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Does anyone know if its possible to do a photo transfer (using a laser printed photo) to wood without mod podge or using something cheaper.

I want to do some transfers for my cub scout den but it would require a lot of mod podge

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If cost control is important to you, and if you have access to an ink-jet printer instead of a laser, then you might want to try using the left over wax backing sheets from standard printable mailing labels like Avery 5160.

The ink jet ink doesn't dry as quickly as normal on the waxed paper, so right after printing, you can flip the paper over and press it against any flat surface. The still wet ink will quickly leave the wax and settle upon whatever you have pressed it to.

It takes a little practice to learn to apply it without smudging, but I've used the technique multiple times and have gotten some excellent (and a few horrible) results.

Here is a link to a more detailed description of this technique, along with a few others on WoodenPalletProjects.com.

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    For a small production run it would seem like a good idea to make a jig so that the wood and paper could be pressed together cleanly. I'd put the paper ink-side up and press the wood onto it, at least for a first attempt – Chris H Nov 9 '16 at 17:00
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    The graphic that I was using when I tried this technique, allowed for a wide left margin on the wax paper. So I stapled that margin of the wax paper to the edge of the wood just before folding it over to press against the wood's face. That kept the paint-slick wax paper from shifting during the application. A jig would serve the same purpose as the staple and probably provide more accurate paper placement. – Henry Taylor Nov 10 '16 at 3:30
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    That's a neat idea. For sheet wood you could also use bulldog (binder) clips to avoid staple holes on either side – Chris H Nov 10 '16 at 6:56
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There's a technique called "toner transfer" for making printed circuit board masks on copper. It should work onto wood as well. There are a few versions so you should google.

What I did was take inkjet photo paper, and mirror image print with a laser printer. Then flip onto the desired substrate and iron.

I suggest testing with offcuts and cheap photo paper. As I've seen photo paper for £1 (probably $1/€1 as well) then if you've already got the printer and some scrap wood it won't cost much at all.

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The only time I tried this myself, I used the clothes iron method. The results were pretty pitiful, but I didn't do much experimenting with temperature and time to see how much the results could be improved.

A web site called "Fix This Build That" posted a good video comparing four DIY methods of transferring a laser print to wood. One of the four was the iron method, and that result was comparable to mine (he had the iron on high and suggested that it might not be enough heat). The video is worth watching to see the details of the procedures and the comparative results.

The test laser print included text and a photo (remember it needs to be a reversed image). I'll include a couple of screen grabs from the paused YouTube. That doesn't really do the results justice, but it's good enough to see the difference. There were a couple of clear winners.

  1. Polycrylic (the product link in the video was this Minwax water-based product). The basic procedure is:

    • Coat the wood with Polycrylic.
    • Lay the print on the wood while the Polycrylic is still wet, and rub the back to remove air bubbles and ensure good contact.
    • Let it dry.
    • Wet the paper and gently scrub it off with a toothbrush.

    The result looked almost as good as laser printing on paper, including the photo:

    enter image description here

  2. Solvent. There are lots of online tutorials using xylene; he used acetone. These are available in the paint section of big hardware stores. The basic procedure is:

    • Lay the paper on the wood and secure it in place.
    • Wrap a shop towel over a heavy plastic card, dip it in the solvent, and wipe the back of the paper so the solvent soaks into the paper, using the card to apply a little pressure on the paper.
    • Lift off the paper.

    At that stage, the result was a distant second compared to the Polycrylic. Then he applied some spray lacquer (the product link in the video was this Minwax product). That improved the result quite a bit, but it still didn't compare to the Polycrylic:

    enter image description here

    If the result quality is adequate for your needs, the reason to use this method rather than Polycrylic would be that this method is faster and less work (but wear gloves, protect surfaces, and do it in a well-ventilated place). This video has a slightly better acetone procedure that lets you verify quality, but the result is similarly much lighter than the Polycrylic.


Inkjet: I'll add this for people wanting to transfer inkjet images. Most tutorials involve printing onto a material that doesn't absorb the ink, and then laying that on the wood and rubbing. The media includes label backing paper, transfer paper, transparency film, wax paper, freezer paper, etc. Different printer inks do better with different media, so if you go that route, experiment. This method leaves a pretty light image.

If you want something that actually looks like a photo, there's a different approach you can use. You print on very thin, sheer paper, like tracing paper. Instead of transferring it to the wood, you apply it to the wood.

It's typically done by applying a light pass of spray adhesive to the back to stick it on the wood. Then you spray it with a clear coat finish. Apply enough (in multiple passes), that it penetrates the paper.

The paper will become somewhat transparent and almost disappear, and the finish will bond it to the wood. The glossy finish will also make the picture pop (the difference between printing a photo on plain paper vs. glossy paper). The wood grain will show through, especially in areas without much ink, so it's a pretty good illusion (but it can sometimes look a little like a decal rather than like you printed on the wood with an inkjet printer).

Here's a video demonstrating the technique (on rough lumber, for which transferring an image wouldn't provide a useful result), and his best example (screen grab from a paused YouTube):

enter image description here

A similar approach is to use special paper designed to print fake tatoos that you stick to your skin. After you remove the supporting paper, the print is on an extremely thin film that doesn't look like a decal.

  • The link from "[This video]" is missing. Great post, once again, though! – Joachim Sep 7 at 10:37
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    @Joachim, thanks for catching that. – fixer1234 Sep 7 at 11:32

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