Do you want to take your pigment-based inkjet print to the next level? I’m going to show you my two favorite methods for getting my digital artwork onto hard surfaces like wood panels or artboards.
As a digital artist, I’ve always loved the idea of getting my work on a physical surface beyond a print on paper. There’s just something special about having your work on a wood panel, aluminum, glass or other hard surfaces that makes it feel more substantial and valuable.
I’ve tried a lot of different techniques over the years, but nowadays, I only use these two.
- Method 1: Acrylic Gel Medium Transfer (also works with laser prints!)
- Method 2: inkAID Transfer Film and Transferiez Image Transfer Medium
NOTE: for both of these methods are using pigment-based inkjet prints. These were printed on printers like the ones I suggest in my post about gifts for digital artists. I have not tested these with any non-pigment-based inkjet prints, but from what I have seen online, you’ll get more of a watercolor-like softer look with dye-based inkjet prints.
What is an inkjet image transfer technique, anyway?
Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like – transferring the printed image from an inkjet print on paper to some other surface.
Why would you want to transfer an inkjet image?
- Create a different feeling or mood in your work
- Turn an inlet print into something that feels more substantial or valuable
- Add a tactile – more traditional – quality to your work
Let’s get to it! Here are my two favorite easy inkjet image transfer techniques.
There are lots of videos and tutorials out there in the world showing image transfer processes, but very few show it for inkjet prints. Most are focused on laser prints or photocopies. I did a lot of experimentation to develop my process for each of these inkjet image transfer techniques and they work incredibly and reliably well. I hope you’ll love these and use them in your own art practice.
Method 1: Acrylic Gel Medium Transfer Technique
What I love about this process is that it is an inexpensive, very reliable, and easy image transfer method. The acrylic gel medium transfer process is pretty straightforward to do, but it does take some time because you have to let the acrylic medium dry completely before removing the paper. It’s probably best to plan an overnight drying time after applying the acrylic gel medium.
NOTE: I have tried this process using EPSON Inkjet Printers (a 3800 and a 9800) with the UltraChrome K3 Ink system on EPSON Presentation Paper with a matte finish. I strongly suggest doing some tests with your own printer and different paper types before committing to a big piece. I have also done this same process with laser prints or photocopies on plain paper. It works great!
Here are some layered image transfers I created using found images combined with acrylic paint and my own images.
What you’ll need:
- An image printed in reverse (flipped horizontally) with a pigment-based inkjet printer on high-quality matte-finish paper. You want to use the thinnest paper you can but make sure it is coated for high-quality (photo or presentation) prints
- A prepared (waterproof) substrate to transfer your print onto. This could be an art panel, heavy-weight art paper, or illustration board. I use gesso to coat the surface with at least two coats
- Acrylic Gel Medium – Matte Finish. Golden or Liquitex brands are great.
- A decent brush to apply the acrylic medium
- A brayer (rubber roller), wooden spoon, or some method of pressing down the back of the paper to both press and remove any excess medium
- A spray bottle with water in it (tap is fine)
- A washcloth, large white eraser, or both to remove the paper
- A dry towel or paper towels for cleanup
Process Video – Acrylic Gel Medium Inkjet Image Transfer
Step 1 – Apply the Acrylic Gel Medium to Your Prepared Surface
Apply a generous layer of acrylic gel medium to the substrate surface with a brush. Be sure to coat the entire surface where the print will be. It should be heavily applied, but, you know, don’t go overboard or anything.
Step 2 – Position Your Image and Press It Down
Place your inkjet print image-side-down onto your freshly coated substrate (yes – while it is still very wet). Then, rub/press it down using a rubber brayer or the back of a wooden spoon to firmly adhere the paper to the surface. You might see excess gel medium coming out, and that is ok.
Step 3 – This is the Hardest Part – Wait
Go to dinner, or bed, or work. Maybe go out for drinks or coffee. The key here is to wait a few hours until the gel medium has dried completely. Completely!
Step 4 – Wet the Paper
Once the acrylic gel medium is completely dry, liberally coat the paper with water from the spray bottle. You should see your image start to appear! Let it rest for a little bit (maybe a minute) before continuing.
Step 5 – Remove the Paper
Using your towel or the white rubber eraser, begin removing the paper by pressing in small circular motions. This part takes some time. It’s important to be relaxed and just take the time to do it well. Keep removing the paper in circular motions until it is all removed. You may see some slight bleeding from the ink on your image, but not to worry, you can easily wipe it away with a cloth. Take breaks and wipe away the paper crumbles left behind as you go.
Step 6 – Wait Some More
Allow your piece to dry again. After drying, if you still see white sections showing through, you can can lightly wet them and rub them away some more. Once you are completely happy with the look, just let the piece dry completely.
Step 7 – Finish Coat
I like to give my work a final coat of acrylic gel matte finish medium to protect it a bit and create a finished look and texture. If you like satin finish or gloss finish to your work, you could try using satin or gloss acrylic medium for yours.
Method 2: InkAID Transfer Film and Transferiez Image Transfer Medium Technique
This inkjet image transfer technique is a little more difficult to get used to and you’ll need some good ventilation because it uses rubbing alcohol in the process, but it provides quick and beautiful results. I recommend planning a few pieces of work just for practice.
InkAID is a terrific company that makes all sorts of products for digital printing on different substrates. Their inkjet coatings let you print directly on fine art papers like Arches watercolor paper, or really anything you can think of as long as it will fit in your printer. InkAID’s Transfer Film and Transferiez Image Transfer Medium is one of the most sophisticated inkjet image transfer techniques out their. This system lets you easily transfer images to nearly any smooth surface in only a few minutes. I’ve used this method to produce works up to 3’x4’ with great success. Check out my Bound image series to see some examples. I also made a quick video of me doing one of the transfers that appears on the InkAID Youtube channel.
Note of caution: The Transferiez Medium is a solution mixed with isopropyl alcohol. DON’T PUT ANY OF IT DOWN THE DRAIN! It will clog your plumbing! Please make sure to read all instructions before beginning so you’re aware of the damage you can cause.
What you’ll need:
- An image printed in reverse (flipped horizontally) with a pigment-based inkjet printer on InkAid Transfer film. You can purchase the fim on their website
- A container of InkAID Transferiez Image Transfer Medium
- A prepared (waterproof) substrate to transfer your print onto. This could be an art panel, heavy-weight art paper, aluminum, a gesso’d surface, and many more. I personally like using Ampersand Aquabord or Gessobord for my work.
- A measuring cup and tablespoon measuring spoon. You’ll want to have a set that you only use for this process.
- A wide foam brush
- A sealable glass container to mix and store remaining Transferiez Image Tranfser Medium
- A brayer (rubber roller), wooden spoon, or some method of pressing down the back of the transfer film to press and remove any excess medium
- Rubber gloves
- A mask or respirator
- A sprayable coating such as Krylon Matte Finish
- A dry towel or paper towels for cleanup
Process Video – InkAID Inkjet Image Transfer
Step 1 – Print on InkAid Transfer Film
Print your work onto the InkAID Transfer Film in reverse. The transfer film is transparent so you may need to adjust your printer settings so it does not look for the paper edge. Print in high resolution just as you would for any fine art print.
Step 2 – Prepare your surface
This process works best on a surface that is smooth, so you might need to quickly sand or knock down any raised areas or bumps. I’ve tried this on painted surfaces (acrylic paint) and coated aluminum.
Step 3 – Mix up your Transferiez Image Transfer Medium
Carefully follow the instructions for mixing up the solution. It is an exact science and the mixture and percentage of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol is important.
Step 4 – Set up your work area and prepare your transfer
This is especially important for large transfers, but is also useful for smaller transfers. I like to secure my substrate to the table with tape from the back side so it doesn’t move around. I also tape down one edge of my transfer film – print side down – so it is aligned easily.
Step 4 – Apply Transferiez Image Transfer Medium
Lift your transfer film and let it rest to the side of your substrate. Quickly apply the Transferiez Medium to your surface in smooth strokes until the entire image area is covered. You want to have a smooth sheen to your surface. If you see areas where it looks like coverage is poor, has evaporated, or is absorbing into your surface, reapply until you get a nice smooth sheen over the entire surface. THIS IS IMPORTANT. A smooth shiny surface on your transfer medium solution will ensure that your image comes through clearly.
Step 5. Press or roll out the transfer film on top of the solution
Quickly lay your printed transfer film image-side-down on top of the wet solution and use a ruber brayer or cloth to press down the transfer film to the prepared surface. For larger prints, I like to hold the non-taped edge high as I methodically roll across the surface and slowly lower the print down from one side to the other (see video). For smaller prints, you can lay the print down and roll or press out from the center to all edges. Quickly check for bubbles or any areas that look like they need more attention or rubbing down.
Step 6. Wait
After you have applied the Transfer Film to your wet surface of Transferiez Image Transfer Medium, let it sit for approximately 90 to 120 seconds.
Step 7. Remove the Transfer Film
After 90 to 120 seconds, lift one edge of the transfer film and roll it back on itself. You should see the image coating remaining behind from the film. Pull the film back slowly to remove the plastic coating and leave your image behind. If you see areas that are not coming off, you can try to rub them back down quickly.
Step 8 – Let it dry
Let the transferred image dry completely before working on it further. If you see bubbles in your transfer, you can use the tip of an X-acto blade or something similar to release the air with a small prick on the edge and sqush it down with your finger.
Step 9 – Coat it
The transferred image will be shiny and hardened once it has dried. Water-based paints will soften it if you work on top of it in any way. Even acrylic medium coating might soften the transfer. I recommend using something like Krylon Matte Finish to coat the entire transfer surface before doing any kind of layering or applying any water-based coatings. This will seal the transfer so you can use practically anything you like on top.
Things to consider when using inkjet image transfer techniques
The inkjet image transfer techniques you choose to use are really dependent on a lot of factors. If you don’t have access to a well-ventilated area, the InkAID products will likely not be a good choice for you. Luckily, the acrylic gel transfer method can be used in just about any work space. For large-scale pieces I almost always use the InkAID system. For smaller pieces, I often use the acrylic medium system. Whichever you choose to use, both methods will give you incredible transferred images.
Pushing it further
If you want to take image transfers to the next level, you might consider using layering methods. I have had good success using multiple layers of transfer using both methods. The key is patience and letting things dry completely before trying to layer things up. I especially like doing this with the acrylic gel medium method. Here are a few examples of some pieces where I started with a gel medium transfer of found imagery. I then layered in some acrylic paint and a few coats of mat gel medium. Finally, I transferred my printed piece to the surface. I feel like this method provides a sense of depth and interest.
Alternatives to inkjet image transfer techniques (that still look cool!)
If you like the look and style of image transfer, but don’t want to deal with the whole transfer process, here are a couple of other things you might consider trying”
- Printing on transparency film. You can print directly on transparency film, like the film used for overhead projectors, and layer it on top of a surface using alternating sheets of acrylic.
- Print on fine-art papers. InkAID has a wonderful product that lets you turn virtually any fine-art paper into a printable surface. You just brush it on and let it dry before feeding the paper directly into your printer. Check out their coatings on their website. They have many videos that explain how to use their products as well.
I hope this post about inkjet image transfer techniques has been helpful and opens up some opportunities or ways to create some new and exciting work. I absolutely love these techniques and they have changed my work for the better. There is something about being able to take work from the digital screen and get it onto a solid, professional-feeling surface that just takes it to the next level.
Have you tried any of these techniques? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave anything you’d like to share in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Some links that appear in this article allow me to earn money using affiliate advertising programs. I only recommend products I truly believe in. Any advice or instructions given in this article are purely my own and supplied with the very best intentions.