Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making Patches with a Laser Printer

I've been busy recently dealing with a very severe flare of my back condition while simultaneously working to get ready for RealmsCon in Corpus Christi this weekend. (I get to see Abney Park again!!) So I just have a short demo for you today.

I love patches. Patches are the very essence of punk rock fashion, in my opinions, and I enjoy bringing that aspect to steampunk clothing. I'm planning quite a large project involving many, many patches that I've been collecting for over a year. But in addition to ones I've bought, I wanted to have some custom ones of my own. I know a few people who will make lovely custom patches, but in the interests of frugality, and because I just always want to see if I can do something myself, I started researching how to make patches.

I don't have the talent required to either hand-paint or embroider onto fabric free-handed. I considered various types of stencils and stamps (which I may end up experimenting with anyway.) But the easiest method by far was to simply print onto fabric with my home printer. Now if you have an inkjet printer, this is fairly simple. You can buy iron-on transfer sheets that you can print on, or you can print directly on fabric if you pretreat the fabric with commercial solutions they sell for the purpose.

But I don't have an inkjet anymore. We ditched ours due to outrageous ink costs and bought a black-only laser printer. Lengthy googling told me that laser printing onto fabric would work great and be permanent. It also told me it would never work and I would likely set my house on fire. I decided to go for it anyway.

My first attempt was a patch for the Airship Octavia that I made a couple days before a con. Therefore I printed onto fabric I had on hand. The first step to printing on fabric is getting your fabric to go through the printer. This is really easy. You go to the grocery store and buy freezer paper. You iron the freezer paper (shiny side down) onto the back of your fabric. Cut the fabric and now-attached freezer paper to just under 8 1/2" x 11." Then feed the fabric and freezer paper into your printer. Make sure to set your printer to the thickest paper setting, and best quality.

I don't have a photo of my first result, but I was thrilled! My airship logo looked fantastic and I cut it out and sewed it onto my costume. However, after a day of wearing it at a con, with it taking quite a bit of sweating and rubbing, the image had faded A LOT. And I was a very sad Baroness.

So, determined that I would make this work, I set out to attack the problem scientifically. I gathered three different fabrics: the grey mystery blend I had originally used, plain white cotton, and brown cotton duck. I printed the same pictures onto all three fabrics. Here are the results:

The white and the grey look the best. The duck didn't take the printing very well, due to the texture and dark color, I think. My next step was to see how well the image STAYED on the fabric. I had read somewhere to iron the image after printing to "heat-set" it. So I ironed it with a pretty hot iron. Too hot for the poly blend grey, as it puckered up in one place. Oops. One site advised waiting at least a week until you try to wash the fabric. I gave it a day and then threw three octopus squares into the washing machine. I washed them on delicate, cold water, with normal detergent. I then put them in the dryer. These are the results.

The white came out pretty good. The areas that are very light are where the fabric got folded in the wash and therefore got the roughest treatment.

My synthetic mystery blend, on the other hand, was disastrous. This explains my previous experience with wearing a patch printed on this fabric. The synthetic poly did not keep almost any of the printing.

The duck doesn't look great, but it never looked very good to start with. So obviously the winner is the plain 100% cotton. To further test the printing's durability, I sent the cotton square through the wash again, this time on Hot and Heavy Duty with a load of sheets. It came out looking like this:

Not bad, especially considering that I'll probably never wash any costumes this way at all. Some of my items, I wouldn't put in the machine to begin with. And the nice thing about this technique is that if your patch does get a bit too faded, you can just print another one for virtually free!

So, I'm planning to experiment a bit further with this technique, once I have a new logo for the new Airship Octavia XIII. I want to see how it will look on various colors and even prints. I'll report back.


  1. awesome post! Thanks so much I hope it works for me too!

  2. Thanks for showing your tests and results.

  3. Great post! why don't you try fixative on your print as post-treatment ?

  4. When I tried with 100% cotton, white, the image didn't set at all & it just rubbed off, tried again & left it for a day & washed just with cold water & nothing else & I now have no image.
    It just doesn't want to work with my laser printer