Introduction: Making Reproduction Vintage Tin and Timber Signs

Picture of Making Reproduction Vintage Tin and Timber Signs

This instructable is all about printing onto surfaces other than paper. It could be plywood, metal, timber, or a painted surface. The results aren't as crisp as you would get on paper but is perfect if you want something that looks like it has a bit of age to it.
The process is fairly simple but does take a little practice too get the feel of it, so don't be to disappointed if your first attempt  is not as good as you hoped. After 2 or 3 attempts I'm now quite good at the the process, and it is ideal for making reproduction vintage tin and timber signs, or printing graphics onto wooden boxes or other objects you want to look aged.

Step 1: Stuff You Will Need

Picture of Stuff You Will Need
You don't need to much stuff, you may even have it on hand.
  • A surface, plywood is good to start with
  • computer with an image you would like to print
  • laser printer, I haven't tried it with other types of printer but I'm pretty sure it will still work.
  • water proof PVA glue
  • fingers
  • water
  • clear coat lacquer in a spray can
  • 24 hours
For a tin sign you will also need
  • A solvent to clean off the oil or grease
  • wet and dry sand paper
  • good quality white spray paint

Step 2: Print Off You Image on Paper

Picture of Print Off You Image on Paper

No we are not going to shove plywood through your Dads new laser printer, sorry to disappoint. first thing is to select something you would like to make into a sign or art work. Google images is a great place too look, find an image that is fairly large, if it doesn't print well on paper putting it on timber isn't going to improve it any.
Also the web site has some cool vintage graphics.
Once you have your image you need to mirror the image and if the colours are a bit washed out adjust that as well. In the process of transferring the image to timber  the colours will washout and darken a little so try and get the image fresh looking. When transferring the image to a painted surface or tin this is not such a problem.
Most computers will have some sort of image viewer program  to allow you to do flip and adjust the colours, I use the auto colour button on my ubuntu computer which work extremely well.
If you don't have anything like that  there is a free photo editing program named Gimp you can download, which has more features than you will ever need.
Next print off your image to the  size you require.

Step 3: This Can Get Messy

Picture of This Can Get Messy

This step and the next is where a bit of practice comes in. If you are transferring you image to a porous surface like plywood or timber, you need to put the glue onto the picture side of the paper. It needs to have a and even coat without any missed spots, and more glue than you think you need to glue it down, but not so much that the paper has liquid glue trapped under it. It may take a couple of goes to a feel for this and get this step right.
Next pace the paper on the plywood and rub the paper  to get the  glue thoroughly stuck to the plywood. It may help to use a roller or a roll of tape as a roller, if you have too much glue it can be rolled and squeezed out the side of the print. The main thing to remember is that  every part of the paper must be thoroughly stuck down.
Once that is done the best thing to do is wait 24 hours for the glue to fully dry.

Step 4: Tin Signs

Picture of Tin Signs

The process for making a tin sign or transferring on to metal is very similar, but there is a couple of small differences. Obviously you need to cut and drill you sign to the right size and remove the sharp corners, But you also need to give you sign a light sand with 600 grit wet and dry and give a though clean before painting with a good quality white spray paint.
After waiting for the paint to dry which is probably 24 hours, you need to give the sign another sand with 600 wet and dry and thoroughly clean the sign as this will give the glue something to adhere to.
Now this part is different because your dealing with a non porous surface you don't need quite as much glue and this time coat the sign in glue rather than the paper.
You then stick the paper on and the rest of the process is the same for both materials.

Step 5: Removing the Paper

Picture of Removing the Paper

After waiting for the glue to dry, the paper is removed  by wetting your fingers and rubbing the paper off. This requires a little practice as if you rub too hard you will remove the image as well, or if you get everything too wet, the image can also be damaged.
It not too difficult and it the image doesn't have to be perfect as it will look aged anyway. Try and get most of the paper off, once the image looks pretty good wet this is what it will look like when finished. Leave the sign  in the sun to dry the image will turn hazy this is normal.
If you think you can get more of the paper of wet again and have another go, but a bit haze on the image will disappear in the next step.

Step 6: Magic Clear Coat

Picture of Magic Clear Coat

Once your sign is thoroughly dried out it will look hazy. But the clear coat will fix this like magic, it unbelievable how well this works, just spray on a fairly heavy coat of clear and your done. Now you can stick it on your wall or put it in a frame.
You can also use this process to put logos or pictures on projects and give a boring old box a bit more appeal.
If you want to make the tin signs look really slick and glossy, after the clear coat has dried wet sand it with 600 grit clean and dry it and give it another couple of coats of clear.

Just a note on artist gel medium . Gel medium is normally use for this process I tried it on one sign and found it more difficult to use than glue as it drys very quickly and I had large parts of the image come off.  Comparing the colours and image quality there was no real differences between the gel and the glue and the gel was $20 for a small 250ml tub. Overall I was quite disappointed with the gel.


makeme888 (author)2016-07-10

Hi, Thank you so much for your tutorial I search vintage tin boxes and I cut them into smaller pieces to make jewelry. But it is getting harder to find these old vintage tin boxes. So I am wondering if I can use your method to create my own patterns of vintage metal sheet. My question is once that I made these metal sheets with my own design. Can I cut them into smaller pieces that the prints won't peel? I am afraid if I cut them into smaller pieces, they will starting to peel like the print will come off from the metal. Will that be the case? I am not even sure. Please let me know. Thank you so much.

liquidhandwash (author)makeme8882016-07-10


Ive not tried cutting a sign, but after the clear coat has dryed the image is on there pretty good so I wouldn't think it would peel off.

makeme888 (author)liquidhandwash2016-07-10

Thank you for your prompt response to my question. I am going to try it and I will let you know what is the outcome.

Blondie74 (author)2015-12-15

I chickened out. Trying to make one of the Tin signs just a few weeks before Christmas was a little to daring for me. Instead I designed it on the computer and ordered it online. A lot less stressful. However a little more costly. The supplies would have cost around $20-22. Ordering online with shipping was $35. :( Lets hope it looks better than i would have done. Maybe later i will find a scrap piece of wood and try it another time.

Blondie74 (author)2015-12-07

I know this post isnt new. But i wanted to say i am going to try this for a Christmas present for my dad. I'm getting a 12"x12" Sheet Metal piece at Home Depot. I will buff the edges a bit to make them safe. Then I want to get the oldest photo i can of my dad racing on his bike or his car. Just a cool pic of his car would be great, he lost it last year in a garage fire after owning it just shy of 50 years. This would be great for his garage. I work at a print shop, so I am hoping it works to print the image out on the digital printers at work. Wish me luck. (fingers crossed)

liquidhandwash (author)Blondie742015-12-07

The metal signs are a little harder to make, you might want to consider doing 2, use the first one as a bit of a practice, as the second time around its defiently easier to get a good result.

Blondie74 (author)liquidhandwash2015-12-07

I was figuring on messing up the first time. I also thought another layer of paint over a mess up and try again might be an option. :D I just have to find a good pic now and take the chance, give it a try. I'll send photos when it is done.

Deltic (author)2013-09-09

I can reply to Prasmussen's query by confirming that this method doesn't work very well with an inkjet printer. However, after doing quite a bit of research on the net I have come across a number of slightly different methods & will report back after a period of experimentation. In the meantime, as promised, here is my first effort, which I have to admit I'm pretty chuffed with;

liquidhandwash (author)Deltic2013-09-11

Thought you might like this box.

Deltic (author)liquidhandwash2013-09-12

I do, I do, I do! Anything with Minions is great (that's not dissing the box BTW).
I've got a load of leftover wood laminate flooring & am wondering if I would have problems getting this to adhere (& also the lacquer). Perhaps seal it first with a dilute PVA mixture, any ideas?

liquidhandwash (author)Deltic2013-09-12

Im not sure what type of laminate flooring you have got, but if you give it a good sand first the glue should stick to it

liquidhandwash (author)Deltic2013-09-09

that looks awesome, you want to make another one now right? :-)

Deltic (author)liquidhandwash2013-09-10

Already looking for suitable boards in car-boot sales, charity shops etc, the one I used in the pic cost me €2 in the market. I might try printing the picture lighter next time as it's quite a bit darker than the original after transfer.

Deltic (author)2013-09-07

Excellent instructable, will post pix as soon as I have finished my project. Being a Brit, & having the advantage over our American cousins of being able to speak the lingo properly, I know exactly what tin, timber & PVA glue are whereas I am continually frustrated by the use of trade names for American products in other instructables. Perhaps someone could come up with a glossary of terms with alternatives available in other countries? In the meantime thank you & keep up the good work!

liquidhandwash (author)Deltic2013-09-07

Thanks Deltic, once you get the hang of it it becomes quite addictive, Ive got to post some more pictures too, I look forward to seeing your project

dchall8 (author)2013-08-09

Just a couple of thoughts on why your Instructable might have been overlooked in December.  I don't work for this site, but I was a professional technical writer for decades.  These are my thoughts which might help you with future efforts. 

Christmas is one thought.  Very little work gets done in December. 

Nobody in the US knows what a 'tin and timber' sign is.  Up here the word timber has very limited use.  We call it wood.  Timber is just not in common use. 

Tin refers to sheet steel for people who are either older than 50 or they live in out in the country and use it on their tin roof.  Other than that, tin is not a word in common use. 

Nobody in the US knows what PVA glue is.  We call it Elmer's Glue or white glue.  Elmer's is not waterproof at all, so that would be confusing. 

You said, "This instructable is all about printing onto surfaces other than paper."  She said, well, nothing!  She never said anything to summarize her project.  Oops!  Both projects are about transfer of laser printed material (images or text) from paper to something else.  To call it 'printing on surfaces other than paper' is awkward at best, but at least you did summarize. 

It used to be that to be featured you had to have an immaculate Instructable.  Original pictures were required.  It had to be well written with excellent grammar and perfect spelling.  All were needed to be considered.  You are lacking a little on grammar and spelling.  For example you misused the words, too and to, in the following sentence, "The process is fairly simple but does take a little practice too get the feel of it, so don't be to disappointed if your first attempt...."  Yes, they are that picky.

liquidhandwash (author)dchall82013-08-09

Thanks for taking the time to give me some feed back, I will say that US English, is a little different to Australian English, which is a little different to New Zealand English, even so I some what surprised that "PVA, timber and tin" are not words that are common in the US.
live and learn

dchall8 (author)liquidhandwash2013-08-10

Stone the crows! We must be from behind the black stump.

liquidhandwash (author)dchall82013-08-12

Just out of interest, what do you call "tin snips"?

dchall8 (author)liquidhandwash2013-08-12

We call them, tin snips.

prasmussen (author)2013-07-26

Looks awsome. but was wondering if anyone Tried this using a inkjet printer. Thanks.

I haven't but it will probably work, give it a go you only have paper and glue to lose

blanchae (author)2013-07-22

Can you coat the plywood instead of the paper? Just thinking that it would be easier.

liquidhandwash (author)blanchae2013-07-23

You can, I found it works better if you coat the lest porous surface.

triumphman (author)2013-07-21

I went to your suggested image site (graphics fairy). No vintage motorcycles there! Where did you find yours ?

Google images "vintage indian motorcycle advertisement"

rverdi (author)2013-07-21

I just love this instructable! Very cool idea with the tin, and I'm thinking of all sorts of tin and cheap wood stuff that can be repurposed with images... cheesy cheap stools and ikea type furniture, banged up old cpu cases... options are endless with some sandpaper and glue. Love decoupage, so this idea is one I've done before with other things, from glass to clear packing tape (just basic idea of rubbed off printer image), but your steps are fantastic and will save a ton of money with bad trial and error attempts. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

Wolfbane221 (author)2013-07-20

Hey, love this instructable.. sorry yours didn't get featured until after the OTHER person.. there's is VERY similar to yours.. maybe you should ask them to edit and give you some props. im not sure if they had an original idea or just repurposed yours.. both favorites but I do like your process more.. you also I like that you show how metal works as a printing medium.

biskies (author)Wolfbane2212013-07-20

Since I'm the author of the other instructable, I thought I'd chime in. I didn't repurpose this instructable (I wasn't even a member when this was originally posted). Neither I nor this author invented the processes of making wood transfers, it's been around for a very long time. I merely went through and broke down the steps that I use and shared the little tips I've figured out that allow the process to be successful. However, I think this instructable is also quite awesome and I'm glad he got featured since I hadn't even had the chance to think about doing them on sheet metal until I saw this. :)

liquidhandwash (author)biskies2013-07-20

Thanks for the feed back, i was a little disappointed that it wasn't featured back in December, as I thought it maybe "it wasn't good enough" so I asked and they said it was overlooked and then featured it.
No matter, Im happy, and you made a great instructable.

biskies (author)liquidhandwash2013-07-20

Thanks, I think yours is pretty fabulous as well. You've inspired me...this week I'm going to use metal and a modified version of your technique to make some nerdy image transfer coasters :)

liquidhandwash (author)biskies2013-07-20

Hi again I just put a little update on the end here it is if you missed it
If you want to make the tin signs look really slick and glossy, after the clear coat has dried wet sand with 600 grit clean and dry it and give it another couple of coats of clear.

biskies (author)liquidhandwash2013-07-20

Mod Podge would work well for this step too (this is what I planned on for the coasters...Mod Podge, sanding, Mod Podge x 2) :)

Wolfbane221 (author)biskies2013-07-20

Sorry Biskies, was not trying to offend. Just good to make sure that credit is given whenever someone may have been an influence (papers, programming, etc..). I do understand you did not "invent" the process, you both did however put it in a easy to follow guide. Anyway, love both your instructables.. and keep up the nerdy stuff- maybe you'll get a subscriber ;). Have a great night!

biskies (author)Wolfbane2212013-07-21

You didn't offend me at all :) I just wanted to clear that up. Thanks for the compliments!

Im not worried about it. It is nice to get it featured, as it one of my favourite pieces of work. I sometimes use a hair dryer or paint stripper gun to speed things up a bit, but I use PVA glue and have not tried to speed things up with gel medium.

M3G (author)2013-07-20

Wow, those Indian signs are awesome. I'm gonna have to make one.

-RoyaleWithCheese- (author)2013-07-20

I love decorating my room with tin signs. They look so cool, but they're pretty expensive in Germany (about 10€ each) Thanks a lot for that great idea, I will definitely try it!

kcli (author)2013-07-19

Wow...this is really interesting. I will have to try this!

Where does one get tin a place like Home Despot?

trad50 (author)kcli2013-07-20

Many of the local hardware stores around here (Central Vermont) have limited amounts of galvanized steel and/or aluminum sheet stock. The Mom & Pop places can often order it for you if you don't mind waiting a little while. I avoid the big box stores.

liquidhandwash (author)kcli2013-07-19

im live in Australia, so im not familiar, with US shops, but have a look in in the yellow pages, under steel suppliers. Ask for 0.6mm or 0.8mm (24 or 21 gauge) sheet steel and see if the can cut it to size for you.

kcli (author)liquidhandwash2013-07-19

Wonderful idea...thanks!

amena4 (author)2013-07-20

Very good !! I'll try with some pinups pictures.

Outthnk (author)2013-07-19

I stumbled upon your work after seeing the feature. Wow, really amazing! I was looking to do something exactly like this for our community (Thinkerton). The colors and tin really caught my eye. I think they missed the real feature. ;)

liquidhandwash (author)Outthnk2013-07-19

Thanks Outthink

SuicidalBarrelRoll (author)2013-05-09

I'm thinking of doing a sheet metal vintage Apeture Science one, with laser cut stencils and spray paint. Good job!

That should look great

BigBadgers2001 (author)2012-12-03

This is a fantastic project and a very easy to understand instructable. I will be having a bash at this on. Brilliant, well done.


valkgurl (author)liquidhandwash2013-04-04

To get the annoying and wrinkle inducing bubbles out from under the paper transfer use a sheet of WAX PAPER and place it on TOP of the image while it is still wet and rub over that to get the bubbles and blobs worked out. Remove the wax paper! AS the transfer paper dries it will also self-help to "iron" the wrinkles out as it shrinks a bit.

There is a site with tons of FREE images to transfer (not ness cool bike signs tho!) I think it is called the IMAGE FAIRY---I will check and re-post if this is not the right one!

Some glaze --can be gotten at craft stores in the craft paint section--mixed thin and applied and wiped off to a greater or lesser degree will "age" these also. You can get this tinted or add some ocher or other brownish paint to a clear glaze medium. Another site called DISTRESSED DONNA DOWN HOME has lots of projects that this amazingly talented woman does and she shares how she does them--lots and lots of image transfer and glaze happening here to age--well--almost anything!

Great 'ible---I am coming to your house when we win the Lottery and fly off to Oz with our OWN cool bike! Love the 'possum BTW!!!!!!

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