Toner Images on Leather




About: Computer geek since 1983. I didn't invent the Internet, but I helped it grow.

As an amatuer watchsmith and leatherworker, I am constantly making my own watch straps. I love to make unique straps, but I can't afford my own laser cutter/embosser. I wanted to find an inexpensive way to transfer printed images to the leather without damaging it. I noticed that laser printers do not melt the toner into the paper, but mainly congeal it onto the surface. With this in mind, I wondered if I could reheat the toner images and then transfer them on to another media (like leather).

Step 1: Tools

The tools are fairly simple and easy to source. I purchased a pyro woodburning kit from a local hobby shop. The kit features a branding iron and several tips. The tip that works the best looks like a little flat shovel with a point at the end.

Since the kit is made for burning wood, it could produce too much heat for leather. I used a cheap light dimming cord so I could control how much power goes to the iron. I found setting the dimmer at halfway gives me the right amount of heat.

I also use a thick leather for these designs because it can tolerate more heat.

Step 2: Prepare Your Image

Next, print out your images using a laser printer. I try to blacken the image as much as possible and use the photo quality setting. You want the printer to use as much toner as possible on the image. If you are printing text, you need to reverse it, so it will transfer correctly. Use the "mirror image" function of the printing program.

After you print the image, cut it out so you can easily position it on the leather.

Step 3: Transfer Image

Next, attach the image to the leather with tape. You don't want the image to move, but you still need to lift it to check the transfer. I tape down one side, so I can look underneath.

Using the flat shovel tip on the branding iron, I make small circles on the image. Make sure you don't hold the tip in one place too long or the leather will burn and curl. Use test leather until you learn how much heat to use. Make sure to control the temperature of the iron by using the dimmer cord.

Once you have transferred the image successfully, you can remove the tape, finish the project and add a coat of leather protectant.

Step 4: Photos of Finished Straps

I have used this technique for images and text. The toner image seems to be durable and waterproof under normal use. It will stay on the leather until something rough scrapes it off. In the future, I hope to purchase a laser cutter, so I can emboss and cut my straps more accurately. I also want to use a laser cutter to create my own watch dials.

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    6 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Should've stuck the picture of a router on a watch and look on as confused people wonder why it's there and what it is. Awesome instructable.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    LOL, I actually was going to wear the strap to Cisco Live, but the color did not match the watch very well. This was just a test to show the process.


    3 years ago

    Most toners melt in the 180°F to 200°F range. Have you tried using a clothes iron (non steam)?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I considered a clothes iron at first, but chose a woodburner for a couple of reasons.
    1. The iron was too large for the small leather straps I use.
    2. You get hot spots on some irons, so the heat isn't uniform
    3. It takes a long time for the iron to full heat up, the burner is quick
    4. My wife wouldn't let me use her iron


    3 years ago on Step 4

    What a cool idea. I've been transferring leather patterns onto sized leather by tracing/pressing the lines on the artwork with a dull pencil so it telegraphs into the sized leather. I have a pyrography setup in a drawer somewhere. I'll have to try scanning/printing and transferring my next knife sheath.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Step 4

    Thanks! I started the project as a way to transfer images into the leather so I didn't have to use the old tracing method (I'm terrible at tracing). When I was done, I decided the image was good enough to stand on it's own. My next project will use tooling leather, so I can add some tooling around the image and make it more pronounced.