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How to transfer photos to a wood surface

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On multiple occasions, I was approached to share the alternative method of presenting photographs. I finally have decided to take out time to share some of the techniques I have experimented with. The photo transfer on wood is one of the most basic techniques and it has a lot of potential to personalise. Once know the technique, imagination is your limit. I am sharing my tried and tested method. This method has never failed me, and I am hoping you will enjoy experimenting too.

Required Materials:

  1. Photo/image of your choice

  2. Wood piece

  3. Matt gel medium or Mod podge

  4. Foam brush

  5. Washcloth or Sponge

  6. Sealer or Varnish

If you want to save money and the hassle of putting separate items into your Amazon cart, here is your easy solution. This Mod Podge Bundle contains; 8 Ounce Gloss and Matte Medium Waterproof Sealer, Pixiss Accessory Kit with Brayer, Brushes, Gloves, and Spreaders. You will just need to organise the wood base separately for which I have given the link above.

Transfer Process

STEP 1: Select and edit the photograph that you want to use for the photo transfer project. Also, resize the image to fit the wood. As the last step of editing the photograph remember to flip it horizontally. This is required to ensure the image is not reversed upon the completion of the transfer.

If you do not have photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom, I recommend using the web application Pixlr Express for editing your photographs. In case you are not familiar with the application, kindly see this tutorial video on how to use Pixlr Express.

STEP 2: Now print the photo using the laser printer. Do not use the Ink-Jet printer for this purpose. If you do not have a laser printer at home just go to any photocopier and ask them to print the photo for you. Most photocopiers use the laser printer.

For a successful photo transfer, you must use regular photocopier paper. I prefer using 70 or 80 gsm paper.

STEP 3: Prepare the wood by sanding any rough edges.

NOTE: Avoid selecting the wood that has too many grains or wood marks, they will show through the image and might not give the desired look.

STEP 4: Apply a generous quote of Liquitex matt gel medium on the wood piece using a sponge brush. Make sure to smooth it out all over the wood.

STEP 5: Now also apply a thin layer of gel medium on the image (picture side), and gently place the image face down on the wood. Note: DO NOT try to reposition the image once you have placed it on the wood. Smooth the photo out by using an old plastic card or ruler. This is to eliminate the air bubbles.

After use, wash the sponge brush with tap water and let it dry.

STEP 6: Use the back of a spoon and rub it over the entire image while keeping a gentle pressure. This process releases the image from the paper and transfers it to the wood.

STEP 7: The best practice is to leave it overnight or at least for 8 hours to dry. I have a confession to make, I always tend to be impatient at this step. Honestly, giving it a shorter time to dry has worked at times and sometimes it has failed miserably. If you are giving it a shorter duration to dry, be prepared to have a more edgy look. If you are after such a finish then please feel free to experiment. Remember to have fun with the process and leave your own mark.

STEP 8: In the morning use a wet sponge or washcloth to make the paper damp. Do not apply too much water. The idea is to dampen the paper just enough so it comes off easily. Using too much water at this stage will also wet the glue and weaken the bonded image transfer.

NOTE: If you are using a kitchen sponge then make sure you are using the smoother side of the sponge.

STEP 9: Now start massaging the paper in a circular motion to scrape off the paper. Be gentle in this process. You will see the image has been transferred to the wood. If there is a bit of paper left behind, wipe it off again with the sponge. Once done, let the picture dry.

STEP 10: These are optional steps, in case you want some variation of effects on your wood transfer.

  1. To give a slightly grungy look you can use sandpaper.

  2. I sometimes like using gold/bronze/silver gilding paper to fill the spaces where the image is not transferred successfully.

  3. Tint the wood with instant coffee liquid (2 tsp coffee mixed with 5 tbsp of water). You might be required to use multiple quotes to get the desired tinted effect. NOTE: if you choose to tint the wood, make sure the coffee quote is fully dry before moving to the next step.

STEP 11: Now apply about 2-3 coats of Liquitex matt gel medium or Mod Podge on the picture to protect and give the picture a glossy effect. Then, leave it to dry.

STEP 12: To fully protect the image and take away the tackiness of the gel medium, spray a thin layer of sealer/varnish.

STEP 13: Let the final quote of varnish dry completely.

As I said earlier, once you know the method imagination is your limit. You can make so many things using this technique. For example, personalise a gift box, use it as a bonding activity with your kids over the holidays, preserve your vacation memories in a unique way to display on the wall, create Christmas tree charms using small Small Basswood Coasters or use them to make coasters.

If you feel my method and ideas have helped, then please remember to tag me on Instagram @madhvee_deb when you share your work.


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