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This is a good weekend project since it takes time to dry in between steps. It's easy to start on a Saturday and finish (several) on Sunday. Even though these are all pretty much nerdy, you can do this with photos or any graphic you choose. My house just happens to be inhabited by video game players. If you have any questions about any step of the process, please comment and I will do my best to answer you!
Step 1: Materials Listing
You will need the following:
1. A laser jet (This part is important. To see what the prints look like done in ink jet, please refer to the last step of this instructable. It's not pretty) print in the size of your choice (Staples near my house can do up to 2'x3' cheaply. I used 11"x11" images printed on 11"x17" paper and the prints cost about $1 each). PROTIP: Staples can change color photos/prints to grayscale for you. However, BEFORE going to Staples, open the image in an editing software (MS Paint will work) and choose the option to "flip horizontally" in order to avoid any words or pictures appearing backwards. If you don't, you'll be very, very sad (seriously, trust me on this one).
2. A piece of plywood cut to just over the dimensions of your print (these are 12"x12" panels. Home Depot will allow you to buy a large board and they will cut it into pieces in the store for you).
3. Acrylic Gel Medium (purchasable in the paint section of any craft store).
4. Mod Podge (purchasable in any craft store).
5. Light colored wood stain.
6. Stain rags (not pictured).
7. Foam brush (not pictured).
8. Paint brush (not pictured).
9. Picture hangers (they are pictured in that small package and are in the nail/screw section of Home Depot).
11. Small paint roller or ruler (optional)
Step 2: Preparation
Cut the print down to the proper size by trimming away the excess paper. Bonus points if you have monkey jammie pants on.
Step 3: Gel Medium
Using a foam brush, apply the gel medium evenly, but not too thick. If it's too thin, the print won't stick to the board in places. If you do it too thickly, you'll be spending a lot more time getting the paper off (although, if you could choose between the two, I'd choose the latter). You can test this on scrap pieces of wood in advance or just wing it. Seriously, don't be scared of this step.
Step 4: Placing the Print
Place the print, face down, onto the board as evenly as you can. There is SOME play here while the medium is still wet, but not a lot, so don't be too rough with it, as you don't want to tear the print.
Step 5: Get the Air Bubbles Out
I use a small paint roller for this. You can use a rolling pin, a ruler, or your hands. However, you'll need to be gentle so as not to create any rips or tears. The paint roller really works perfectly (you can get one for about $5 at Home Depot).
Step 6: Let the Waiting Begin
Place this on a shelf somewhere and let dry overnight. This is a good time to get others that you're going to make ready to dry too (if you wanted more than one). You can see there are five on my shelves. This project is easy to do in batches! I like to do them during the early day and then let them sit until the next morning. Now is a good time to play some video games and psych yourself up for the final product!
Edit: Instructables user von7_11 found that a hair dryer on the lowest setting dries these fairly quickly for those of us that are impatient and want them done sooner. Awesome, awesome tip, thank you!
Step 7: The Next Morning...
Okay, so first, get some coffee. This is going to be a menial and boring task that you have ahead of you. However, it will pay off. You will need a little bowl filled with water and a vacuum cleaner at the ready. You need to dip your finger tips in the water and GENTLY (this is important...it will take longer, but you are also less likely to remove large amounts of the print this way) rub in small circles directly on the paper to start exposing the magic that has occurred underneath overnight. I like to keep a bag to dump as much of the paper flakes in as I can, but there will be lots and they WILL get on your floor as well. Just be ready to vacuum when you're done. For a 12"x12" square, you're looking at 30-45 minutes worth of work. Like I said, menial.
IMPORTANT EDIT: Please note that, when doing a lot of these, you can cause some pain in your fingers and, when attempting 9 in one day, my fingertips cracked and bled (sorry, I know that's unpleasant). In response to this issue, I have begun making them by wrapping a cotton t-shirt rag around my finger tips and using that to rub the paper off. This seems to have fixed the issue, as I have made 10 this week without incident. Please take care of your fingers and do not hurt yourself.
Step 8: Keep Going, You're Almost There
At some point, your picture will look like this. It will look mostly done with some white. That white stuff is paper that you still need to remove most of. Keep going and, remember, GENTLE!
Step 9: FINALLY!
Eventually, it will look like this. The vast majority of the paper will be gone and you will be ready to go on to the next step. Please note that, on this particular piece, I purposely rubbed hard in spots to achieve a distressed look. If you know the Borderlands game series from which this came from, you'll understand that I wanted this to look like something that could be actually found in Pandora somewhere.
Step 10: Stain Your Panel
The next step is to apply stain to the ENTIRE panel with a rag. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes or so and wipe it away. You'll then want it to dry for about an hour. I also used a black stamp pad to further distress this panel. That is completely optional, but I wanted the borders a bit gritty looking.
Step 11: Time for Fun With Mod Podge
Paint the entire panel with a thick layer of Mod Podge.
Step 12: Waiting...Again
It will take about an hour for the Mod Podge to dry. You will know it's about dry when the coating on it turns from white to clear.
Step 13: It's Finally Dry
This is what the finished panel will look like. You're almost done!
Step 14: Marking the Hangers
Flip the panel over and use a marker or pen to mark one spot on each side about 1.5" from the top.
Step 15: Fastening the Hangers
Using a manual screwdriver or an electric one (easy mode), attach the hangers to the areas you marked.
Step 16: Ta-Da
You have successfully made one (or a ton) of neat things to hang on your walls! Decorate your rooms and enjoy!
Step 17: EDIT (7/21/2013)
By far and large, the most asked question has been whether this works in color. I promised to test that and I did and I'd like to share the results here. It ABSOLUTELY works with a color print and I'm including a photo of the finished product.
In order to answer some other questions:
Q. What gel medium do you recommend?
A. I have been using Liquitex gel medium in Matte. It can be purchased online through Amazon or in any A.C. Moore store (probably at Michael's and Hobby Lobby as well). I can't really vouch for other brands since this is the first brand I purchased and I had such good results that I haven't deviated.
Q. Does this work on photos as well?
A. This DOES work on photos, but you will want them printed on regular printer paper and NOT photo paper.
Q. I have tried this, but I seem to mess up the print and it rubs off. How can I correct this?
A. I'd suggest using a thicker layer of the medium and also make sure you're not using a rag or hard pressure to wipe away the paper. Your damp finger tips in a gentle circular motion will work just fine. It will take longer, but it will also ensure the best results.
If you have any other questions, please let me know and I'd be happy to answer them!
Step 18: EDIT (7/23/2013)
Another question I've received a few times was whether or not this worked with an ink jet printer. The answer, oddly enough, is yes...and no. As I rubbed the paper off, I noticed that the ink jet ink bleeds into the paper as I rubbed it (the paper was coming off in dark gray flakes instead of white). The finished result, in my opinion, looks terrible because so much of the ink has gone away with the paper. I guess this technically works if you were going for a "burned image into wood" look, but I personally think it looks pretty bad. I didn't finish getting all the paper off along the sides, but the image included here has the paper removed from the entire head and heart area up top and most of the paper from the remainder of the print. Hope this answers your question! :)