This is part 2 of my 3 part label tutorial for textiles like clothing and bedding. Here are the 3 chapters:
part 1 – what to say (or what the FTC wants you to put on your labels)
part 2 – how to make them (DIY process of printing & cutting the labels on fabric) [you are here]
part 3 – how to attach them (considerations for comfortable labels)
This photo tutorial will walk you through how to print your own fabric labels and some lessons I’ve learned along the way. The method I’m using cost around 4 cents per 1″ X 2″ label. The cheapest I’ve seen labels like this is 25 cents per label unless you buy in large quantities, so making your own is worth the time if you don’t have the money.
Step 1 – choose your treated fabric for your labels.
In order for your printer ink to stain the fibers and last, you must use 100% natural fibers. Synthetic fabrics or blends will not work because they are essentially like plastic and your printer ink bounces right off of them. Natural fibers are more porus and absorb the ink.
If you don’t want to treat the fabric yourself, you can buy pretreated fabric sheets for your printer at craft stores or google them. Make sure you buy the kind that are washable! They generally cost around $2 per sheet. If you treat your own fabric it is more like $1 per sheet. Buy some Bubble Jet Set, Bubble Jet Set rinse, and freezer paper to treat your own fabric. I paid $40 for those 3 items with shipping included and it treats about 50 8.5×11″ sheets of fabric. Making your own sheets means you can pick your own fabric. (update 3/18/10 – I just came across a homemade recipe for soaking fabric sheets to make them take the printer ink but I haven’t tried this recipe yet. Follow this link to the DIY recipe for making printer fabric sheets. If it works, it replaces the bubble jet set in the method I’ve used for making labels.)
And here is why picking your own fabric is important: you want your clothing labels to be comfortable when the garment is worn, and you don’t want them to unravel. If you buy pre-made sheets of cotton or silk, they will unravel. If you treat the edges with fray check, you just made your labels scratchy. Have you ever felt stiff fray check on your back? It sucks.
I’ve got 2 fabric options for making your own labels that are comfortable:
- use cotton jersey. It’s soft and won’t unravel. I’ve had good printing results with it if you print in the right direction.
- use cotton muslin, poplin or even silk, and cut your fabric sheets on the bias. The diagonal cut of the labels will keep them from unravelling so fray check is not needed. I will admit I haven’t done these yet, but I’ve made many a fabric patch or bias trim and the bias (45% angle from the selvedge edge) cut of fabric will not fall apart on you.
I’ve used cotton jersey and silk habatoi for this tutorial. I have also used muslin with good results. Choose a fabric that works with the look and feel of your product. Although I only print black on my labels, you can use color. Choose a white fabric if you will be printing in color to avoid color shift. You can also choose a light color or light print fabric. You have many options when you treat the fabric yourself.
Step 2 – Treat the fabric
I’m not going to detail this process. Either you buy the pretreated sheets or you buy the bubble jet set and make your own. Bubble jet set has very good instructions on the bottle. Just follow those. The only thing I can add is that I didn’t use rubber gloves, I layer several sheets of fabric on top of each other in a baking dish, and I squeeze out the excess solution and pour it back into the bottle using a funnel. There. That step was easy!
If you’re making your own sheets, wait for the fabric to dry, iron it flat, then iron the freezer paper onto it. Make sure there are no edges of fabric hanging over the freezer paper since this could jam in your printer.
Step 3 – Design and print your labels
I’m assuming you already read part 1 about what information your labels need to include. That info is important considering the $11,000 fines if your neglect it. So make sure you know what laws govern your textile labels. Now you need to fit that info onto a few inches of fabric. You don’t need to be a graphic designer for this part, but I expect your labels will look much better if you ARE a graphic designer.
I use Avery label making software. The Avery website has multiple options for label templates. You could also use label templates in Microsoft Word, or Open Office, or Google documents. You get the picture. Use a template for mailing labels and this part will go pretty easy. You can design these any way you want with backgrounds, graphics, photos, text and all kinds of neat stuff. I keep my labels simple because it goes with the look and feel of my shop. Keep your branding in mind with label designs.
You get to choose the size of your labels. I decided to use the 1″ X 2 5/8″ mailing labels that are 30 per page. Just choose any size that works for you whether it’s mailing labels, business cards or anything else. The software doesn’t care what medium you actually print on, this is just to get your layout. I use the first column for my business name, the 2nd column for origin, content and size (I call it OCS for short), then the 3rd column is for care instructions and my RN & website. If you want to choose a bigger label and put everything in one place – that is your design decision. There are many possibilities for label size, folded or not folded, and you can have multiple labels on a garment.
Here is the print preview of the labels I designed and then the labels that came out of my inkjet printer. I set my printer to use “best” quality so it shoots more ink on the fabric than the “normal” mode. If you’re using color, you might even want to set it to “photograph” which puts even MORE ink on there. But keep in mind that printer ink is expensive and you don’t want to wash all that ink down the drain during the rinsing step.
Step 4 – cutting labels to size
Here’s where some common quilters equipment comes in very handy. I use a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and a clear quilters ruler to chop up my sheet of labels. You can certainly do this with scissors, but it won’t be as clean and it may cramp your hand. The label making software should have a printing option to print lines or points. I use the points so there are tiny dots at the corners of the labels and this helps with the cutting step. Because of the way I designed my labels to fold for the content and care sections, I don’t cut those apart. So keep your design in mind when cutting.
Keep the freezer paper backing on until you’re ready to rinse. It makes it easier to cut the labels apart with the stiff paper in place.
This next thing is optional and not recommended by me, but I had to do it because I made silk sheets that were not bias cut. Below I’m dipping the silk labels in fray check and then I lay them on paper to dry.
Now that labels are cut (and fray checked is dry) I’m ready to rinse them. Peel the paper backing off the label, then you’re ready to rinse them.
Step 5 – Rinse the labels
I always clean my sink before and after this step. This part is easy, just put a little warm water in the sink with a capful or 2 of bubble jet set rinse, add the labels and gently swish them around for a bit. Notice how the water looks dirty? This is the excess ink. By using the bubble jet set rinse, it keeps that ink suspended in the water rather than going back on your labels. I like to remove the labels, drain the water, then rinse them 2 more times in plain cool water. Make sure you don’t open the sink drain when ANY labels are still in there. They’ll get sucked right down the drain and probably clog it.
There are 3 sheets worth of labels in my bathroom sink here:
When I remove the labels from the sink, I just squeeze them with my fist to get the excess water out. If you printed photos you may want to be carful with the squeezing, but for my black printing I’ve never had a problem.
The last thing I need to do is lay the labels flat to dry out. I just lay them out on a towel over night. After that, they’re ready to use. This is a good time to reward yourself for all this work. I recommend a Stewart’s Key Lime soda like in the photo. It’s not necessary to the job, but it sure is delicious!
You may want to iron your labels to remove wrinkles after this. It’s not needed for the cotton jersey, but I iron the muslin and silk ones to flatten them and to put a crease where I fold the care labels.
Done! Now store them away
Here’s a closeup of my labels if you want to see how I arrange my info and how the printing turns out. There are the ones with my business name, then the content and care strip which gets folded. This batch of 3 sheets had about 6 or 7 different contents.
And I should note something about the cotton jersey labels. I love the softness of stretch knit and how it doesn’t unravel. But due to a printing error I learned that the direction of stretch should be parallel to your label text. You can see below how some jersey labels are darker than others. The dark ones have the stretch going up and down. The faded ones stretch across the text and make it look lighter. Both work, but for best results print your text so that stretching makes a sentence wider and not taller. Make sense? Clear as mud? Good.
I’ve also found that the labels store nicely in one of those business card storage sleeves. I used to throw them all in a box but it took a while to find the right ones for different fabrics. The sleeves keep them more visible and flat.
That’s it for making your own fabric labels. I will show how I attach these to clothes (sew in and iron-on) in the next blog post, part 3 – how to attach them. And I promise that post will be shorter than this one
Got other ideas I didn’t consider? Please post a comment and share your questions and knowledge.