This ridiculously simple technique for transferring images into a plastic yields a wide variety of possible uses.

The thin nature an flexibility of the gel makes it well-suited for incorporating into artworks. It's transparency gives some interesting possibilities... think light boxes or night lights (I did a multi-piece light installation with gel medium transfers as part of BFA work). The malleability makes it well suited for jewelry and other small craft projects.

This tutorial shows the basics - more the process than a final product - your imagination can take it from something simple into something amazing. There's almost an infinite number of applications across the arts and crafts spectrum.

And i realize the image of the BMW isn't the most artistically dynamic, but it works pretty well to show the process.

Step 1: Materials

The basic materials list is pleasantly short. What you'll need:

- acrylic gel medium
- brush
- dish or tray
- water
- scissors (in case trimming is necessary)
- an image to transfer

notes on the gel:
the beauty of this technique lies in the nature of the acrylic - you can adjust and modify the gel to suit your needs... whether using retarder to increase smoothness, mixing in acrylic pigment, or even mixing in other materials (i've seen everything from gold flake to sand mixed into the acrylic gel). I use Liquitex's Gloss Heavy Gel Medium, but any clear acrylic medium works.

notes on the image:
Any image can be used for transfering, although some work significantly better than others. Uncoated magazines/newspapers work beautifully, but more coated photos/postcards/etc. may or may not transfer well - a color photo copy would be recommended to increase the probability of a successful transfer. Laser printed images work, but ink-jet prints generally don't work as well.

notes on the brush:
you can use any brush you'd line, whether bristle or foam. The different textures of the brushes will lay the gel medium down differently and will yield varied final products.

Step 2: Apply First Coat of Gel Medium

Place the image on a work surface (dried acrylic gel can be difficult to remove from unwanted areas).

Apply a thin coat of the acrylic gel medium with the brush, being careful to keep brush strokes smooth and even (unless you really want to build up the brush strokes and have them come through in the final product).

  • Optional: If you wanted to add other acrylic media like pigments, or even other materials, it can be integrated in this step. in my example, I just stuck with pure gel for this go 'round.

Allow the first coat to dry (usually takes between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on thickness and air conditions). When dry, the milky acrylic gel will turn completely clear (see the photo!).

Some people prefer to tape down their images (I've even heard of setting it in a glass pane with spray adhesive to ensure it remains flat) but I've personally never found the buckling of the paper with the moisture from the gel to be a significant problem.

Step 3: Wash Your Brush!

There's little worse than a brush that has dried acrylic medium gummed up in it!

Wash the brush in warm running water after each application. Enough time for the coat to dry is enough for the brush to dry out as well. Not rinsing your brush will pretty much render the brush useless.

And just to be safe, I'd rinse it in a non-food prep sink, just to be safe. Acrylic isn't the healthiest stuff in the world (this would be a good point to mention it's not advisable to consume the gel medium either, even if it looks like sour cream).

Step 4: Continue Applying Coats of Gel

Apply the second coat of gel medium, alternating the brush direction to ensure an even application. Each alternating layer should be brushed in a perpendicular direction to the previous coat.

Allow the second coat to fully dry again, turning clear, before applying the next coat.

Continue applying thin coats (and allowing for drying) until you have a fairly substantial layer of gel medium. Usually somewhere between 4 and 10 coats is ideal, depending on thickness of each application and desired final thickness.

Step 5: Allow the Image to Fully Dry

It's critical that the image coated with the gel be allowed to fully dry, which usually takes around 48 hours. If you can wait longer, up to 72 hrs, it will be to your advantage as it will be better set for the next step.

Step 6: Soak the Image

After the image has fully dried, it's time to soak it in water (as contradictory as that may seem) to dissolve the paper. If the gel hasn't fully set, the acrylic will begin to dissolve as well.

Trim the paper down to the gelled area, if necessary.

Fill a tray/dish/bucket with lukewarm water. too hot, and the acrylic is in danger of softening too much, too cold and dissolving the paper will be more difficult.

Soak for roughly 10 to 15 minutes, but not much longer or else the acrylic may over-soften.

  • a note on trays: I'm using a small photo darkroom tray. I highly recommend picking up some darkroom trays for craft use, even if they'll never see a photo. They're made of a tough plastic (or sometimes metal) and hold up to tons of use. For this one, however, you could use pretty much anything... tupperware, a baking dish, even a stopped sink. Just keep food dishes separate from this project as acrylic medium isn't food-safe.

Step 7: Gently Remove the Softened Paper From the Gel

A relatively straight-forward step:

Gently rub the paper side to break up and dissolve the paper from the gel medium.

Be sure to keep working at the gel, getting all of the small paper fiber off of the back. There is usually a small layer left after scrubbing the initial layer off. If you take the time to remove every bit of fiber, the image will look noticeably cleaner/clearer. (see the close-up photo showing the difference).

You may need to empty the water if it gets too saturated with paper pulp.

Step 8: Dry the Gel Image

After carefully scrubbing all of the paper fibers off of the gel, give it one final rinse in fresh water to remove all paper residue and allow to dry.

I usually place the gel images on either glass or plastic. Paper fibers have a tendency to stick. And as long as the gel hasn't dissolved/melted, there shouldn't be any issues with the gel sticking to glass or plastic.

Note that it's normal for the gel to still appear milky, and won't completely clear until dry.

Step 9: The Final Product, Ready for Use

After drying, you're left with the transferred image in the gel. It's ready to use however you chose... incorporate into art projects, paintings, etc., treat it as an object in jewelery or other craft projects, or just use it as a simple window cling: the possibilities are practically endless!
Could I cover a lazered print with the medium, when its still wet press it onto a canvas, then let dry for 24 hours, then rub/get wet the paper so i would have just a print on my canvas? Basically leaving a print/outline for me to then pain/fill in the gaps in acrylic paint? Thanks
<p>I'm making a custom board game and I wanted to save money and space on a board game pieces by making the board out of chalkboard so that we can pause the game and put it away quickly and then quickly get it off the wall and begin playing again. Will this work for chalkboards and if so can you still draw on it after you print it? </p>
<p>Does the gel then stick like a decal? Or could it adhere to fabric or canvas as well? Thanks so much!</p>
You're driving yourself crazy waiting all that time for the gel medium to dry. Just add a thin layer and dry it with a hair dryer! I set the hair dryer on low heat and hold it far back for a couple of moments then switch to cool air until the gel is dry and then add another thin layer. The hair dryer is employed to dry thin coats of layers of paint and gesso as well. I'm a professional artist and don't have all the time in the world to wait for everything to take its lovely ol' time to dry. I learned the hair dryer technique from the folks working at Disney making cartoon films before the days of computers.
Thanks for adding this, I'm going to try next time I do an ink transfer. :)
<p>nice info :)</p>
<p>Why doesn't it work when using inkjet printed images?</p>
<p>can you use glue instead of a gel medium ?</p>
<p>I've used Imaging Print Film - a transparency of sorts. I wanted to use this so I could see what I was doing when lining up the text I wanted to print. I kinda worked, didn't let it set long enough I suppose. Acted like a sticker to remove it. A lot better than wiping the paper off. Final conclusion, use a very light weight paper and print your laser image. Take the time to exacto cut all the paper you can. Apply the gel and let it sit for 24 hours. Everything will transfer nicely. It's a tad tedious if you are doing text....but the more paper you can remove the better....also, apply the gel only to the image.....when dry, the gel takes longer to soak thru with water if you have it on the backside of the paper.....and that makes rubbing the paper off a little more difficult.</p><p>Another technique I have seen is using acetone ( strong nail polish remover ) to transfer the image. Haven't tried it but seems to work pretty quick with good results. </p><p>Thanks for the info.</p>
Could you show me pictures of what you have done and label what you used please, and thank you
<p>I have used this system and it works well. However, when I use the final imagine and paste it on another surface (paper etc.) it does blend, I.e. it does not appear as a transfer but as if I had cut a normal paper imagine and just glued it in another!! </p>
Is it necessory that we should use gloss gel medium or any gel medium can be used for transfering the image<br>
Any gel medium should achieve the desired effect. Gloss just provides a finish similar to decals.
Can an acrylic gel medium be used instead of gloss gel medium will there be any difference in tranfering the image plz can anyone tell me<br>
Acrylic medium gel is truly an awesome product. I experimented with it in an art class and I ended up creating a collage on a piece of plexiglass. Basically, I had my photocopied pictures and applied gel medium to the face of the picture, then laid them on the plexiglass using a block printing roller to get all the air out. After it dried, I removed the paper by hand and with some water, and the cool thing is, you can see the picture from either side of the plexiglass. Great tutorial for beginners!
<p>Hi,</p><p>Hopefully it has not been so long since this comment was posted that you may not see it. I am trying to do some transfers on to plexiglass and am having issues, can you correspond through email and see if you can help? I am following all of the tips and instructions I can find, but can't seem to get the results I am looking for :)</p>
I tried the same yesterday for the first time, but then only on the back of a sketchbook (even on cardboard), but it turned out beautifully. I was afraid that it might not work with newspaper print, but it sure worked great! I can't wait to use this method in place of newspaper collage, on canvas.... :)
<p>DJEucalyptus,</p><p>You can count on Liquitex, cause &laquo;the medium is the message&raquo;... </p><p>Thanks for the nice Instructable. Your picts are specialy of great quality! </p><p>I remembered doing something similar a few years ago, although I may have lost some of the technique, without practice... Thanks again!</p>
Is laser toner print works on it?
Does the image need to be printed backwards in order for it to be right side up on the piece of word or glass?
<p>Yes indeed - flip horizontal before printing because you transfer the image face-down!.</p>
What a fun process! Want to try
Do you know if this is then heat resistant to 275 F so it can be incorporated into polymer clay projects?<br>
There's a similar and faster technique for this idea that air brush artists use. <br><br>Simply lay down the image on your canvas or other medium. Then spray the whole canvas with clear coat. Make multiple coats until the picture is level to the rest of the canvas. You can also buff out the clear coat to make it more level and flat.
Hi Mquinn4 - I'm curious about your comment - do you remove the paper from the back?
hey that's cool! how does this work?
thanks! the acrylic gel actually grabs the ink and the first layer "absorbs" the ink into it, basically dying the acrylic/plastic with the pigment from the paper.
I'm a bit surprised that inkjet prints don't work, unless it's because modern inkjet inks have been formulated to be water-resistant. In the beginning, one didn't print envelopes on an inkjet printer because they'd become illegible if they were delivered in inclement weather. Perhaps some research might turn up "inferior" inkjet brands that are suitable for this purpose. Perhaps low-cost refills?
It's more likely to be because there are two ways that Ink gets applied to paper in ink-jet printers, depending on the paper. Uncoated paper will absorb the ink into the paper fibers, and when you go to remove the paper from the process it removes the ink that the paper absorbed. The second issue is that even with coated paper, (where the ink is absorbed by a coating that prevents it from being absorbed by the paper itself) the coating will disolve in the water as well and take the ink with it.<br><br>Also to be considered is that most ink-jet inks are water soluble. This is why you want to use a fixer to prevent humidity in the air from causing the ink to mix with other inks, and also to protect the ink from drops of water. It's the same variety of issues that watercolor painters have had to deal with for centuries. <br><br>That said, you might try spraying the paper you are going to use with a fixative, printing to that, then waiting for the ink to dry before applying the acrylic gel medium. The waiting time may have to be more than the couple of minutes that you would normally wait as the ink should not be absorbed by the paper at all, and you will have to wait for the fluids in the ink to evaporate. You might have to do some test runs to see what that drying time is, then extend it based on the local humidity.
I just did two trials of this method (instead of fastening it directly on something then wetting and rubbing). For one I used acrylic gel medium, for the other I used acrylic binder which I got from a local paint factory really cheap. I was real surprised to discover that the one using acrylic binder turned out a lot better than the gel medium one... It turned out beautiful, totally perfect. It was easier to apply the acrylic binder, since it is much more fluid than the gel medium. That might play a role in it turning out perfect. Acrylic binder is similar to PVA glue (so that would work too), I guess, but the owner of the factory told me that if you compare the two, the binder is of much better quality (we were discussing it when I was going to make my own gesso). So if you have a local such factory and they have an outlet store, why don't you drop in and ask if you can buy a bit from them. They filled up a 3 liter can for me (they couldn't handle real small quantities, since it comes out of huge barrels, a minimum would be a liter or so) and I paid less than $15. Being that prices for such things l are much higher here (Norway) than in the US, it would probably be a lot cheaper for people in the US. You can also use it to make your own acrylic paints, if you'd like, just add pigments and you have acrylic paint. For gesso you add calcium carbonate, titanium white pigment and water (and plaster, if you'd like) - much cheaper than store bought gesso/primer for canvases, boards and other painting supports. You can also use the binder as it is in place of clear gesso and for things like making collages (as a glue). You can also buy acrylic binder from online stores that sells pigments etc, but then it costs more (nice to save shipping costs too, if you have a local supplier).
can you then transfer this to something else like a shirt or something?
Sure you can, you can glue it onto a canvas or whatever you want. Read somewhere that some put it on clothes. Haven't tried though. Don't know how it would hold up in machine washing. But I guess that all you have to do, is try, and you'll soon find out... :) Maybe try on an old shirt first? I can't wait to try it on a canvas, then paint on it... :)
&nbsp;Hmm this is interesting, i'm always into transfers and stuff.. this acryllic stuff sound a little bit like pva glue, might try that with pva glue.. since i'm poor &amp; lazy t hunt for resources. and i don't know if you've done carbon transfers before.. there was one technique where you paste clear scotch tape over the image, pressing down air bubbles and stuff, then just run it under or dunk it in water, rub off the paper and it'd leave the image behind on the tape, and you can just stick it somewhere
awesome tutorial!!!<br />i'm definitely going to use this is my current piece. i'm a photographer/painter/sculptor, and i also work at one of canada's leading art suply stores. this is just awesome. i'm probably going to try this with some Tri-Art clear modeling paste, with a glossy finish. can't wait to see how it turns out.<br />thanks so much for the awesome tutorial!!<br />
frugal application... tape your pic face side up on freezer paper (shiny side up) and "gel" a used dryer softener sheet to the pic when dry. turn pic over and wet roll the paper away.... ta daaaaa... you now have an image that not only is plastic...BUT weblike also it resists tears, and is much easier to roll the paper off without fear of comprimising the integrity of the picture if it should happen to becomes misshappen...enjoy this medium...it is wonderful Anne
Great idea for a political campaign poster/window cling. I did a direct image print to a window cling and unfortunately when it rained the image was washed away.
如果可以印到T恤上就万能了! Can I paint it down in my Tshirt or other stuff?
We did a similar process to transfer pics to fabric in our quilt guild. Use a transparency sheet made for your home printer and print the picture in reverse. Brush the gel over the pic, the place it gel side down on fabric. Use a brayer or pencil on its side to burnish the transparency and force the gel into the fabric. You might want to place some paper towels under the project to catch any that oozes out the edges or through the fabric Lift edge of transparency carefully to make sure image transferred and didn't stick to the transprency. Rub a little more if it didn't transfer. You get a similar effect to that of the iron on transfer sheets.
Great presentation and great idea. I have done the same ...or basically the same with spray lacquer just have to be careful it is a little more dissolving than acrylic so your pic could run depending on ink, so the first coats have to be rather thin it does however dry very fast and after it is dry water does not effect it. I believe the acrylic you used is better if you want a thick build up of material. It would take many applications of lacquer to get the thickness you can achieve with the acrylic gel.
This is quite interesting. Do you think it would be possible to spread the gel on blank paper, print on it, add another gel layer as protection and then remove the gel as you do? We could use a more friendly support as plastic so that removing the support is easier than with paper. Do you know of plastic that will not strongly bond with acrylic (glass would be easy for removal, but not really for printing). Anyway, this reminds me of a photographer (before digital photo) who removed the gelatin from printed photos to transfer it on other material (stone as I remember). Thanks for sharing.
Does anyone know if we can do this with the acetate transparency sheets (for overhead projectors) which are for laser printing? Would acrylic gel bond to the acetate sheet? It seems to bond with the styrene/toner from the laser printer.
I did an experiment with that last week. The acrylic does bond to the sheet but when i printed a picture on it with a inkjetprinter the inkt didn't dry, I suppose because it can't be soaked like with paper. I did the same with paper; two layers of acrylicmedium and than printed on that but there's the same problem while the medium prevent the ink from being sucked into the paper. It might work with a laserprinter though but I momently don't have any access to one.
Take care not to jam the laser printer. I fear that the acrylic may not sustain the high temperature inside.
interesting idea! I'm not sure of the answer myself. I haven't tried the acrylic with other plastic media... I'm not sure if there is something that wouldn't create a bond yet still be flexible enough to run through a printer. it would certainly be interesting to experiment with. I remember a long time ago pulling apart polaroid images to separate the emulsion from the base and transferring it to wood. I'd forgotten about that until you mentioned it. I might have to go play around with that now too :-)
From what I have found, vaseline is a good demoulding agent for acrylic. May be it is possible to carefully soak it into the paper (a foam roller should do) and then apply gel. If there is no excess vaseline, the gel coating should be adherent enough to sustain printing (I suppose because of the roughness of the paper and air pressure), but it could help remove the finished work. Of course, you can't use that to copy an existing image.
You can try paper available at art stores called "palette" paper. It is really slick on one side, I'm fairly sure that would work. I just googled it and lots of hits came up - it comes in a pad.
This is a good question .. I will try next week and let you know how it works. would do it this week but I'm on the top of a mountain right now ,working from a netbook . PS used to do this all the time with b/w photos works well for that . I will use an inkjet first to see how that works, If not I will print with a laser printer..
Back in the old days, we used to make custom decals for plastic models by painting onto the gummed side of water-activated gummed packaging tape (the brown paper stuff) with enamel paint, then applying to the model with water in the customary fashion. If the paint layer was reasonably thick, it worked like a charm. For lettering or complex images, we'd start with a patch of clear paint as a background, then apply the colored image on top.
love this idea i make greeting cards and now i have to run to michael's and get some acrylic my brother's bdays are coming up they will be my guinea pigs

About This Instructable




More by djeucalyptus:Refresh that old plastic cutting board Easy Soda Bread Homemade Pomegranate Liqueur 
Add instructable to: