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How to transfer images to surfaces:

4 ways to move those pictures


Since early man began sketching bison on his cave walls around 32,000 years ago, we have been struggling with the same issues of how to get an image onto a surface.  Sure, drawing is one way, but what if you already have the image on a piece of paper?  Enter the 21st century:  There are now many ways to transfer images.  Here are some of the best for the crafter:

Transfer medium or matte gel medium.  Transfer medium is a thick acrylic glue.  Its image transfer properties are most effective with photocopies and not with ink jet prints. There are two ways to use it:

As a decal
  1. Photocopy your image normally on plain paper (the image will slide onto your surface face up).  Don't use heavy photo paper.
  2. Brush on three coats of transfer medium, horizontally, vertically and diagonally, letting it dry between each coat.
  3. Trim around the image.
  4. Soak image in water for 20 minutes.
  5. Lay it face down on a smooth surface and gently use your finger to roll away the paper backing.  When the paper is off, remove the remaining paper residue with a soft cloth.  Let it dry.
  6. Affix the image decal to a surface with decoupage medium or more transfer medium.
As direct transfer
  1. Photocopy the image in reverse on plain paper (the image will be rubbed on to your surface face down).  You can also use transparency film for ink jet printers.
  2. Trim away the excess paper, leaving a little "lifting tab" somewhere
  3. Brush a heavy coat of transfer medium onto the image (avoiding your tab).
  4. Position the image face down on your surface.  Bend the tab up.
  5. With a brayer, rolling pin or bone burnisher, apply heavy, even pressure to the back of the image.
  6. Let it rest for a full minute.
  7. Using the tab, peel back the paper a little.  If the image is not fully transferred, apply more pressure with the brayer.  Let it rest another minute and peel off the paper.
  8. Let it dry.
Waterslide decal paper. This special paper allows you to transfer images to a surface by first printing them on a waterslide decal.  Although there are several manufacturers, the grandfather is Lazertran.  Their original paper worked with toner-based photocopies and laser printers (hence their name). Now, their growing market is home inkjet printers so they developed a paper just for those.  Whatever the brand of decal paper you choose, the process is similar:
  1. Print the image on the treated side of the paper.  Your printer should be set to "normal" or "plain paper" to avoid too much inking.
  2. Allow the ink to dry for 30 minutes.
  3. Trip the excess paper from around the image.
  4. Soak the paper in water for about a minute, until the decal releases from the backing sheet.
  5. Slide the decal onto your surface.  It will adhere to a non-absorbent surface like glass or ceramics.  On an absorbent surface like paper, wood or fabric, you need to affix it with glue.
There is a cool variation for absorbent surfaces like wood, where you actually melt the decal with turpentine, leaving the image fused to the surface.
  1. Soak the image in water and remove the paper backing.  Let the image dry on some wax paper.
  2. Paint the wood with turpentine (paint thinner or mineral spirits will not work).
  3. Apply the dry decal on the wood and smooth out the bubbles.
  4. Let dry for several hours.
  5. The image will dry with a white background.  To make the background transparent, apply several coats of oil-based varnish.
Iron on transfer.  Yes, the process for iron-on transfers for fabric will work on a solid surface too, resulting in a somewhat glossy rendition of your image.  Follow the instructions from Transferring Images To Fabric but just iron it on to your surface.    

Blender pen.  This works on photocopies (and newsprint), not ink jet prints.  You can transfer onto wood, paper, cloth or metal.  Glass and ceramic, not so good.  The final result is a misty version of your original image, charmingly rustic. You need a Xylene-based blender pen, which is used for blending felt-marker ink.  They are available at art-supply stores.
  1. Photocopy your image.  The transfer will be reversed on your surface, so if you want the image unreversed, or you have text, have it photocopied in reverse or mirror-image.
  2. Place the photocopy face down on the surface.  Tape it in place.
  3. Apply the blender pen to the back of the image with long, overlapping strokes.  The image will become visible through the paper.
  4. Burnish the image with a bone folder or wooden spoon.
  5. If you are working on a large image, work in sections.
  6. Let it dry for a few minutes, then remove the paper. 

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