Sun Printing: Textile Paint & Screen Printing Ink

This is an article I posted on the Fire blog in June. I thought I’d repeat it here in case some of you did not see it and are interested in my experiments with sun printing.

I’ve done quite a bit of sun printing and am partial to a couple products (Setacolor Transparent and Dye-na-flow). But I wanted to try comparing two different products,  a good fabric paint and screen printing ink. I was pretty surprised at the results.

I decided to paint both pieces of fabric with similar colors and fern placement so that I could get a good comparison.

So let’s get started. After covering my work surface with plastic, I mixed up my paints – one set of Jacquard Textile Paint and the other Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink. You can use the paints full strength for a real dark color, but I mixed them a little with water. How much water is up to you. I’ve mixed them half and half and various combinations. For starters I’d recommend 1 part paint to eight parts water.

mixed paints for sun printing

While I was mixing the paints, my fabric has been sitting in water. It’s important that the fabric stay moist. Once the paints were ready, I squeezed my fabric to get most of the water out of it, and spread it on my table smoothing it to get out the wrinkles.

smoothing out fabricOnce I was happy with my fabric, it was time to start painting. I use sponge brushes for this. If you are painting in the sun you need to work fast so the paint doesn’t dry. However, I keep a spray bottle with water nearby to keep the fabric moist.

After I’m happy with the painting job, I add masks. These can be botanicals, stencils, lace, wood cutouts, or whatever you’d like to use to make a design on this fabric.  (I’ve tried using plastic ferns and they don’t work. First of all, they won’t lay flat on the fabric. I tried putting a piece of glass over them to keep them down and that did not work at all!!) Whatever you are using as a mask needs to be able to be flat on the fabric so it blocks out the sun.

As I put my ferns down, I use a little more paint to help them adhere to the fabric.

Adding paint to the fernAfter I’m done with the placement of the masks,  I check to see that the ferns are flat on the fabric.  I usually help that process with with a little spray from my water bottle. If the ferns or whatever you are using aren’t flush against the fabric, you won’t get a really clean print.

screenprintingink4Once I’m happy with my design,  it’s time for the sun to do it’s thing.

sun printing fabric in the sunNow is the hardest part – waiting for the fabric to dry!

Here are the results. This is the piece using the textile paint.

sun printed using textile paint

And the fabric using screen printing ink.

sun printing with screen printing ink


I discovered from this experiment that regular textile paint just doesn’t do a very good sun printing job. I know other artists would disagree with me, but I just haven’t gotten good results with those paints. In addition to the colors not being as bright as the screen printing inks, the fern images were not as crisp. On the orange, the fern image can barely be seen.

There was a little problem with the ferns on both pieces due to how rigid the ferns were. That may be due to the plant I used or the time of the year, but they still looked much better on the screen printing ink piece.

The screen printing ink fabric was bright, images were pretty good, but as with the textile paint, the hand of the fabric really changed. Both of them were stiff and kind of rubbery feeling.

I was surprised because I had no idea how the screen printing ink would work. In a pinch it would be okay, and much better than the textile paint. It would make good journal covers or even wall hangings although it might be hard to stitch through.

However, in my opinion, if I want sun printed fabric to use in a garment or anything I’d need to sew, I’d use Pebeo SetaColor Transparent Paint or Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow.

This is a piece of sun printed fabric I did last summer using SetaColor.

sun printed fabric using setacolors
If you have any interest in this technique, try it. You will love how it turns out.
And if you are in this area, I am teaching a Sun Printing class on Thursday, July 31 from 10 am to 2 pm at Studio 4905 in Henderson, Kentucky. Rain date is Thursday, August 7. For more information, call Sherry Wilkerson at 270-869-4469 or contact her via her Facebook page.