Quite often the simplest techniques produce the most interesting results – this is one of the fabric printing methods I often use with groups as it is very straightforward and also introduces people to the idea of masking and layering, both of which are key concepts in printmaking. Even though it is a simple process the end result is always surprising and everyone can share the thrill of excitement you get when your print is revealed for the first time.

Playing with colours and shapes

detail of fabric printing

detail of fabric print

Whatever your level of printmaking experience this is a lovely technique to play with, it is one of those that you can start with no plan whatsoever and just let the materials guide you.

It is great if you are feeling a bit aimless; you will quickly be drawn in and start to focus on shapes and layers of colour. Before you know it you will have a whole series of prints in mind!

Two different fabric printing techniques

We are going to look at two different fabric printing techniques – one with masking tape and one with sticky back vinyl, these can produce quite different effects.

The photos here show two community projects as examples; the cushion project, which I ran with Musical Connections, in care homes for elderly people, (they mainly used masking tape for simplicity) and wall hangings made with patients at The Retreat in York, where we cut plastic shapes to create designs illustrating ideas around specific themes.

Deceptively simple masking tape

green fabric printing design made with masking tape

masking tape design

Masking tape is simple and direct. The parallel edges of the tape start to define the design, you can tear it for crooked organic edges, or cut it with scissors for more precise geometric shapes. A combination of thick and thin tape gives surprising variety and by limiting yourself to only tape you will be more inventive in pushing the materials beyond the obvious.

More complex sticky back vinyl

detail of fabric printing; fish

detail of fish banner

You have more influence on the shapes you will be using, you can cut abstract or geometric shapes, motifs like moons, stars or letters, or representational silhouettes from the plastic. Save the negative shapes as well as the positive ones, they can all be stuck down on the fabric.

You may be able to re-use some of the sticky back vinyl, peeling off shapes and sticking them back down in a different position as long as the fabric is dry. This is a good technique for repeating patterns or leaves, waves etc.

Ready made shapes

fabric printing sampler


You can also jazz things up with stickers and labels as long as they are a plastic type material – paper ones disintegrate and are hard to remove.

Look in stationery shops, (file reinforcing rings are good), hobby and craft shops and of course the old favourite, pound stores. I got ends of rolls of sticky plastic clothing labels from the community scrapstore, this is a great source of materials – you never know what treasure you will find.


  • White cotton fabric taped to a sheet of plastic
  • Masking tape – various widths
  • Scissors
  • Fabric ink
  • Assorted rollers, sponges and brushes
  • Paint trays

Lets print!

Tape the fabric to a plastic sheet

Tear or cut masking tape / plastic; stick it down well. Aim to cover about 50% of the fabric

Roll the fabric printing ink on, use different colours, not too dark the first time. You can also use sponges and brushes.

When the ink is dry peel off half the tape, revealing white areas

Add more tape or sticky back plastic, covering some of the white fabric and some of the already coloured fabric. (n.b. Nothing will stick to damp fabric – make sure it is properly dry. )

Roll/sponge/brush the ink on a second time, use some darker colours.

The big reveal – peel everything off. It’s best to do this when it is dry (get a hairdryer on it!) but if you just can’t wait – do it anyway.

Technical info


White 100% cotton is best (ink is more likely to run under the tape with poly cotton)

Put a piece of stiff card in a plastic bag, stick fabric on this, it is portable and easy for people who are not mobile to use sitting in a chair or in bed.

It is much easier to handle fabric fixed to a stiff board than a piece of floppy inky fabric, the board can be leaned up to dry.


Get different widths of masking tape, try pound stores for cheap supplies.

Painting tools

Long handled radiator rollers are good for people with limited reach

Small cheap decorators rollers in foam or acrylic pile, these also come with small paint trays which make it easy to charge up rollers.

(You can cut rollers in half with a craft knife to make narrower ones)

Cheap decorators brushes

Small kitchen sponges

I’d say get all this from the pound store.

Fabric printing ink

We are aiming for tomato ketchup consistency, if it is too runny it soaks the fabric and goes under the masking tape.

  1. The best and most pricy:

Sericol screen print ink with extender is the one I go for – it has no smell, washes off with water and is fixed by ironing the fabric so it becomes washable.

The colours are clear and vibrant, adding extender makes them translucent so when layers of different colours are overlaid the colour changes e.g. blue over yellow will look green.

2. Medium cost

Add fabric medium to acrylic paints, thicken with wallpaper glue if it is too runny. Fabric medium is heat fixed so iron to fix it on the fabric.

You can also try emulsion paint, leftover paint from decorating jobs, and a selection of match pots will give you a good range of colours, using cheap white emulsion as a base and adding other colours in gives a chalky effect. The paint is opaque so the colours underneath will not show through when painted over.

It is a bit stiff when dry but good for banners.

3. Cheap and cheerful

Mix pva with kids paint and add wallpaper glue to give a thicker consistency. This is not suitable for things that will be washed but fine for wall hangings, flags etc.