Customized Balsa Wood Desk Ornament Using an Ink Jet Printer

Introduction: Customized Balsa Wood Desk Ornament Using an Ink Jet Printer

About: Hey there, my name is Brayton Larson and I am a 17 year old tinkerer. I plan to go to college for Mechatronics Engineering but for now I spend most of my freetime working on electronics and workshop projects. …

As a last minute Father's Day gift I decided to make my dad a small desk ornament. It's by no means perfect but I'm banking on the "it's the thought that counts" plea, this Instructable is really to show an interesting process of transferring a printed design onto wood.

The process unique to this Instructable is pretty useful if you don't have a laser cutter/engraver and want to stencil a computer drawn design onto a piece of wood.

Specifics of My Project:
For most of my maker career I have been a member of a local makerspace and had access to fancy gadgets like 3D printers and laser cutters. They are fantastic devices, but I feel like millennial (which I guess I am one) without Google when it comes to hand wood working, helpless. So for this project I decided to make it from scratch, well for the most part. I still designed the piece in Illustrator but all work beyond that is done by hand.

Also, if you're curious, the quote is from a shown called Burn Notice that my dad and I have re-watched probably 3 or 4 times now. It's rather cheesy but I have a feeling he'll enjoy the reference.


1. Ink Jet Printer (toner will not work)

2. A piece of wood, I used balsa but generally anything uncoated (exposed grain) will work

3. Standard printer paper

4. A wet sponge

5. A can-do attitude

Anything else I use is specific to what I am making, I'll make sure to mention them in each step.

Step 1: Print and Trim Your Desing

I printed out my design on an ink jet printer, since I'm transferring text I made sure to mirror it first. This is an important step, unless you prefer to ƨbɿɒwʞɔɒd bɒɘɿ. Since my text transfer is also my template for shaping the wood, I trimmed along the lines to kill two stones with one bird.

Step 2: Attach the Design to the Wood

To clear up any confusion I already cut the outside of my design out before this step, but there's no need to do that. It's probably in your best interest to just pretend like the wood in the above step is uncut, do as I say not as I do right?

Place the printed side face down onto your wood and wrap and secure it in the best way you can. I used scotch tape as it will be easiest to remove later, painters or some light adhesive would work also. You don't want any adhesive between the part of the paper you're transferring and the wood, that would be just silly.

I would leave the paper large enough to wrap around behind your piece of wood so you can tape it on in the back and stretch it tight. Ideally you want the paper on the front to stay as flat and be as taught as possible. The less it moves, the cleaner and less skewed the ink transfer will.

Step 3: Transfer Time!

Alright, sponge bath time, I promise it's better then it sounds. You want the sponge damp but not soaked, just lightly wipe it across the paper. The text should show through pretty well by the end as shown in the second image, but the paper shouldn't disintegrate. I used the end of a marker to really press in the areas with text, this helps darken the imprint. If using balsa though be careful not to dent the wood itself.

Step 4: Finished!

This is my result, I know... yikes. However, the shadow can now be used as a template for painting or the like. Personally I just filled it in with a Sharpie. If I had chosen a sans-serif font it would be much easier to paint and follow the lines. I think a better transfer result might be accomplished by applying heat as well (i.e. with an iron or heat gun, just have a fire extinguisher close by). If you're looking for better results there is obviously always actual transfer paper, available at most craft stores. But, if you're in a pinch and want to experience what it was like to live in the maker stone ages, give it a shot. If you find something that works better, please let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, I've attached the vector file I designed for this if you're interested in duplicating the design. Happy Father's Day!

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