Introduction: 5 Ways to Print on Wood

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

Picture of Gather Materials

Step 2: The Setup

Picture of 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

Picture of #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

Picture of #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

Picture of #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

Picture of #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

Picture of #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

Picture of 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/

Comments

CKL (author)2017-11-09

This is great. All the formats together in one ible. Great way to compare the formats. Thanks for doing to groundwork.

ImamudinS (author)2017-11-05

What type of printer to use?

★DigiDavidex (author)ImamudinS2017-11-07

Laser

ImamudinS (author)★DigiDavidex2017-11-08

Thanks for the answer

★DigiDavidex (author)2017-11-07

Polycrylic for the italians is Vinavil?

katesl (author)2017-11-05

Superb work

gking8 (author)2017-10-29

Can also use PVA Glue instead of polycrylic.

fixthisbuildthat (author)gking82017-11-03

I'll have to try that

liquidhandwash made it! (author)2017-10-30

ive got one more for you Polyvinyl acetate or PVA glue have a look here

https://www.instructables.com/id/Vintage-tin-and-timber-signs/

Very cool!

Natalina (author)2017-10-30

Thank you for sharing all these different methods side by side, this is really helpful!

Glad it helped!

laith mohamed (author)2017-10-30

Thanks for the methods

Yup!

rspence (author)2017-10-31

Does one type of wood work better than another?

fixthisbuildthat (author)rspence2017-11-03

Wood with closed pores (pine, cherry, maple) and sand it to 220 grit or higher

John Morrissey (author)2017-10-31

I have tried a number of techniques to print on wood, somewhat unsuccessfully. I have not tried the polycrylic method. Will definitely do so. Thanks for sharing.

You're welcome!

SpeedOfLate (author)2017-10-31

Ooh... I have a birthday gift due tomorrow for a writer friend. I'm going to try to make a Writer's Block!

Funny! How did it come out?

blimey (author)2017-10-31

Great Instructabel. Some methods I haven't heard of before. I've tried using PVA without much success. Another method if you only have a inkjet printer is to print onto acetate or transparency film and then immediately press the image onto the wood. The ink stays wet long enough to be transferred to the wood and is quick, easy and gives pretty good results. You must make sure that the film doesn't move while pressing it down.

fixthisbuildthat (author)blimey2017-11-03

Cool, good info

CvbarnJR (author)2017-10-30

Just what I have been looking for. SURPRISE, SURPRISE. I have all the materials and supplies in my garage, of course I do not have the laser printer. Now to get started.

Have fun!

CaitD1 (author)CvbarnJR2017-10-31

Easy solution for the laser printer....most copy shops use only laser. Office Depot and Staples both use only lasers and the little UPS/copy shop close by makes great copies for only a few pennies. Just set up the format you want, print it on the ink jet, and get that copied at the store on their laser printer.

Glad I could help!

NikolasK5 (author)2017-10-31

Thanks for this article it can come in hand because I do make handmade menus.

About the iron way, I think that if you can use some hard to burn cloth below the iron and the paper so that you have a more flexible surface, it may work better.

I definitely needed more heat!

pbesong (author)2017-10-31

thanks. this was really helpful. i'm going to try it with some polycrylic i have at home.

fixthisbuildthat (author)pbesong2017-11-03

You're welcome!

RetBill (author)2017-10-31

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

fixthisbuildthat (author)RetBill2017-11-03

Never tried that...would be interesting.

joe.lyddon.7 (author)2017-10-31

Very Informative...

Thank you very much!

You're welcome!

KristinaC29 (author)2017-10-31

how does each method hold up in terms of wear? which is the longest-lasting?

Each of these should be top coated with a finish and then they will all wear the same because the top coat is the wear layer.

Chuckwilcox (author)2017-10-31

Great video, clear, concise and an excellent comparison of techniques, good to see them all in the one video. Obviously I have now subscribed :)

Thank you for sharing the info

Thanks for the sub!

emulas (author)2017-11-01

Nice

fixthisbuildthat (author)emulas2017-11-03

thanks!

Paulo Rogerio (author)2017-11-01

Hi guys, have you tried to use solid petroleum jelly? Besides great fixing, it gives an excellent finish in wood, of course !!!

Never tried it...interesting

LeslieGeee (author)2017-11-01

MOD PODGE can be home made also with white school glue you can Google the recipe. "Home made Mod Podge recipe"

Good tip!

imatroop22 (author)2017-11-01

I've been waiting for this instructable. Thank you for simplifying the process!

Absolutely!

marksstudio (author)2017-11-01

Great job man! Thanks.

Thanks!

sgbotsford (author)2017-11-02

Coarse woods will need some form of filler.

You need to get the wood both smooth and flat. These methods are not going to work well on barn wood. Good 1 side plywood, luan board (used for supporting linoleum) baltic birch plywood (available in very thin pieces. MDF board may work too, but the high glue content may pose a problem. MDF glues may release formaldehyde on heating, another liver killer.

1. Use acetone in very well vented circumstances. Breathe as little of the fumes as possible. It's hard on your liver.

Laser toner is very fine particles of iron coated with a film of plastic. In the laser a heated roller fuses the powder to the paper. With the acetone process, you are dissolving the plastic so that it doesn't stick to the paper. When the acetone dries, the plastic is left sticking to the wood.

Acetone dissolves lots of kinds of plastics, including acrylic bathtubs, and some synthetic fabrics.

2. Clothes iron.

If it has settings, set it to linen. Give it time to get hot. Modern irons often will turn off if they are left to sit for more than a few minutes.

Do not use with steam.

Because both the wood and the iron are flat, you may have voids in the image transfer where the iron doesn't make full contact. Try a pad of paper towels. Press HARD.

You may want to try pre-heating the wood in an oven at 400 F for a few minutes. This will make the wood surface perfectly dry, and the iron doesn't have to heat it up as much.

3. Water based varnish.

This one has the best chance on less than perfectly smooth wood, and also on coarse grained wood. With the latter you may want to put one coat on, let it dry to fill and seal the surface.

It may help with this mode if you can print onto a slick finish paper. The paper surface is sealed with clay, so the varnish won't soak into the paper as much. This make make removal later easier. The use of a shiny paper will make drying time a lot longer.

Warm water will work faster to soften the paper. Try the steam setting on your iron, or a wall paper steamer.

If paper doesn't clean off well, try soaking the surface either with an acid (muriatic acid from the concrete products section at building store) or with a strong alkali (draino and warm water. Both of these chemicals will dissolve you as well as paper. Nitrile gloves, apron, and a face shield. Using it diluted is a lot safer, but slower. Have vinegar ready if working with draino, have baking soda at had working with draino. Have a garden hose with shutoff spray nearby. Or work in the bath tub. If you spill rinse off with lots of water then apply the neutralizing agent. The acid is safer to work with.

If your fingers wear out rubbing, use the rubber finger tips used by people who work with paper a lot.

4. Gel. I plead total ignorance.

5. Laser.

Due to dot gain, you may need to half-tone the image at a coarser screen size to get reliable results. You also may find that you need to change settings for images (where you want just enough heat to mark) and text (where you want it black.) If you are attempting to do grey scale (dots of different density) you may need to calibrate the laser. E.g. 50% of the exposure may give 80% of the dark. Google Printing dot gain.

Laser on wood may have issues with grain. The grain, being darker reflects less light initially, and so heats up faster.

Try a test image that consists of a step wedge (greys ranging from pure black to pure white) done at various half tone grids.

ella888 (author)2017-11-01

You might also Investigate DASS systems. NON TOXIC for, printing on wood and many other substrates.

About This Instructable

62,090views

731favorites

License:

Bio: 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 ... More »
More by fixthisbuildthat:DIY Bed With Storage5 Ways to Print on WoodModern End Table
Add instructable to: