Digital Photography Review

How to Transfer Images to Wood Glass Fabric Metal | Empress of Dirt

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This complete guide shares several ways to transfer images and photos to surfaces like wood, fabric, glass, metal, and plastic. Print out your favorite images from an inkjet or laser printer, use a transfer medium, and get crafty.

Ready to make something? This tutorial shows how to transfer images to wood and canvas.

Which Image Transfer Method Should I Use?

Which type of printer are your using?

A few of these methods work for inkjet printers but most work with printers that use powder toners including color laser and LaserJet printers, and photocopiers. I have noted the printer options below.

Do you want to decoupage or transfer an image?

  • True image transfer methods move an image printed on paper to another surface (e.g. wood) and the paper is removed when it is done. The beauty of this is, there is no bulk: the ink or toner is absorbed by the new surface.
  • With decoupage (not featured here), you attach an printed image to a new surface, retaining the paper.

Do you want a crisp, clear image or an aged, vintage look?

  • There is no right or wrong answer: it’s just a matter of what you want. Some of the methods listed below produce clear, crisp results. Others create muted or faded effects.
  • If you want perfection, be willing to experiment first until you master the technique.

Do you want the background to be transparent or opaque?

  • When transferring lettering, often a transparent background is best. Other images may have backgrounds. Be sure your original artwork has the effect you want. And I always suggest running tests first.

What type of surface are your transferring the image to?

  • The methods listed below work on various surfaces.
  • The possibilities include:Wood, plastic, glass, fabric, canvas, leather, metal, rubber, tile, ceramics, and more.
  • Have a look at the tutorials listed and keep in mind that results can also vary depending on the make/model/year of the printer used, the surface you are transferring to, and other factors. If you look at online tutorials, you’ll see some crafters get very different results using the same materials. So, be willing to experiment and crank up your sense of humor.

Project Ideas

  • Use image transfers to create home or garden art signs. The image can be your template for hand-painting letters or final product.
  • Dress up furniture: dressers, tables, chairs, cabinets—anything with a flat surface.
  • Transfer images to fabric for pillows, bags, clothing, scarves, shoes, curtains…
  • Create wall art with your own photos of family, landscapes, your garden, trips, or adapt what you have for abstract art.

Tips for Success

  • For most of these methods, the image is printed on paper and then a medium is used to transfer the ink or toner from the paper to the target surface. Before printing your image, consider the size of the target surface.
  • In general, the smoother the surface you are transferring the image to, the crisper the results.
  • If you are transferring to wood, pay attention whether the tutorial shows plain, untreated wood, or pre-painted or stained wood. Results will vary.
  • If you are transferring text or a photo, you will want to create your artwork in mirror image so it appears the right way when transferred.
  • Have a look at the videos at the bottom of this page for demonstrations of the various methods.

Image & Photo Sources

Always check the current terms of service on image source sites to ensure you have permission to use the images. Assume copyright is protected unless otherwise specifically noted.

  • Check your own photo archives first. You could use family photos, nature scenes, or crop and alter existing images for a whole new artistic effect.
  • Vintage seed packets and catalogs | Smithsonian Libraries
  • The Graphics Fairy | topdeblogs.com – vintage images
  • Pexels | topdeblogs.com – free stock images

Disclaimer & Warnings

  • I gathered these notes for my own reference, to help narrow down the best methods for different image transfer projects. They are intended for basic information, not proper instructions.
  • Use these methods entirely at your own risk.
  • Using a printer for anything other than the manufacturer’s intended purposes voids your warranty so think before you leap. Fortunately, most of the methods use conventional printing on paper.
  • No two printers behave the same way. Do tests with your printer and supplies first.
  • Take notes. The reason we have so many great tutorials for photo transfers is because creative people like to experiment and problem-solve. Keep track of anything new you try in case you discover something that works really well or produces a cool effect.
  • Safety first. Read the labels for any product you use. Obey the safety precautions, and know what to do in the event of a spill or other urgent situation.

Image Transfer Methods

Transfer to Wood, Fabric, Glass, & More

There are many ways to do this and the methods listed below are a starting point. Results are going to vary depending on your printer, materials, and conditions. I’ve listed support surfaces that I’ve seen work (based on tutorials and videos online and my own experiments).

1Gel Medium Transfers

Direct Method

The ink from a printed image is transferred to another surface via the gel medium. At the end of the process, the paper is removed (rubbed away) and the image remains.

  1. Print image on regular printer paper. Use mirror image for anything with text. Allow to dry.
  2. Apply layer of gel medium to wood (or other) surface.
  3. Carefully place image, good side down, onto gel medium on wood.
  4. Gently press out any air bubbles or wrinkles with a squeegee or similar tool. Allow to dry per product instructions.
  5. Dampen paper. Gently remove paper by rubbing it in small circles. This usually has to be repeated several times, allowing paper to dry between sessions. Image will remain.

There are many transfer medium products available.

Please read the product description before purchasing to be sure it fits your needs.

UPDATE: A highly recommended product, 1Gel Transfer & Decoupgage Gel is no longer available. It was the one product that worked nicely with both dry toner and inkjet copies.

These are a few other product suggestions. None of them are consistently perfect with inkjets so please test first.

Liquitex Gel Medium | transfer gel, decoupage glue, and top coat

This is the product I have tested on wood, painted wood, canvas, and metal and it does work on all these surfaces.

  • Printers: Laser | Photocopies | uncoated Newspaper and Magazine pages
  • Surfaces: wood | fabric | metal | glass | mirror | painted surfaces
  • Time to dry: 8 hours (when clear)
  • Notes: There are several types of Liquitex with various finishes including glossy and matte.
  • Buy: Liquitex Gel Medium | topdeblogs.com
  • Direct Method Tutorial: Transfer a photograph print to wood | Digital Photography School

Mod Podge Photo Transfer Medium | image transfer medium

  • Printers: Laser | Photocopies – “powder toners, not ink”
  • Surfaces: wood | fabric | metal | glass | tile
  • Time to dry: 24 hours (when clear)
  • Notes: Product is for image transfers only. Use regular Mod Podge for decoupage and top coating.
  • Buy: Mod Podge Photo Transfer Medium | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea: Photo transfer jewelry tray | Made to be a Momma

2Gel Transfer Mediums with Acrylic Skin Method

Acrylic Skin Method

The image is first transferred to a ‘skin’ created by layering the gel medium. The acrylic skin with the image is then decoupaged to the support surface.

  1. Print image on regular printer paper. No need to mirror text. Allow to dry.
  2. Apply layer of gel medium to paper, working in one direction (up and down). Allow to dry.
  3. Apply layer of gel medium to paper, working in other direction (side to side). Allow to dry.
  4. Build up 3-5 coats, alternating direction you brush the medium. You can use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process.
  5. When completely dry, soak gelled image in warm water for 10 minutes. Remove and rub off paper.
  6. Allow acrylic skin to dry.
  7. Follow decoupage instructions for attaching to support surface.

You can use Liquitex Gel Medium (shown above) or Omni Gel Transfer Medium | image transfer medium

  • Printers: Laser | Photocopies – “powder toners, not ink”
  • Surfaces: wood | fabric | metal | glass | ceramics | plastic | rubber
  • Time to dry: Several layers are applied over a few hours.
  • Notes: This product seems to only be available in small bottles holding just 4-ounces. That’s just enough for a small project.
  • Buy: Omni Gel Transfer Medium | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea (using Omni Gel): Make an acrylic skin with image and transfer to jewelry or other surface | Fire Mountain Gems
  • Project Idea (using Liquitex): Margaret Ryall’s Technique | Margaret Ryall

3Acrylic Polyurethane Method

I have done several tests with this method. While I had fairly good success with polycrylic, I found that Liquitex Gel Medium worked much better. Results are always going to vary depending on factors like the specific printer used, the paper, drying time, and the target surface.

Basic Method

  1. Print image on regular paper or special paper (Tom Palissade Image Transfer Paper) with laser printer. Use mirror image for anything with text.
  2. Apply layer of acrylic polyurethane to wood.
  3. Apply image, face down.
  4. Gently press out bubbles and wrinkles. Allow to dry.
  5. Dampen and gently rub off paper. If using Tom’s paper, it will peel off.

Acrylic Polyurethane | water-based polyurethane

  • Printers: Laser
  • Surfaces: wood
  • Time to dry: 4 hours (when clear)
  • Notes: When regular printer paper is used, the final images are a bit hazy or ‘vintage’ looking. For clear, crisp images, use Tom’s paper.
  • Buy: Acrylic Polyurethane | topdeblogs.com
  • Tutorial: The video (see below) shows the nice, crisp results you can get with this method. It didn’t work that well for me. | TheCrafsman

4Citra Solv Method

This cleaning product enables the ink to move from the paper print to the support surface. I’ve noticed plenty of different methods online so hunt around if you want more.

Basic Method

  1. Place printed image face down on surface support (wood or fabric). Use mirror image for anything with text.
  2. Moisten back of paper with CitraSolv.
  3. Rub off paper.

Citrasolv | ‘Natural’ cleaner and degreaser solvent

  • Printers: Laser | Photocopies
  • Surfaces: wood | fabric
  • Time to dry: 4 hours (when clear)
  • Notes: Black/white images seem to work best. Color images have a hazy look, which you might like, depending on the project.
  • Buy: Citrasolv | topdeblogs.com
  • Tutorial: Transferring image to wood or fabric with Citrasolv | SnapGuide

5Freezer Paper Method

Freezer paper is used two main ways:

  1. To stabilize fabric (not to actually transfer the image) so it (the fabric) will go through a home printer —at your own risk: this can ruin your printer. This tutorial shows how it is done.
  2. Image is printed on freezer paper sheets and transferred to support surface. Again, at your own risk, and other methods seem to work better.

Basic Method for Image Transfer

  1. Print image in reverse on glossy side of freezer paper. Allow to dry for a few minutes.
  2. Place image on smooth wood surface, face down. Burnish into surface with squeegee or back of spoon.

Freezer Paper Sheets | Used for creating shape templates for quilting

  • Printers: Inkjet (black and white images work best)
  • Surfaces: wood | fabric – the smoother the surface, the better.
  • Time to dry: a few minutes
  • Notes: Black/white images seem to work best. Color images have a hazy look, which you might like, depending on the project. Some people seem to get fairly good results with freezer paper, but, overall, I think (if you don’t mind risking your printer), the Wax Paper Method (see #9, below) generates better, more vivid colours.
  • Buy: Freezer Paper Sheets | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea: Print on freezer paper and transfer to wood | Little Bit Funky

6Lesley Riley TAP Method

Images are printed on this specialty paper and then transferred to the support surface with a hot iron (no steam). It is different from typical t-shirt transfer products because the paper is removed afterwards, leaving just the image.

Basic Method

  1. Print image on paper. Use mirror image for anything with text.
  2. Place face down on support surface and transfer using a hot iron.
  3. Remove paper.

TAP Transfer Artist Paper | Paper specifically designed to facilitate the transfer of images to other surfaces

  • Printers: Inkjet (pigment and dye inks)
  • Surfaces: smooth surfaces including wood, fabric, paper, glass, metal, clay, and more.
  • Time to dry: a few minutes
  • Notes: Apparently, a key ingredient for TAP paper is not readily available and these may not be available for sale.
  • Buy: TAP Transfer Artist Paper | topdeblogs.com
  • Tutorial: read the FAQ section on Lesley Riley’s site to learn more | topdeblogs.com

7Overhead Transparency Method

Basic Method

Print image with inkjet onto overhead transparency sheet, rub into wood, dry, top coat with non-water-based polyurethane. I believe the idea is, you use laser sheets in an inkjet printer because the ink will sit on the surface making it readily available for transferring.

Overhead transparency film sheets for Laser printer | Used for printing overhead transparencies

  • Printers: Inkjet (pigment and dye inks)
  • Surfaces: wood
  • Time to dry: a few minutes
  • Notes: I believe the idea is, you use laser sheets in an inkjet printer because the ink will sit on the surface making it readily available for transferring. Alternately, you could use a sheet of acetate or print on the wrong side of an inkjet transparency (if this is how it works—I have not yet tried it).Top coat with an oil-based polyurethane or similar product to avoid smudging the ink.
  • Buy: Overhead transparency film sheets for Laser printer | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea: Transferring images to wooden bar stools using transparency sheets | Red Hen Home

8Packing Tape Method

The packing tape method went viral online in the past year and, while it looks neat, I don’t think it offers any advantages over other similar methods that I have listed below. If you can see some advantage to it, please let me know.

The idea is to create a removable sticker using packing tape (or similar product) that you can place on glass. Unlike other transfer methods, the tape or sticker stays with the image. This may be useful for labelling jars in a pantry but keep in mind that they will not be dishwasher safe.

Basic Method for Packing Tape

  1. Print image. Use mirror image for anything with text.
  2. Apply tape and burnish image into tape.
  3. Dampen paper and remove. Allow to dry.
  4. Apply tape with image to glass surface.

Here’s a few products you could use:

Heavy duty packing tape | Used for sealing boxes

Printer: Laser | Photocopy – anything that uses powder toner

Alternate Method

  • No tutorial needed! If you use printable, clear labels intended for your type of printer, you won’t have to remove any paper and can purchase them in the exact size needed.
  • Just print them out and apply them to a clean, dry surface. Done!

Avery full-sheet labels for Inkjet Printers | Clear, printable labels available in various sizes

Full-sheet clear labels for laser printers | Clear, printable labels available in various sizes

Sticker project paper | Product made specifically for creating stickers

  • Printer for Packing Tape: Laser | Photocopies
  • Printer for Labels: Inkjet | Laser (buy the right ones for the printer you have)
  • Surfaces: glass | wood (check product description for suggested surfaces)
  • Time to dry: a few minutes
  • Notes: Read the product labels for suggested uses.
  • Buy: Avery full-sheet labels for Inkjet Printers | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea: Image transfer to glass using heavy duty packing tape | The Graphics Fairy

9Wax Paper Method

Wax paper is fed through an inkjet printer. While the inks are still wet, the image (on the wax paper) is pressed onto a porous wood surface. This is another method that uses your printer in an unconventional way so it is at your own risk.

Basic Method

  1. Glue wax paper to sheet of printer paper. Print image on glossy side of wax paper. Allow to dry for a few minutes.
  2. Apply right-side down and gently burnish image into wood.

Wax paper | Used for food storage

  • Printer for Wax Paper: Inkjet
  • Surfaces: wood
  • Time to dry: a few minutes
  • Notes: Your printer warranty is void when you use it for anything other than the intended purposes so do this at your own risk.
  • Buy: Wax paper | topdeblogs.com
  • Project Idea: Transfer image to wood using wax paper | Unexpected Elegance
  • Project Idea: Use image or text printed on wax paper to create guide for hand-painting furniture | In My Own Style

Good luck with your project. Be sure to sign up for the free Empress of Dirt newsletter for more creative ideas.

~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛

There are many options for transferring images and photos to surfaces like wood, fabric, glass, metal, and plastic. Print out your favourite images from an inkjet or laser printer, use a transfer medium, and get crafty.

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