Custom D.I.Y.: Acrylic image transfer (Basic level)


This D.I.Y. tipster is called “basic” because I will be instructing on how to transfer images onto “easy” surfaces, which are absorbent materials such as wood and canvas boards. The techniques I mention here can be modified to be used for more difficult surfaces such as glass, Perspex (acrylic sheets) and mirrors, which I would elaborate more in a separate blog post..

Here are some samples of completed acrylic image transfer projects

Materials needed:
1.Your receiving surface- this is where you want your image to stick on. For beginners I recommend using wood or canvas boards. I have successfully used pieces of pre-cut plywood that is between 3mm- 15mm thick. Other absorbent materials such as canvas and cotton fabric can also be used.

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

2. Acrylic paint (transluscent type) and/or acrylic gel medium. Acrylic paint has colour, where as acrylic gel medium becomes transparent after drying. If you want to have a “colour cast” on your transfers, you can use a mixture of acrylic paints and acrylic medium to do the transfer. Personally, I find a tinge of gold, bronze or silver work best with transfers. Using gel medium only will result in “transparent” transfers, in which the transfer will take on the colour of the ‘receiving surface’. For my projects, I use A-Mantegna brand of acrylic paints.

3. Laser jet prints of your desired image. It is important you use laser jet prints (prints from photocopy machine, which use powder-based ink), not ink jet prints (which uses pigment ink). Only powder-based ink can be transferred effectively using acrylic paints/mediums.

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

4. Brushes for applying the acrylic paint and gel medium, separate nylon-bristled brushes to apply the clear varnish.

5. A rubber roller for rolling the prints flat when transferring.

6. A “spritzer” (spray) filled with ordinary water

7. A piece of lint-free cloth

8. Clear varnish, which is usually used for varnishing timber or wooden furniture. Sometimes it is also referred as clear floor varnish.

Part 1: How to transfer the image

1. Prepare and print your image. Measure your ‘receiving surface’ beforehand and customize the image in an imaging software to fit your receiving surface’s size before printing it out. Also, don’t forget to flip your desired image horizontally (mirror image) in your imaging software! This ensures that the image transfer will come out with the right orientation. Then, print your images at copier shops which offer printing in colour.


2. Prepare your receiving surface. Apply at least two coats of acrylic paint or gel medium on the receiving surface, waiting for each coat to dry first before applying the next one. If you want a “colour cast” as I mentioned before, coat the receiving surface with metallic acrylic paint.

3. Making the transfer.

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

Just as you are going to make the transfer, paint the receiving surface with another coat of acrylic paint or medium (if you’re using acrylic paint, use the same colour as the one on the receiving surface). While the paint or medium is still wet, quickly paint your desired image with a generous coat of acrylic paint or gel medium. Then, press the image onto the receiving surface. This process has to be done quickly and deftly, before the paint or gel medium on the receiving surface and the image starts to dry. Otherwise, the dried-up parts will cause the image not to transfer successfully.

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

4. Roll the paper flat using your rubber roller. This is to ensure there are no air bubbles trapped between your printed image and the receiving surface. (Air bubbles will also cause the image not to transfer properly.)

5. Wait for the transfer to dry thoroughly before going onto the next part. I recommend waiting for at least 24 hours. If the weather is wet, you might need to wait longer.

Part 2: Removing the paper
(note: I am using images from another image transfer project, different from the ones shown in Part 1. However, the process involved is still the same)
1. This is the most tedious part of the whole image transfer process. Using a “spritzer”, spray the paper with water to moisten it.

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

2. Gently rub the paper off the transfer. As soon as the paper comes off, you can see the image, now stuck onto the receiving surface.

3. Start working from the center, then outwards to the edges. Use the lint-free cloth to help brush off all the paper fiber.

4. Try to remove as much paper as possible. You may need to repeatedly moisten the transfer and gently rub the residue paper off. The transfer is “clean” when there is no more or very little paper fiber coming off when you moisten and rub it. Your transfer may look blur like this after drying:

Credits: pearlsphere-kameraliebe

This is normal.
Then, we move on to Part 3 to permanently remove the “blurness”.

Part 3: Finishing your transfer
On a hot day, varnish your transfer with the clear varnish. Then put it out in the sun to dry. A hot day will ensure the varnish dries out quickly, resulting in a high gloss surface. Varnishing will also make all the remaining paper fiber ‘disappear’ permanently!

Here are the image transfers drying in the sun after being varnished.

More tips
These are some very useful tips from my experience with image transfers.
When transferring onto canvas boards: Canvas boards have white surfaces. So, you can opt to use white acrylic paint to prepare it for transfer as in Part 1 Step 2. Then, use acrylic gel medium to coat the image as in Part 1 Step 3. The resulting transfer will be the image’s original colours, with no “colour cast”.

When transferring onto canvas or cotton fabrics: As both of these materials are very soft, they have to be stretched onto a frame first before preparing and transferring the image. When rolling the paper flat, have a flat supporting surface ready under the stretched canvas or fabric. Canvas and fabric absorb more paint than other materials, so it’s essential to apply more coats of acrylic paint or medium during the transfer process (Part 1 Step 2 -4).

I also find this article written by Hollis Brown Thronton very useful.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and I hope my tips will help you with your acrylic transfer project!

written by pearlsphere-kameraliebe on 2013-04-06

One Comment

  1. pearlsphere-kameraliebe
    pearlsphere-kameraliebe ·

    If you have any questions about this project, don't hesitate to ask in the comments. :)