Sunday, July 04, 2021

Sun printing tutorial

 I mentioned in my last post that I have been doing a lot of sun printing, and from that, and posts of my prints online in various venues, I’m getting quite a few questions, so rather than try to respond individually to each question I decided to post a how-to here. Before I begin I want to mention that I took a class with Betty Busby a couple years ago and part of that class dealt with her techniques used in sun printing, which vastly improved and added to what I already knew, so credit to her for some of what I’m doing here. 


This is the design I used.  I created it on my iPad, using the Procreate app. I saved it as a jpeg to use to make a stencil using my Silhouette cutting machine. You can use commercial stencils or homemade stencils. You can cut stencils from paper, all kinds of vinyl or plastic sheets, Tyvek, Mylar—endless possibilities. You can cut them by hand using little scissors or an Xacto knife or a cutting machine. In addition to stencils, you can use all kinds of objects  for sun printing, that lay flat and create interesting designs—leaves, ferns, string, coins, metal washers, rubber bands, paper clips, etc, etc.  

I cut my stencil from window cling vinyl (one of Betty Busby’s brilliant ideas) which produces very crisp, detailed prints and cuts beautifully by cutting machine.  Now I was ready to prepare the fabric. 


Here are my supplies—A flat surface for painting on; fabric, cut to size; a spray bottle filled with water; a container for water; a large paintbrush and paint. The fabric I use is cotton, mostly quilting cotton, but you can use almost any kind of fabric for this. Sun prints on silk are beautiful. I have successfully sun printed directly on T-shirts and canvas bags, as well. Any kind of acrylic based paints will work, as long as they are, or can be thinned down to a fairly liquid state. Some produce quite thin, pastel color when thinned with water. My favorite brand to use is Jaquard Dye na Flow paints, which are very liquid and do not need to be thinned, and produce rich, intense color. 

I spread the fabric on my painting surface, spray with water , then paint the entire surface, working quickly so it remains quite wet. I like using a basic color then mottling in some variations, but keeping it fairly consistent in value. 


I carefully layered the stencil on top of the wet paint, smoothing it out to get it laying as flat as possible, in close contact with the wet fabric. A big, dry paintbrush is helpful in getting it smooth.

Then I just let it sit in the sun until it was dry. The amount of light is really not what creates the design, so it is actually possible to do this in any kind of weather, but direct sun that dries the fabric quickly produces, in my experience, the clearest, crispest prints. 

Once it felt dry, I carefully peeled back the stencil to reveal the finished print. That’s all there is to it!

I like to iron the piece to be sure the paint is set, then the fabric is ready to use. The stencil can be used over and over for lots of prints in different colors.  

I find this technique so satisfying!  It is so very simple—no chemicals or special lights, basic, inexpensive supplies. And the resulting fabrics are uniquely yours. I hope you will try it and show me what you’ve done!



  1. Ruth Chow4:23 PM

    Thank you for this post! Your fabrics are beautiful. So you really don't need a special sun-reactive paint? Does the paint only react when wet, then?


    1. Yes, regular paint, and yes, it needs to be wet. The process is takes place when the exposed areas dry and wicks the wet paint from under the covered areas. It is all about evaporation, not really light.

    2. I tried it! Fun! What brand of cling film do you use?

    3. Not cling film—window cling vinyl is a different thing. Bought mine on Amazon, but there are various brands that all work.

  2. Enjoyed this tutorial. Thank you. You made it seem so easily doable.

  3. This is a really excellent and concise, yet exhaustive, tutorial. Brava!

  4. Martha Robinson6:12 AM


  5. thank you for sharing!!!

  6. thank you for sharing!!!

  7. Thanks, Terry. I misplaced my directions after my Busby class. so this is helpful. I finally learned to use my cutter and svg files. I expect similar in my future.

  8. Anonymous11:04 AM

    What a beautiful stencil and fabric! And so easy. I will try it someday. It’s raining here today!