How to Transfer a Photo to Wood

Easy Wood Transfer method (via abeautifulmess.com)Our goal is to keep our site a useful and valuable resource to all you fellow crafters out thereβ€”I see you, friends! With that in mind, this post was originally written back in 2013, and we have updated it with TWO new methods for creating a wood transfer. We have also left the original content here as well, so don’t worry because we haven’t changed that at all. We just want to provide you with more options and methods for transferring a photo to wood. And, good news, these two new methods are even EASIER than the original. (!!!!!!!)

We originally created this post AND have updated it while working with our friends at Canon USA. We love their inkjet printers for both craft projects AND home office/small business needs. We have both. We need both. And our Canon printers fit the bill and then some. If you’re looking for a great craft, photo, and all around awesome printer, then might I recommend the PIXMA TS9020 (which you can see below and was used for this project). πŸ™‚

Three Methods for Making a Wood Transfer (via abeautifulmess.com)The wood transfer I created back in 2013 is still alive and well… you can see him in the photo above (the large one, labeled from 2013). I’ve mostly kept this transfer displayed in my bedroom for the past four years, and it’s even moved houses with me once during that time. So, if the old method works, why bother updating? Good question. So, the original method we shared I would say is somewhat advanced in that it involves a number of steps that if you mess up, can affect your final project. I was hoping to offer another method that could suit a beginner crafter level, or a more “foolproof” method. I like anything with that term in it. πŸ™‚

I tried a few things and the two that worked the best I am sharing with you in the video below. You can see all the supplies and steps for creating your own wood transfer:


In addition to the steps you can see in the video, I’d thought I’d share a few more tips I learned from these two methods below.

Canon printer How to make a wood transferFor the water decal method, method 1, there are a number of water decal inkjet printer papers on the market that can work well for this. The one I used is here. Once you slip the image decal off the paper (after soaking), it’s very thin, like tissue paper, so it’s good to practice a bit so you get the hang of working with it. Also, keep in mind that turpentine has a fairly strong odor. So be sure to work in a well-ventilated area.

For method 2, using temporary tattoo paper, I used this brand. Here’s a few tips for this one. First, keep in mind that your final “tattoo” will be the mirror image of your photo. So if there is text in your image, you’ll want to flip before printing. After printing you will have to add a sticky, clear sheet to the design. This contains adhesive that will help your design stick to the wood. As you can see in the video, it’s OK if you don’t get this stuck on perfectly. But you do want to distribute the adhesive across your image as much as possible.

You can leave the transfers as they are or seal with a thin coat of Mod Podge or water-based polyurethane. I left mine unsealed and so far, so good. πŸ™‚

Two Methods for Making a Wood TransferThe transfer on the left was made using method 1 and the right was made using method 2 from the video above.

And below is the original post that we created for how to make a wood transfer:

In anticipation of getting my wedding photos back from our photographer, I’ve been dreaming up creative ways to display some of our photos around the house. I’ve always wanted to try transferring a photo to wood. So I looked up a few tutorials online to see how it’s done. I learned pretty quickly that not every tutorial out there will result in a beautiful transfer. But what I learned I’m happy to share with you!

How to get a photo to transfer onto woodThis project is part of our collaboration with Canon USA. We used a MG6320 printer to create this transfer. Among the many tutorials I researched, the one I found most useful was from C. Monck.

How to transfer a photo onto woodIn the video above, you can watch me make the wood transfer pictured here from start to finish. Here are the instructions along with additional tips and a few peeks into the numerous failed attempts:

Supplies to make a wood transferSupplies:
-shipping label sheets (I used these)
Krylon clear sealer
-Elmer’s glue
Liquitex matte gel (medium)
-small sponges

Not pictured:
-ink jet printer
-paint roller (or rolling pin)
-8×10 inch untreated wood (lighter colored wood is preferred)

Note: If you plan to use a photo you didn’t take yourself (like a wedding photo), be sure you have the photographer’s permission.

How to make a wood transfer with elmers glueStep One: Remove and discard the labels. You only want the backing paper.

Step Two: Spray on a thin coat of the Krylon clear sealer and allow to dry.

Step Three: Use a small sponge to apply a thin layer of Elmer’s glue to the paper. Allow this to fully dry.

Best way to make a wood transfer using an ink jet printer imageStep Four: Print your photo onto the paper on the side with the dried glue. Be careful not to smear the image once it has been printed.

Step Five: Use a small sponge to apply a thin coat of Liquitex to the wood. While it is still wet, apply your photo image-side down to the wood. Use a roller to flatten the paper onto the wood. Allow this to dry for 1 hour.

Step Six: Carefully peel back the paper from the transfer and seal with another thin coat of Krylon clear sealer. Once that dries, you can add another coat of sealer, like Mod Podge.

Wood transfer DIYNow you are ready to display your transfer in your home. I just love the rustic look of wood. πŸ™‚ I bet you want to see the failed attempts, huh? Yeah, I would too. Here they are along with what I learned and additional tips that might help you if you are planning to make your own wood transfer.

Trouble shooting wood transfers using ink jet printersThis one… kind of transferred. Sort of. It’s very faint as you can see and also was quite a mess to work with as I tried to remove the paper. The tutorial I followed for this attempt was very similar to the one above except that it didn’t use clear sealer and it suggested using Mod Podge instead of Liquitex. In my opinion the Liquitex, although a little more expensive than Mod Podge, was well worth the investment.

What to do if your wood transfer has streaksOh dear. This attempt was done doing the exact technique taught above, except that instead of using a sponge to apply the Elmer’s glue, I used a paint brush. For me, the paint brush left a lot of streaks and uneven coverage. I recommend using a sponge. Sponge for the win!

What to do if your wood transfer has bubblesThis one is pretty good, huh? Not too bad. The main issue here was that there was some bubbling in the paper and it showed in the transferred image (in the area below our hands). This is why it’s important to use a mini paint roller or rolling pin to help flatten down the paper onto the wood as the image transfers over. Say no to bubbles. If you have any additional questions, let us know. Or if you have also completed a wood transfer project before and have any tips you’d like to share, feel free. πŸ™‚ Thanks! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Tutorial Photography: Emma Chapman. New (2017) video from Harp Creative. Past (2013 video) from Doren Chapman. Wedding photos by: Arrow & Apple. New (2017) photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • Thank you for sharing the failed attempts and explaining what technique/product didn’t work. I have been looking for a way to do this!

  • Hi! Love this project! Question – my boyfriend and I previously tried the photo to canvas transfer with little success (we couldn’t get the paper off cleanly). Do you think this method (using the label paper & glue) would work with canvas?
    Thanks!

  • I did something like this for Christmas, following your tutorial to transfer photo to canvas, bit instead I used wood, and it really worked out great!
    Why didn’t you use this technique?

    But nevertheless, your product looks really good, and your wedding pictures are breathtaking beautiful!

  • This looks amazing, such a fun way of keeping special photos! And thank you for sharing the ones that didn’t work, its refreshing to see that you had issues with the project but also didn’t give up and had to try a few different things!!

  • thanks for the video tutorial. i’ve always wanted to try this, you made it look easy as 1,2,3! what was the song playing on the tutorial? i really liked it.

  • Hi Veronika!
    We actually tried our photo-to-canvas technique first with this wood project and it didn’t turn out as well. Glad that it worked for you!

    A Beautiful Mess Team

  • This is fantastic…I got married last year and am just getting around to doing up my album now and I’d love to have a little more fun displaying pics around my house. My DIY prowess is limited but your tutorial is great and I’m definitely going to be giving this a whirl πŸ™‚

  • Can’t wait to try this! One thing…I LOVE my printer. I’m assuming since you are teaming up with Canon that the glued paper isn’t an issue? Just want to make sure that it doesn’t leave traces for future printing πŸ˜‰ Thanks!

  • awesome… i have been wondering how to display some of our wedding pictures in a special way… this seems great!

  • i attempted something similar for my sister-in-law’s wedding, but it turned out pretty bad! the tutorial i followed, however, just had you use regular paper. this method seems much smarter! thanks for sharing!

  • Can you use a regular printer or does it have to be a laser printer?

  • Definitely learned this technique in art school. It’s the best. But yes, definitely would recommend the Liquitex, or another brand of Acrylic Gel Medium (Golden, or even Pebeo works well too). But it’s best not to expect perfect results – because you rarely get them.

    I made a pretty cool collage/painting piece using this technique (at least I think it’s pretty cool.. hah). It’s inspired by The Virgin Suicides. Check it out if you wanna, it’s not the best photograph, but it gives you an idea.

    Here’s the link: http://polkadottedpixels.com/portfolio/#/personal-projects/

    Alex from http://www.polkadottedpixels.com

  • Totally had to bookmark & pin this post as soon as I saw the title! Can’t wait to try it πŸ™‚

    Rose
    Blonde in this City

  • To echo the other comments. Thanks for sharing this. Definitely worth persevering as the final result is beautiful.

  • very unique idea πŸ™‚ congrats on your marriage!

    hashtagphoebe.blogspot.com
    Follow on Bloglovin’

  • this looks awesome! My brother in law has a way of actually printing photos directly on to wood and then he makes large grids out of them. They are incredibly cool. grids by flint hills design

    Leah Faye

    a clover and a bee

  • This is amazing, I could see so many ways of messing this up if I tried it, but the mess ups might be cool. I actually really like the one that transferred faintly, it came out really cool.

    Mana
    Fashion and Happy Things

  • I’ve been wanting to do this for sooo long. Getting photos printed on canvas from a company like Shutterfly costs so much more. I’m glad you showed the failed attempts. Thanks for sharing!
    xo kristen genevieve

    sunnywithachanceoflemons.blogspot.com

  • That’s so awesome! I have been dying to try doing a wood transfer! I definitely need to sit down and go through my wedding photos-this is the perfect use for them! Among the many others….

  • I just did some transferring with only the gel medium and copies from kinkos. Modpodge to seal and it worked like a charm!

  • I love how this looks. I did this project too for a gift, and my friend loved it. One tip I would say is to use a picture that is not too light. If you use one that has too much white or light colours the picture wont show up to good on the wood. And to make sure to print your picture out as a back and white, it works/transfers better.

  • i love this! i want to try this and the one with the canvas for my baby’s first portraits! can it be done with color images?! and can you guys please do a viseo for the canvas?

    thanks bunches!
    xo karla

  • Is there a particular reason why you have to use the label paper? What if you used regular paper or card stock instead?

  • You actually taught the whole process in 52 seconds, i cant believe it. nice effort and good tutorial. i guess im gonna give a try. i would like to see my photo on a piece of wood πŸ˜€

  • This looks amazing! Thank you SO much for showing us all of your attempts… sometimes I feel like it is just me πŸ™‚ Hoping I can find UK equivalents to what is listed here. A gorgeous idea! xo

  • Hello girls!

    I’m from Brazil and I have a blog with my friend Laura, the Cocotas: http://cocotas.blog.br/
    You are our greatest inspiration and we use various references from Beautiful Mess. I hope you enjoy our blog as well. Expect a visit from you here!

    <3

    Kisses

  • Hi girls,

    I was wondering if you could please provide a ‘printer’ blog (similar to Elsie’s Camera list).

    I notice you guys use certain printers for different photo DIY’s which makes sense..but I’m looking to buy just one and need a little help knowing what to get.

    Much love and keep up the great work..awaiting your next blogspiration.

    Mel

  • Alicia Featherstone- The label paper is very slick, so the image is able to transfer off way more easily than using regular copy paper (my first attempt was with regular paper, you’ll have to rub through it to get it off). But feel free to experiment, like I did. You may find a way that you prefer.

    • What do you think about using photo paper? It is also slick but thicker. I have a stack of I’m guessing 4×6 inches that came free back in the day when you purchased ink. I think I will have to give it a try!

  • karla- I haven’t tried color but I feel fairly confident that it would work the same. The process simply transfers all the ink… so it shouldn’t matter what colors the ink is in. Does that make sense?

    Also, good to hear you’d like to see the canvas project as a video. We like good suggestions. πŸ™‚

  • I Love doing this technique.

    Emma! I have an extra step for you.

    So the great thing about liquitex is it is latex based, meaning it dries like plastic. An alternate way of doing this is actually allowing the picture to dry onto the wood. Don’t peel it off just yet, wait till it is totally dry. (I know it sounds a bit crazy but bare with me) Then to get the paper off use a similar technique to how you would get a label off a jar, very warm water. I wouldn’t let the whole piece soak in water because the wood will warp. I usually soak a small towel in very warm/hot water. I don’t wring it out. I lay it on top of the piece afterward, once the paper has soaked up water and become soft you can peel it off. If some paper is still left then re-apply the dishtowel with fresh water on it to soften the rest of the paper. The medium I use is very durable. I will often take a tooth brush and gently scrub of the softened paper. the great thing is that chemically speaking the liquitex medium on the wood acts like a sponge and steals the ink from the paper you apply to it! So as long at the piece is totally dry before you proceed to the water application, you can be pretty rough with this warm water gentle scrubbing technique. When I do it this way it makes sure that more of the ink transfers, the edges and details are crisper and the image darker.

  • Love this project, the final one is amazing! And I have to thank you for the message of no matter what happends donΒ΄t give up! You have lot of patience. Sometimes I get frustreted too quickly with some projects… I have to learn to keep trying. Thanks for the reminder πŸ™‚

  • Do you have to use a laserjet printer or could you use a picture printed on a large printer?

    P.S. I love your photo ideas, I did your canvas photo transfer and loved it. Now I’m on to try another. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • This is great! But could someone help a Latin reader? I’m a bit confused about the supplies needed… What is a shipping label sheets? And clear sealer would be like barniz transparente? πŸ™

  • I’m glad you posted the ones that didn’t work too. A think a lot of women get caught up in thinking some people have it perfect when that’s never the case.

    Great idea!

  • Great job! thanks for sharing your fails as well and sharing what you learned along the way.
    It turned out beautiful!

  • i have made a ton of photo to wood transfers with flawless results.

    TIPS: DON’T use an ink jet printer…whatever is in the ink reacts poorly with the gel medium and causes the image to peel. use a laser printer (go to your local printing shop – kinkos etc.) or use a photocopy. don’t use thick paper, the thinner the paper, the better. allow ample time for the gel medium to dry (i’d say 24 hours, patience!), don’t put down a super thick layer. when you go to rub the paper off, get the surface pretty soaked and rub gently. i don’t really make these anymore because i started losing my fingerprints πŸ˜‰ but they sure come out beautifully!

    P.S. if you do a canvas transfer, make sure the canvas isn’t coated. a lot of the ready stretched canvases come coated.

    mara gold
    http://instagram.com/greenscarlett

  • I like this idea. I think I might try this at some point. BTW, I was looking back at last month’s blogs – specifically at the pictures of Emma and Elsie as kids AND I noticed the fabric on Elsie’s outfit in the third picture – the rainbow fabric. Was that outfit homemade? Because my mom used to sew a lot of clothes for my sister and I and specifically remember an outfit she made out of that SAME rainbow fabric. Just so you know. (I would have posted a comment on that blog, but the comments are closed) πŸ™‚

  • Thanks for sharing! I love the mishaps better, they look real vintage… remind me of old family photos taken when my great-grandmother was young…

  • What a beautiful Idea. It looks great. Thanks for this tutorial. I think I will try this soon with some of my photos.

    Have a nice day.

    Greets from Berlin

    Karin from peppithecat.blogspot.de

  • Your efforts were all beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I’m going to try to replicate one of your “mistakes” to an artwork for a book cover.

    I’m an artist and a writer. Don’t throw out your so-called mistakes. The Modpodge Wedding Mistake, for example, really caught my eye, although all the “mistakes” might work.

    You should look around at book cover art. Self-published writers are always looking for the art, and some will buy the cover art without the photoshopped title and author credit, if you feel like doing that. (See deviantart.com, for example, and look at what they post).

    Sometimes creative people aren’t always aware of the art they’re creating. Thank you for tracking exactly what you did. The process is important to artists who might want to recreate it.

  • sorry, what type of paper you use? I still don’t understand. can you explain, because my photo transfer was failed :(. thank you

  • What software and printer settings did you use to make the print? My Canon printer must be old…it doesn’t have an option for Elmer’s Glue on Avery label backing paper. πŸ™‚

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  • Personally I like the first “fail”, really it has quite an artistic, emotional feel to it in my eye, but hey…

    In regards to the glue issue, I routinely use Elmers and other glues thinned with distilled water so it flows easier with a smooth finish once dry and doesn’t seem to affect the properties when dry compared to undiluted. Haven’t tried this, but other than a longer drying time for the glue before printing, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work and allow the brush method, the glue will float out to a smooth surface.

    Other than, you just lit a fire on a cloudy stormy day.

    Time to be a kid again “)

  • Thanks for sharing! This turned out awesome! And it’s very encouraging to see the ones that didn’t work, too, cause you know…

    Anyway, at the beginning when it says:

    1.) Remove and discard the labels. You only want the backing paper. 2.) Spray on a thin coat of the Krylon clear sealer and allow to dry. 3.) Use a small sponge to apply a thin layer of Elmer’s glue to the paper. Allow this to fully dry.

    In step 2, where do you spray the Krylon? Onto the label backing paper? And then in step 3 you apply Elmer’s glue over the top of the dried Krylon?

    Sorry, I’m only going by the text and not the video!

  • Beautiful! I love photo-transfer. Your’s turned out great! I’ve done it a lot for various wood, canvas, & fabric projects, and I know the reason your earlier attempts didn’t work is because of the ink-jet printer. Ink jets use water-soluble inks and some of the photo transfer methods will make the inks runny and faded (or not transfer at all).
    Any of the other methods should work as long as you use a laser-printed photo copy of your picture (just be sure to reverse the image first). I always just go to Staples or some other copy center since they use laser printers.
    Some of my projects are on my pinterest:
    http://pinterest.com/vintagewise/handmade/
    I’m horribly bad at keeping my board updated so I don’t have pictures of some of my favorite projects, like the galaxy hair bows I made for my daughter (using actual images from NASA which are public domain).

  • I love this idea, but have a question — shouldn’t you print the picture in ‘reverse’ or ‘mirror’ image? Otherwise, it would seem to me that you would be looking at it in mirror image once you get it completed. In your sample picture, it probably wouldn’t matter if it were ‘mirrored’, but with faces or writing or something I’d think it might be a problem. Just wondering. . . I’m going to give it all a try.

  • has anyone tried using those iron on transfers to either wood or canvas? i just thought of it and wonder if this can work too.

  • I am happy that you have posted this tutorial. It is also nice that there is a video because I am more on a visual learner. I will surely give this a try. Thanks for posting!

  • This is great! Thanks for the tips and showing us how to do it! Is the finished product water proof? Like if you spill water on top, will it get damaged?

  • isnt this kind of a waste of the labels? Surely there must be a better way ?

  • I love this! We just bought our home earlier this year and we are smack dab in the middle of decorating everything. Trying to think of creative wall decor can be a challenge but I think this technique is perfect! Thanks so much for the great idea–I look forward to trying my hand at this photo transfer. : )

  • Wow, this is really cool! I haven’t seen this before! I will definately try it soon… that will be perfect presents for friends! Thanks for the idea! πŸ™‚

  • What a cool project I’m excited to try this..I was just wondering what the best paper to use with a inkjet printer?