A laser print wet transfer provides a look that no other process can achieve. Due to the variations that an artist can use to manipulate the print and it’s unique visual aesthetic, this alternative photographic process is a powerful and viable option for an artist’s expression.
For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:
- What are the best materials to transfer to?
- Is the rubbing stage going to allow the full image to remain permanent?
I assume that lighter and flatter surfaces will work best for transfers via laser prints, as the image will have a smooth even surface to stick to and the material need to be light enough in colour to allow the image to be visible.
Step 1: Materials Needed
- Laser printed photo
- Wood cut to the same size as photo
- Gel Medium (must be an acrylic gel medium)
- Brush to apply gel medium to wood
- Butter knife or flat instrument to smooth out print onto wood
- Wood stain (optional) and rags
- Pigment (optional)
- Sander or sand paper
- Soft Wax or Mod Podge to smooth and seal print
- Brush to apply wax
- Hanging brackets
- Fastening brackets (if multiple pieces of wood
Step 2: Finding a Print and Choosing the Look
The first step is obviously to find just the right print that you want transfered over to wood. If you took a look at my wife’s website then you can see that a lot of their stuff is very distressed and vintage looking. So my high resolution, vibrant and clean looking airplane photo just wasn’t going to work in it’s current state. So I took the image into Lightroom and converted it to black and white, bumped up the contrast quite a bit and added some (FG).
Step 3: Selecting an Image
This is VERY important: The image that you print for this project MUST be a laser jet print. Ink Jet will not work with this process so don’t even try it. It was decided to get a 20×30 print made.
Next we went to Home Depot to get some wood made. Kristin just got two pieces of wood that together measured 20×30. She wanted two separate pieces of wood but you could just as easily use a single piece of wood. Just whatever your preference is.
Step 4: Apply Gel Medium To The Wood
This is really the most crucial step. Apply a single layer of the gel medium to the entire surface of the wood. Not too thin but not gloopy either. If you get the layer too thick the paper will be hard to get off when it’s done setting. Too thin and the paper won’t stick at certain points and the print may not transfer. So you’ll just have to eyeball it here and do your best to make a nice, even layer.
After the gel medium is applied, it’s time to place the print face down onto the wood. This is just as nerve racking as trying to put a protective shield over your iPad or iPhone but it’s a step you have to take! There will no doubt be air bubbles in the print. Do your best to smooth out and eliminate as many of these as you can. We used a plastic tool that we found laying around but you can also use a butter knife, a ruler, a roller or anything you can find that you think might work.
Once the print is applied to the wood, let it sit overnight and make sure it nobody messes with it!
Step 5: Remove the Paper from the Wood to Reveal Print
This is the really fun part. To remove the paper we just got the paper wet with water and used our fingers to rub it off. This is a pretty messy process and there might be a better way but fingers seemed to work best for us. Some parts of the print will come off easier than others so just know that your fingers and hands might be a little tired at the end. This whole process might have to be repeated several times and will probably take around 10-20 minutes. But it is really exciting to see the print come to life on the wood. Be sure to have a vacuum cleaner on stand by because there will be a mess to clean up!
Step 6: Finishing the Print
First applied a single layer of wood stain to the entire surface. You have to be careful with wood stain though. The longer you leave it on the wood the darker the stains effect it so apply the stain with a rag, let it set for a few seconds and then rub it off with the same rag.
Next the edges were sanded to remove the excess gel and to distress the wood. Then used a product called Pigment to distress the edges of the print (almost like a grungy textured vignette). Just use a sponge to apply this. It’s much darker than the wood stain so use it sparingly!
Finally, place an added layer of a product called Soft Wax to seal the print and make it all nice and smooth. Use a brush to apply a thin layer to the print. Just like waxing a car, let it dry and then buff it out with a cloth to smooth it out. The wax used was, obviously, a soft wax. Not too glossy, not too matte.
Obtaining Silver Birch Bark:
I decided to experiment with textured materials such as wood bark cut from a tree to test the difference between transferring images to rough and smooth wood. I found a fallen tree branch in the woodlands and carefully removed its bark by using a sharp knife and a gentle pulling motion to keep the bark in tact. This then needed washing and leaving to dry under heavy objects to help flatten during the drying process.
I used a waterproof multi medium gloss to apply the image to the material and left overnight to dry. The materials needed to be left under something heavy like a book, or a vice to hold the image firmly to the material.
I printed of some different tonal range images for transferring and I printed these on ordinary plain paper through the laser printer. I was going to make my prints on photo paper, however I decided to do them on ordinary paper as I though that the fineness of the paper would be easier to rub off.
For my first set of transfers I decided to use a piece of glass from a photo frame and a piece of the bark that I had collected from the woods. I followed the process as stated above and left the prints to dry overnight. I used fairly light toned photographs for my first attempt to as I thought that these images would be the most appropriate to transfer to moderately light coloured surfaces.
The transfer to bark was unsuccessful, I believe this is due to not apply a sufficient amount of gloss medium. However, the transfer to glass worked very well. After soaking the paper and gently rubbing it off the image began to emerge very clearly.
This image worked well. I believe, due to the transparent surface. As there are not strong colours in the background the image was able to transfer without any interference from the material that it was being transferred to. I am very pleased with this transfer, it is clear and very smooth in texture. After the image had fully dried once more, I applied PVA glue to protect and gloss the image.
Transfer to Wood:
I decided to use the same image for this transfer, as I believed that the tonal range of both wood and image matched perfectly. I obtained a piece of wood from an old shed and cut it down to the image size using a saw. Once the wood was sized, I sanded over the edges and applied the image using the same method as stated above. I left the print to dry overnight and used water to soak the print and remove the paper the next day.
I am again very pleased with the final outcome of this transfer. I like the way the wood grain is visible through the image and there is also a grainy highlight running through it when the light hits it. I again followed the same procedure as above and coated with PVA glue for protection and extra shine.
Transfer to bark (attempt 2):
This time for the bark transfer I decided to coat both the bark and the image to enable sticking more easily. Once the gloss medium had been applied I placed the bark in a vice overnight, with a piece of cardboard in-between to allow for the image to be fully flattened.
As you can see form the final results after removing the paper the next day, the image is barely visible. I made the decision to transfer the image to the inner side of the wood, which had speckles and more of an orange tone. However, due to the image taken and the tones within the image it did not transfer very well. I believe a darker image would be required for this type of wood.
Transfer to bark (attempt 3):
I again followed the same method as above, only this time I transferred the image to the silver outside of the bark. I also used a darker tonal image to see if this had any effect in the desired final outcome. As you can see form the image below, the transfer did work, only the image is slightly too dark. Before I printed this image for transfer, I should have lightened the contrast slightly which would have possibly allowed for a more evident image during this attempt.
Transfer to slate:
I decided to experiment with different kinds of materials, such as slate. I followed the same steps as above, left overnight and here is the results from the transfer. This was semi successful due to the image wearing away at the edges during the rub. I also used an image which had grey tones, which was similar to the plate. This was not a very good idea as the image was practically camouflaged within the slate so I decided to discontinue rubbing and regarded a failure.
Transfer to metal:
During my experimenting with materials, I decided to also try a transfer onto a piece of metal. This image was more of a mid tonal range value and it did transfer well. However, during the rubbing stage the image began to pull away from the metal. This gave an uneven and messy look so I also discontinued rubbing as discarded a fail. I believe the image to be the correct tonal range for the metal so I don’t think that this was the issue. Maybe it was not applying the gloss medium evenly enough towards the edges, or it could have been too much water applied plus too vigorously rubbed that caused the image to rub away.
I found this technique to be very temperamental during the wetting and paper removing process. I found the best technique was to fully wet the paper and rub the first layer off, then leave the material to dry fully. As the material then dried the left over paper was more evident in the areas that still needed to rub. So, wetting your fingers and rubbing the paper off, step by step as it dries appears to be the most successful way of rubbing.
I enjoyed this process and future experimentation with other materials would be advantageous. I appreciate the delicateness of the process and have a better understanding on the types of materials that do work well for this process.
 ALTERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY, (2000). Inkjet Wet Transfer Prints. [Online] Available from: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/processes/transfers-and-lifts/inkjet-wet-transfer-prints [Accessed: 22 March 2016]
 DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL, (2016) How To Transfer Prints To Wood: Awesome Photography DIY Project. [Online] Available from: http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-transfer-prints-to-wood-an-awesome-photography-diy-project/ [Accessed: 22 March 2016]
 GOLDEN PAINTS, (2016). Transferring Printed Images To Art Work. [Online] Available form: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicalinfo_transimg [Accessed: 22 March 2016]
 YOUTUBE, (2016). SLR Coaching: How To Transfer a Photo To Wood. [Online] Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ-fSm9LyOs [Accessed: 22 March 2016]