Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Lowdown On Custom Printed Fabric

As most of you know, I love finding crafting gear that's kind of unusual.  When it comes to fabric this can mean spending tons of time looking for a particular theme or color scheme and never quite finding what I'm imagining.  Not any more!! There are several ways you can get the custom fabric of your dreams, so I'm sharing what I've found here to give everyone the lowdown on rockin' your own fabric designs.

First is Spoonflower, which is where the above swatches came from.  I heard about this over a year ago & was intrigued.  You upload a design in jpeg, png or a similar format and decide how you want it to look (single big design, repeating, mirrored, etc.), choose a fabric type and bam!  You're a fabric designer.  How cool is that?

- You can have your own custom print yard of fabric to use to make whatever you want
- And you can choose from thousands of designs other people have done
- You can choose from several different types of fabrics (quilting cotton, twill, knit, etc.)

- It ain't cheap.  $18/yd for quilting cotton, $27/yd (gulp!) for organic cotton interlock.
- While it's awesome they have several organic options for the "greenie" in me, I kind of wish they also had some conventional 100% cotton interlock too so there would be some more affordable choices.
- If you're starting from scratch with a design idea, you do have to have at least a little graphic design skills (ie. can use software like Photoshop, Inkscape, Illustrator, etc.)

They do offer a "designer discount" on your own prints, so that takes it down to $16.20 for quilting cotton, which isn't as out of reach.  Over the summer they had their once a year free swatch day where you could get an 8"x8" swatch of your design on any fabric for free (AND free shipping!).  I literally found out about it an hour before it ended or I would have posted about it.  I used my own hedgehog design and repeated it to make this:

and I ordered a second one to make a personalized swatch:

I was impressed with the quality - just like any regular printed fabric and I'm already making a few small things with these freebie swatches too:)

Second is Fabric On Demand is another source that provides this same design-it-yourself fabric by the yard.

- Even more fabric options than Spoonflower including fleece, microdernier suede & lycra/spandex
- Free swatch books of all the fabric types
- Customer Gallery so you can see actual finished fabrics (not just digital swatches) and completed projects using their fabrics

- Again, price.  Their cheapest offering is $16.25
- Again, some graphics skills (or friends with said skills) are required for designing from scratch

BUT, considering prices for a lot of home decor/specialty fabrics can be high and depending on the project, using them instead of mass marketed stuff could even be a frugal option.  For example, get a custom design yard of Lycra/Spandex for $34.20 and that would make a super cute and totally unique bathing suit for less than the price of many store-bought ones.  Same goes for personalizing.  They also offer free swatch sets, so you can get an idea of the weight & feel of the fabrics before ordering.

Silver Lining: Both also offer fat quarters so if you've got a smaller project in mind, there's a slightly less expensive option.  And if I take off my "cheapskate" hat & put on my "realist"one, this is pretty reasonable considering the small quantity being made of each design.

And both also offer gift certificates, so it's a great gift item for crafters (a not-so-subtle hint to any family or friends reading this).

Third is a much cheaper option, but a bit less versatile:  Printing your own fabric.

- Way cheaper than the custom print houses
- Easy
- Instant gratification since it takes minutes to make

- Limited to whatever size your printer can handle (for most, like me, it's 8.5"x11"), so making things like clothing isn't an option
- Washability is somewhat questionable (some say soaking in vinegar will set the ink though)
- Something that is full page color with colored background is going to use A LOT of toner/ink

You can buy printer-ready sheets of cotton fabric in most craft stores or make your own with freezer paper and then run them through your printer like you would with a sheet of paper.  There's a tutorial for doing that here.  It's ideal for small scale things like the writing on my felt cast:

  or these play seed packets:

Or for appliques, doll clothes, mini tote bags or anything that doesn't require yardage.

So future fabric designers, here are some of the ways you can get started without requiring crafting fame, purchasing hundreds of yards, a book deal or an appearance on Martha to see your own designs come to life.  Hopefully Santa (or my husband) will be generous and put some of these under the tree for me this year!


  1. Thank you so much for posting about your finds on custom fabric. I have often wondered.
    Lovely blog! :)

  2. am totally loving your seed packets - what a great idea!!!

  3. I just linked to this post on my blog
    I figured even though it dos not help me personally much as I live in Germany - it might be of interest to readers that live in the US ...
    Am really keen on trying the options here in Germany!

  4. what kind of fabric printer do you have?


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