Photo Transfer to Soda Can

Introduction: Photo Transfer to Soda Can

About: Hello - I am the scientist formerly known as Naegeli and of course I was inspired by the artist formerly known as Prince. But in contrast to his royal badness I do not want be become the king of pop but the ki…

This instructable shows you an easy and fast way how to transfer photos to soda cans.

The basic process is that you copy your picture first onto regular paper. Then you transfer the photo to a self-adhesive film. Thereafter you stick the film to a soda can. Follow the silhouette of your photo with a soldering iron. The soldering iron will act like a knife and you end up with a stencil on the soda can. This stencil then can either be used to etch the open aluminum or to transfer ink onto the soda can. After removal of the stencil you will have your beautiful picture on the soda can.

Step 1: Parts List

To complete this project, you need the following items:

  • Soda can (where the ink is removed)
  • Edding
  • Nail polish
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Cotton pads
  • 12V battery and wires
  • Knife
  • Soldering iron
  • Salad bowl with hand-warm water
  • Scissors
  • Transparent self-adhesive film
  • Black and white silhouette picture

Step 2: Ink Removal From Soda Can

Before you start to transfer a picture to a soda can you have to remove the inprints on the outside wall of the can. I already posted an Instructable that demonstrates an easy method for ink removal from soda cans. You can find the Instructable here: How to removal the ink from soda cans

Step 3: Photo Preparation

Choose a black and white picture with a clear silhouette. I downloaded my example from Mt. Rushmore from the internet. Another easy example is the cover of the HOT SPACE album from Queen. If you want to create your own pictures I recommend you to download the free software GIMP 2.8. Then search in the internet for tutorials how to generate black and white pictures. Already think about the size that you will need so the picture fits nicely on the soda can.

Then print out your picture on regular paper with a laser printer. Since I have only an ink jet printer I printed my picture at home and went to a local shop to make a laser copy. Adjust the settings at the copy machine to the darkest position possible.

Fix the transparent self-adhesive film over the copy. The quality of the film does not really matter. If it is a thicker one it will melt differently when you later on use the soldering iron. Then cut out the picture you want to transfer with scissors.

Now comes the magic …. fill a salat bowl with hand-warm water and incubate the photo for about 7 minutes.

Step 4: Remove Paper From Adhesive Film

After 7 minutes place the picture onto a flat surface with the paper side facing against you. Then start rubbing gently to remove the wet paper (see video). The magic thing here is that the black ink will stick to the transparent self-adhesive film whereas the paper is removed. If the water is too warm you will remove the ink also. Maybe you need to repeat that step various times until the paper is completely removed. Then dry the film until you feel that it starts sticking again. Fix the picture to a soda can where you have removed the ink. You can even stop here since you have decorated the soda can with a nice decal.

Step 5: Generate Stencil

Now you need the soldering iron. With the hot tip of the soldering iron you follow slowly the silhouette of your picture. The hot tip will melt the film and will act like a knife. With a sharp object you can then remove the cuts (see video). Repeat that step until you have all the black parts removed. Now you have generated a stencil on the soda can like for a spray painting. Fill the open parts with Edding, nail polish or use the etching procedure.

Step 6: Transfer Photo by Etching the Aluminum

Here is the fairly simple way to etch the aluminum can. Take the negative lead from a 12V battery and connect it with the soda can. The positive lead is connected to a cotton pad. The cotton pad is wetted with a solution made from vinegar and salt (1:1 ratio). Place the wetted cotton pad onto the soda can without creating a short cut. You can even hear the process of etching and the cotton pad is getting a little bit warm. A light etch is produced in 10 seconds, several minutes will give a deep etch. If all the open aluminum parts are covered remove the stencil.

Step 7: Transfer Photo With Nail Polish

Of course, you can also just fill the open parts with nail polish. As soon as the ink has dried you can remove the stencil. If you do not like the result you can easily wipe off the color with nail polish remover. The result with nail polish or Edding is much more darker than with etching (see picture with the two results).

I hope you like this creative reuse of a soda cans.

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    3 years ago

    nice. I've seen t-shirts printed directly from some laser printers (it depends on the toner) so there may be ways to adapt this. Also some inkjets have waterproof inks so there could be possibilities here.


    3 years ago on Step 7

    An interesting process, but hardly one I would call either quick or easy. I opened this initially as a possible interesting way to make signs at my tree farm. I was looking for a process that would take less than a minute per can when working with large numbers.

    That said: Online Labels sells transparent label stock in all the standard label sizes, and a bunch of weird sizes of their own. This may remove one step (paper removal) from your process.

    Kink Jarfold
    Kink Jarfold

    3 years ago on Step 7

    This was fascinating and really enjoyable to read.


    thumbs up.png
    Kink Jarfold
    Kink Jarfold

    Reply 3 years ago

    Life is too short to be serious. KJ


    3 years ago

    Fair enough, good job, but.. still?
    Q: I kind’of got lost here, (my bad), so my question is:
    Your instr. is based on of using INK-printer? Who still got such a printer? Here in Finland you can buy a ”colour” Laser printer for less than $ 100,- (a brand new from the shop, not a second hand one). But with the Laser print transfer would be another story, right? But I got ”TOTALLY” lost when you started to explaine the use of a soldering iron?
    What the f*** you need the transfer film for to this, if you’r gonna use the soldering iron anyway?
    As I understand is this what you need to do:
    1. Have a photo
    2. Change it to a black/ white, (my printer gives me the choise of to have the print to be either in B/ W or Colour, so I don’t need this transmission with another program).
    3. Make them lines to be ”sharp”, gee.. why?
    4. Print it out with a ”ink-jet” printer
    5. Go to your local print shop and get it printed with a ”laser”
    6. Clean up your can
    7. Make your footprint to a transparent film
    8. Take a pad and…. I couldn’t follow you here no more, I got totally lost.

    To have a ”Inkjet” print? Inkprint is water deluted, that is: it will disappear by moisteru.

    The idea itself is great, to transform picture’s on to a curved surface.
    Good thinking, don’t let my quations make your ible less.


    Reply 3 years ago

    He wrote it WON'T work with inkjet printer unless you take the print and copy it on a copier.. He used a LASER printer.

    Suraj Grewal
    Suraj Grewal

    Tip 3 years ago

    Nice idea,

    You know, you can simply make the ink adhere to the surface with glue, kinda like what I did in my instructable