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.
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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/