5 Ways to Print on Wood

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About: I run FixThisBuildThat.com where we focus on Woodworking and DIY Projects, Plans and Tools. Come check us out and let us inspire you to build something awesome!

In this Instructable I'll show you 5 ways to print on wood. It's a great way to make custom woodworking projects like signs, plaques, and gifts or just to customize and brand your other projects.

Be sure to watch the video above, and if you like it please subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Step 1: Gather Materials

Step 2: The Setup

I tested 4 DIY methods and 1 tech heavy method for printing on wood. I used 5.25" x 3.5" pieces of wood to test everything and used this image for test prints. I’ve included my logo which has large block text, a picture, and some normal sized text. This will do a good job showing how each way to print on wood reacts to different text and image types

All the prints were done on my laser jet printer, not an ink jet. And I mirror imaged the artwork for the ones I actually used to do the wood prints.

Step 3: #1 Acetone

The first method is using acetone to transfer the toner to the wood. All you need for this process is some acetone (I’ve heard lacquer thinner also works), a paper towel, nitrile gloves to protect your hands and optionally you can use an old key card or credit card. And be careful with the acetone and read and follow all the cautions on the can.

I laid the mirror image print out on the wood and creased the paper over the edge to hold it in place. Then I used a shop towel dipped in the acetone to soak the paper and press firmly downward.

After a few passes the toner is transferred to the wood. Then the paper peels right up with no stickyness and reveals the image.

Pros: Very quick, decent image quality, clean process

Cons: Average image quality, acetone is a harsh chemical

Step 4: #2 Clothes Iron

The next method is a simple clothes iron. All you need is literally just the clothes iron here. I put the paper down like before creasing it over the edge.

Then I literally just ironed the paper, making sure to keep it from moving around. I tried to press down hard and had the iron on high, but I still don’t think it was enough heat.

This one did not look good. I think it was because this iron is pretty light duty and just didn’t get hot enough. I’ve also since heard that printing on wax paper might make a difference or using a branding tip on a soldering iron.

Pros: Cheapest method, fairly quick to do

Cons: Poor image quality, possible to burn your self or scorch the wood or paper

Step 5: #3 Polycrylic

The third method is using a water based polyurethane. I’m using Polycrylic which is just a name brand poly. You’ll need the polycrylic, an acid brush(or other small brush), a stiff toothbrush and some water.

I brushed on the polycrylic with a small acid brush trying to get a thin film that was wet but not puddling. Then I pressed the paper down into the wet polycrylic and smoothed the paper from the center outward to remove any air bubbles and firmly seat the paper into the polycrylic before setting the wood print aside to dry for about an hour.

After the finish had dried, I wet the whole back first then peel off as much as you can by hand before scrubbing. Then it’s just gentle scrubbing with the toothbrush until all the paper is gone.

The quality was excellent! Other than that little chip on the side of the “F” the wood print looked amazing. I was really pleased with this method of printing on wood.

Pros: Excellent image quality, water based safe finish

Cons: Messy removal of the paper, takes an hour to dry

Step 6: #4 Gel Medium

The fourth method is to use a gel medium. I used Liquitex gloss, a foam brush, a key card, a tooth brush, and water for this method.

The gel medium goes on similarly to the polycrylic except it’s a gel vs a liquid. I found a foam brush worked well to distribute the gel because the brushes left too many ridges.

I pressed the paper into the gel then pushed out the air bubbles with my fingers then the key card. Then I set it aside to dry for about 90 minutes and scrubbed with a wet toothbrush afterwards to remove the paper.

This one looked pretty awesome too, but there were a few spots that still had a little paper that I couldn’t get off on the first go.

Pros: Excellent image quality, safe water based gel

Cons: Harder to remove than polycrylic, leaves behind rough surface, longer to dry

Step 7: #5 CNC Laser

Alright, this is the tech heavy approach. I have a Full Spectrum Laser Hobby 20x12 and I used it to make the image as well.

The setup is pretty easy and there are some great Instructables on here about lasers.

It turned out really sharply defined as expected. The only issue was with the image which a laser has a hard time replicating. But the text and logo design that are solid black looked great.

Pros: Excellent detail on text and logo, set it and let it go

Cons: Expensive to buy, must travel to find one to rent, not great on pictures

Step 8: Applying Finish and Final Thoughts

I applied some spray lacquer to the wood to see how it changed things and it did change my opinion a little.

The acetone really darkened up with the lacquer applied. I liked this one a lot more after the finish and I’d put it ahead of the gel medium.
The clothes iron….what can I say, it still stinks

The polycrilic darkened up even more and still looks great. This is definitely my first choice.

The gel medium also darkened but the finish was not very smooth. The extra paper bits I didn’t get off really showed through. So to get it as smooth as the polycrylic I’d have to spend a lot more time cleaning.

The CNC laser didn’t really darken up. It’s more of a burnt wood look, but the detail is still great.

If you enjoyed the video I'd love for you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more great content. Also if you want a little more in depth review you can see it on my website at: http://fixthisbuildthat.com/print-on-wood-5-ways-diy-image-transfer/

4 People Made This Project!

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140 Discussions

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t.rohner

Tip 18 days ago

Use a HP Latex R1000 or R2000, or a EFI LX3 if your piece of wood is 100 inches wide...

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woodchipwilburt.rohner

Reply 6 days ago

If I could afford one of those beasts, I think I could afford to get Michelangelo to hand-paint my logos!! ($160,000 I saw) :-)

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t.rohnerwoodchipwilbur

Reply 6 days ago

Of course... It was more like a joke. I'm just purging such a latex machine free of ink. We need to transport it in freezing temperatures and the ink is waterbased. It takes more than a day, to empty the ink...

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woodchipwilburt.rohner

Reply 5 days ago

I hope that my reference to Michael the Angel was a response in the same mode!

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FlorinJ

18 days ago

I would try the ironing method once more, but with a thick heavy cloth, maybe wrapped in two, placed over the paper. Chances are the iron could not apply the same pressure to every dot of the paper, due to the wood not being smooth enough, and being of different hardness across the grain. A thick heavy cloth is somewhat elastic and would equalize pressure.

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woodchipwilburFlorinJ

Reply 6 days ago

Have you tried that? I suspect that a cloth would dissipate both the pressure and the heat. What you are trying to do is to re-melt the toner and press it into the wood. The cloth, I suspect, will insulate the iron.

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FlorinJwoodchipwilbur

Reply 5 days ago

The cloth will obviously add some insulation, but the thickness of the cloth is small, the iron is very hot, and very wide and long, compared to the thickness of the cloth, and the wood beneath is also pretty insulating, thermally, so heat has nowhere to escape. Heating will be slower, but it will still happen, to a temperature probably very close to that of the iron, after a while.

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SheilaW55

9 months ago

Hi, Thanks for doing this comparison - very informative. I have previously done photo transfers using the gel medium (Modge Podge) method fairly successfully.

I am trying to find a way of 'labelling' my wood products with my logo. My main product is cutting boards. I do hope to eventually get a laser engraver, but until that happens, I want to use one of the other methods. Which one would you think would hold up to regular washing, etc. that a cutting board would be exposed to?

I tried the Polycrylic method today, but most of the image came off with the paper. My test piece had already been finished with mineral oil and beeswax, so I sanded the area. That may have been the problem since the finish soaks in. I also might not have applied enough of the Polycrylic. I'll try again with an unfinished piece, but my big question, as above, is the durability.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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woodchipwilburSheilaW55

Reply 6 days ago

I'm pretty sure that the Polycrylic won't 'take' well to a surface with
oil and beeswax already soaked in. I would guess that none of these
methods which are, after all, just depositing a thin layer of laser
toner onto your board, is going to be very durable on something that's
going to get a good deal of wear and abrasion. Your main protection
will be the covering that you put over.
A cutting board (I'm assuming this is a kitchen chopping board) needs
to be finished with something like your oil and beeswax which soaks in.
An acrylic finish is more of a coating on top that will be destroyed with
the first knife cut. My way to brand a chopping board is to use one of these!

Chisel.jpg
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FlorinJSheilaW55

Reply 18 days ago

You could get an electrically heated branding iron. I've seen these used by many.

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haleyma

18 days ago

Great review! Thanks for writing this up. One tip from having done this for a project recently: Use a laser printer, but use non-stick paper. We used the backing from a sheet of printable labels. I suppose you could use transfer paper, but I don't know. We put a layer of polycrylic on the wood, placed the reversed print on top of it, let it dry - and then peeled the paper off. Then put another layer of polycrylic over the image on the wood. Worked really well - even for color prints! After two or three light layers over the image, it could even be sanded.

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woodchipwilburhaleyma

Reply 6 days ago

That sounds like a great idea! I am just working on the "branding" of some staging and had planned to use the acetone route. I'm already finising them with a water-based acrylic and so, having read your comment I'll be trying that tomorrow! Already printed copies of the logo onto label backing. That's worked well. Now for the transfer...

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Studio V

Tip 14 days ago

Pine is the best wood. Transfers take well to it. Raw wood even works great with Acetone. Nice n dark. I have used tissue paper to print with an ink jet/ flip image so it is a mirror image. Printer may not grab paper so I taped it to card stock to feed through. Mine is not a bypass tray so it goes through the tray. Once it comes out apply to wood and using a credit card or something with a hard edge like that, just press over image. Drag from top to bottom not moving sheet of course. It transfers well. :). That is my two cents for the Ink Jet folks :)

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Studio V

14 days ago on Introduction

Just wasted two cutting boards. I think the wood makes a HUGE difference. For those that wonder about using Polycrylique on chalk painted surface. Works GREAT! I feel natural pine also GREAT! I tried on Acai wood. Not so great. Acetone didn't transfer at all. ZERO! Acrylic yes but I see the line around the words that I cut out. I guess you have to put a solid square size no cutting detail or you will see a line around the shape. These are for clients so it sucks presentation wise. Back I go to buy more. My question is what is the best sealer to use? I used mineral oil and it got nice n dark. I imagine they should NOT use that side. Cutting should be done on blank side but then again not everyone uses common sense LOL
I wish I could afford a fancy printer that can laser print nicely and dark on wood.

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Realism51

7 weeks ago on Step 3

Just to mention this method doesn't work with all toner types. There are some laser printer toners that won't work.

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Studio VRealism51

Reply 14 days ago

got that right. I went to staples and made my prints. tried acetone technique. didm't work at all. no transfer. its Acai wood. I wonder if that is why. so bummed.

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AngeloB38

Tip 16 days ago on Step 2

Try and finesand the wood with 400 or 600 grip sandpaper as a first step; then poly the board and place your print on it.

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bpark1000

Tip 18 days ago

If you print on "lickum tape" (water-activated packing tape) the paper removal is a piece of cake, because the adhesive is between the printer toner and the paper. The acetone requires longer to penetrate. You can apply the acetone to the wood first, then quickly place the print. Do not slide sideways. Pre-place the print dry for practice first.

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bpark1000bpark1000

Reply 18 days ago

I failed to mention how to get the image on the tape. First print on plain paper sheet. Then cut a piece of tape more then long enough to cover the print. Place the tape on the paper, adhesive side up, and use a strip of masking tape across the entire leading edge ONLY (as it goes through the printer). Use the straight-through slot (for both the pre-print and the final print), and re-feed the paper with tape through.
Companies sell (expensive) coated paper mainly for use for circuit board fabrication. You can also use this.
This technique can also be used to transfer patterns onto metal for subsequent cutting by conventional shop practices. Warm the metal first.

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buddynfo

18 days ago

i don't see how you printed the paper image backwords. that would be nice to see.