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How-to-guide: transfer photos to canvas

 

 

It is so easy to transfer photos to canvas.

This transfer technique can also be used on wood, watercolor paper, clay, fabric, or any other porous surface. The possibilities are endless.

 

Here is the method that I use:

 

 

 What you’ll need

      • a mounted canvas board or whatever medium you would like to transfer to. I used an 8X10 pre-primed canvas board from the dollar store
      • Golden Soft Gel Gloss Medium or any brand gloss gel medium
      • laser copied photo in black & white or color (see Photo copy notes below)
      • 2  wide foam paint brushes
      • a paint brayer or flat spreader
      • a spray bottle or sponge with plastic tray
      • a damp rag and a dish scrubber
      • a plastic drop cloth or newspapers to protect the surface that you are working on
      • scissors for trimming your image
      • acrylic paints or gesso for priming your canvas (optional)
      • Mod Podge or any clear acrylic sealer

 

  Step 1: Preparing your photo

      1. Prepare the surface of your canvas if it is not already primed. Paint the surface with the color of your choice (optional).
      2. Neatly trim your photo to fit the canvas. Leave at least 1/4 inch border around the image if possible.

 

 

 

    Step 2: Transferring the photo to the canvas

      1. Coat the photo side of your photocopy with a moderately thick coat of gel medium, making sure to cover the entire image evenly. Work quickly so that the gel medium does not have a chance to dry up.
      2. Holding the edge of your photo, carefully place it upside down on your canvas with the gel medium side down. Make sure your photo is straight before placing it on the canvas as once it is stuck down it cannot be moved.
      3. Using the palm of your hand, smooth out the air bubbles and creases. Then use your brayer to roll across the back of the image in both horizontal and vertical directions. You want to try to remove all of the air bubbles and creases and make sure that your photo is firmly stuck down. Wipe away any excess medium on the edges of your image with your damp rag.
      4. Leave your image to dry, preferably overnight, or at least for 3-4 hours. If you try to remove the paper layer before it is dry some of your image may come off. When dry, the paper should feel dry to the touch, not cold. You can also use a hair dryer on the low setting to speed up the drying time.

 

 

  Step 3: Exposing and sealing your photo

      1. Once your image is fully dry, use your spray bottle or sponge to wet the back of your image. You will start to see your image come through the paper. Leave it to sit for a few minutes so that the paper has time to soften.
      2. Using the pad of your finger, lightly rub the back of the paper in one spot until the paper layer starts to roll up and come off. You’ll see your image being revealed as the paper is rolled away.
      3. Work on one section at a time, rolling up the paper, while keeping the area you are working on moist. Try to remove as much of the paper fibers as possible without removing your image. NOTE:  It is important to not rub your photo too hard as some of your image may start to rub off especially near the edges of the photo.
      4. Once you have removed the majority of the paper fibers with your finger you can use a wet kitchen scrubber (see the type of scrubber to use in the supplies photo above) to lightly scrub your image of the remaining fibers. Again, be very gentle, especially near the edges of your image.
      5. After your image has fully dried you will want to seal it with two coats of either Mod Podge or a clear acrylic sealer. This will not only protect your transfer but it will also make your image more vibrant and it will help to hide any residual paper fibers left over from the transfer. For my transfers I like to use Matte Mod Podge. I works like a charm!

 

 

 

Photo copy notes

      • I found my image on The Graphics Fairy website here. She has so many gorgeous images to choose from.
      • Transferring a photo with text? Make sure you print your photo in mirror image mode (In Photoshop go to—->Image tab—->Rotate image—->Flip canvas horizontal).
      • Laser copies on regular copy paper (20 lb) work the best for transferring. The cheaper the paper, the better your photo will transfer. Matte copies transfer better than glossy copies.

 

Other things to keep in mind

      • No matter how gently you remove the paper layer, some parts of your image may start to come off. Don’t panic! You may or may not be able to get a perfectly crisp image every time. I have transferred a lot of photos using this technique and some photos don’t transfer as cleanly as others. Your final transferred image is meant to look aged. You can always touch-up bare areas with acrylic paints.
      • Soft gloss gel medium will give you the clearest image, followed by regular gloss gel medium, then matte gel medium and finally gesso.
      • Photos transferred on to fabric should only be spot washed with a damp cloth. This method does not preserve the image enough to be able to run it through a washing machine. Some of your image may come off. I have sealed some of my fabric transfers with starch (this makes the fabric stiff).
      • You can layer many transfers over top of one another and also mix text with images to create an interesting piece of art.

 

 

Have you ever transferred photos to a canvas or any other medium before? If you haven’t, I hope you get a chance to try out this wonderful technique.

This is very inexpensive project as well. It cost me only a couple of dollars to create this transfer. The majority of supplies I already had on hand.

 

Just think of all the amazing things you can make for your home or for gifts for your family and friends!

 

 

 

My Favorite Products:

Acrylic Medium Golden Soft Gel Gloss 8oz

Sargent Art 22-8803 32-Ounce Extra Thick Gesso

Mod Podge CS11302 Original 16-Ounce Glue, Matte Finish

3M Wetordry 9085NA Sandpaper, 9-Inch x 11-Inch, 5-Sheet,Super Fine 400-Grit

3M 10132NA Tack Cloth

 

 

 Images used in this how-to-guide are from The Graphics Fairy.

 

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64 comments

8 pings

  1. Amy

    Thanks for posting this great tutorial! I will have to give this a try some time. You make it look so easy.

    1. ze

      Wonderful website and great step by step instructions…I felt your site was the best because not only did you lay out all the supplies but you also set up links of where to purchase them! and you also described what they did and the difference between them….twas so helpful! keep up the great work…am impressed!
      Ze.

  2. Paula @ memakeythings.com

    Great tutorial. I also like to get images from the graphics fairy. I am going to pin this on my Pinterest board so I can come back to it when I work on my next room re- do. Thanks!

    1. Carrie

      Paula, I am very happy that you liked my tutorial. This is such a simple project that can be used in so many ways. Thanks again for commenting! :)

  3. Justine

    Stopping by from the Penny Pinching Party! http://queenofsavings.com

  4. Christine

    wow, that looks interesting. I love the final result!

    1. Carrie

      Thanks Christine! Please come back and check out my picture frame redo with a french style photo transfer that I will be posting tonight.

  5. Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co.

    What a great tutorial! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Donata from DK's Craft Cafe

    Hi, Carrie!
    I found you through the Graphics Fairy tonight :)
    I just love your blog!
    I’m following you through Bloglovin’ – looking forward to receive your new posts in their daily e-mails.
    Cheers!

    1. Carrie

      Hi Donata,
      The Graphics Fairy is awesome, isn’t she?
      Thanks for stoppng by and for taking the time to comment.
      Carrie

  7. Ellen

    Thanks for sharing this amazing tutorial!!

    1. Carrie

      Thanks Ellen. Please stop back and let me know if you decide to give the photo transfering a try. It is so addictive once you start. I have made so many projects for my home for next to nothing. That is my kind of project!
      Take care,
      Carrie

  8. Stacey

    That is just cool. Thanks for sharing this tutorial – very helpful!
    Thanks for linking up and please come back this week!
    Stacey of Embracing Change

  9. Carrie

    Thanks Stacey. I will for sure stop by your blog and thanks for visiting me!

  10. Darlene

    Carrie:

    I saw your project on The Graphics Fairy. You did a beautiful job on the Transfer – Love the final result!

  11. Connie

    Hi Carrie: I do something like this, only different, so thanks for sharing your idea. I’m Connie, your newest Linky Friend, stop by and be my friend, too.

  12. Janis

    This is GREAT! I remember watching my mom and aunt do something similar to this in the 70′s. My brain is going crazy with ideas…Thanks so much for sharing!! Can’t wait to try it!!

  13. Pamela

    Thanks for the great tutorial!! I can’t wait to try this. Don’t you just love all the goodness at the Graphic Fairy. Also, thanks for the tips you added to the end – the whole I’m reading through your post, my mind is getting way adhead of itself and I was wondering about layering images. I’m thinking french script, postmarks, etc – and you added that little tip. Look forward to checking out your blog, I have found so many fabulouss links from projects submitted to the Karen. Keep up your tutorials, you are so good, everything is clear and explained in detail which really helps someone like me that would love to try so many things, but there is only so much time!

    1. Carrie

      Hi Pamela,

      Layering different images is a lot of fun too. I am actually working on a project right now where I am layering images sort of like a collage. Thanks for your kind comments. I hope you decide to try transfering photos using this technique.

  14. Hani

    How amazing! This is such a great technique.. I want to try this soon..
    Thanks for linking up at friday fun party..
    Hani
    craftionary.net

    1. Carrie

      Hi Hani,

      I hope you decide to try this transferring technique some time. It is very addicting!
      Thanks for your comments.

  15. Mary Anne

    Thanks for the detailed tutorial. Just wondering ifI can use my ink jet printer instead? Thanks again, Mary Anne

    1. Carrie

      Hi Mary Anne,
      I haven’t tried this technique yet using images from an ink jet printer but I have read from many sources online that they have had success using this technique with ink jet print-outs. If you give it a try please stop back and let me know how it worked for you.
      Thanks
      Carrie

  16. Joy

    Carrie – thank you so much for your blog. I too am in love with the Graphic’s Fairy, am paranoid that I might log on one day and she will have decided to put on her bunny slippers and take a rest and no more wonderful graphics. I wanted to make a note about another way to flip a graphic in case one does not have Photoshop. In Paint (yes, the one that comes with Windows) you can just copy the graphic, open paint and paste and then click on “rotate” and then “flip” and voilà you have a flipped graphic that you can then copy and put into any software. Keep up the good work, we love you.

    1. Carrie

      Joy, I am afraid that The Graphic’s Fairy might disappear one day too! What would we all do without her? She is awesome for taking the time to share her images with us all for free! Thanks for the tips on how to flip graphics mirror image so they can be transferred the correct way. I am sure this will be a great help to some people. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I appreciate hearing your thoughts! :)
      Carrie

  17. Vanessa

    The tutorial never says anything about using the Mod Podge…do you coat the canvas with that after your image is transferred?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Vanessa!
      Thanks very much for bringing this to my attention. I thought for sure that I had included the information on sealing the photo transfers but I guess I forgot to put it in! :( After working many hours writing a post, it can happen as I tend to read my directions over and over again and sometimes I can miss including something entirely. I try my best to be as thorough as possible though. I have now updated my post to include this information and I have pasted it for you here as well. I hope it helps.
      Thanks again,
      Carrie

      Taken from: How-to-Guide: Transfer Photos to Canvas
      “After your image has fully dried you will want to seal it with two coats of either Mod Podge or a clear acrylic sealer. This will not only protect your transfer but it will also make your image more vibrant and it will help to hide any residual paper fibers left over from the transfer. For my transfers I like to use Matte Mod Podge. I works like a charm!”

  18. Lauren

    Thanks so much for linking up with me!

    1. Carrie

      It is my pleasure Lauren! Thanks for stopping by my blog to say hi.

  19. Monique

    Hi Carrie,

    Thx for this very clear tutorial! You mention ‘You can layer many transfers over top of one another and also mix text with images ….’ Question; can multiple layers be added at once, or do the layers need to be added one at a time? Hope you understand my question :-)

    1. Carrie

      Hi Monique,
      I totally understand what you mean. Actually, if you would like to layer images over one another you will need to add only one layer at a time. You would add the first layer, uncover it, and then add another transfer over top. Each layer may slightly alter the opacity of the layer below it. Meaning where the transfer is layered it may look slightly cloudier than the rest of the transfer. For example, I transferred an image of a bird to my canvas. Afterwards I transferred text over top of it. Where the text was covering over top of the bird it was more opaque than the rest of the bird. To make the bird uniform in color again, I transferred plain copy paper over the parts that were brighter and it made the bird all the same color again.
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Carrie

  20. Stephanie

    Such a cool idea!!!

    1. Carrie

      Thank you Stephanie! Thanks also for taking the time to stop by! :)

  21. michael

    I had a friend tell me that I need to do this with some of my photos – Your site seems very helpful in learning the process.

    1. Carrie

      Thanks Michael. I am happy that you liked my tutorial.

  22. Alison

    Thanks for a great tutorial! I have been really stressed trying to do these. I seem to get 90% of it perfect and then all of the sudden I get a bad spot and end up having to scrap the project. I really like the idea of using Gesso as a primer. Maybe the fact that I don’t prime is a problem. I take really amazing pics of the sunrise and I want to transfer them to sell, so having a nice transfer is of utmost importance. Thanks again@

    1. Carrie

      Alison,
      I find that when I don’t prime I have very little rubbing off of my image on my canvas so I think having either gesso or even a layer or acrylic paint on your canvas will help to keep your image more intact. For this tutorial, I didn’t prime my canvas and I didn’t end up having any rubbing off of my image but I was really careful to make sure I put my gel medium all of the way out to the edge of the canvas. I also find that the Golden Soft Gel Gloss medium gives me the best results. I rarely have any lifting of my image anymore since I have started using it. I still get some around the edges if I don’t put down enough gel medium but that it to be expected (user error not product error). Your pictures sound lovely. It will look almost like you painted the image onto the canvas when you transfer them over. Very nice!
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Carrie

  23. rdavis61

    Not sure what I am doing wrong but large areas of my pictures come off when I rub the paper off, no matter how lightly I press. I’m using a good quality printer and good paper along with the exact brands of products you showed in your instructions. I let them dry overnight. Maybe too much water? I can’t figure it out.

    1. Carrie

      Hi Rdavis! I’m sorry you are having trouble. My first question is, what kind of printer are you using? Are you using a laser printer or a inkjet printer? Laser printouts work the best for transfers. I did a separate tutorial for inkjet printouts here: http://hookedondecorating.com/poster-sized-art-canvas-do-inkjet-image-transfers-really-work/ Next, did you paint your canvas prior to transferring? Sometimes if you use an unprimed canvas, the image can come off in spots. Also, did you put on a fairly generous coat of gel medium on your canvas all over prior to placing your image face down and did you roll over your image a few times to make sure your image was stuck down? Did you lightly wet the back of your image when it was dry and then work in one area at a time to lightly rub off the paper? I’m sure you followed my directions but I just want to make sure so I can help you figure out what went wrong. Large areas of your image should not be rubbing off. Transferring does take a little bit of practice but you shouldn’t have had that happen.
      If I can figure out how to do a video I think it would be so helpful to those of you having problems with your transfers because transfers are really easy to do once you get the hang of it.
      Carrie

    2. Carrie

      Another thing I wanted to mention is that transferring works best when you print with a laser printer or do a laser photocopy onto regular 20 pound copy paper. The cheaper the paper the better because when the paper is thinner it takes less effort to remove the paper from the back of your image in the reveal stage. Laser copy paper or thicker papers do not work well for transfers.

  24. Emma

    Where can you go to get a laser photo copy?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Emma,
      Do you have a Staples or Kinkos near you? Any photocopy shop will have laser copiers. just get the salesperson to copy your image onto the free copy paper, not onto laser paper.

  25. Emma

    Thanks! I do!

  26. Allie

    Can you use photos printed on photo paper, or does it have to be plain printer paper?

    1. Allie

      (I only seem to be able to get photo prints for the larger sizes!)

    2. Carrie

      Hi Allison,
      For your photo transfers to work they will need to be printed on plain printer paper. The regular copy paper that you would find at Staples or any office supply store. It should be not glossy in any way. Photos that are printed on photo paper will not work because in order to have a successful image transfer you need to be able to wet the back of your printout or photocopy and rub the paper off. If the paper is shiny, it will not rub off. I hope this helps.
      Carrie

  27. Caiti

    Dear, Hooked on Decorating;
    i tried this as a birthday present for my friend and it worked as you said until it dried. I had not sealed it with a second coat of gel, but the paper after i rubbed most of it off was still so opaque that you could not see the picture on the other side. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Caiti,

      Thanks for your message. I am not sure what you mean when you say ” I had not sealed it with a second coat of gel”. Did you do all of these steps? I have to ask so that I can figure out where it went wrong. First you put an even layer of the gel medium on your canvas or on your printed side of your image. Then you layed your image on top of your canvas. You rolled over it with your brayer or scraper and making sure there were no air bubbles then you let it dry. Once it was dry you wet one area of the back of your image at a time and you used your pointer finger to rub off the paper gently until the image showed through. Once you rubbed off all of the paper that you could, you let your image dry and lightly rubbed your image with the palm of your hand to get rid of any paper bumps. Then you lightly wet your image and used a kitchen scrubby to lightly rub off the paper. Once dry you coated your image with 2 coats of matte mod podge. If you have followed all of these steps exactly, I cannot tell you what went wrong. If you used the gel medium to seal your final image then that could be the problem as gel medium over top of your transferred image would make it look opaque. When your image was wet and you were rubbing off the paper, was the image coming through all clear? If it was it likely was your top coat that is the culprit. If your image was not that clear when it was wet then maybe you needed to remove more of the residual paper. The kitchen scrubby helps a lot with this if you use it gently in a circular motion.
      I have two more transfer tutorials coming up this week if you want to check back.
      I hope this helps you figure out what may have happened.
      Thanks
      Carrie

  28. Caiti

    oh crum i just realized that i bought regular medium instead of gel medium. will that make a difference in my project?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Caiti,
      You’re right. Regular medium may have made your image more opaque. Does the jar say “regular medium” or maybe they mean “gel medium”. I exclusively use Golden Soft Gel Gloss medium as it gives me the clearest, cleanest transfers I have ever found. You can use regular gel medium for transfers with no problems. There just might be slightly more opacity to your transfers. Some people even use Mod Podge to transfer their images but again you most likely won’t get as clean of transfers.
      Thanks again,
      Carrie

      1. Caiti

        thank you for all your help. Hopefully mine turns out as fabulous as yours did :)

  29. Andrea

    Hi there…have you tried the Soft Gel Matte? I bought this one instead of glossy…but I’m too scared to try it on my whole project in case it ruins it! I’m using black and white photocopies, not color or photographs…not sure if that matters…
    Thanks!

    1. Carrie

      Hi Andrea,

      I did try the matte gel medium a long, long time ago. Although it did work, I remember the finish to be more opaque and not as vibrant as the soft gel gloss medium. The gloss is completely clear and the matte part of the medium means that it has more pigment of whatever it is making it more opaque.

      Probably the best thing to do would be to do a “test” transfer on a piece of painted cardboard or a small piece of wood before moving on to your important project. This will give you a chance to get a feel for the transferring itself before you move one to your big project. You can then see once you have removed all of the residual paper how clear your transfer really turns out. Before you know the final verdict you will need to coat your transfer with matte mod podge to see how the transfer will look in the end. The matte mod podge will dry clear and won’t leave a haze.

      If you do a trial transfer and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail and I can help you with any questions or issues you may have before moving onto your other project.

      Here is a blurb regarding transparency from the Golden website.

      “Controlling Transparency:
      To increase the transparency of acrylic paints, gels and mediums are useful tools. Nearly all gels and mediums are effective for this purpose, with the exception of those that are opaque (the Pumices and Molding Pastes). The Gloss Gels are most effective, especially when highly transparent glazes are desired or when the glazes are to be applied thickly (greater than 1/8 inch wet film thickness). The Matte and Semi-Gloss products will increase the translucency of the paint, but will not yield genuinely transparent glazes. This is the result of the matting agents in such products detracting from the overall transparency. Remember: the milky acrylic emulsion eventually dries translucent, and this must be kept in mind when determining the amount of color to add to the gels and mediums.”

      http://www.goldenpaints.com/products/medsadds/gels/gelreview.php

      Good luck on your project.
      Take care,
      Carrie

  30. ashleykate811

    what if you’re using a printed photo from Walgreens or Walmart? would the transfer still work?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Ashley,

      Is this a printed photo from the photo department? If it is, then no it wouldn’t work. It needs to be a printed photo from a colour laser copier or a photocopied copy. The important thing is the photo or image must be printed onto regular white printing/photocopy paper that is not glossy because you need to wet the back of the copy and rub off the paper layer.

      Thanks
      Carrie

  31. BlogByBrittany

    Thanks so much for this tutorial! I have a question though. I’ve tried this a few times, and I’ve been noticing streaks in my image (I think from when I applied the gel gloss medium with the foam brush). Do you have any tips for reducing these streaks?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Brittany,

      That is really strange! I haven’t had streaks show up before. Could you instead try a paint brush like the ones that are at the bottom of my post here? http://hookedondecorating.com/some-of-my-absolute-favorite-products-for-furniture-refinishing/
      I bought them at the dollar store so you should be able to find something similar where you live. They are really soft and they don’t leave very obvious brush strokes in the gel medium. I have used the largest brush for my projects with no streaking or other issues. For the gel medium all you need is an even layer. You don’t want it too think or it won’t dry evenly and you may get some areas that lift but you don’t want it too thin or the transfer may not take or the medium may dry too quickly before you get a chance to put your paper down on top of your canvas.

      I hope this helps! When I first started with transfers it took quite a few tries before I had my technique down. I bought some cheap canvas boards from the dollar store and at first a lot of them didn’t turn out well. I kept at it though and now I rarely have troubles. Just so you know, the canvases that don’t turn out can be painted over with Gesso and then you are able to transfer on them again so they are not a waste! I love doing transfers. They are so addicting and sitting there removing the paper is a great stress reliever for me.

      Take care,
      Carrie

      1. BlogByBrittany

        Thanks! I’ve been wanting to try image transfers for awhile, and this is one of the better tutorials I’ve found. I’ll try using a different brush. Maybe now that I’m conscious of the streaks it’ll be easier to make sure there is none. (yayyy, Canadians!)

    2. Carrie

      I forgot to tell you that I live in Edmonton, Alberta and I read you are from Winnipeg! It’s great to meet a fellow Canadian! Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)
      Carrie

  32. Hannah

    Will a real photo work or does it have to be a paper copy?

    1. Carrie

      Hi Hannah,

      It needs to be a photocopy. A real photo won’t work because the back of the photo cannot be moistened and the paper peeled or rubbed off.

  33. Chastity Johnson

    Good Morning. since I do not have a laser printer, do you know of any places that will be able to laser copy some photos for me?

  34. Photos to Canvas

    Great DIY article. We love using multiple canvases and then printing a single photo across them. Its a bit more challenging DIY but totally worth it.

  35. Angie

    I just tried the photo transfer, got to the point of wetting and then rubbing off the paper film. I know we have to get it pretty wet so after I kept rubbing I was worried about the very small rolled up fiber pieces that remain on the canvas. Do I keep on rubbing and for how long? Does not look too good
    with small fibers hanging on photo.

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