as you want can be printed – this won't affect the print cost
  • You can make a sample first to see the effect at minimal cost.

Sublimation printing

Perfect for polyester and poly blends, this relatively new professional reproduction process using thermal paper offers excellent results. We use dye sublimation printing on fabric using special thermal paper sheets at maake for all polyesters and man-made material.

Sublimation printing is a chemical process that involves printing designs in a mirrored form on a special type of thermal transfer paper known as ‘sublimation paper’.

To bring the design from the transfer paper to the material, we use heat and pressure. In this scientific process, the heat causes the water-based type of ink to evaporate into a gas which bonds chemically with the material fibre.

One then transfers the design from the transfer paper to the material. The ink penetrates deep into the fabric, creating a permanent print.

Sublimation printing with thermal transfer paper is great for creating detailed designs and various tones on synthetic material.

Advantages of sublimation printing:

  • Sustainable, as the water-based inks don’t fade or peel, and they use no water in the process
  • Produces excellent detail, time after time
  • Great for both small and large runs
  • The print is very bold and clear. You won’t see any excess ink left on the paper
  • A print is long-lasting and the designs don’t scratch off.

Lino printing method

We usually use this process at home to create paper gifts, cards and memorabilia on a home laser printer. Professional artists also use the lino process to produce artworks. There’s no printer involved; you print on fabric by hand.

For lino printing on fabric you need a steady hand, an iron and good hand-eye coordination. And you can use as many or as few hues as you wish.

Once you’ve created your design, you move it onto a lino block. You then ink it with the shade of ink you’ve chosen. When the ink has dried, you use an iron to transfer the designs to the material.

Lino advantages:

  • You can do this at home using your iron for your iron-on transfer
  • Great if you’re handy and artistic
  • Make one print, or more.

Foil print method

When you wish to print something shiny on a fabric, you’ll use foil printing.

This procedure involves using a foil sealant on the material. You then press the foil onto the material with a steel roller. Make sure to use a good quality sealant for a more durable pattern.

A second foil method involves reproducing first on the foil and then pressing the foil on the fabric. You do this with an iron or a steel roller.

Preferably one should dry clean foil after you print on an item.

Advantages of foil printing:

  • It’s a creative way to print any pattern. Used for clothing, homewear or décor items
  • You can do this with an iron!
  • There’s a wide selection of foil in different shades.

At maake, we have some material which will give you a foiled effect such as our Eco Glitter Dot lycra – perfect for active, swim and dance wear.

Screen printing

Printing on screens using fabric involves reproducing each color separately on separate screens.

This process is best for simple designs and shapes that only need a few shades. A white pattern on black material has usually been printed on screens.

You can either use this method with a printer or by hand. If you do this yourself, you’ll squeeze paint through screens made of steel frames and nylon mesh.

The hand process on screens is a favoured artistic technique, made popular by creatives like Andy Warhol.

People adopt different methods for different products. For instance, if you print on an already-made item (T-shirt, handbag etc), you’ll use flat-screens for printing. For an entire roll of fabric, the rotary screens process is best.

Advantages of fabric printing on screens:

  • Ideal for solid shades
  • Cost-effective for reproducing large volumes
  • You can print on any material
  • You’ll see that hues are vibrant and intense
  • Durable.

Freezer transfer paper

For printing something at home, here’s how to print on fabric at home your inkjet printer and freezer paper from the kitchen! If you’re unsure what freezer paper is, let us explain: we wrap this special freezer paper around food that we wish to freeze in your home freezer. Canvas and other mediumweight fabrics are best for this home method. Use the shiny side of the freezer paper against the material for best effect. The trick is to make sure that the printer will print the ink on the fabric and not on the freezer paper. 

How to print on fabric: Materials

How to print on fabric? Take a look at the different materials. Then watch how each fabric responds when you have printed on it. 

Here at maake, we print on over 100+ fabric types, so just what type of fabric are you looking for? We have prepared a little summary below of some of the most popular types:

Fabric printing on canvas

People often choose fabric printing on canvas when they have a photo they want to frame and display or for internal/external uses such as bags, deckchairs, seating, bean bags, etc.

For artists, the best type of canvas is a special blend of cotton and polyester that is completely matte – called archival canvas. You’ll see that the quality is exceptional.

We often use it for prints for exhibitions in art galleries and museums.

People make most canvases out of polyester or cotton, or a mix of both.

There are several different processes. The most common methods are sublimation (thermal paper) and inkjet printing. Fabric printed on a laser printer is also popular, but it lacks the clarity and definition you get from the other methods.

maake offer both sublimation and inkjet printed canvas materials, perfect for indoor and outdoor applications that require the durability and robustness of canvas fabric.

Linen fabric

Linen textiles and linen blends, both mediumweight and heavy weight, offer stunning fabric quality for use on a printer.

We choose linen fabric printing for many different products, including upholstery, handbags and other accessories, quilts and clothing.

Here’s an interesting fact: because of linen’s structure, some of the fibres come loose during printing, leaving a white or beige mark. But that adds to the item’s beauty.

On linen textiles, maake likes to use a virtual process. This is a very popular method on this type of material. The ink utilised in the process stick to the fabric surface by means of a binding agent.

You'll notice that the pattern looks like it has been painted on the the sheets, as if the material was paper. It’s that perfect! Read our definitive blog about printing on linen.

Cotton fabric

Cotton is a natural fibre. People often choose cotton fabric for clothing. The fabric industry chooses this material because it’s so comfortable and durable.

What about cotton fabric printing? We usually print shades and designs on cotton using a virtual printer.

We use direct-to-material printers installed with a wide range of special computerised inks that are colour-fast, durable and are certified for both GOTS 6.0 and Oeke-tex class 1 regulations. You can read more about material certifications here.

People choose this method because it’s quick, much more sustainable and we can use it on both natural and synthetic fibres. Also, cotton materials retain the ink well, giving designs excellent clarity.

Polyester fabrics

Although we often choose polyester as a fabric for clothing and fashion, it’s important to choose your fabric printing methods very carefully.

The sublimation printing method has become the method of choice for polyester, both recycled polyester and synthetic polyester blends. We use this method at maake, because it’s more sustainable and saves on quality.

When we use this process, 100 percent of the designs paper image transfer is absorbed by the ink and embeds into the fabric fibres. So the pattern doesn’t fade after a few washes and the fabric still feels like new.

Lycra prints

People use this very versatile material because it is so elastic and the body moves without being restricted. It’s also very long-lasting and has the ability to breathe. No wonder it’s one of the most popular textiles in the garment industry.

We often use a class of synthetic fibres called lycra fibre. People gave this trademarked brand name to this specific class of synthetic elastic fibres.

People call it ‘spandex in the US, and ‘elastane’ in the rest of the world. It’s mainly the choice for activewear, sports and dance garments.

Thanks to its texture, it’s also extremely breathable and doesn’t wrinkle. 

Lycra prints beautifully and the hues are bright and vivid. We often use the sublimation fabric printing process with thermal paper for lycra textiles including acrylic, nylon, rayon and spandex. We use pigment printing for cotton bases with a lycra content.

Take a look at the last swimwear purchases you made. You'll see that this material is polyamide lycra, a fabric that manufacturers use for a lot of swimwear.

Manufacturers print it with acid ink for vivid hues that are colour fast and resistant to both salt and chlorine.

Popular textiles that include lycra include our Organic Lily JerseyStretch Jersey and Eco Lycra bases.

Explore maake’s base fabric selection

On one of the pages you visit, you’ll find the perfect one to print your pattern on.

If you’re looking for a material to complete a DIY craft or a garment for your business, you’ll find one here, too. Our superior quality materials are excellent for lining, backing and facing matching printed fabrics. And minimum orders are just 1 metre!

Choose your fabrics here

Professional projects

We’ve taken the time to source the fabric crafts used most in some detail so that you have all the information you need on how T’s, fashion, upholstery and cushions are printed.

T-shirt material

maake uses either digital printing on fabric or the sublimation process, depending on the fabric.

Factory printers use special inks for cotton and linens, and a dye sublimation printer with thermal paper for polyester and man-made fabrics.

Fashion material: What to look for

Printing for fashion requires an intimate knowledge of not only how the fabric looks and feels, but how it performs and drapes for the particular fabric.

maake print over 60 fabrics that are brilliant for use in all sorts of fashion applications including :

There are some key considerations you want to think about when you are choosing a fashion fabric that is right for you:

Knitted or woven

This will mainly split you between more flexible knitted fabrics such as jersey fabric for T’s and rompers and poly lycra textiles for activewear and swimwear – versus the more structured woven materials for shirts, dresses, trousers and jackets. Read all about woven fabric here.

Natural or man-made

What type of fibre you pick will decide the final effect. Man-made textiles print fantastic vibrant colours, are durable and wash well. We used these most all over the world in 2021.

Still, many customers prefer the cooler, more breathable options of natural fibres such as cotton and linen.

Sustainable options – such as Organic or Recycled

Many fashion brands choose sustainable textiles for their custom collections. In fact, customers are often happy to pay a premium to know their materials are produced from organic cotton materials or more sustainable man-made options such as recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. Read our guides to Recycled Polyester and the one on Organic Cotton now.

The surface effect

Whether you looking for a lustrous face for evening wear such as our Duchess Satin or a more subtle matte finish like our Top Sateen, the surface effect of the fabric plays a big part in the overall look of the garment and often the perceived value and provenance.

For instance, our Organic Calico Cotton with its beige shade can give a rather rustic feel whilst our Eco Glitter Dot Lycra with its shiny, metallic, techno finish will give a very futuristic look.

The weight of the material

Lastly, the weight of the fabric and its subsequent drape make a big effect on how the garment will sit on the person. Too heavy and it will not sit right; too light and it will be too sheer for the person to wear.

Our online fabric specifier is a great place to start, as it shows images and specifications of the fabric, alongside descriptions and advised fabrics in order to help you make the best choice.

Upholstery textiles: What to choose

There’s a wide choice of textiles to use for upholstery. It depends on what you’re looking for.

If you have pets or kids, and want a long-lasting fabric, leather is a great choice. If you don’t need your living room furniture to be that durable, you have a variety of other options…

Sure, cotton is strong, resists pilling and it's long-lasting, so we often use it for upholstery items. If you add a synthetic fibre to the cotton mix, like polyester or nylon, the upholstery lasts really well.

We also often choose cotton blends, as they’re durable, don’t wrinkle and can be treated so that they are stain-resistant, too.

Polyester in any form is another excellent choice for chairs, couches and other furniture items and usually has excellent durability and rub fastness (something which is a must in upholstery).

Once you’ve chosen the fabric, you can continue and choose the reproduction process to use accordingly.

Cushion material

Before you choose fabric for cushions, consider what you’re going to be using the cushion for.

Choose hard-working materials that are durable and wash well if the cushions are for regular use and think about long-lasting options for outside furniture.

We use cotton and linen as well as blends of these two textiles widely.

The reason is simple… you can wash these natural materials, they last and are perfect for those with sensitive skin. Cotton resists creasing, which is another plus.

People usually make couch cushions from cotton, cotton blends or wool, as all these materials are easy to clean and last well. If you are looking for a more durable option, choose a synthetic fabric such as polyester, rayon, vinyl or microfibre.

Cushion fillings vary, too. Choose from feathers, hollow-fill fibre, polyester, foam or batting – or a combination of these.

Reproducing on cushion fabric depends, again, on the type of fabric you’re using. Take a look at the sections above that cover the different fabric choices and the methods used to print on each.

Choose the right material for your business and DIY crafts

Choose your fabrics here

How maake works:

    • Uploading your pattern: If you haven’t created one, you can choose one from our unique collection of 13,000+ designs created by local artists that work well with various business and DIY crafts and products.
    • Select the material from our list of base materials.
    • We then print it and ship it to you, wherever you are. We ship all over the world.
    • Ask us any question you’re unsure of. We’ll reply right away.
  • Ask us any question you’re unsure of. We’ll reply right away.

Design your own fabric

Years ago, Adobe Photoshop became the software of choice for those wishing to create a pattern on material. It features a wide selection of tools that can assist designers create exactly what they want.

Whether you’re keen to transform an image, manipulate it, or create something quite unique, this is the perfect programme for you.

Once you’ve created your material pattern, maake's process is easy.  

  1. Select the file and upload
  2. Confirm copyright is yours
  3. Your pattern is ready to upload.

Upload your creation here!

Note: Large designs can take up to 5 minutes, so please be patient while we upload your print

April 10, 2023 — Alexander Wills