Picture of Image Transfers with Acrylic Gel Medium
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.
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of 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.
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GeorgesB2 months ago


You can count on Liquitex, cause «the medium is the message»...

Thanks for the nice Instructable. Your picts are specialy of great quality!

I remembered doing something similar a few years ago, although I may have lost some of the technique, without practice... Thanks again!

jieyii232 months ago
Is laser toner print works on it?
tundra20038 months ago
Does the image need to be printed backwards in order for it to be right side up on the piece of word or glass?
MarcC3 tundra20034 months ago

Yes indeed - flip horizontal before printing because you transfer the image face-down!.

MDelnero1 year ago
What a fun process! Want to try
aishajoy3 years ago
Do you know if this is then heat resistant to 275 F so it can be incorporated into polymer clay projects?
mquinn43 years ago
There's a similar and faster technique for this idea that air brush artists use.

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.
gusphd mquinn43 years ago
Hi Mquinn4 - I'm curious about your comment - do you remove the paper from the back?
theRIAA5 years ago
hey that's cool! how does this work?
djeucalyptus (author)  theRIAA5 years ago
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.

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.

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.
worthworks3 years ago
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.
peapeam4 years ago
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).
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!
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.... :)
themonorail5 years ago
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... :)
eatplastik5 years ago
 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 & 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
leba5 years ago
awesome tutorial!!!
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.
thanks so much for the awesome tutorial!!
fauxma5 years ago
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 is wonderful Anne
drbobay5 years ago
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.
starmoon1255 years ago
如果可以印到T恤上就万能了! Can I paint it down in my Tshirt or other stuff?
dulciquilt5 years ago
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.
smessud5 years ago
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.
DIY-Guy smessud5 years ago
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.
Dave A DIY-Guy5 years ago
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.
smessud Dave A5 years ago
Take care not to jam the laser printer. I fear that the acrylic may not sustain the high temperature inside.
djeucalyptus (author)  smessud5 years ago
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.
maruawe smessud5 years ago
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..
dpocius5 years ago
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.
Lori Ell5 years ago
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
frikkie5 years ago
Thanks for sharing!This is exactly the type of stuff I am looking for.Because I want to make a few projects that I wanna put like pictures on.
Dave A5 years ago
Nice instructable, i´ve used this technique before for prints on my longboard
djeucalyptus (author)  Dave A5 years ago
looks great! thanks for the photos. I tried to dig around and find some to show a practical application, but haven't found any yet.
ac1D5 years ago
I don'T really understand what this do but it look cool lol
srhadaham ac1D5 years ago
If i understand it correctly it takes a paper image and makes it plastic.
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