I have been playing around with image transfers for about two years now. It was what I decided would work best for my thesis project, at which point I found a teacher who was very generously willing to help me and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. One of my favorite things about viewing art is learning the story and process behind it, I figured it would be interesting to share my process for image transfers. Image transfer is exactly what it sounds like, it is the transfer of an image onto another surface. While I almost exclusively work with paper, this can also work on different surfaces, such as canvas or wood.
I love image transfers for their rugged quality, they do not come out perfect and they do not come out clean. While you can control them to some extent, they are often times very unpredictable and to some extent accidental. They are beautifully incorporated with the image and surface you are working on, and the images do not look like they have been scrapbooked :)
What you need for a simple image transfer is a laser photocopy or print (inkjet prints will not work! Also, make sure you are printing a mirror image as the image will be flipped in your final product), acrylic matte gel medium, a paintbrush or foam brush or spatula, water, and the surface onto which you’d like to transfer.
First, you want to put on a layer of acrylic matte gel medium onto as much of the image as you’d like transferred. If you’d like the edges to go on clean, cover a border around the image with medium as well. The layer does not have to be thick, but substantial enough to adhere to both the image, as well as the surface you are transferring to.
Place the image face down and smooth over as much as you’d like. I always enjoy the wrinkles and the brush strokes on my images, so I don’t smooth it out completely and sometimes even create wrinkles on purpose. Then, let the medium dry. The time it takes to dry depends completely on how much medium you put on in the thickest spot, but with a thin layer, you can expect to wait about 45 minutes. If you do not let it completely dry, the image will wipe right off. The medium must be dry!
Once it is completely dry (you can touch the paper to see if it feel cool or damp to tell), wet it again! This time, you are taking the water and spreading it over the back of your laser image. Cover any area that has been glued down with the matte medium. Let the water soak in for about a minute or two until you see the paper becoming slightly translucent. Once you can see the image below it, it is time to rip the paper off. Start with the edges by lifting them and ripping pieces off. If you do not have edges, skip this step and go straight into the second step of rubbing the wet paper off. Be careful to take it slow and not rub off the image. The way this works is that when laser printers print, the ink becomes a thin layer on the surface of the paper (with inkjet, it soaks into the paper, which is why it does not work as well), when you apply the medium, it sticks to that thin layer, allowing you to rub off just the paper and leave the image on the new surface.
Add water as needed to rub off any excess paper. You may also want to set it aside once it gets too wet, so that you do not rub through the paper you are transferring onto. Unless of course, you want that worn effect. Once it dries, you will be able to see any last paper fibers that have remained on the image and use just a tiny bit of water to remove any last pieces.
Note about the paper- while any laser paper will work, when you are doing a large number of images like I do, it is best to get a non-recycled fiber paper to make this process much, much easier. I’ve found that Sappi Somerset Matte paper cuts this whole process down to one third the work. The paper does not break down when wet, making it super easy to peel off! The paper does leave an odd haze over the image at first, but is easily wiped off with water and some paper towels (or fingers).