DIY Canvas Portrait (Part 2)

Canvas Portrait DIYLast Autumn we shared a Canvas Transfer DIY. We've received hundreds of questions about this project, so today I want to share a follow up with more details and Q+A. I hope it helps any of you who ran into trouble creating your own canvas portrait… 

Canvas Portrait StepsHere's how I transferred my photo to canvas: 1. Supplies needed- stretched canvas (I chose an 8×10 size), gel medium (I used this kind from Liquidex), paint brush and the image you want to transfer (laser copy) and a spray bottle filled with water. Remember, your image will print reversed. 2. Completely cover your canvas with gel medium. Use a heavy coat. 3. Press the photo copy onto the canvas and let it dry for several hours or overnight. 4. After your image is completely dry, use a spray bottle to wet the top of the paper. 5. Rub the surface with your fingers until pieces of the paper start coming off. When pieces start coming up your image will be revealed. This step takes patience and is messy! Be careful not to rub too hard as this can remove your transfer on accident. Continue until all the paper is removed and the image is completely visible! 6. Cover your canvas with one more coat of gel medium to seal and protect the image.

Note: You can expect an imperfect transfer. I think the imperfections are absolutely lovely! It's best to choose an image that is not incredibly detailed to work with. Each transfer is different. The more you experiment, the better! (DIY reposted from our original tutorial)

Here are a few questions that readers asked…. 

Q: Can I print my photo on photo paper? 

A: No. A photo printed on regular photo paper (like what you would get from any 1 hour photo) will not work. The reason is that in steps 4,5+6 you need to be able to rub the paper off from the canvas. Any photo with a plastic feel on the back will be water resistant. The best thing to print your photo on is regular printer (or copy) paper. 

Here's an example of how regular photo paper will not work…  

Photo Paper

Q: What is a laser copy? Can I just use my home printer? 

A: The method we've had the most luck with uses laser copies. Inkjet printers (home printers) can also work, but if you choose to use them be sure to print on regular copy paper, not photo paper. 

Ink Jet Printer(as you can see, it's not perfect but it does work to use an at home inkjet printer) 

There was some confusion about what a laser copy is. It's the kind of copy machine that you could use (for cheap!) at any copy shop, office or public library… 

Laser CopiesI've personally had several successful projects using a laser printer, so that's what I would recommend! I take photos in and blow them up to fit the canvas side. I always print in black and white because I think that a contrasty black and white transfer looks better than color. 

Q: I don't have Liquidex, can I just use Mod Podge? 

A: No. Although I've heard of readers using it with success it didn't work well for us. We tried the gloss and the matte varieties of Mod Podge. The results were the same with both types. It's normal for the transfer to have imperfections, but with Mod Podge it was much more than usual. Mod Podge is awesome, but it's not ideal for this project. Here's an example of what happened…

Mod Podge GlossWhat we DO recommend for this project is any gel medium that you would but at the art store. We usually use glossy. Liquidex or Golden work great. I know they are a little pricey, but it's worth it for this project. 🙂

Q: There is a white film covering my photo. What did I do wrong? 

A: You didn't do anything wrong, it's just not done yet. If your transfer looks like this (below) it simply means you need to keep rubbing the paper off! 

Paper is not fully removedA lot of people get nervous when some parts of the image wear off and don't want to finish. If you look at my finished example at the top, there are some spots that wore off during the process, especially around the edges. This is totally normal and should be expected. Use a spray bottle and rub gently until the paper is completely removed. Then gloss the photo with another coat of gel medium while the surface is still slightly damp. 

A few tips…

-This method for creating your own canvas is perfectly imperfect. The results will never be precise. They are unpredictable. I personally love the look of the finished product. If you prefer a more perfect coverage, you can get canvas portraits made at Sam's Club and other places that print photos.  

-Your transfer will come out backwards, so if there are any words on your photo you need to print the photo out backwards. 

-Many of the questions I receive are asking if you can substitute supplies or method for the same result. We don't know. We've tested some things here, but for the best results we recommend sticking closely to the tried + true method that we've developed with trial and error. We certainly haven't tried every possible combination of supplies, but the method we recommend has worked for us time and time again! 

I hope these tips have been helpful! Please send me a link if you try this tutorial for youself. XO. elsie

  • WOW those look so cool! Very fun 🙂
    p.s. check my blog everyday this week for my SUPER 7 DAYS OF GIVEAWAYS! i’ll be posting a new one every single day in celebration of my new blog design!

  • Thanks for the great DIY! We move at the end of the month, and I can add this to the list of my projects for the new place! Currently working on your doily lamp shade tutorial now!

    The Secondhand Magpie

  • Thanks for updating!! I tried this method months ago and I was at the “not done yet” stage and thought I messed up!! I’m definately goin to try again.

  • after a few attempts I had great success with this – my friends love it as I did photo’s of their dogs for presents. Thing I found was to let your print dry between each rub as it got too wet if you kept doing it and therefore resulted in more of the image coming off rather than sticking to the canvas. I’ll definitely do it again….

  • I’m not down with the fact that you are using affiliate links for supplies in many of these project posts and not disclosing that fact.

  • Amber, I have a disclosure statement on my advertising page. I’m sorry if this offends you, but that is one of the ways that we earn a living with our hard work. 🙂

  • I made one of these quite a few months ago and I love it! I can’t wait to try one with color.

  • I always love these projects, you really are the first place I come when I need a bit of DIY inspiration. Thank you 🙂

  • I’ve been wanting to try for some now! Thanks for clearing up the method even further! I’ll have to be hunt for Liquadex next time I hit up the art store for supplies! <3

  • I’m definitely glad you clarified about inkjet vs. laser! I wasn’t getting a good result and didnt know why.

  • WOW! This would make a wonderful gift for an anniversary or birthday! I love it, thank you! 🙂

    Cathy Trails

  • I think I even have some Gel Medium hiding away in my studio! Will have to try this out with some b&w shots I took in Paris. Thanks so much for posting this! 🙂

  • I’ve done this project for gifts for a few of my girlfriends and it turned out so perfect. If you make it black and white and up the contrast (pretty much as high as it will go) it makes it look so much better. It may not look quite how you want it to on your computer but it looks great on the transfer. Also if you keep an eye out for Gel medium at Hobby lobby they can have some pretty good sales on it. I bought a large bottle of it for half the price that way (11.99 to be exact) My brand is Winsor and Newton.

    Another good tip is to use modge podge for the top coating because its cheaper, I found that you dont need to because Gel medium goes a LONG way even when you buy the smaller bottles.

    Thanks for the DIY it’s been one of my favorites that i’ve tried from a beautiful mess 🙂

  • I noticed when I did mine that if you’re having trouble and there is a white film (because not finished rubbing) if you don’t want to rub any more in fear that the whole thing will come off if you simply get it wet with a spray bottle and keep it moist when you put the liquitex on it works great and the results are better!

    ps-great tutorial!

  • Thanks so much for posting this. Ever since the original post of this, I wanted to make one, but have no time yet, so hopefully soon 🙂

  • I am hoping I can build a site similar to your own and will check out your posts with great interest.

  • Thanx! Again, more love for the little bits of inspiration that you deliver to “my” inbox 🙂

  • It should work on watercolor paper too. I tried it and ended up with a nice result.

    I am lucky enough to have a laser printer at home. If you like to play with paper & colours, I recommend it, it’s a great investment.

    I never tried transfering on a canvas… And you know what, I may try it tonight after work ! Thanks for the idea.

  • I’m glad to see that I had not understood backwards, the French translation was a bit difficult.
    With the purchase of Liquidex, the seller did not believe in the success of the project but it works so well!
    The result I got from the first article was really great and I thank you again.
    I send you a link as soon as possible!

    XO, Claire.

  • Thanks so much for updating this, Elsie! Now I know what I was doing wrong– I used Mod Podge instead of Liquidex. I’m going to give this another shot. The first time I tried this I used 3 of my sis’ wedding pics in Aruba. They were messy and dull, but she loved the thought and hung them in her bedroom, but I’m going to give it another try and hope for a better result this time!

  • I tried this project (having great success!) with Mod Podge. The only thing I did that was different was that I put it both on the canvas before applying the laser picture and on top of it as well, before leaving it overnight to dry. I did have to use extra water to get the paper off, but it worked amazingly!

    Hope it works for anyone who tries 🙂

  • I was a high school art teacher for several years, and after many failed demos for my students because of using “cheaper” products, I learned that Liquitex is the bomb! I could not agree more…and laser prints are the way to go. Great tutorial

  • After making about 20 of these last December (Christmas gifts) I now have about 5 canvases with paintings half on, half off, but making so many really helped to refine the technique.

  • it’s “Liquitex.”

    I used Mod Podge with great success. Maybe the rub off part needs to be more delicate. I ended up using a soft wash cloth to scrub off the little bits of paper. I also used a computer printer, but I had to use black ink only because my printer uses layered tri-color ink and not all colors were transferred during the process. It is worthwhile to reverse the image with computer software before printing so that the image transfers to look like the original. I posted about my process here:

    Thanks for your post. I am going to do a few 16x20s using the copy machine method. It’s possible to get pretty good clarity if you rub delicately enough with this method. I’ve made one as a wedding gift, too, and it was well received. – Leah

  • You can actually do this with a photo paper (with the plasticky stuff on the back). It does require a few more steps though, and you have to wet the paper multiple times.

    You first wet the plastic backing, let the water sit on that for a while and you should be able to peel the plastic backing off.

    Next you wet the paper backing and let the water soak in a bit, you then can actually peel the remainder of the wet photo paper off. You can’t rub it off though, it doesn’t work that way.

    You need a lot of gel medium to do photo paper, but it will work with some patience. It took me 2 tries to get mine right.

  • Another way to transfer images from a laser printer is with the clear “Blender” markers that are used with prismacolor marker sets. It’s less messy, and you can usually transfer the toner to any surface, regardless of how it’s prepared (well, as long as it’s clean and dry…)


  • Help, please!, I’m from México, so I can’t get neither liquitex or golden cause we don’t have it here. Is Liquitex the same stuff people use for fake nails? Like the gel that needs an uv lamp?

  • Thanks for the update…..the part about the laser and inkjet printer copies was especially helpful. I’m going to try this out as soon as I find the gel medium out here in Dubai!

  • Elsie, I have good luck with Liquitex mediums and Mod Podge…. the trick is to not only paint the canvas with the medium, but to also paint the image side of the picture as well. That way you have glue touching glue when you apply the image. It works best with canvas board, that way you can use a brayer and apply equal amounts of pressure once applied. However, I get a great result with stretched canvas using this method too. E-mail me with any questions. Thanks!

  • I have seen another tutorial about this and they used old school overhead transparency sheets. Print the picture on that and then use the same method you have with the gel medium but without all the rubbing of the paper. I have yet to try it….maybe its another method for you to try 🙂

  • Looks creative because you are the one who will file pictures that you wanted to do as canvas.I guess for me I will find pictures of our whole family including my grandparents.

  • I really love this project, and it’s great that you add in more details and clarify things!

    I tried this last december, and this is my result:

    I’m lucky because my boyfriend owns a laser print, but when I wanted to make a birthday present for him, I tried it with an ink copy and failed – you can see that here:
    I think that with ink copies, you never get that finished feel.

  • Fantastic! My man is addicted to collecting antiques and this is the perfect way to take something new and give it a weathered vibe. Can’t wait to try this one out!

  • I have been doing this for years now as a way to display my photography in an interesting way. I have a few more tips that I’d like to share. While printing on canvas is fun think of other unique things to transfer your image on, I like to use found and salvaged wood. Also, clear matte medium by golden or even clear silicon (like the kind used in bathrooms etc.) also make a great medium for transferring the photo. Golden brand items can be found in any craft store and clear silicon in any hardware type store.

  • I love your blog so much! Your posts are so helpful & i love the tips. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I remember trying this transfer method with different kitchen cleaning products and it did work. I was trying to find a low cost version using everyday household products. I think it may have be a paricular brand of window cleaner or surface cleaner. It was a really fun experiment.

  • I tried this the first time today and it looks soooo adorable.
    A little hint for readers from Germany who couldn’t find Liquidex at any local store, just like me:
    I used “aqua Mattlack für Serviettentechnik von Marabu”.
    It worked well for me 🙂

  • thanks so much for the tips! can it work on other backgrounds or just canvas?

  • This looks like a fun project! My craft skills are a bit lacking so I have to ask about the Liquitex: Do I use the Matte Gel Acrylic Medium or the Gloss Gel Medium? They are the two options I have to chose from on Amazon.

    I can’t wait to try this. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • hi! i was wondering if the laser copies could be made in different sizes? as big as a 11×14? i’d like to buy the stretch canvas in 11×14 but don’t want to find out the hard way that the laser copies could not be made in any size! thanks!

  • get I print a photo from my face book onto regular copy paper and then take it to a place where they have a laser printer and make copies

  • I saw this and HAD to try it! Loved it! Followed the directions to a “T” and it worked perfectly. Except……I think I left the photo drying too long. Is that possible? I had left it drying overnight with plans to rub off in the morning but I was called away and didn’t get to it until the evening. It rubbed off fine but it looks a bit pinkish or really faded, not like your example (I printed in black and white) like maybe some of the black was soaked up and rubbed off. I’m definitely going to try again but was wondering if there is a length of time you should definitely rub if off by?
    Thank you,

  • I’ve done this project years ago with ModPoge and the Liquitex definitely works better. You can also transfer images to wood this way. Perfectly imperfect. I love it!

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