Embroidered photos are the next big craft project we can’t get enough of! Inspired by Robert Mahar’s photo embroidery workshop at Craftcation, we’re showing you how to prep your photos for printing on fabric. Whether you want to embroider one large photo or a collection of smaller photos, this DIY project is a family heirloom in the making. The tutorial below will show you how to use Adobe® Photoshop® or the free program Canva to place all of your photos on one file to print on a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas, Robert’s go-to embroidery fabric from Spoonflower. 

Printing family photos on fabric is a great way to safely store cherished memories, but when not utilizing his own personal photographs, Robert often turns to institutions like the public library—many of which have digitized large portions of their holdings for public use.

It’s always a good idea to read the fine print when it comes to online photographs—search for imagery that is copyright-free and in the public domain. The New York Public Library has digitized thousands of images that are free to access and Robert uses their Public Domain Collections which contains photographs that can be used without permissions or restrictions. 

Similarly, the British Library has released millions of images into the public domain on their Flickr account—making them free to use, remix and repurpose.  It may take some digging, but there are gems to be found! 

Photo Tips and Tricks from Embroidery Artist Robert Mahar

  • I recommend using photographs that are no smaller than 4″ x 6″.
  • Crisp, clear photographs work best for printing on fabric.
  • Both formal (think school photos or family studio portraits) as well as candid shots work well.
  • Consider leaving at least 1” of blank space between photographs when arranging in your design program them rather than butting them against one another. This will give you room to separate the images post-embroidery for display.
  • Color or black and white images will work well for this project, but keep in mind that there will be a greater contrast between black and white images and colorful embroidery floss.

Part 1: Digitize Your Family Photos 

Before you can dive in and get creative with your fabric photos, you’ll need to digitize your photos if they aren’t already in digital form. You can do this two different ways: 

Scan your photos using a flatbed scanner at the highest resolution (300 DPI or higher). If you don’t own a scanner, we recommend visiting your local copy shop. Be sure to save your images as a JPG or PNG.

Take a well-lit, high-quality photo of your photo. Set-up an area in your home where there is good, natural light free of shadows and snap a picture of your photograph. On a nice day, consider taking your photos outside. A DSLR or camera with high resolution works great for taking pictures, but if you only have access to a smart phone, that should also do the trick! 

Now that you have your photos digitized, it’s time to set-up your photo canvas for printing on a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas on Spoonflower. While there are a few different ways you can format your photos, today we’ll be highlighting how to do it in Photoshop and Canva.

Part 2: Create a Photo Canvas

Photoshop

  1. Create a canvas that is 27” x 18” (the size of a Spoonflower Linen Cotton Canvas fat quarter) at 150 dpi. 
  2. To add a photo, Select File > Place Embedded and select the photograph you want to add to your file. 
  3. Once the photo is on your canvas, resize it by selecting Edit > Transform > Scale and adjust the photo as necessary. Double click the image or select Enter on your keyboard once the changes have been made. 
  4. If your photos are on the darker side, you may want to adjust the contrast of the photo to ensure it prints with enough contrast on fabric. To adjust the contrast in your photo, select your image and then Images > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.  
  5. Repeat for the remaining photos. 
  6. Once you’ve added all of the photos to your canvas, save your file as a Photoshop file (PSD) so you can edit in the future as necessary.
  7. Resave the file as a JPG or PNG. 
  8. Login to your Spoonflower account and upload your design
  9. Select Linen Cotton Canvas and Fat Quarter in the drop down menu and add to your cart! 

Canva

  1. Login to your Canva account and select the Create a Design button and then choose the Custom Dimensions option. Make sure the dropdown menu is set to pixels (px), enter your canvas dimensions in the box and select Create Design. For a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas, we’ve set our canvas to be 4050 pixels x 2700 pixels.
  2. To add a photo, select the Uploads icon on the left side of your screen and select “Upload an image or video”. Next, double click on the image you’d like to add to your canvas from your computer. Drag and drop your image onto your canvas. 
  3. If your photos are on the darker side, you may want to adjust the contrast of the photo to ensure it prints with enough contrast on fabric. To adjust the contrast in your photo, select your image and then Adjust > Contrast
  4. Repeat for the remaining photos. 
  5. Download the file as a PNG.
  6. Login to your Spoonflower account and upload your design
  7. Select Linen Cotton Canvas and Fat Quarter in the drop down menu and add to your cart! 

Robert’s file is ready for printing on fabric!

Find more embroidery projects from Robert on the blog!

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  • Wendy Harford

    Thanks very much for this information. In my quilting queue is a family history quilt. My mind is now whirling with new block design ideas, especially using maps — perhaps as a central block. Incentive to finish my current projects so I can spend the colder months doing this one.

  • OMG, THANK YOU. I have been wanting to work with embroidered photos on fabric and this article is both incredibly helpful and inspiring. I wasn’t sure what the ideal fabric was, how to print on larger areas like fat quarters, etc and the article answers all my questions.

    I really wish Spoonflower would offer more single graphics printed on fabrics like this instead of repeating design – that crafters could use as decorative embellishments.

    • Hi Debra,

      We’re so glad to hear you enjoyed this article! All designs in the Spoonflower Marketplace are uploaded by independent designers from around the world. There are some centered design that have been created and maybe taking a look at quilt blocks designs will be helpful in your search for decorative embellishments. You are also welcome to upload your own designs for your specific needs! You can visit the Designing and Uploading section in our Help Center for more info.

      Best of luck with your projects!
      Amy
      Spoonflower

  • Hi!

    I’m hoping to sew some images onto winter hats and would like a material that’s machine washable… Do you have any recommendations of what material to use for this from your selection?

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    What should the pixel ratio be on Canva, for a 24\” canvas project? Thank you in advance!

  • The submit photo can layout to 1 yard full or only the small range such as this example?
    And , dear:
    What’ the “save this layout” button? Is it a new play in design submit? 🙂
    challoty.weebly.com
    ,sincerely yours

    • Hi K,

      You can certainly create a 1 yard canvas for this project! If working in Canva, your file should be 8100 pixels x 5400 pixels and in Photoshop it should be 54″ x 36″. When uploading your own design the Save this Layout button will be available if you choose to adjust the size or layout of your design. I hope that helps, but if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask!

        • Hi Robin,

          Yes! You can print more than a yard if that’s what your project calls for. Keep in mind that for embroidery specifically, it will get trickier to embroider the more yardage you’re working with but it can certainly be done. We’d love to see what you come up with!

          All the best,
          Laurie S.
          Spoonflower

          • Kate Chrysler

            Laurie s at spoonflower
            Is there a graphic artist you can recommend to help start up first design ideas at spoonflower?
            Thanks kate

          • Hi Kate,

            Thanks for your interest! If you are just starting out designing on Spoonflower, we would recommend checking out our Help Center for some basic information on designing and uploading. We also encourage you to consider entering our weekly design challenges for some instant inspiration and as a great introduction to our wonderful artist community.

            Take care,
            Amy
            Spoonflower