Can I develop a photo on fabric? Photosensitive inks?

I want to make a flag with an image on it. It’s just a one-time thing, so I’m looking for a frugal method. I’ve looked into silkscreening, but I don’t want to go through all that just for one image.

So I was wondering if there was some way I could develop the image on the flag like a photograph. Perhaps dip the flag in some photosensitive chemical and then project the image onto it. Is that even possible?

There’s a product called Picture This. IIRC, you have to get a photo-copy of the photgraph. Then you place the copy face down on the fabric and apply the Picture This solution and let it set. Then remove the paper, and it leaves the print on the fabric.

There’s also Iron-on printer sheets. But they only work on light colored fabrics.

Yes, certainly it’s possible.

You can get emulsion in liquid form and smear it on whatever you want. Widely available, but you can get it from B&H online if you can’t find any. Using pre-made is the easiest method. Or you could get some silver nitrate and a gel of some sort to suspend it in (egg will do if you’re going for that primitive look, but there’re are better colloids to choose from) and make your own emulsion. Silver nitrate is common enough, you shouldn’t have too hard a time finding it from a photo chemical store. Expect a longer exposure time if you do this. Or you could do a cyanotype on the fabric, if you don’t mind the picture being blue and white rather than black and white. You wouldn’t need any silver nitrate for that, just ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, plus it’s so insensitive that you wouldn’t have to worry about the room being perfectly light-tight. Expect a very long exposure going this route, you’ll need a timer that measures in hours. Develops in plain water, but I’d use a little hydrogen peroxide to liven up the color.

Do you have a darkroom? That would greatly simplify matters, but you could do it in a bathroom with aluminum foil taped over the windows and door holding a flash light, a magnifying glass, and your negative (three hands come in handy). Easier might be to get a standard 8x10 made of your negative, then hold it flat against your surface and make a contact print of it. The quality won’t be that great, but you’re printing onto fabric–it won’t be great no matter how you do it.

They make them for dark fabrics as well. They work well, I’ve made 6 or 7 shirts with no failures so far.

How frugal are you talking about, filmore? Some brands are cheaper than others.

Photos on fabric are really popular in quilting lately. A good source for a variety of methods would be a well-stocked quilting store. There’s tons of stuff on-line as well, but since I don’t do that kind of quilting, all I can think is to google ‘photo quilting’ or something similar. It’s amazing the quality of the fabric photos these days.

You can get printable fabric, too. Might be easier than doing an iron-on.

They have this stuff called photo transfer liquid. You can use it to transfer photographs are tons of things, not just fabric. There are directions for using it here. I’ve never used it, but I fear if I do, everything I own will be covered in image transfers. I’d have to quit school and become a collage.

Sorry. I kinda confused things when I said I wanted a photo on fabric. I’m not trying to get an actual photo onto fabric (but thanks for the suggestions). What I want to do is just project an image on the fabric and have the image be permanent somehow on the fabric. Much the same way that a B&W photo would be developed.

I was thinking of taking an overhead projector and projecting the image on the fabric. I don’t need great detail or colors or anything like that. Just a good contrast.

The method Dusty suggested sounds like a good possibility. Do you know of any websites which talk about doing that? The cyanotype sounds interesting.

One method someone emailed me was to use Setacolor Sunpainting. It’s a light-sensitive fabric paint. You paint the fabric, place your image on top, and then dry in the sun. The paint exposed to the sun keeps the color but the obscured regions become transparent.

Blueprints are cyanotypes, you might find more information searching for websites describing them. You might want to see AlternativePhotography.com, they describe cyanotypes as well as other non-standard and obsolete types of photography.
One-time use cyanotype mix:

Take about 1g of ferric ammonium citrate (here’s a 10g bag from Photographers’ Formulary), 1/2g of potassium ferricyanide (same place, same amount), and 16mL of water, and mix them together in subdued light (it doesn’t need to be all that dark, just out of the sun). This is your emulsion, enough for four 8x10 pictures.

Take your emulsion and brush about 2mL of it onto whatever you want to take the picture on (paper, glass, cloth, what have you). Let it dry in a warm, dark place. Add another coat with 2mL more after the first coat dries, and let it dry as well.

You’ll want to make the film just before you take the picture, it will mold if you wait too long.

Now, put the film on your enlarger (or in front of your projector or however you’re making this print), secure it so it doesn’t move around (it’s going to be there a long time), and start exposing it. Keep exposing it until you see the image burned onto the film in gray and yellow. This is hardly an exact science using homemade film and a makeshift printer, you’ll might need to try it several times to get the timing right, but expect it to take a few hours.

Once you can see your image and it’s exposed how you want it, take it off the enlarger and put it in a bath of running water. The gray will turn blue and the yellow will wash off in about a minute. To get a more vibrant blue, add some hydrogen peroxide to the water at this point–how much depends on how far you want to go, but don’t use too much or you could wash-out your image–and let it soak for five or so seconds more.

Your print is done, you just need to let it dry now.