DIY Photo Transfer Tutorial

November 23, 2014

DIY Photo Transfer


Are you one of those people who try to brush off creative activities because you do not consider yourself an "artist"? WELL if that is the case, then this is definitely the project for you... and everyone else for that matter

The DIY Photo Transfer, inspired by Blick Art Materials Project Ideas Page, is an amazing project that enables you to take your favorite photos and create a unique art piece using a canvas and gel medium. Even if you don't consider yourself very creative I can assure you that as long as you follow the steps you will end up with a beautiful keepsake and new piece of art to adorn your walls.

Now, if you ARE the creative sort, then this is a project you can go WILD with. Once you have completed your transfer you can use acrylic paint to continue the creativity and there really is no limit to what you can create.

Not to mention with Christmas around the corner this makes a touching gift for a loved one, especially when they find out you made it by hand! Nothing says love quite like time spent making something with them in mind.

Materials Used for this Project:

TIPS: This project isn't as child friendly as most of the ones I tend to do, however there are still some opportunities to involve a child. Because I love to get Eve involved in any way I can I was able to find several different things she could help with.

For this DIY project she helped me coat the board with the Acrylic Gel Medium, helped me "squish" the air bubbles, sprayed the water bottle and also rub the paper off after. That being said, you definitely need to determine how much your child should participate according to their age and development.
Gel Medium isn't exactly non-toxic so you don't want a little one doing a taste test so supervision is a must.

For rubbing the paper off at the end it can be a very delicate process and one that I ended up realizing Eve may still be too young for. Although it is a great opportunity to teach patience, the idea of waiting it isn't exactly the easiest lesson to teach a toddler. (A lesson I am clearly still learning myself)


First, you will need to print out the photographs you would like to use for this project. When printing you must make sure to use a LASERJET printer or copier on plain paper, otherwise it will not transfer. (Sorry no inkjet printing) In our case, we only own inkjet printers so I headed down to my local print shop and spent less than a dollar to get these two printed out. 
PLEASE NOTE that when you transfer the photo your image will be reversed so make sure to have it print out the opposite of how you really want it to be. This is especially important if you are including font or in my case a cityscape. For some reason, even though I already knew this, I forgot to flip mine until it was too late. I decided to just go with it and use the Toronto cityscape as an experiment.


If you already know the canvas size that you will be transferring your image on to then you may print out your image to fit the exact dimensions of your surface. Otherwise you can always break out that handy ruler to measure out and mark the photograph so you can cut it accordingly.

This step is optional because you can always just place the entire sheet of paper down and have the extra hang over the sides as it will all come off later regardless. Personally, I find it helpful to trim it down so I know exactly where I am placing the image and can ensure it will be straight.


Once you break off the protective wrapping from your canvas board you are ready to add the layer of Acrylic Gel Medium. Depending on the look you are going for you can choose matte (no shine) or a glossy gel medium, for this project we used glossy. Next, grab a paintbrush, the larger the better, and add a very generous coating of the gel medium. 

I let Eve help me out with this step since she loves painting so much, however when she was done I had to go over and smooth it down a touch. Any bumps or ripples may create air bubbles and will end up causing the image to not transfer properly. Wipe off the excess gel from the sides.


Next you will want to take your image and very carefully and slowly lay it face down onto the surface of the canvas. Working from the middle, press outwards until the entire piece of paper is lying flat. Try to press out any air bubbles to the edge and make sure the paper has as much contact with the gel medium as possible. 

Let it dry OVERNIGHT

I know this may be hard to do but I promise you it is better safe than sorry, you will get a much better result by being patient.


 Once it has completely dried, fill up a spray bottle with water and spray the entire surface, don't be shy. You will want to make sure it stays wet through this step so if it starts to dry go ahead and spray again. Using your fingers GENTLY rub the surface so that the paper begins to peel off. I can't stress enough that when it comes to this project, patience is definitely a virtue. 

You want to work slow and steady as you gently rub the remaining paper away, if you rub to hard or quick you could lose pieces of the photograph. If you are purposefully going for a worn look you can be a little more rough or simply take sandpaper at the end which will let you have more control over the final image. 

Obviously I did not heed my own advice...

Although I WAS going for the worn, vintage look I ended up unintentionally losing a little too much of the photo to my liking. Thankfully, it still ended up being pretty close to what I was going for though.

My Toronto cityscape piece just continued to be a disastrous experiment. Since I had already forgotten to reverse the image my affection for this piece had severely dwindled and clearly I had subconsciously taken it out on the piece by being too rough.
 One upside is that it works well as a "What not to Do" example.


 Once you have completely removed all the paper and are happy with the final result, it is time for you to seal the image for longevity. Using the same Gel Medium you used in Step 3, give it another coat and let it dry completely before displaying. 

And there you are! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial showing how to complete a photo transfer onto a canvas board or surface leaving you with a stunning piece of art. 

It doesn't even have to end there either, you can take your creative license and go wild with ideas using acrylic to add a personal touch. For the piece with Eve on the beach I added some black acrylic paint on the bottom left for a vignette feel and I even played around with the Toronto cityscape, trying to redeem my creative disaster.

I ended up using the leftover paper to my advantage by using it as clouds / fog while using an ink pen to outline some of the buildings, finally I added some layers of colorful acrylic paint.
Now if only it were reversed... I suppose I will just think of it as an inception piece featuring Toronto in another world. 

Here is another example of a photo transfer I used in a previous painting. I used a photo of my dice magnets that were attached to my fridge in this painting. I ended up turning them into "dice balloons" pulled by a man on a vintage bike, cycling along through the journey we call life.

Note: When using images to transfer please try to make sure that you own the rights to them. I know it is tempting to take images off of the internet to use, but it will mean so much more if they were taken by you or someone you know who gives you permission to use them. It is all part of the creative process and an amazing chance to combine photography and fine art to produce a unique masterpiece. 

 I have absolutely LOVED experimenting with this project that was inspired by the Blick Art Materials Project Ideas Page. The list of DIY projects they have come up with are simply genius and now that we have three under our belt I look forward to trying out some of the others.

Make sure you check their project ideas and let me know which ones you try!

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