How to Transfer a Picture Onto Fabric Without Transfer Paper

Who says photo transfer is so old? If you’re the type of person who loves personalized things, this method surely arouses your interest. You get to have unique items and decorate everything as you like. Plus, who doesn’t want to save bucks on buying new arrivals? From keepsake pillows to table napkins to your clothes, it’s a fun way to “brand” yourself and your stuff. It is a great gift idea too.

Transferring photos on fabric is a straightforward process. Even beginners can try it at home. Here, I’ll teach you some methods to pull off the tricks.

How to Transfer a Picture Onto Fabric Without Transfer Paper?

You can use the standard laser printer along with a transfer gel. Use this technique if you want to transfer intricate photos with extensive details. Sceneries and portraits are common examples. Other options are light source and heat transfers.

Method 1: Sun Printing/Light Source

Possibly the most cost-efficient and straightforward method available. As its name indicates, you will print the image on a surface with sun rays.

What you will need:

  • Fabric
  • Thin marking pen
  • Tape
  • Light source


  1. Allow the sun to have access to your design by taping it on your window.
  2. Tape the cloth above your design.
  3. Wait for ten to fifteen minutes before taking it off.

Hold down the fabric along with your picture while keeping it flat. You will know it is a successful attempt if the print starts to become visible to your eyes. It usually appears lighter in color. Here’s the disadvantage, though – you can only perform this during daylight. But don’t worry. You can buy a lightbox to try this stitching/embroidery method. The procedure is just similar. Use it at any time of the day, and even during night.

How about on a cloudy day? Yes, this method also works during this time. However, you may want to double your contact time to the sun. It will usually take around thirty minutes or so. Sun printing is a favorite among newbies for creating a vintage piece. The frayed ink lines everywhere and make a stunning printed texture. Ideal if you want to experiment on various patterns such as on pillows, purses, shirts, and even pockets. Don’t forget to drop the finished design in your washing machine to wash out extra inks.

Method 2: Heat Transfer

Well, it is another easy way to turn your creativity into real art. The materials are probably lying around in your home, so you need not worry about the cost.

What you will need:

  • Fabric and printed photo
  • Tape
  • Paintbrush
  • Flat iron
  • Spoon
  • Lavender oil


  1. Iron the fabric first. Get some sheets of extra paper and put it beneath to remove excess oil. It also eradicates wrinkles or crumples.
  2. Using tape, hold your fabric in position. Then, tape your design onto it.
  3. Add a small drop of lavender oil. Use a paintbrush to spread out the amount onto the picture. There must be no wet patch. Let it sit there for one to three minutes.
  4. Start transferring the picture using a spoon. Now, you can press on the image and ensure to get all of its parts. Gently lift it until you are happy with the result.
  5. Put your iron at the hottest setting, then place your item underneath. Allow it to cool completely.
  6. Lastly, wash the fabric in your washing machine. Make sure the temperature is set at 40 degrees Celsius. It is best to wait for around twenty-four hours before filtering your fabric. For shirts, bags, pillowcases, or other similar items, turn them inside out.

Just a small tip: Use photo editing software when making your artwork. Images with a picture or text will specifically need it, as long as you want to settle for the original’s mirror image. When choosing a shirt, for instance, opt for light-colored one for dark designs. Conversely, vibrant, dark-colored shirts show off the real beauty of light-colored designs. Pre-washing your shirt is also recommended to prevent pulling on the photo’s edges.

Method 3: Transfer Gel

While this method is the most charming of the two, using a transferring gel requires practice. Hence, you may want to try doing it on some tussle fabric before beginning the final project. An extra shirt will do. If not, buy a piece of cheap material and try it out first. It is a simple method, but a little time-consuming. The result may be far from your expectation too. That’s normal, though, especially during initial attempts.

What you will need

  • Gel medium
  • Fabric (preferably cotton-blend or solid linen)
  • Printed image
  • Paintbrush/regular bristle brush
  • Spray bottle with water


  1. Copy your design on the paper. It could be a magazine cover, postcard, souvenirs, or similar. Cut out the excess piece before spreading over the gel medium.
  2. Use a paintbrush or regular bristle brush to apply the gel onto the printed image. The coat must be reasonably dense. Start with parallel brushing strokes from right to left and from the image’s bottom and top part.
  3. Press the picture on the fabric. Flatten air bubbles. Allow it to rest there for a couple of hours. However, you can also let it dry overnight to ensure the image transfer is successful.
  4. For the intricate step, wet the entire design with a damp rag or a spray bottle of water. Carefully rub the paper down the back, starting from the center. Otherwise, use a clean brush to do so. Do not rub too hard as you might flake off the image or shatter a portion of it. This step might consume much of your time. Just take it easy. Rest if you feel like needing a break.
  5. When you have taken off most of the paper, soak it and rub it again. Make sure to remove the last bits, but do it gently. Then, rinse thoroughly.
  6. Allow it to dry either by flattening it in the sun or using a hairdryer. After that, iron the fabric from the other side to keep the colors well-ranged. Put a final layer of gel medium to make the finished output sturdier.


What Can Be Used Instead of a Transfer Paper?

Your options are limitless. You can transfer photos on fabric with simple methods like light printing and heat transfer. A gel medium is excellent too. Solvent transfers use commercial solvents (e.g., acetone or turpentine) for permanent transfers. For lesser work, inkjet or laser printing will do the job. So, print your pictures directly on the cloth using any of them.

Can You Use a Regular Printer for Transfer Paper?

Several printers work with transfer paper, including regular printers. However, inkjet printers have been a sought-after option. They are versatile and cheap. Also, they come in a range of sizes to accommodate any paper types and printing jobs. Laser printers will do, but not all models provide the same result. So, check your manual for details.

What Fabric Can You Use for Transferring Photos?

Any fabric will do, but most people recommend using a fabric made of cotton. As for the materials, natural or light-colored fabrics are more popular. Fabric sheets are well-treated to make sure the printed photo is washable and colorfast. Your hands must be properly cleaned before working with them. It will prevent stains in the fabric caused by dirt and oil.

Final Thoughts!

Learning how to transfer a picture onto fabric opens up a myriad of possibilities. And yes, it doesn’t only revolve around the use of transfer paper. It is worth your effort and time without having prior experience. The materials needed are easily reachable too. So, follow the guide above, and you’re ready to flaunt your newly discovered talent.


Though, remember that not all transfers turn out the way you expect them to. The practice is the key here. Keep on implementing these tricks whenever your schedule fits in. Eventually, you’ll be as good as others (well, hopefully!). For now, seize the experience and have fun transferring!



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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