Introduction: Solvent Transfers

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

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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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


jeidok (author)2016-12-13

Does anyone know if this method works on silk fabric?

AndrewM113 made it! (author)2015-10-19

I was using "citrus-solv" (called art clean in Australia) for years, until I found out about eucalyptus oil. Works like a charm, gives much richer colours and is far less toxic! Sorry if that's too aussie for ya, but the results are pretty great.

wrenoir (author)AndrewM1132016-04-15

how do you use the eucalyptus oil??

stbride (author)2008-09-01

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

avocadostains (author)stbride2014-08-28

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.

Pauleridu (author)avocadostains2014-09-22

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.

DanielaW3 (author)Pauleridu2015-12-10

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?

LisaXDavidson (author)Pauleridu2014-11-29

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.

BellaR2 (author)2015-06-04

@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 :(

LisaXDavidson (author)2014-11-29

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.

jleblanc10 (author)2014-10-09

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.

spinach_dip (author)2007-01-17

Can ink from gel pens be transferred?

Heck you they can. Works like a charm with acetone so probably works with xylene too.

They're might be different types of gel pens. I can tell you what kind mine were if you want. I'm thinking they were gel pens but not 100% sure. The box is around somewhere...

10 seconds, I'll try.

Djeucalyptus is right, it only sort-of works.

Ahem. I was wrong. It doesn't work at all. HOWEVER, you can sort-of get a transfer if you write and then burnish really fast. The ink stays wet for a little while, and you can transfer it while it's wet. But I suppose you probably don't care anymore, since you asked over a year ago.

djeucalyptus (author)spinach_dip2007-01-19

I haven't tried, but given the nature of the gel, I'm not sure it would transfer cleanly. It might be worth a shot - could be interesting.

funkbassman (author)2014-08-24

I've seen people transfer onto tile but I cannot get any item to transfer onto tile for the life of me. I'm using a bottle of xylene and only looks like a blob

djeucalyptus (author)funkbassman2014-08-24

I'm not sure I've seen a transfer onto tile with solvent. I'm guessing that the problem (and the reason for the blob) is the surface of the tile is finished and has no tooth/texture to pick up the transfer, thus the xylene sits on top of the surface of the tile, allowing the pigment to further dissolve and mix into a blob. To use a solvent, I think you would need to coat the surface of the tile with something to give texture - maybe a spray of matte fixative/sealer? Or find a tile that is uncoated/porous.

harooney (author)2014-06-07

will this method work for transferring an old book illustration do you think? I would try it, but I'm away from my studio right now.

djeucalyptus (author)harooney2014-06-07

It all depends on the way that the original ink was printed. I find that a toner-based image (from a laser printer or copy machine) always works.

So my advice would be: sure, you could try it. but your best bet would be to make a photocopy first and then transfer that.

neeterxxi (author)2013-08-11

I've had wonderful success transferring prints to fabric with Citri-Solv, which has orange oil as the active ingredient. Non-toxic and very, very pleasant scent. :)

Culturedropout (author)2012-06-04

FWIW - I accidentally "discovered" this method in frustration while trying to get toner to transfer from a laser-printed overhead transparency sheet to a sheet of brass. Tried a number of different solvents; the ones I found that would dissolve the toner from my laser printer were acetone and lacquer thinner. I found that print on the transparencies would leap right over onto paper that was placed on top of the toner side of the sheet and then soaked with acetone, leaving the transparency sheet completely clean and unharmed as far as I could tell. Maybe it could even be re-used for another image. I thought this discovery might prove useful for someone. I was using a Brother color laser printer and laser-printable overhead transparency sheets from 3M.

beaniew (author)2012-02-26

I've been experimenting with large scale production of clothing and textiles with transfer with chartpak blender pens --- I'll try the xylene - also mentioned to me by an art store salesperson as the solvent in most markers.
Also, I've found success using that blender pen transfering onto leather and matte or semimatte ceramic tiles -- I plan to seal them for permanence.
The blender pen is wash proof on silk at least!

vcote (author)2011-07-21

I've used different types of toners and was always annoyed by the left over smell. Does the Xylene smell go away after a while or does it stay forever? How long does it take?

melonbee (author)2007-10-04

Can I do a transfer onto fabric, like a T-shirt?

DrCoolSanta (author)melonbee2007-11-06

You want to transfer it on T-Shirts, you need transfer on T-shirt paper, which costs around a dolar, print the image left side right, you should have this option in printer settings, and then iron the paper on you clothes, and peel of the white paper.

Sorry, but that's not all true. Normal paper, xylene/blender pen and an inkjet/photocopied image will work fine.

Well, atleast we don't get xylene pens in here

beehard44 (author)DrCoolSanta2010-11-21

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons glycerin
5 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol
use that and just dab a cotton soaked with the refill recipe (that)

cpotemkin (author)2009-07-10

A little lesson from when I was learning this process... be sure to mirror your image before printing. Otherwise, the image (or text) will come out backwards on your receiving material.

beehard44 (author)cpotemkin2010-11-21

but using the reversed image on the paper, you can use that to generate your final image by repeating the same stuff as above

mdog93 (author)2009-06-24

can you transfer onto a t-shirt, im guessing yes but it will wash off. is that right? mdog

djeucalyptus (author)mdog932009-06-27

theoretically it could work... I've seen it done on fabric several times. but the process doesn't really give any sort of permanence. maybe some sort of fabric fixative? if you try it and figure something out, let me know!

It would work really well as a guide, followed by fabric ink added on, alternatively it's possible the ink may be soluble aswell, in which case you could print on to paper by refilling a cartridge with fabric ink, if the consistency's right. Then using this process...

mdog93 (author)killerjackalope2009-06-29

is fabric ink the same as fabric paint or is the ink thinner. and i have never trusted refilling cartridge becuase i worry they might leak or block up your printer and ruin it or something. I would worry the fabric ink might do something bad to my printer.

killerjackalope (author)mdog932009-06-29

Well it could ruin a set of cartridges but the right consistency would make it fairly trustable, A cheapo printer might be a better option considering the cost of cartridges...

mdog93 (author)killerjackalope2009-06-29

yeah but i wouldn't wana buy a printer just to try this because if it doesn't work I wouldn't want to do it again but if it did work i might make lots in batch and sell them or sumthin.

mdog93 (author)djeucalyptus2009-06-29

cool, sp can you buy proper fabric fixative? I know of some homemade fixatives that you can use like salt and stuff but i don't know how affective they are.

gkalem2011 (author)2008-12-17

does this work with photos too. Like family pictures in color or black in white

djeucalyptus (author)gkalem20112008-12-18

yup. it will work with anything as long as it's toner from a copier. Actual photographs (or inkjet prints) won't work... but anything from a copier will do the trick.

UltraMagnus (author)2008-05-15

ok..... i must admit, at first i thought "wtf did he not just print onto the good paper in the first place" but, i can see how it would be useful to transfer onto wood etc now.... perhaps mention that the beginning of the instructable?

deadwhale (author)2007-01-15

I've used essentially the same method to transfer graphic designs to copper. Once transferred, the design made a great resist for etching.

Marche (author)deadwhale2008-04-01

Bold is NOT cruse control for cool.

threecheersfornick (author)2008-03-24

Great instructable. It's just dissapointing that you got around to it before me.

Carlsburg (author)2007-08-24

To do a turpentine transfer, make copies of text on a Xerox machine (Note: If you want them to appear in the right direction, you'll need to write the words backwards or have them reversed by computer or other means). The cheaper the Xerox machine, the better your transfer will be. Take your Xerox copy and lie it face down on the collage or on another piece of paper and apply a good amount of turpentine to the back of the sheet. Rub down using the back of a spoon and slowly peel away the copy. The turpentine melts the ink of the Xerox onto your surface creating a great effect for any collage or mixed media piece.

hooloovoo33 (author)2007-01-15

Im sorry....but im not sure exactly what you use this for? Except maybe for art.

orangos (author)hooloovoo332007-08-16

A lot of woodcut artists use it to transfer copies of their sketches -- scaled up or down to fit the block -- onto the block for cutting. Some say it's better than tracing or copying by hand, as it preserves the spontaneous nature of the original sketch.

djeucalyptus (author)hooloovoo332007-01-15

any art or artistic application. graphic design, posters, advertising, bookmaking, etc. Simply an artistic device.

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