As part of my job, every once in a while I schedule some time to walk through craft store aisles to peruse what new products have come out or see if anything interesting jumps out at me. There’s one product in particular that has caught my eye several times and I’ve always wanted to give it a try to see if it’s actually as cool as the photo on the box tells me it’s supposed to be. It’s this photo printing kit that allows you to print a photo using (wait for it) the sun. I’ve seen sun-activated ink or fabric before, but I loved the idea of being able to “print” a photo rather than only use objects to block out the sun to make negative space designs. I was a little skeptical that the process would work well enough to be worth it, but it totally does! So we’re teaming up with our friends at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores to show you how it worked.
First you’ll want to pick the photo that you want to print. Try and pick something that is a relatively simple photo without a ton of pattern or busy textures happening (subjects against a light or white background look best too). Use a photo editing program to change the photo to black and white, increase the contrast so the image becomes more distinct, and invert the image so the darks become light and vice versa. Print your photo twice onto two of the transparencies that come in your Lumi printing kit (to get a really dense black that the sun can’t get through, it helps to stack two transparencies on top of each other). Line up the transparencies and use clear tape to tape them together.
Gather your cotton fabric, double transparency, and ink packet from the photo kit. I had the clearest photo transfer when I used a thin smooth fabric as opposed to a textured canvas type cotton, so keep that in mind when you are buying fabric. Use tape to outline an 8″ x 10″ area on your fabric, pin the fabric to the thick foam core board that comes in the kit, and take your supplies into a dimly lit area that has a window (if possible) for ventilation (the dye smells pretty strong). Break the dye packet in half, squeeze the ink onto the fabric, and use the folded ink packet to spread the dye onto your fabric (just stay within your taped border). As you can see in the photo, this method shows the brushstrokes around your photo, so spread the dye in a manner that you’ll want to show up later.
Once the dye is spread, blot the dye with paper towels to remove any excess (you just want a thin layer of dye), and position your transparency on top of your dye with the ink side of your transparency facing up. Either pin your transparency or place a sheet of glass from a picture frame on top to keep the transparency in place.
Place your fabric board out in direct sunlight and allow the ink to be activated by the sun. If you don’t use the glass on top, your photo can be done in about 12 minutes on a sunny day and about 30 minutes on a cloudy day, but you’ll want to double (or even triple) your exposure time if you use the glass sheet. The best time to do this is during peak sun hours in the afternoon (from around 11-2), but if you miss those times, just leave it out there a little longer. I left mine in the sun during peak hours for 45 minutes. The exposure is done once the dye has reached it’s darkest color (so pull it sooner if you want a lighter print).
Once your photo has been exposed to your liking, bring the fabric inside and remove the glass, transparency, and tape from the fabric. Immediately drop it in your washing machine on the hot/cold cycle with one of the detergent packets from the photo kit to wash off the extra dye from the fabric (otherwise your white areas will just keep developing).
I would definitely suggest washing it twice as the kit advises. You can see the difference above from the print I washed twice (on the left) and the one that kept exposing a bit longer after one wash (on the right).
This was such a fun project to try and I’m so glad that I finally got to play around with this product. I like how the finished photo kind of has a bit of a vintage feel to it and the scraped ink lines around the photo make a cool printed texture as well. Obviously you could do this method on lots of other projects like t-shirts, pillows, or fabric to make into purses, etc., but I’m really happy with how my little canvas project turned out. Here’s to trying new things! xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection.