How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns – 8 Best Ways

Learn how to transfer embroidery patterns. The delicate art of transferring designs to your piece of embroidery fabric can be challenging and will vary according to the type, color, and weight of your fabric. So what is the best way to get the beautiful design you have chosen onto the fabric ready for the embroidery thread? Keep reading to find out!

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How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns, Transfer Embroidery

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns

Choosing the best method how to transfer embroidery patterns will make all the difference to your embroidery experience. Look through these different methods and try them out before selecting the one that suits you, your fabric and the design.

8 Ways How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns:

  1. Carbon transfer paper
  2. Direct drawing method
  3. Printer Ink
  4. Various transfer pens
  5. The prick and punch method
  6. Tracing wheel
  7. Heat transfer and pens
  8. Light source or lightbox method.

You may have heard of and tried some of these ways how to transfer embroidery patterns, and some may be new ideas. Remember to try new ideas on a piece of scrap fabric first. Prepare your material by pre-washing to avoid shrinkage and ironing out creases. In most cases, it is easiest to transfer embroidery markings before placing your fabric in an embroidery hoop.

If you are new to embroidery, have a read through my article on how to embroider to learn about tools, supplies, and basic stitches.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns, Transfer EmbroideryPin
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns, Transfer Embroidery

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns – 8 Transfer Methods

1. Carbon Transfer Paper

Using fabric carbon paper is a popular method of transferring designs that have been used by many embroiderers over the years. Fortunately, the quality of carbon paper has improved, and different colors are now available. Choose a color that is going to be clearly visible on your fabric. Lighter colors on darker fabric and darker colored carbon on more lightweight fabric. Note that dressmakers’ carbon paper is specially designed for fabrics and will not bleed and smudge like regular carbon paper.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Carbon Paper

  • The carbon side of the paper is placed face down on the fabric, and the pattern to be transferred is placed face up over the carbon.
  • The carbon and the pattern need to be secured to the fabric to avoid slipping. Using pins is the easiest way to do this.
  • A carbon pencil, stylus, or an empty ballpoint pen can be used to draw over the pattern. This will transfer it to the fabric underneath.

2. Direct Drawing Method

Using different fabric pens, markers, or chalk, it is possible to draw directly onto the fabric. The disadvantage of this method is that you need to be able to draw reasonably well. If you are not great at freehand drawing, then skip to the following method.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Drawing:

  • If the design covers the outlines, you can use a regular pencil.
  • Otherwise, if part of the outline shows, it is best to use removable fabric pens or chalk. Wash off pens, heat pens, and even a pencil can be used for this method.
  • If you are going to wash your final product, direct drawing with water-soluble pens allows for a margin of error.
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with DrawingPin
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Drawing

3. How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Printer Ink

How to Transfer Large Embroidery Designs

It is possible to print directly onto fabric using a commercial fabric printer. The ink will be permanent, but the design will be accurate and well-defined. The fabric weight and type will have to be considered before using this method. Softer, lighter fabrics will need some backing, such as freezer paper or soluble interfacing, to enable them to feed through the printer.

Fabric printing companies like Spoonflower also offer many different fabrics that can be printed. If you order a quantity of fabric, you can even place several designs on it to save money.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with a Printer

It is possible to use your home printer for designs smaller than A4 or letter size. Here is a tutorial on how to print fabric and how to print labels. This is the method I used for making most of my embroidery samplers.

The biggest drawback is that you are limited in size, and there is a small risk of damage to your home printer. You will also need freezer paper which can be hard to purchase in some countries. This special paper is pressed to the fabric in order for it to be stiff enough to feed through the printer.

Extra tips for printing embroidery designs on a home printer:

  • If you are not going to wash your embroidery, you will not need to set the ink with vinegar.
  • This will only work on an inkjet printer and not on laser printers.
  • Print in a light gray color instead of black to minimize the risk of any ink bleeding or smudging.
  • Light to medium fabrics is recommended. I like using unbleached calico.
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Printer InkPin
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Printer Ink

4. Various Transfer Pens

There are many commercial transfer embroidery pens available. It is essential to try out the pen you choose to check the intensity of the color, the thickness of the tip, and to find out if the pen is water-soluble or permanent.

  • Some pens are removed with heat, and others are fade-out pens.
  • Fade-out pens are not practical because they don’t last for the time you may take to embroider.
  • Permanent pens need to be covered with embroidery as they will show and not be removable.
  • Pens that can transfer the design and then be washed away will be less invasive and allow you to try out a design without worrying about a permanent stain.

5. The Prick and Punch Method

This is an old-fashioned method of transferring a design, but somehow it still works and may be your best choice. It can be messy, but the advantage is that your pricked or punched pattern is re-useable.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Punching:

  • This method requires you to trace your pattern on fine tracing paper.
  • The tracing paper is placed on the fabric with the right side facing up.
  • Then the pattern lines are punched through with a needle to make small holes.
  • Carbon powder or colored chalk is brushed or dusted through the small holes to transfer the pattern to the fabric.

6. How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with a Tracing Wheel

The tracing wheel, with small spikes on a handle, is also quite an old method of transferring patterns. It does work quickly and favors larger designs.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Carbon:

  • You need your pattern drawn or printed on some tracing paper, the tracing wheel, and some fabric or dressmakers carbon paper. (don’t use regular carbon paper)
  • Place the carbon between your paper pattern and the fabric. The carbon should be face down.
  • The wheel follows the line of the pattern as you push it along and transfers via the carbon as it pricks through the paper and onto the fabric.

This is similar to the breaking method, but the wheel is easier to use and quicker. The disadvantage is the wheel may prick tiny holes into delicate fabrics.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Tracing WheelsPin
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Tracing Wheels

7. Heat Transfer Pens

There are heat transfer pens available that will draw the design onto paper, and then the design is transferred onto the fabric via the heat of a hot iron.

This method allows the embroiderer to use more intricate designs and trace them onto paper. This is similar to an iron-on transfer and works simply through the heat of the iron imprinting the design onto the fabric.

Keep in mind that the design will be transferred in a reverse mirror image. When ironing, be especially careful that your design is transferred the right way up as well.

8. Light Source or Lightbox method:

The light source method works really well to transfer designs directly onto the fabric. The light source can come from a bright window or an actual light box.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns with a Window or Lightbox:

  • Lay out the design traced on paper and then place the fabric over the pattern.
  • Secure fabric and pattern firmly to your light source. When using a window, I sticky tape my fabric and pattern to keep them in place.
  • The light shines through the pattern and the fabric, and as a result, it is possible to trace the pattern directly onto the fabric.

This is a great way to make repeat patterns as the pattern can remain fixed to the light source, and the fabric can be moved.

Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Light SourcesPin
Transfer Embroidery Patterns with Light Sources and Light Box

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns onto Dark Fabrics

Embroidery fabrics can be transferred to dark fabrics using light-colored dressmakers’ carbon. White, yellow, and blue show up particularly well. If you wish to freehand draw your design, similarly colored chalk pencils will also work.

How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns – In Conclusion

These are the most popular ways how to transfer embroidery patterns and designs. Try them all and follow your favorite. It’s all about getting the delicate designs transferred and ready to be brought to life with your unique stitches and colored cotton.

What is the easiest way to Transfer Embroidery Patterns

This will depend on your fabric color, type, and weight but here are some guidelines. For light-colored thin to medium weight fabrics, I find the easiest method is using a light source. Print your design on A4 or letter paper, then tape your paper to a bright window. Place your fabric on top and then start tracing. For dark fabrics, it is easiest to use yellow or white carbon paper or to freehand draw with similar colored chalks or pencils.

More Embroidery Articles

Now you know how to transfer embroidery patterns, here are some of the most popular embroidery stitches to learn.

  1. Backstitch
  2. Blanket Stitch
  3. Buttonhole Stitch
  4. Chain Stitch
  5. Chevron Stitch
  6. Couching Stitch
  7. Cross Stitch
  8. Double Herringbone Stitch
  9. How to Embroider
  10. Fagoting Embroidery
  11. Feather Stitch
  12. Fern Stitch
  13. Fishbone Stitch
  14. Fly Stitch
  15. French Knots
  16. Hand Embroidery Stitches
  17. Herringbone Stitch
  18. Lazy Daisy
  19. Running Stitch
  20. Sashiko Embroidery
  21. Satin Stitch
  22. Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
  23. Steam Stitch
  24. Straight Stitch
  25. Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
  26. Whip Stitch
  27. Embroidery Leaves
  28. Embroidery Flowers
  29. How to Transfer Embroidery

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