Transfer Photos Onto Plexiglass




Introduction: Transfer Photos Onto Plexiglass

About: I'm a maker with a penchant for art and a love of sculpting the unsettling. I also appreciate the history of deep craft traditions and would be a good part of any post apocalypse survival team.

I created these semi transparent plexiglass tiles from photocopies and laser printouts. Since each photo becomes transparent, you can layer several images to create one design. I also added some color and backing to give a more vintage feel. I picked a couple of ladies that I think are pretty awesome, Alfonsina Strada and Ruth Asawa and layered text and images that related to their lives and careers.

You can use any image as long as it's been printed with a laser printer or copied on a copy machine. Part of the aesthetic of this technique is that it isn't a perfect transfer, so it works great for vintage photographs or anything that could use a bit of detritus. 

Step 1: Materials

You'll need:
- A piece of plexiglass
- Photocopy or laser printed images or text (get extra copies)
- Clear gel medium (you'll find it at any art store in the paint section)
- Squeegee (or a small block of wood works too)
- Paintbrush

- Semi-transparent paper
- Markers

Step 2: Transfering Photos

Okay, so here's where we really get to it. Basically whats going to happen is that the ink sticks to the gel medium as it dries and you'll then be able to remove the paper. First things first, we attach the first image to the plexi.

Attach the First Image
1. Paint - Paint the first image with the gel medium. Cover it generously and work steadily since it dries pretty quickly. Be sure you don't get any medium on the back of the paper or it will be harder to remove later on. I also paint a little directly onto the plexi to help prevent streaks.

2. Place - I usually leave the image on the table and then position the plexi over it so I have a better idea of what the finished product will look like. If possible keep some of the paper off the side of the plexi so it's easier to remove later.

3. Squeegee - Flip it over and use the squeegee to flatten out the paper and ensure it's securely down. Look at the front to be sure there aren't any streaks or air bubbles. Wipe away the excess medium that the squeegee pushes out.

4. Troubleshooting - If there are streaks or air bubbles, you can try to squeegee more, but it's likely you didn't use enough medium. Pull off the image ASAP and start over with a new printed image.

Step 3: Removing the Paper

1. Wait - Now that the image is applied, wait 5-10 minutes. The paper should still feel damp or cold, but at this stage it's easier to remove the paper than when it's completely dry.

2. Test - Test a corner to be sure the image is sticking to the plexi. If it comes up with the paper, wait longer.

3. Remove - Pull off the paper and it should come off without any ink. Check out the pic.

4. Rub - Be sure you have something cued up on Netflix for this. There will be plenty of remaining paper bits that need to come off. The easiest way of doing this is by lightly rubbing the paper and it should start to ball up leaving the image in tact. Be careful though, if the gel isn't set, you can easily push or tear the image. If the paper is completely dry, you'll need to get it a little bit moist to get off the remaining bits. This can take a while and depending on the number of layers you have, you can easily do some binge watching.

You may not be able to get all of the paper off the image, or just decide to give up. Wherever paper you leave will get a bit of a cloudy or torn look, and after experimenting you may want to use that as part of the aesthetic. Or you can just say it was intentional and move on.

5. Repeat - Once you have your first layer, go back and do the same process for all subsequent layers.

Step 4: Finishing

At this point you should have all of your layers with paper removed. If you'd like to add a bit of color, now is a good time to do it. I use  markers since they are transparent, but you could experiment with paint or colored paper as well. Just color directly onto the back of the image.

The final thing is to add a backing to create a nice even background and cover up any tears or missing bits of medium. I used trace paper on the Ruth Asawa tile to keep it fairly transparent. On the Alfonsina tile, I stained the remaining paper with ink then added two layers of sewing pattern paper and two layers of trace. These layers are done one at a time with the gel medium and squeegee.

You can now put these up in your window on your wall... or use your new fancy plexi for many other maker projects.



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    24 Discussions

    hi, I stumbled across this and was wondering do you need coloured or black and white images?

    Hope you respond

    I have transferred prints onto surfaces many times. Using deskjet printer ink . Reversed if needed for showing as correct way round.

    The trick is getting a good transfer sheet.

    ANSWER/// Go to a vinyl signwriter. Get the discarded FREE backing paper they use when vinyl lettering jobs are done. They throw it out. Cut it into eg A4 sheets to simply print thru your inkjet .Lay on surface eg wood calender block etc and press. Works great. Lacquer after it transfers and dries a bit. Looks great FREE material and easy to do at home.

    I need to do this too....have a wall below a window that the cats always jump into....scratching the wall in the process...gonna make myself a beautiful plexi/paint picture to protect it when newly painted...will show after pics after its done too....


    This is fantastic. I'm definitely doing this!
    Lucky me I have some acrylic hanging around, will this technique work with glass as well?

    2 replies

    I don't see why not :) There is also another technique with glass that allows you to pull the transfers off of the glass for use on canvases or anything else. But that's a whole other project.

    Do you know where I can find the technique for pulling images off glass to use on canvas?

    I wonder if this would work on Yupo? Even better, translucent Yupo?

    I have another question. Are the papers with text printed on common printer paper, and
    are the letters cut out or on whole sheets (meaning besides the cutout figure are you doing layers of intact sheets of paper)?

    2 replies

    Hi there! It's just standard printer paper and whole sheets. I cut out the figure since it was only on a small part of the page, but the other layers covered the entire surface. Hope that helps!

    Thanks for the response it defintely helps! Now I understand why you advise netflix since you use whole sheets :p
    I'm making one devoted to Ira Glass, I'll post a picture when it's done!

    Looks like an awesome afternoon project. I wonder what it would look like if the acrylic was edge-lit.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work with an ink jet printer. The gel medium won't pick up the ink in the same way. I'd recommend making photo copies of your images if you don't have access to a laser printer. Good luck on your project!

    I am thinking that it would depend on how thick the plastic is. It may soften but that might make the toner stick all the better. If the correct temperature is used, it would not take very long to apply enough heat. After all, it takes place in a fraction of a second in the printer's fuser.

    Since you are using Laser printer photos, try laying the photo directly on the plexiglass and running a hot iron over the back of the paper. The toner will melt and (may) stick to the plexiglass. - I have never tried this on plastic so I am not sure what would happen but it would make an interesting experiment.

    1 reply

    Interesting idea. I know the ironing technique works for paper and fabric, but it might melt the plexi.

    This is wonderful! Good job! As an artist I draw and have done other forms of printmaking. THIS is awesome, and I don't use this word much, if ever! This will give me new avenues of creativity and I'm very happy about this.
    It strikes me that one could do their own drawing and photocopy it for one of the layer options. Really, one could do a number of layers they drew and have a very dynamic image in the end. I have one question regarding step four: Where are we rubbing, on the plexi, directly over the paper images that are being transfered, or something else. Sorry to be so dense about this, I just like to visualize a process before I do it and make sure I really it. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Thanks! It's a great idea to use original artwork. Sorry I wasn't super clear in step 4. You'll rub directly onto the remaining paper bits that are attached to the plexi. As soon as the gel medium begins to dry, the ink is no longer on the paper so you "scrub" it off without the image coming with it. The only tricky part is that if the medium isn't completely set, you might warp a little bit of the image. Hope that helps!