Solvent Transfers





Introduction: Solvent Transfers

Every time I use this technique, people always ask how it's done, and I've always had a bit of difficulty explaining it. They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Hopefully this will help a bit.

The applications for this technique are nearly limitless. I've used and seen it used on business cards, journaling, book covers, I created an entire book "typeset" using this method (and most people thought it was actually done with letterpress). Explore.

Step 1: Materials

The list of materials:

- Paper (or other porous surface to transfer on to)
- Paper with the desired image/text to transfer
- Masking Tape
- Solvent
- Burnishing device

For the paper, I used Rives BFK, a neutral, smooth surfaced thick paper. Thicker, more absorbent paper will take the ink better, and the smoother the surface, the more evenly the transfer will lay down. Interesting effects can be had with different surfaces.

For tape, I usually use white "artist's tape" which is acid free and generally the least adhesive. Any masking tape will do, and it's possible to transfer without tape, but the tape makes it a ton easier.

For the solvent, the easiest and simplest way to go is with a blender pen, designed for blending when using markers. I used a Chartpak Blender (P-0 201) a link for info, but can usually be found locally at a good art supply store.. Despite the nontoxic seal on the pen, the blender pen is filled with Xylene, which means it should be used in a very well ventilated area, and with a respirator if you're sensitive. Any other solvent can be used (i've heard of good results with Citrus-solv) but Xylene seems to work better than anything. If you plan on doing an extensive amount of transfers, you can purchase a can of Xylene at the local hardware store for not much more than the price of a blender pen. Use a glass jar (Xylene can destroy plastic) and a brush to apply.

And lastly, for the burnisher, if you have a Bone folder (traditionally used for bookbinding and other book-arts) it works as the best tool as you can achieve the greatest control and precision. again, a link, but one can usually be found at a good art supply store. A spoon or other hard object will work as well.

The first photo shows all possible materials you could use, while the second photo shows the basic materials, which are more portable, cleaner, and a bit safer to use.

Step 2: Taping Down

To ensure proper registration and to make things generally easier, it helps to tape down the paper you're transferring from, face down (ink side down). In many cases, when possible, it helps to tape down the paper you're transferring to as well.
As i mentioned in materials, I usually use white "artist's tape" as it's easy to work with and safe for all papers, but just about any tape should work well.

Step 3: Apply Solvent

Carefully apply the solvent via a blender pen or brush. Several thin coats work best, but be careful not to over-saturate the paper, or the ink will bleed.

Step 4: Burnishing

Using the bone folder or spoon, rub the back of the paper after applying the solvent to transfer the ink onto the paper. Apply firm pressure in a smooth and even manner. Too fast may cause the solvent-saturated top paper to either rip or move, blurring the transfered image.

Step 5: Lift Paper and Check Progress

To check your progress ( proper amount of solvent, pressure, etc.) gently and carefully lift up the untaped corners of the paper to visually inspect the transfer. Repeat steps 3 and 4 where needed.

Step 6: Remove Paper and Let Dry

Carefully lift the paper, remove the tape, and set the transferred image aside to dry in a well-ventilated area. Note that the image pictured is not necessarily the perfect transfer - merely a test to help illustrate the possibilities.

That's all there is to this simple process, but there are nearly limitless applications of this method to create a variety of effects. Play around and see what you can come up with.

Be sure to read the final step for notes and cautions on images.

Step 7: Additional Cautions and Suggestions

With this process, ink-jet prints are almost always unsuccessful. Toner works infinitely better (copiers and laser printers), and other printed materials like magazines and newspapers will work to a varying degree.

If you make the copies / prints yourself, it's suggested to let the pages sit for at least a day or two to give the toner time to set fully into the paper. It ensures a cleaner transfer. Fresh toner (and toner oversaturated with solvent) will often dissolve and release into the air in almost feather-like fragments, which can cause streaks and lines (as seen in this image).

Oversaturation of solvent will also cause the toner to bleed, as seen in certain areas of this image. Experiment to see what works most effectively.



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Does anyone know if this method works on silk fabric?

I have used this technique for years -- see (and other artwork in the gallery also). Just a few months ago I tried to buy toner for my old dual-process copier on which I created original images for use in my artwork and learned it is no longer available.

I am musing about other ways to get a simalar effect..

Brigid Manning-Hamilton

I was under the impression that toner is toner and toner cartridges can be refilled. Some just have caps that pull off. Other are sealed but there is a company that sells a kit so you can drill a hole and it comes with a plug to make your cartridge refillable. I'll try to find you a link if you think it would help.

Another new issue to consider -

Some laser printer manufacturers are now using "newer" toner made from epoxy-based materials rather than the traditional plastic-based. I found this out when trying to laser-transfer images to metal with heat (for etching). Brother laser printers apparently use epoxy-based, non-melting toner. And some newer HP printers, as well.

These will NOT melt and transfer with heat. I don't know if this affects solvent transfers as described in this Instructable, but it may. If anyone has tested this, please add a comment.

This explains everything.... whenever i print at fedex and transfer prints to wood (using blender pen) and it works great - i've bought myself an HP laserjet (M252dw) and the ink bleeds when i use a chartpak colorless blender and doesn't transfer at ALL with prisma color. so frustrating! anyone know what laserjet/toner would work best?

Yikes. I didn't know they were changing toner from plastic to epoxy. Do you happen to know which HP models of color laser printer have changed, and which ones (the older ones) have stayed the same? I've done laser transfers with b/w, and I'd like to do it in color. I made a big mistake and got an Epson 3880 ink jet printer with that Ultrachrome ink, which unfortunately will not transfer with either Citrisolv or rubbing alcohol. I thought of trying Everclear or wintergreen oil. But an HP color laser printer would be a lot easier to use as long as they don't change their formulation! Do you know which ones are still the old kind? Thank you very much.

@Pauleridu we have a Ricoh Aficio photocopier at work and I used it to try and do some image transfer. I tried it printed on paper and tried to transfer it onto both wood and paper.. transfer mediums used were:
-white spirit
- acrylic gel medium
- hairspray
I got a tiny tiny bit of transfer but that was it. Nothing worked. I've used gel medium in the past and been successful, so I know I'm capable of doing it but it's just not working!
I tried a little bit of newspaper too and had a little bit more success bit still not great. So it's either the type of gel medium or life is just conspiring against me today! I wanted to transfer these signs on to wood but I've now resigned myself to painting and laminating them. Not quite the same though :(


Does anyone happen to know how archival the Xerox Color Qube Solid Inks are? I notice that Xerox in discussing this says that they have a drawer full of prints made twenty-five years ago that look brand new, but that does not mean that sun exposure will not harm them. Any Xerox solid ink users out there? Thank you.

i tried a test print and it worked with acetone in the form of Great Stuff foam gun cleaner onto newsprint. The print was done with a Samsung colour laser printer. I couldn't find blender pens or xylene in less than a gallon tin here.

Can ink from gel pens be transferred?