5 Ways to Print on Wood

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Posted in WorkshopWoodworking

Introduction: 5 Ways to Print on Wood

About: I run FixThisBuildThat.com where we focus on Woodworking and DIY Projects, Plans and Tools. Come check us out and let us inspire you to build something awesome!

In this Instructable I'll show you 5 ways to print on wood. It's a great way to make custom woodworking projects like signs, plaques, and gifts or just to customize and brand your other projects.

Be sure to watch the video above, and if you like it please subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Step 1: Gather Materials

Step 2: The Setup

I tested 4 DIY methods and 1 tech heavy method for printing on wood. I used 5.25" x 3.5" pieces of wood to test everything and used this image for test prints. I’ve included my logo which has large block text, a picture, and some normal sized text. This will do a good job showing how each way to print on wood reacts to different text and image types

All the prints were done on my laser jet printer, not an ink jet. And I mirror imaged the artwork for the ones I actually used to do the wood prints.

Step 3: #1 Acetone

The first method is using acetone to transfer the toner to the wood. All you need for this process is some acetone (I’ve heard lacquer thinner also works), a paper towel, nitrile gloves to protect your hands and optionally you can use an old key card or credit card. And be careful with the acetone and read and follow all the cautions on the can.

I laid the mirror image print out on the wood and creased the paper over the edge to hold it in place. Then I used a shop towel dipped in the acetone to soak the paper and press firmly downward.

After a few passes the toner is transferred to the wood. Then the paper peels right up with no stickyness and reveals the image.

Pros: Very quick, decent image quality, clean process

Cons: Average image quality, acetone is a harsh chemical

Step 4: #2 Clothes Iron

The next method is a simple clothes iron. All you need is literally just the clothes iron here. I put the paper down like before creasing it over the edge.

Then I literally just ironed the paper, making sure to keep it from moving around. I tried to press down hard and had the iron on high, but I still don’t think it was enough heat.

This one did not look good. I think it was because this iron is pretty light duty and just didn’t get hot enough. I’ve also since heard that printing on wax paper might make a difference or using a branding tip on a soldering iron.

Pros: Cheapest method, fairly quick to do

Cons: Poor image quality, possible to burn your self or scorch the wood or paper

Step 5: #3 Polycrylic

The third method is using a water based polyurethane. I’m using Polycrylic which is just a name brand poly. You’ll need the polycrylic, an acid brush(or other small brush), a stiff toothbrush and some water.

I brushed on the polycrylic with a small acid brush trying to get a thin film that was wet but not puddling. Then I pressed the paper down into the wet polycrylic and smoothed the paper from the center outward to remove any air bubbles and firmly seat the paper into the polycrylic before setting the wood print aside to dry for about an hour.

After the finish had dried, I wet the whole back first then peel off as much as you can by hand before scrubbing. Then it’s just gentle scrubbing with the toothbrush until all the paper is gone.

The quality was excellent! Other than that little chip on the side of the “F” the wood print looked amazing. I was really pleased with this method of printing on wood.

Pros: Excellent image quality, water based safe finish

Cons: Messy removal of the paper, takes an hour to dry

Step 6: #4 Gel Medium

The fourth method is to use a gel medium. I used Liquitex gloss, a foam brush, a key card, a tooth brush, and water for this method.

The gel medium goes on similarly to the polycrylic except it’s a gel vs a liquid. I found a foam brush worked well to distribute the gel because the brushes left too many ridges.

I pressed the paper into the gel then pushed out the air bubbles with my fingers then the key card. Then I set it aside to dry for about 90 minutes and scrubbed with a wet toothbrush afterwards to remove the paper.

This one looked pretty awesome too, but there were a few spots that still had a little paper that I couldn’t get off on the first go.

Pros: Excellent image quality, safe water based gel

Cons: Harder to remove than polycrylic, leaves behind rough surface, longer to dry

Step 7: #5 CNC Laser

Alright, this is the tech heavy approach. I have a Full Spectrum Laser Hobby 20x12 and I used it to make the image as well.

The setup is pretty easy and there are some great Instructables on here about lasers.

It turned out really sharply defined as expected. The only issue was with the image which a laser has a hard time replicating. But the text and logo design that are solid black looked great.

Pros: Excellent detail on text and logo, set it and let it go

Cons: Expensive to buy, must travel to find one to rent, not great on pictures

Step 8: Applying Finish and Final Thoughts

I applied some spray lacquer to the wood to see how it changed things and it did change my opinion a little.

The acetone really darkened up with the lacquer applied. I liked this one a lot more after the finish and I’d put it ahead of the gel medium.
The clothes iron….what can I say, it still stinks

The polycrilic darkened up even more and still looks great. This is definitely my first choice.

The gel medium also darkened but the finish was not very smooth. The extra paper bits I didn’t get off really showed through. So to get it as smooth as the polycrylic I’d have to spend a lot more time cleaning.

The CNC laser didn’t really darken up. It’s more of a burnt wood look, but the detail is still great.

If you enjoyed the video I'd love for you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more great content. Also if you want a little more in depth review you can see it on my website at: http://fixthisbuildthat.com/print-on-wood-5-ways-diy-image-transfer/

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"After the finish had dried, I wet the whole back first then peel off as much as you can"
wet it with more Polycrylic or wet with water? Can't wait to try it!!

102 Comments

I tried the Polycrylic and the only thing that happened was almost all the image came off. Hardly anything stayed...I must be doing something wrong. Same thing happened what I used MogPoge.(sp?) I finally found some success with a transfer iron. Using a home iron doesn’t get hot enough. Also, I found you have to go very SLOW when peeling back the paper while using the iron, and lay it back down while peeling it back to reheat areas that don’t transfer nicely. You have to work SMALL spots in order for the heat transfer to work.

Hi, Thanks for doing this comparison - very informative. I have previously done photo transfers using the gel medium (Modge Podge) method fairly successfully.

I am trying to find a way of 'labelling' my wood products with my logo. My main product is cutting boards. I do hope to eventually get a laser engraver, but until that happens, I want to use one of the other methods. Which one would you think would hold up to regular washing, etc. that a cutting board would be exposed to?

I tried the Polycrylic method today, but most of the image came off with the paper. My test piece had already been finished with mineral oil and beeswax, so I sanded the area. That may have been the problem since the finish soaks in. I also might not have applied enough of the Polycrylic. I'll try again with an unfinished piece, but my big question, as above, is the durability.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

1 reply

1.buen dia como es el proceso con papel de tatuaje temporal Gracias

Really good ible and it makes me want to get started pron to--but it leaves me with one (probably) dumb question: how do I mirror-image the artwork??

1 reply

You must use image editing software of some sort. Most will have a "flip" or "mirror" option you can use on the image to reverse it.

Basically, you have to have a reversed version of the image (a modified second image file or a "flipped" image in an editor), and then print that. I don't think Windows has the ability to mirror an image as it prints it. Maybe version 8+ does, but I stick with 7.

I made it a full 12 seconds before the first ad popped up. After that, I wasn’t able to display an image, only voice. My summary...junk. This site is another in a long list that are just junk. And I am being nice.

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i would run some junk controls or even adware scanner on your computer as the video is just a embed of youtube player nothing more i can watch videos all day long without other pop ups yes some videos stop in the middle and show another ad or video but has nothing to do with this sight that has to do with the advertisement on the youtube video itself this is a great site to find diy stuff and most of the pop ups are from your browsing history so i wouldnt hold that against this sight they have to pay for the hosting and bandwith somehow

I use Firefox with the "Addblock Plus" addon and don't get adds on this or any other site - problem solved. (As I write this, my browser says it blocked six adds)

Greetings Bruce, I encountered that issue yesterday too. Never before have I had that problem on this site. I was using an older Ipad at the time, and right now, I am using a newer IPhone. I am not sure what caused the issue, but hopefully the Instructables IT folks are on it. You should really give the site a second look, as I think it is one of the best ever. Cheers!

You should have a try using temporary tattoo paper. Mine have been perfect every done and done in minutes. No rubbing or waiting.

Excellent, can you do the polycrylic on chalk painted wood for an old sign look?

2 replies

Hmmm... come to think of it, the polycrylic is acting as the receiving surface and glue. So as long as the polycrylic can stick to the host material the transfers can be as good as shown here ... Worth trying on glass and other host materials ?

Thanks for doing this. Polycrylic seems to be the choice for transferring laser print outs. Unfortunately, I have an ink jet printer. It's time to get me a low cost laser printer ... or print my transfers at the in-laws until I do get a laser. Only ~ 361 days until Christmas. ;)

I suspect colour laser would work just as well, right ?

One thought... I've found that if I slow down a laser engraver and reduce the power, I get a darker and more consistent engraving.

Excellent! I really wanted to see/hear comparisons of methods, and you did a really clear post. You have terrific photos of the results and the techniques. Thank you!

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Nice and clear indestructible. One question, are you using a laser printer (to print the image) or a ink jet? Does it matter? I did not find that information in your post. Thanks

One thought about laser engraving wood. I've found that if I reduce the power and slow the laser down a lot, I get a darker and more consistent result when engraving an image.