I continually get emails asking for printer recommendations for use with fabric printing, and I always recommend a printer that uses pigmented ink. The above illustrates why — pigmented ink is not only water resistant, but it is UV resistant.
Backing up a bit, in 1996 I co-authored The Quilter’s Computer Companion. In the now out-of-print book, we included a chapter about printing on fabric. Then there was only dye-based inks available for use in home inkjet printers. Because I dyed fabric, we were able to figure out a recipe for making dye-based inks water resistant based on chemicals used for setting dyes. This was before Bubble Jet Set hit the market. After BJS was available, I used it rather than continue to tweak our recipe, especially with the ever changing printers and ink formulations being introduced. The problem, however, was that while BJS and pre-treated fabrics helped make dye-based inks water resistant, it didn’t make them UV resistant. I knew pigment inks were water resistant and were far more UV resistant, but when printers affordable for the home user became available, the colors weren’t as vivid as what dye-based inks could give. Thus, the solution was to get the vivid colors from dye-based ink and to use a spray for UV protection.
In 2002, that changed. Epson launched a series of printers using Ultrachrome pigmented ink. It had a color range nearly as vivid, and it was water resistant and UV resistant. When I bought the 2200 that uses Ultrachrome, I wasn’t sure if it was a good purchase, and I knew no one using that printer for fabric printing (that has certainly changed over the years). As a result, I continually experimented to find out what worked for my needs.
About a year ago I came across some of the test prints that I made in 2002 when I was comparing pigment ink prints on fabric to dye-based ink prints on fabric. I remember then when I made the prints, both sets looked very good. I also remember that the dye-based prints on some pre-treated fabrics looked a bit brighter. However, a year plus ago I came across the prints in one of my fabric bins, and I was stunned at the color shift in the dye-based inks and how much they dulled. Also eye opening was that every print made with pigment-based ink looked as good as it did when I printed them. There were no color shifts at all.
Rather than put a close-up of every set of prints, the bottom line is that the pigmented ink consistently retained its color over time. I do have notes on what fabric is what. ColorPlus (Color Textiles) gave the best result (sadly, however, that fabric is now difficult to obtain). Printed Treasures was also very good. The fabric that did the worse was treated with BJS; however, that was the original formula and it has since changed.
The good news is that dye-based inks have come a long way, and there are now dye-based inks that are UV resistant (however, most are not water resistant). Also, Epson is not the only company offering pigmented inks. All of the new Kodak printers use pigment inks, and they are very economical. Canon and HP also have printers that use pigment. When looking at those models, be sure the ink says pigment; otherwise, it’s dye based.
That being said, I continue to use Epson printers. I still have my 2200 as it is a workhorse. I’ve been recommending that printer for years, and now recommend any successor to it (such as the 2400 and 2800). I also had a Stylus Pro 7600 that prints 24″ wide, which I sold last year. My newest addition is a Stylus Pro 7900. I also have a couple small printers that use Durabrite ink. Those are everyday printers, and I also use them to print fabric labels.
My recommendations for printers: Anything that uses pigmented ink.
For a printer that prints 13″ and wider, my preference is Epson, one that uses any of the Ultrachrome ink sets. (Again, there are Canon and HP models that use pigmented ink, so you are not tied to Epson.)
For 8.5″ wide, for Epson, look for a printer that uses Durabrite ink. Note that any printer using that ink is going to create a print exactly the same as another printer using Durabrite. The difference in price is because of a faster speed or other features, such the ability to scan. Thus, if on a budget, look for anything on sale. Again, Canon and HP also make models that use pigmented ink. Also check out Kodak’s new printers. They get a very good rating, and their cartridges are larger making them more economical.
My recommendations for pretreated fabrics for use with pigmented ink:
FabriSign by Jacquard, which you can get directly from Jacquard (tell Sandy I sent you) or Dharma Trading. (Note that ProCoat is formulated for dye-based inks.) FabriSign was revamped a couple years ago, and it is far better than it was prior. I’ve been using it exclusively for anything over 8.5″ wide an am very pleased with its quality.
The other fabric I recommend is anything in the EQ Printables line. It is excellent with both pigmented and dye-based inks. I’m very happy that it is now being offered in 8.5″wide x 120″ rolls.
Since pigmented inks are water-resistant by their nature, some are surprised that I use a pretreated fabric. I do so because I often find that, depending on the image, I can get a sharper, often more vivid print. My theory is that the coating may help to prevent the ink droplets to spread a tad less which results in a sharper image. However, experimentation is always key. You may find that you can get exactly the print you desire without using pretreated fabric.
For printing on other mediums such as Lutradur or thin metals, I recommend inkAID. The white matte is washable on fabric, although it does stiffen the fabric. The clear is great on thin metals and on various weights Lutradur and Evalon.
In the future I’ll be sharing more information about printing on fabric, including some of my favorite print settings to use.