Introduction: Transfer Photograph Onto Wood

Picture of Transfer Photograph Onto Wood

In this instructable I will explain an easy method of transferring photographs onto wood.

Step 1: Make a Wood Mount

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First you will need something to mount it to, in the video I made a mount by gluing pallet boards together but you can use any kind of timber or sheet material such as plywood, you could even cut old tabletops to shape and use those.

The most important thing is to make sure the surface you want to put the image on is perfectly flat. Before gluing my boards I used a belt sander with 120 grit paper on them to get rid of all the old weathered top layer of wood. After they were glued and had dried I used a palm sander with 180 grit paper before progressively hand sanding up to 600 grit. I also used the belt sander to round off the corners and sharp edges though you could use a router table for this if you have access to one. What was most important is all the sanding and shaping is done before you start the transfer.

Step 2: Make the Image

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Once you are happy with your wood mount you need to make an image. Any photo will do in black or white (I find black and white most effective for a rustic sepia feel) to which you need to open in an photo editing program, I use GIMP because it is powerful and free. When you apply the image to the wood it will be a mirror image so you need to mirror the original image in your software, you can also apply a soft border and noise like I did in the video though this is not necessary, it depends on the look you are going for.

When you print out your picture it needs to be with a laser printer. Make sure your picture is scaled correctly to cover the whole surface of your mount.

Step 3: Transfer the Image

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Next you need to give your wood a good coating of Mod Podge which you will find in any craft store. You want an even coat covering the entire wood surface, you want it thick enough for the paper you printed the image on to stick firmly but not too thick that it oozes out of the sides. Use your judgement but also work fast as it dries quite quickly.

Then line up your image face down on the mount and stick it down and smooth out all the bubbles and air pockets, it needs to be perfectly flat. Also you must have your alignment exact here as you will not be able to change it once you stick down. You might want to line up the image first and hold it in place with a piece of masking tape like I did in the video (see last step) before applying the Mod Podge.

You can get Mod Podge from Hobbycraft in the UK

Step 4: Wait

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The Mod Podge needs a good 8 hours to go off so go away and do something else, maybe pick it up tomorrow.

Step 5: Remove the Paper

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Once the Mod Podge is dry you need to remove the paper with water and your fingers. Alternate between a gentle circular rubbing motion and a rolling motion and the paper will start to come away. Take your time, keep reapplying water and whatever you do don't rush. If you go too quickly you will start losing chunks of the transferred ink. Once you stop seeing bits of white coming away when you rub you are finished.

Step 6: Protect

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Next add another layer of Mod Podge on top of the image to protect it. Allow to dry before adding picture wire or a stand to the back.

Congratulations, you are finished! If you would like to see the process in a bit more detail then please have a look at the video link above in which I demonstrate this build step by step. Alternately if you don't feel up to the challenge perhaps I could make one for you?

Etsy Shop Link

Finally please consider supporting me on Patreon. Even when you build from salvaged materials there are always parts you need to buy to complete projects like this, not to mention tools, heat, light, power etc. By sponsoring me you will help me continue to create content like this, so if you enjoyed reading this instructable and watching the video I would really appreciate your patronage.

Thanks for reading

Step 7: The Stuff That I Used


Sliding Mitre Saw - really useful but not essential, all the cuts could be done with a decent tenon saw and some elbow grease.

Belt Sander - a good belt or orbital sander is essential when working with a rough material like pallet wood. If you build your mounts out of plywood or another smooth material you could get away with hand sanding but it will take much longer.

1/3 Sheet Sander - not as aggressive as the belt sander for levelling the boards after they are glued together.

Sandpaper - 240, 400, and 600 grit for progressively sanding the surface before placing the picture.

Clamps - If you are gluing pieces of wood together you should clamp them while they dry to ensure the strongest bond possible. In the video you will see I didn't have clamps long enough for the size of wood so I built a simple jig to hold everything in place.

Drill - I'll assume if you are contemplating this you already have access to a drill

Laser Printer - Apparently this will also work using an inkjet but a laser will give far better results.


Wood Glue - I used Bostik external glue for this project but any good quality wood glue will do.

Mod Podge - This is the transfer medium which you can find in any decent craft or hobby store.


Leathaldose (author)2017-10-20

I find it entertaining when people say GIMP is powerful. Powerful in the hands of the right person. I prefer photoshop that's real power. Awesome instructable, gonna have to try this.

RuthR46 (author)2017-10-17

Beautiful and your instructions are very clear and I feel that I will be able to do this! Thank you, keep up the good work!

spiderstones (author)2017-10-16

can I get the download of GIMP for my ipad?

Thanks Rick

secretshedfreak (author)2017-01-09

Does any body know if the transfer reacts to the wood being oiled or stained?

JP'sW (author)secretshedfreak2017-01-09

I've started using hardwood furniture oil as a finish as it removes the need to rub away the last stubborn bits of paper and gives a pleasant sepia finish to the picture.

secretshedfreak (author)JP'sW2017-01-09

perfect! thanks for the quick reply!

krgraves (author)2016-12-27

I like the art of transferring images to wood, but the rubbing the paper off I found that there is always a bit of paper left so there is a fuzzy look to it, unless it is treated or wet. Instead I found this paper-you do not have to rub the paper off. Instead I use a clear gesso as a pretreatment, then I use Liquitex as my adhesive, print as stated here with laser printer, but use this type paper for a rub free transfer. Palissade transfer paper-It comes from Paris, and the maker is remarkable. Although fairly expensive for paper, you will be delighted with the results. You can find this paper on Etsy. Buy the sample pack if you wish first to try. But Tom Palissade transfer paper is the best thing to use.

JP'sW (author)krgraves2016-12-27

If I remember thecrafsman did a good review video on youtube of Pallisade paper that is worth a watch

JP'sW (author)krgraves2016-12-27

Never tried the Pallisade paper as it is a bit expensive for what it is (for me anyway) though as an avid Airfix modeller I did try this using standard waterslide paper and it worked quite well for a first try, certainly well enough to warrant a few more tries to refine the technique and is quite a bit cheaper than Pallisade paper. As far as the white residue after rubbing, as long as it looks clear when its wet, try hitting it with a clear varnish or furniture oil once it has dried, this will make the left over bits of paper swell and become translucent and once it sets will leave a nice clear image. My current product of choice is Ronseal Hardwood Furniture Oil. Its about £10 a tin but so far has saved me hours of rubbing

shamimkhan (author)2016-12-27

Quite a wonderful project with easy-to-follow instructions. Thanks a bunch JP!

HarapW (author)2016-10-21

I find it very difficult to clean the paper once the all is dried...there is a really thin line (at least for me) between almost removing white part only and destroying it...Since this type of Mod Podge is not water resistant wouldn't be better to use the Mod Podge resistant to water (there is a version which is dishwasher safe)? I was thinking of applying a thin layer over the wood so the paper would not get too much glue inside it but only on the transfer part. Once it dries it if the water/finger combination is not working then a very thin grit paper should remove the white paper only.

What do you think?

JP'sW (author)HarapW2016-10-21

I've not tried the dishwasher safe stuff so can't comment but it might be worth a try if you are having difficulty.

All I can think of is are you giving your Mod Podge long enough to fully cure? The manufacturer recommends at least 8 hours, I always give it overnight so at least 12. Also are you sanding your wood surface flat enough? When I do lose bits of the image it tends to happen more where there are imperfections in the wooden surface. I sand progressively from an agressive 120 grit on the belt sander all the way to hand sanding with a 600 grit.

Finally I'll stress again, take your time, when you are removing the very last bits of paper your fingers should be pressing ever so slightly harder than you would stroke a cat.

jerry.melton.7 (author)JP'sW2016-12-25

I used a water base urethane and let it set over night.The paper that was a little stubborn to come off,I used a piece of foam rubber(sponge)with very light pressure.

HarapW (author)JP'sW2016-10-21

Thanks for the quick reply. I let it dry overnight however maybe my pressing technique is not good when removing paper. I will go to the pet store and buy a cat. Hopefully that will help :)

Thanks again for the tutorial...cheers

MDL4 made it! (author)2016-12-25

Here with regular white paper and a laser jet printed on a board cut from a tree trunk. I love it!

ned103 made it! (author)2016-10-31

First off, thank you for your video. I've made these before using my inkjet printer and they have come out great. Here's a video by Steve Ramsey on how I learned to do this. He uses used address labels, and so did I, but I've heard you can use freezer paper. Just follow the same concept of printing on the shiny side.

JGDean made it! (author)2016-10-30

This (and other methods of image transfer) works quite well to transfer scales or labels (eg: rulers, tables, or angular scales) to projects. The scales can be drawn on simple drafting or drawing programs, and either reversed there or in photo editing software before printing.

The ModPodge Photo Transfer Medium is not clear but leaves a white base as a background for your picture or printing.

kkane13 (author)2016-10-25

Good Work, however how do you do the smooth edges at the GIMP, i downloaded the software but i could not find the tools. Thanks for sharing.

JP'sW (author)kkane132016-10-26

Filters > Decor > Fuzzy Border

kkane13 (author)JP'sW2016-10-26

Thanks Mate!

CaptCheryl (author)2016-10-24

Awesome !! This I have to try , Thank You JP's W for sharing

AngelosS3 (author)2016-10-23

Is it also possible to do color pictures?

datajunkie55 (author)2016-10-20

Try just ironing it on instead, same process, use FRESH laser print, put face down, use an iron on the back of the paper. This remelts the laser ink.

wfidrock (author)datajunkie552016-10-20

Never tried it, but for those with only an inkjet printer (no laser printer) how about using a T-shirt Transfer Sheet?

(i.e. the sheets made for inkjet printer that you use an iron to transfer the printed image onto a t-shirt)

Print the reversed image on the T-shirt Transfer Sheet, place sheet on the bare, dry wood (instead of t-shirt) and then transfer the image with an iron.

After image has been ironed onto the wood and cooled then cover with mod-podge or varnish - would have to test what would be safe for image and not dissolve the transferred ink...

DUMB8 (author)wfidrock2016-10-21

Does this work? Do you have any photos of the end results? I've used the Tshirt paper with our regular inkjet printer & if your idea works, then it would save me lots of moola

wfidrock (author)DUMB82016-10-23

As I said at the very beginning of my comment "Never tried it, but..."

Just an idea I had while reading all the comments, I have never done this.

With t-shirt transfer paper you are printing onto a layer / coating on the paper. The heat of your iron causes that layer to kind of melt off the paper onto the shirt (or something akin to that).

I imagine it 'might' work on wood, maybe if the surface of the wood was NOT really smooth, maybe a little rough (i.e. like the texture of a t-shirt) so that the surface of the wood was a little porous, like the cloth of the t-shirt.

If you have any left over t-shirt transfer paper and some wood, give it a try and let us know!

DILLIGAFF (author)datajunkie552016-10-21

I use my laser engraver and it does a wonderful job.

regist4 (author)2016-10-23

here you are a recipe (in french) of home made Mod podge

regist4 (author)2016-10-23

Mod podge c'est comme de la colle blanche, les résultats sont meilleurs a peine diluée, et surtout bien moins cher que le decopatch.

amcgamcg (author)2016-10-20

What is Mod Podge? I'll need a description of it to buy its equivalent in France. Is it a kind of painter's varnish? What is it based on? Thanks for the great instructable!

Monica18 (author)amcgamcg2016-10-20

Bonjour, en France, un produit similaire s'appelle Decopatch...

amcgamcg (author)Monica182016-10-21

That's great to know, thanks Monica !

Monica18 (author)amcgamcg2016-10-22

Avec plaisir! But if you google a bit you'll find a bunch of recipes for home made "mod podge" Have a great time!

ShawnA42 (author)amcgamcg2016-10-20

You "should" be able to find it on Amazon. There are different sizes but it appears you need to get the "Matte Finish" variant as they have different products.

amcgamcg (author)ShawnA422016-10-21

Thank you! A link, too!

JP'sW (author)amcgamcg2016-10-20
amcgamcg (author)JP'sW2016-10-21

Thanks, good idea, then I get the "real" prduct!

jhaley66 (author)amcgamcg2016-10-20

Try to find the equivalent of artist's gel medium. You can find this where you buy fine art supplies.

jcommisso (author)2016-10-21

Beautiful job! I might make one for a Christmas present!

DanO17 (author)2016-10-21

I am using a color pic on soft wood and am concerned with the image being blotchy and the wood grain raising when it gets wet and making the wood rough. I am going to try a wood preconditioner and then sanding it back smooth after it dries. This should make the ink absorb evenly since that's what it does for stain.

tassie2 (author)2016-10-21

Can do it also this way...

Get some backing paper from a sign shop. It's the
waxy paper they peel off the vinyl letters for signs. They throw it
away. Cut into eg A4 to fit an inkjet printer. Print in reverse to give
right way around . It stays wet for ages on the waxy surface. Rub itonto wood surface
from back side. It will often look like an old aged effect.Depends on surface seal. Then seal with
lacquer/ wax when dried. The vinyl wax backing sheet is the secret. Done this
many times for eg calendar numbers on wood. Just use eg MS Word for
letter fonts and sizes.

Wynd (author)tassie22016-10-21

That sounds great! Do you have any examples to show? Thanks for sharing ?

tassie2 (author)Wynd2016-10-21

Heres a basic pic. black inkjet colour onto sign waxy paper as per info. Was on bare unpainted/ laquered pine. has grain. I covered in spray can laquer after . Quick drying. Gives an antique fady sort of look, but try different resolutions or materials. Used for calendar blocks. Advantages .... Waxy backing Paper is FREE from sign shops. They throw it out by the tonne.. Cut up into A4 with a paper roller/ cutter to be staight is easiest.

Injet printers easy to access and fiddle with. All in all CHEAP.Good..

Ruby74 (author)2016-10-20

Hi ? I also do wood transfers . I use a Matte Gel Medium instead of Mod Podge on top of the finished product , I find it's not as heavy as the other and gives it a really nice finish

Wynd (author)Ruby742016-10-21

Those are wonderful!

Nokota (author)2016-10-20

How does this work with color? Does it work with color at all? If I wanted to transfer a digital painting that I had done in color, and not a photo, would it work??? SO MANY QUESTIONS! This instructable has given me ideas...!

Valkem (author)Nokota2016-10-20

Works great with color. I've done a few with color, though I use image transfer medium and then seal it with modge podge. The process is different, but doable with ink jet also, you just need different liuqid materials.

Anne6856 (author)Valkem2016-10-21

what liquid materials do you need for inkjet?

Nokota (author)Valkem2016-10-21

What is "image transfer medium".

No, seriously. Whut? I've never done anything like this before and I'd like to try it. Will this work on wood that has a light stain to it? Are there different varieties of this "Image transfer medium" stuff? Will modgepodge work for color transfer at all???

This has me so excited...

JP'sW (author)Nokota2016-10-20

yes it works in colour, if you don't have access to a colour laser you will have to go to a copy shop to get your pages printed

About This Instructable




Bio: JP's Workshop is a business that designs and produces unusual, quirky and sometimes slightly off the wall home and garden products. I use majority ... More »
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