Fabric mediums and relief printing inks

posted in: Arts & Crafts, Printing

I have been doing some woodblock printing experiments on natural fabrics, using relief printing inks with the addition of a textile medium in varying strengths to make it stand the test of a gentle hand wash.
Up until now I have used Speedball Fabric Block Printing ink, for printing on calico to make into a variety of accessories including bags. This product has worked reasonably well for me, there is no heat setting involved just a week long curing time, coverage is good, colour saturation is good, though the finished woodblock prints have a slightly stiff feel.

However, living in Australia it is a difficult product to find, and can be more expensive to buy than it should be, as I often have to purchase online from overseas
I have also noticed a change in the nature of the ink recently, where it feels like the ink isn’t quite drying anymore, this could be due to the fact that I have had the tubes open for over 6-12 months, either way I wanted a bit more flexibility in terms of colours, availability and also the feel of the printed cloth.


I decided to try regular relief printing inks, in this case Speedball Block Printing Ink, mixed with fabric textile medium. There are many suppliers of this medium, and in the future I may invest in the more expensive ones such as GAC 900 from Golden, or Liquitex fabric medium, but for now I just bought a generic brand from Spotlight – my local big box hobby store.
After consulting the ever helpful folks on YouTube, I realized I would need to experiment with the dilution quantities when mixing this very fluid medium to my relief inks which have the consistency of toothpaste.
I didn’t want to loosen the ink up too much or it would not adhere to my brayer (for rolling the ink onto the woodblock).
I also swapped my hard roller that I use for printing onto paper for a softer one by Speedball, this really helped the more ‘slippy’ ink to stay on the roller and then transfer to my woodblock.
I printed onto medium weight pre-washed calico fabric.
There were no instructions to heat set the dried ink prior to washing, but I gave the fabric swatches a hot dry iron before cutting in half and washing the test pieces by hand.


Washing test results, the crinkled fabrics on the left are the ones I washed
My dilutions were progressive from 5:1 ink to medium to 1:1 ink to medium.
The recommended ratio on the bottle was 1:1.

I found the 5:1 ratio was the one that partially washed out on a gentle hand wash with a small amount of clothes washing liquid, so whilst it was the most pleasing ink viscosity for printing, as I had expected, it didn’t stay put.
Surprisingly all of the other ratios gave good wash test results, the sweet spots being 3:1 & 2:1, the mixtures giving a usable pliable ink.

I found the 1:1 ratio wash test was very good, but the ink viscosity was really fluid and whilst the soft brayer helped me ink up the woodblock, the resulting ink delivery to the fabric was thin looking and not very saturated.
The washed fabric was soft and pliable and the intensity of the ink colour was retained, as a side comment the Speedball inks mix in a very pleasing way and are worth experimenting with.


Karen’s top tip

When experimenting, write down the exact quantities in each of your mixes, you think you will remember after the event- but you wont!

I’m happy with the results so far, and will be doing some more experimenting with the fabric medium as it will open up more colours for me to print with from my existing stock of inks, (these days I’m really trying to limit the amount of new things I buy and just re-purpose stuff I already have in the cupboard).