Printing Photos on Fabric – 7 Things you NEED to know

As a lover of all things creative, adding photos and personal artwork to my sewing projects has been the highlight of my creative journey. Owning a sublimation printing business for the last 5 years paired with opening Clearly i Create website which includes Photo Quilt Blocks ordering platform, has given me a clear idea of what is needed to print photos on fabric for quilts, art projects, and photo projects!

There are many ways to print photos on fabric: Sublimation printing, Direct to Fabric printing, Inkjet Printing on fabric, Heat Transfer Printing with transfer sheets, as well as wax paper and paste methods. Photo Quilt Blocks, along with other online companies, also professionally print photos on fabric. Cotton fabrics and Polyester fabrics are the most commonly used fabrics when printing on fabric. Cotton methods for printing photos on fabric are stated as washable, but testimonials state the photo can rub off with use. Polyester sublimation printing seems to be the winner for color vibrancy, washability, and durability when printing photos on fabric. When using sublimation technology, you have access to many types of polyester fabrics such as: poly-poplin, satin, Minky, Snuggle velour, fleece, sweatshirt knit, and knits. These fabrics work well in many sewing projects including: quilts, pillows, home decor, clothing, children’s toys, artwork, all kinds of bags, and certainly, one of a kind gifts.

If you would like to learn more about these methods, what method you use with which fabrics, DIY vs Professional Photos printed on fabric, Tips for getting your photos ready, or Ideas to Sew with your photos printed on fabric, please read on!

5 methods available to Print Photos on Fabric with printers

  1. Sublimation Printing
  2. Direct to Fabric Printing
  3. Heat Transfer Printing
  4. Inkjet printing on fabric
  5. Professionally printed online
  • Sublimation Printing – This printing method requires special ink that “gases” into the fabrics and dyes the actual fiber of the fabric. There are home desktop versions of this printer.

Epson Dye Sublimation Printer

  • Direct to Fabric Printing – These machines work best for natural materials such as cotton and silk and synthetic ones like nylon. They’ve been engineered to provide the precise ink chemistry required for printing on these fabrics. These printers have special ink and are typically very expensive.

Brother PrintModa Studio – Fabric Printer

  • Heat Transfer Printing – This method involves using a heat transfer sheet you purchase to print on with your inkjet printer and then you use a heat press or iron to press it on to the fabric. This is like a decal.

Heat Transfer Sheets

  • Inkjet printing on fabric – There are special fabric sheets or rolls that you purchase to insert in your inkjet printer and then print directly on the fabric. There are typically additional steps and processes involved to “set the ink permanently” on to your fabric. Many tutorials note that the ink is washable, but it may rub off.

June Tailor Photo Fabric Sheets

  • For photos printed on fabric, with no learning curve, that are vibrant and washable, choose a professional printer such as Photo Quilt Blocks ( The sublimated images are vibrant, very washable, and can be printed on a variety of polyester fabrics such as poly-poplin, snuggle velour, knit, felt, satin, fleece, and sweatshirt fabric.

Professionally printed Sublimation

Photos on Fabric

The Most Popular Fabrics to Print Photos on are Cotton & Polyester.

Fabric TypePrinting TypeWashabilityThe feel of the printing on fabric
Polyester FabricsYou can print on polyester fabrics with sublimation printing.This ink dyes into the fibers of the fabric making it permanent. This ink does not rub off and is washable.You can not feel sublimation printing on the fabric. It is part of the fibers and you can not feel the printing on it at all.
Polyester/Cotton Blend FabricsIf the cotton content is higher than 60% you can use direct to fabric printing. If the Polyester content is higher than 50% you can use sublimation printing.Direct to fabric printing on cotton sits on top of the fibers. This ink can rub off.
Sublimation printing only dyes the polyester fabric. If you print on a 50/50 cotton poly fabric you will get a distressed or worn look as the ink only dyes to the polyester.
Direct to fabric printing with an inkjet printer has a very lightweight feeling of ink on top of the fabric. Sublimation printing has the hand or feel of the fabric.
Cotton FabricsYou can print on cotton with an Inkjet or Direct to Fabric Printer.While warnings are given about the ink rubbing off in tutorials, these are washable.With inkjet printing the ink sets on top of the fabric but has the feel of the fabric.
Rayon or Triblend (poly/cotton/rayon) fabricsRayon is usually part of a triblend of polyester, cotton, and rayon. You can sublimate this if the polyester content is 50% or higher.A triblend fabric with Rayon is washable. The ink will only dye into the polyester. When washed the ink will wash off the rayon and cotton leaving a distressed muted look.The sublimation printing dyes into the polyester fibers so you cannot feel the printing on this fabric.
Nylon FabricsThese fabrics you can use a heat transfer sheet. (check packaging for applications)Check packaging for washability.This will set on TOP of the fabric like a decal.
Fabric Types and What printing method is suitable for each fabric.

Photo Quilt Blocks uses Sublimation Printing.

Consider the costs of DIY vs. Professional printing on fabric.

As a professional “I can make that my-selfer” I know we all prefer to have total control over our creative process. However, I do want to point out the cost differences associated with printing on fabric yourself vs having them printed for you.

DIY printing costs:

  • You will have the cost of the printer. Depending on the printer method, these printers can cost anywhere from $150-$15,000 (yes, direct to garment printers do cost this much….yikes!)
  • The cost of the ink refills. (Average of $25 per cartridge)
  • The cost of the fabric sheets. (About 10 sheets for $40)
  • Maintenance of the printer. These have to be used often or they ruin. I, myself, have gone through numerous inkjet printers because I didn’t use them enough and the ink jets clogged up. (Cost of buying a new printer when you can’t get the jets unclogged)
  • You will have a learning curve with learning the process of printing on fabric. With inkjet printing methods you will have soaking and setting steps in the process. (Time is valuable)
  • Gathering all the tools and materials needed for your specific printing method. This can be a deep hole. Parchment paper, pressing pillows, heat press, platens, and more.
  • The waste associated with this learning the printing process, jammed papers and fabrics, ink smears on your fabric, and just plain “what was I thinking” mistakes. Honestly, you just throw a lot away trying to get to the one perfect print.

Professional printing the costs are much less. I will use as an example:

  • You can get a 6×6 photo professionally printed with them taking the “loss risks” for about $7.
  • You can order online. Photo Quilt Blocks has designed a website specifically for quilters and sewists. You can choose your fabric and print individual blocks, or you can choose a size of quilt block and fill it with as many photos as fit on the fat quarter of fabric. The photos can cost as little as a $1.16 a piece! Plus, they come with a sheerweight interfacing already applied!
  • To order online there are 5 simple steps: Choose your photo, choose your fabric, choose your size, upload to website (crop and add words in the process), checkout, the photo quilt block is shipped to your door ready to cut to size and sew!
  • In the end, the time savings and cost savings all point to Professionally printed!

9 Tips for Preparing Your Photos to be Printed on Fabric.

The world of photo editing is huge.

I would recommend editing and cropping your photos before printing them. By doing this prior to printing, you save a lot of wasted fabric.

There are many phone app editors and online free editors that can be used to fix colors and apply other effects. Check with your closest young person. They will know!

I will be putting up lessons on some of my favorite photo editors in future posts, so stay tuned! I created the below example in less than five minutes!

Tips for Preparing your Photos to print on fabric:

  • Professional photographs make beautiful photos printed on fabric. Make sure that you get a print release from your photographer prior to ordering your prints online.
  • Make sure the lighting in your photo is not too dark. Choose an online photo editor to adjust the color of your photo if necessary.
  • Crop out unwanted backgrounds from your photo that are just “noise”.
  • Add words to your photo through an editor (Photo Quilt Blocks allows you to do this on their website choosing your font and color of words) that help you remember the special moment in the photo.
  • Do not save a web image to print. They are often web optimized and VERY small and do not print well. If you print one, they will always print blurry.
  • If you find a photo on Facebook or the web that you like (make sure you have the right to have the photo) you can take a screenshot with your phone and then crop out the junk. This typically gets you a nice photo!
  • If you are wanting to put a paper photograph on fabric, scan it in or take a photo of it outside in the natural light being careful to not get any glares or shadows.
  • A resolution of your photo of 150 dpi is minimum for a good print.
  • Most iPhone photos are large enough and have enough data to enlarge to the largest size that a home printer can print or a fat quarter in size such as Photo Quilt Blocks prints.

What can you make out of photos printed on fabric?

Just about anything! But here is a list to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Quilts
  • Tote bags/purses/makeup bags
  • Framed art
  • Wall hangings
  • Pillows/Huggy Pillows/Reading Pillows
  • Toys for kids (blocks, snuggle blankets, quiet books and more)
  • Wedding gifts and favors
  • Memory quilts, lap quilts, fidget blankets
  • Pet beds, gifts, bandanas, and clothing
  • Tea towels with your favorite cook on it
  • Wall banners with photos
  • Mug wraps
  • Placemats
  • Wallets
  • Backpacks
  • Canvas wall hangings
  • Journal covers

Make sure the washability of your photo fabric matches your project.

When you are deciding on which form of printing to use, you need to make sure to consider what people are saying about the washability and durability of fabrics they are printing on.

Cotton fabrics: While the instructions say it is washable, many of the videos and posts I have researched regarding photos printed on cotton say that the ink rubs off. This is not going to be suitable for a quilt or a handbag that will get lots of friction.

Polyester: The polyester fabrics are special in that the ink gases into the fabric. The photo is printed on a special paper with sublimation ink. The ink is then heat pressed with pressure and time to allow the ink to turn into a gas which then welds to the polyester fiber. This is why the polyester fabrics are so vibrant in color and can be washed.

How to quilt or sew with Photos Printed on Fabric.

I have done a lot of experimenting with this very question!

First, with my Photo Quilt Blocks brand, we fuse a sheerweight interfacing to the back of our Photo Quilt Blocks to stablize the fabric and make sure it is ready to quilt and sew when it hits your door. Make sure that if you are printing your own photos on fabric at home that you carefully fuse an appropriate weight interfacing to the back of your blocks.

Second, when I quilt over the photo printed on fabric I use clear thread. By using clear thread, you don’t distract from the photo but still get your photo quilted appropriately!

Here is the thread I use: Superior Clear Thread

Happy quilting!

May your stitches and photos continue to tell tales

of love and laughter, and keep your memories alive!


Lori McCroskey is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to quilts, projects, and gifts created with photos printed on fabric. She also has a business where you can have her print your photos on fabric for you! Inspired by her love for sewing, scrapbooking, and family, Lori has a passion for capturing memories in useable gifts, quilts, and crafts that get your photos off your phone, out of the album, freed from a frame, and into memorable keepsakes that your friends and family will treasure. Learn more about Lori here!

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