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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Experimenting with Photo Transfer


Recently, I have tried my hand at photo transfers. As you may already know, I am an artist and photographer. In this project, I was able to combine both photography and fine art into one art form, which was really satisfying. Photo transfers really open up the possibilities of what I can do with my photographic imagery and how I present it.

There are a few different ways to do photo transfers. The process varies between the different methods and so do the final results. I chose the polyurethane method. In this process I used a 16x16 inch wooden panel with a light coat of gesso on the surface. I am told that this works best on bare wood, but I wanted to try a light white wash on the surface to see how it would turn out.

In Photoshop, I reversed my image so that it would print with the image flipped horizontally, appearing to be backwards. Black and white images work the best. I had this image printed from a laser printer (not an ink jet printer) and it was printed on a regular sheet of printer paper, (the thinner the paper the better).

Once the gesso on my wood panel was dry, I applied a clear coat of Minwax Polycrylic clear satin polyurethane using a foam brush. I applied a decent coat that was not too heavy or thin. I then placed my print of the image FACE DOWN onto the surface of the wood panel while the coat of polyurethane was still wet (when the process is complete the image will no longer be backwards). I used a plastic card to press the paper flat and to get rid of any air bubbles. The polyurethane can be easily cleaned up with soap and water while it is still wet. This includes rinsing out the foam brush to be reused again for next time.

After leaving the panel to dry for an hour, I used a damp rag placing it on the paper that was stuck to the wood surface. With my fingers, I gently rubbed on the surface of the paper to remove it from the panel leaving the ink and image behind on the surface of the wood. I had to be careful not to rub too hard or parts of the ink would also come off and I repeated this step a few times over 2 or 3 days. Letting the surface dry between rubbing sessions, I could see what areas still had paper stuck to it that needed to be rubbed off. This process can get messy and does require a lot of patience but can produce some excellent results.

In my experience, I did have a few areas where too much of the ink had rubbed off for my liking, but I touched up those few areas with a bit of black acrylic paint and a very thin paintbrush. After I was happy with the look of my photo transfer and I was sure that I had removed all the paper bits off the surface, I applied 2-3 more coats of polyurethane to act as a protective coating on top of the photo transfer. It also adds a nice smooth and slightly shiny finish.

I like the weathered appearance that adds an aged look to the image and the fact that I can now use this as an option to present my work. I definitely want to experiment more with this medium in the future to determine its limits and possibilities. I took a few photos of the photo transfer next to the actual camera that is featured in the transferred image as a neat side by side comparison. For more information on photo transfers you can find loads of DIY or How-to Videos on YouTube.


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