Introduction: Printing Colour Images on to Wood: Making Letter Tiles

Picture of Printing Colour Images on to Wood: Making Letter Tiles

Using wax transfer paper, normally sold for printing images on to t-shirts, you can tranfer images on to most any porus surface. In this instructable I explain how to make a set of tiles similar to scrabble.

Step 1: Parts & Tools

You will need to buy
Enough 1/4" plywood to complete the project, higher ply number the better
Wax transfer paper, available from any office supply or craft store. AKA t-shirt transfer paper

Text editor with options to mirror the output print.
Inkjet printer
Iron, some heavy cotton
Narrow gauge circular saw or band saw

Overview: A mirror image it printed on to the transfer paper, ironed on to the wood and in this case cut up in to individual tiles.

Step 2: Layout Print

So, this game I'm making is made up of a number of tiles with letters on them.

I've attached an example html file which you should be able to enlarge to fit your paper (A4 or US letter) using the (CTRL) key and '+'. Alternatively import this in to word to manipulate.

Some things to note.
The letter in each row and column should be centered both horizontally and vertically within each cell, which is why I chose html over word.doc.
Leave enough room between each letter for the width of the saw blade and a little. You will also want to chamfer (round off) the edges of each tile

Start with a trial run, print the image on to plain paper and place on the receiving surface to make sure everything is laid out correctly. When you're happy, print to the wax paper.

Step 3: Prepare the Wood

Its very important to prepare the surface of the wood to take the wax. It must be free of any grease, dust etc. I recommend sanding with a fine grit it to score the surface and then washing it with a light detergent/water mix. It MUST be dry before applying the wax.

The surface of the wood should be as smooth as possible. Anywhere the wood does not touch the paper, such as the rough grain, will not take the ink. You can use this to your advantage however, it can give b&w; images a weathered look. Doesnt work so well with colour.

The final part of preperation comes just before you are ready to apply the wax paper. As the transfer relies on heat to melt the wax I recommend placing a sheet of cotton over the wood and heating the area as much as possible with an iron. Why the sheet of cotton? an iron directly on the wood will seal and polish the surface, making it harder for the wax to impregnate the wood.

Step 4: Transfer the Image to the Wood

Picture of Transfer the Image to the Wood

1)Place the paper ink side down. Remeber to print it mirror image.
2)Iron it a little so that it takes to the surface a little, I've only done this with wood so it may work differently with other materials, we will be placing the cotton down in the next step so we want to have the paper stick in place, avoiding it slipping around once we're ironing the cotton.
3)Place the cotton sheet on the paper and place the iron down without sliding it. Apply moderate pressure and repeat until you have covered the entire image.
3.1) Repeat with more and more pressure, you can lift the sheet to check out progress. Once it seems like the paper is completely adhered to the surface you can iron directly on to the paper until it starts to discolour and/or become very shinny and smooth.

Its hard to over-do it but you can cause discolouration of the wood with too much heat and a little bleeding of the ink.

The whole process for an a4 sized transfer is about 10-15 minutes.

Step 5: Remove the Paper

You can lift the paper from the corner while drawing the iron back which helps release the paper from the wood.

If you've found areas that havent transfered completely simply replace the paper and press down with the iron on that area as hard as you can.

You will probably has a waxy residue on various parts of the image. It is easily removed by rubbing with your bare hand or the cloth while its still warm.

Step 6: Cut and Finish the Wood

Picture of Cut and Finish the Wood

I use a dremel circular saw attachemnt for detailed work like this. A good band saw is probably a better alternative.

1)cut the the panel in to long strips
2)I built a simple jig to hold the strips as I cut off the individual tiles
3)Sand the edges of the tiles to finish up.

You are done! on to the game

Step 7:


mrsmerwin (author)2017-02-05

I love this idea. I would never have thought of it.

gusmom (author)2015-03-30

Love this idea! I have been wanting to make an oversize yardstick, in this case 6 feet long, for a friend to use for tracking her children's height over the years. She can attach it to the wall and mark names and dates beside their height. If they ever move, it is something they can take with them.

buirv (author)2009-02-18

This is something I've been trying to do for a while. However, I can't find a text editor that will mirror Text properly without making a project of it. MS Word only allows you to mirror a graphic of text. Which text editor did you use?

paqrat (author)buirv2011-11-03

Perhaps instead of a text editor you need a graphics program. Paint allows you to insert text. Not sure if Paint will allow you to flip the image but there are others that would.

Battlespeed (author)paqrat2014-01-27

Late reply, I know (but you know what they say!)...just about every graphics program including Paint has a function to flip an image. Sometimes it's called "mirror".

jeffeb3 (author)buirv2011-09-20

If you can flip the image (and there's not a flip in the properties as Johne99 suggests) then you can hit printscreen, and then paste, and get the text as an image in the word document. Might be cumbersome for large amounts of text, or frequently editing text though.

holzwurm (author)buirv2009-04-27

If you are looking for a good way to print on wood check out my website at We directly print on wood up to 1 3/4" thick. I am also a graphic artist so we can take any photo or artwork and print it for you.

radiorental (author)buirv2009-02-19

That is a really good question. Its been a number of years since I've done this but it looks like I must have made an image of it somehow. I'm not sure which file types are going to work best for a simple workflow, but at a guess I'd say you're probably going to have to save the file as a pdf and then import it in to gimp or photoshop. Then flip the image on the vertical axis. Sorry about that.

johne99 (author)radiorental2009-03-08

Look at the 'properties' box on the print menue and I have a Mirror Print option box to tick for exactly this problem. No need to export and import.

radiorental (author)johne992009-03-12

Thanks John!

Nlarkin (author)2014-01-17

Great tutorial on how to do this at home! If you are looking to get them professionally done, check out They do a fantastic job of printing on Wood, Metal, and even coasters. You can Connect to your instagram account and print right from there.

mlastrina (author)2011-12-14

Check out They do some really incredible stuff. They print photos directly on to a wood canvas.

wishinghand (author)mlastrina2012-01-26

Whoa, that looks cool. I wonder how they do that?

tburch4 (author)2011-11-15

I was wonder what this paper is exactly called and where to find it?...

Sarah Von Zombie (author)2011-08-18

Would this technique work for transferring a photograph onto a skate deck?

yep, as long as you take any paint/varnish off the deck first. You need the ink to soak in to the wood and also, ironing on to paint will cause it to bubble & stuff.

plpicher (author)2009-11-22

i was trying with t-shirt transferable sheets but i didn't think about the coton sheet so it was almost imposible to make it right!
i use it to print my name on my homemade guitars.

abishur (author)2009-05-20

so I just tried it on my own, and the transfer paper keeps leaving a solid wax wall behind and not just the image (which makes varnishing difficult). Is this unavoidable or am I doing something wrong? (or just using low quality transfer paper?)

radiorental (author)abishur2009-06-08

you should be able to just rub that waxy coating off without damaging the ink.

abishur (author)2009-05-14

have you ever tried varnishing the tiles after applying the wax images? Do you know if there would be any problem with doing this?

flyhigh to heaven (author)2008-11-30

hi, pardon me for asking, i'm a newbie when it comes to printing on wood. may i ask, if i want to print the picture or letter on the wood for many times , do i also have to make lots of copies of the picture from the laserjet/inkjet printer? for example: i want to print 80 pieces on the wood a certain picture, do i also have to make a copy of 80 pieces for the picture?, i'm planning to make tokens for the guest on my brother's birthday. thank you and hope to hear a reply soon. helpful site too.

hediyeh (author)2008-10-16

What kind of varnish I should use to transfer image. Please advise me . Thank you.

hediyeh (author)2008-10-16

What kind of varnish I should use to transfer image into wood. please advise me. Thankyou

katytencor (author)2008-07-07

Thank you so much for this! Can't wait to try it out in my art project. Great website too :)

tyeo098 (author)2006-09-18

will kitchen wax paper work?

mazookar (author)tyeo0982008-03-02

Reosurce for printing
Kitchen wax paper works of course, in the kitchen.
But you can try printing images on to t-shirts.
I'm glad that aren't my t-shirts.

amandakarl1 (author)2008-02-27

I have 70 wooden wine glasses as my wedding favours and we are looking into a way to put our names and date on them. Does anyone have an idea of how to do this on a curved surface?

Kelpy (author)2006-11-16

This is great! I'm a harp maker, not mouth harp, the kind that angels play. I'm trying to transfer photo art via inkjet printer and iron onto Sitka Spruce soundboard wood. I'll give your technique a try. Thanks Kelpy

Ingerson (author)2006-05-19

Hey there. Really like this and the coasters idea.. Was thinking you could glue little magnets on the back and you get one of those fridge poetry sets.

radiorental (author)Ingerson2006-05-21

I like it! or fridge magnet pictures. Thanks!

Cristian Lavaque (author)2006-04-30

Would the wax paper transfer to a surface like tiles? If so, it'd be interesting to decorate a bathroom or kitchen with it using your own designs.

I dont think so. It has to be a porus surface. You do have a couple of options open to you. There are special paints for tiles, you could hand paint them or make a stamp to automatic the process. Depends on what designs you were looking at. Alternatively, check out my other 'printing on to wood' instructable. You can print the image on to paper and then stick it to the tile. Not sure how good this would look as the whole tile would be a different colour and might look out of place.

radiorental (author)radiorental2006-04-30

Unless!!!! if you could get unglazed tiles then you could certainly do this, dont know what you would seal/glaze the tile with though. I would start by finding an artist who works with pottery and get their advice. Draw out some of your images and show them. Good luck and let me know how you get on, I'm very interested.

Cool. Thanks for your replies!

guerroloco (author)2006-04-28

Shouldn't the letters be printed as a mirror image? These letter A's look normal (no mirrored)

radiorental (author)guerroloco2006-04-28

Aha!!! well spotted that man. Yes, I actually cheated a little here. I created this stuff ages ago and 'reverse engineered' the documentation and made the classic booboo of not mirroring the print. You win a pint, redemeable next monday at Red Bones for the red sox game

radiorental (author)radiorental2006-04-28

note I only show the A which is fairly symetrical (o;

Jafafa Hots (author)2006-04-28

Thanks... this gives me ideas for other things too.

radiorental (author)Jafafa Hots2006-04-28

its fairly limitless in its application. The nice thing about it is the final result, I'll upload picture of larger prints where I made cup coasters and a place mat

About This Instructable




Bio: Appreciate what you've got, every day will bring something new.
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