A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sunprinting Tips

Hi!  Janis here, another guest post!

Last summer I thought I did a blog post on the process of sun printing but in response to some recent questions, much to my surprise, I looked back on my blog posts and found none. That’s why I’m posting one now, so we can think ahead to warmer, sunnier days!

I paid serious attention to the blog posts I found here on the Fire blog and adding my own thoughts and experiences on the matter.

I tried using ProChem translucent textile paints, DyNaFlo, Speedball Screen Print Ink, and Solar Fast Sun Printing Dye. I was not able to do any real study to compare each of the products, mostly because here in New England the weather tends to change often and without warning and the results are completely related to the brightness and warmth of the sun and test results are easily skewed by such temperamental fluctuations as the clouds going in and out!

Nevertheless, and perhaps because of this, I can tell you that Solar Fast was the most reliable of them all for me. That’s not to say, I won’t persist in trying out other products for the best results from them, such as Setacolor products, which, by the time I tried them, the warmth of summer days had already begun to fade and I was getting too frustrated with it all.  So, I turned to other forms of printing on fabric and dyeing it until it became too chilly to stay outdoors working.

The process itself is pretty straightforward.  Start with small pieces about 12” X 15” or so. You apply paint, ink or dye to the fabric and you lay down leaves or flower petals  and place them in the sun. For good directions for Solar Fast go here: http://jacquardproducts.com/assets/jacquard-site/product-pages/dyes/solarfast/SolarFast%20Instructions.pdf

 From my experimenting, I learned some things that are worth passing on to the novice.

Avoid sun printing on windy days for two reasons.  First, because you have to take extra steps to secure the leaves onto the fabric.  Second, it tends to dry the fabric so quickly that it’s more difficult to get a good print. However, if you can’t avoid wind altogether, I found it most helpful to use trays to place the whole shebang in.  

You can use those inexpensive molded plastic frames, which I love the best.

Or you can devote some larger baking pans to the process as I did here.

I also used various sized acrylic sheets over the trays (or simply on top of the pieces that are place right on the ground) to keep the wind out and to keep the moisture in. I also have a plastic sheet (4 ml) underneath them all, which I print them on and it helps to carry them from table to ground.

Remember the variables to achieving good prints are many and prepare to play without knowing quite what’s going to happen for awhile.  It takes practice before you can control all of the various aspects: heat, amount of water in air and in the fabric and paint or dyes. You may want it to be quite wet, as well, to give it a watercolor look.  Here’s one that was quite wet with DyNaFlo and has a lovely watery feel.

And here’s a Solar Fast print that has a very clear and detailed images.

Are your leaves lying tight to the fabric or is it loose?  I use my fingers to press down the leaves as much as possible, but it helps, to begin by placing the acrylic sheet over the top of leaves that just don’t want to lay flat.  You can take the time to flatten out your leaves or flowers the night before – that can help.

Here’s one that shows vivid color with lots of detail but not a great print because the colors didn’t blend at all (too dry). Still a great piece to cut up and use in my fiber art but not as a whole cloth piece.

 The fiber content is also an important choice.  When you begin, use anything cheap to play without fear of ruining good fabric.

This is translucent fabric paint but it was one of those days when the sun kept disappearing and it didn’t have enough moisture or enough pigment.  It’s also on a light, gauzy cotton.

But as you go along, start choosing better grades (smoother and tighter weave) of cotton or silk. I also love to print on organza or other sheer fabrics to use in my mixed media collage process. 

 Experiment! Overprint! 

And Enjoy!
Here's what I did with a lot of my solar prints in the following months!


  1. Great post, Janis! I have done very little sun printing, but love your results! And thanks for the review of Solar Fast... have not tried them before, but I think they are worth consideration. And using acrylic to anchor your leaves is a wonderful idea!
    Thanks for the info!

  2. You're welcome Judy! Glad it was a helpful post for you!

  3. Lovely results. Interesting observations too.

  4. Some great tips there, hopefully inspired me to have a go this year! Re the wind problem, has anyone tried in a greenhouse?

  5. One of my biggest complaints are people who show a wonderful technique, but never show us what they DO with it. Thank you so much for sharing your projects with us. They are beautiful!!!

  6. I did sunprinting in my house behind the window. It went well and nothing will blow away :)

  7. Glad you're all enjoying the tips. Good weather is coming and we can all soon get out to play! And then....we can all set our sewing machines on fire and do something with all our new printed fabrics!

  8. Nice post, Janis. And I also love seeing how you used the resulting fabric - beautiful series. My minor experiments are not the scale of yours, but I learned 1) sun printing through a window can be pretty successful and 2) a piece of plexiglass can indeed hold things down on the fabric BUT the condensation on its under surface interfered quite a lot with the clarity of the print. Did you have the latter problem?

  9. Thank you for the responses. I may have the excuse now (apart from the weather breaking for the worse tomorrow! ) and will set up in the greenhouse at some point then! :-)

  10. Beautiful prints and great tips too. Thanks for this post. I love sun-printing!

  11. Cris, not so much, but I remember removing them from the top at some point as the condensation began to build up. I'll have to pay more attention to the details of this part of the process. Thanks for your feedback!

  12. Hi Janis, I'm a bit late in responding but if the Fire blog readers are interested in learning more about sun printing, we did a month of sun printing June 2014 using different paints etc. I have found that setacolor and dyenaflow are my favorites, but have tested textile paints, screen printing inks and craft paint. I've not tried Solarfast and your results are great. After last year's month and the posts Robbie did on Solarfast, I swore I'd try it but haven't yet. Also, Sue showed how to sun print indoors! We also had a post on preserving botanicals for sun printing. The only thing we didn't cover last year was inkodye and I couldn't find anyone who had used it and would write about it!! Anyway, great post and love your finished pieces.


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