6 Simple Ways How to Transfer Photos to Wood to Get Awesome Results

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If you’re thinking about giving your upcycling projects more artistic edge or simply want to try something new, this is a great way to do it. Image transfer to wood or other surfaces will give you a lot of possibilities to make a unique design.

You probably wonder how to put photos on wood and I’d like to show you 6 simple ways how to transfer photos to wood and have great results. It’s great fun and gives you plenty of opportunities to experiment.

Learn how to transfer photos to wood with these methods below:

 1. Photo Transfer Using a Freezer Paper or Label Paper

Yes, you see that right. In this first tutorial, I want to show you how to use a simple freezer paper or labeling paper for photo transfer to wood.

Materials needed:

  • A freezer paper/labeling paper/wax paper
    I hurry to explain what a labeling paper is. It’s simply a back of a sheet of self-adhesive sticker
  • an inkjet printer
  • A photo editing software, don’t worry, anything fancy :)
  • A clear finish like Mod podge to preserve your photo

Step by step method

  1. In the first step, you need to mirror your photo. This way, you’ll make sure that it’ll come out properly if there is any text in it. Then you print your photo on a glossy side of the paper. Important! You must be careful not to touch it otherwise it’ll smear and will be ruined.
  2. Make sure that the wood surface you transfer the photo on is clean, free from any finish, and sanded smooth. Porous surfaces take in the ink better. A light color piece of wood works best here.
  3. Put your photo face down onto the wood and please don’t move it.  You’ve only got one shot at this otherwise, it will smear. Press it down. You can use a bit of thin stiff plastic to smooth it out gently.
  4. Once you’ve done that you can remove the paper from the wood. The photo is ready and dry. No need to wait for 24 hours for it to be ready, yay! You can seal it with some clear spray lacquer or a layer of mod podge.

You can have a look at how it’s done here:

2. A Typography Transfer Using Chalk, Ballpoint Pen and Paint 

This method allows you to transfer any type of graphic/photo, mainly writings onto wood or wall, etc. It’s very easy and straightforward although the most time consuming, in my opinion. All you need to do this is:

  • digital photo files or photos printed on a regular printer paper
  • a piece of chalk, soft pen, or a pastel crayon
  • a ballpoint pen

The whole process consists of 3 simple steps.

  1. Covering your photos with chalk or pastel
  2. Putting the photo/graphic onto wood, wall, or furniture
  3. Tracing the outlines of the photo/graphic with a ballpoint pen to transfer

All that’s left to do is to use a small paintbrush or a pen marker and fill in the contours and voila!

If you need your photo blown up, you can use a free website tool called Block Posters and then print it on several sheets of paper. Here is an excellent example of how to do it on a piece of wood furniture.

3. How to Transfer Photos with Glue and mod podge

This method allows you to use inkjet prints photos to be transferred to wood using Mod Podge – a medium used for photo transfer. I found out that most people say you can’t use it with inkjet prints but only with the laser printer ones.

This method that I’ve found on matsutakeblog.blogspot.com shows that you actually can. You can use a normal printer paper or a piece of cardstock for the transfer. All you need is put some Elmer’s glue on it before printing your photo. Remember to let it dry first! You don’t want to break your printer :)

transfer photos to wood

The glue should be on the side, which you want to print on. After drying is time to print. Remember to mirror your photo as well, if needed. Once the photo is printed, put a layer of mod podge on the piece of wood.

Mod Podge Image Transfer

Now you press your photo facing down onto the wood surface. Make sure you don’t move it once it’s stuck to Mod Podge. You can use a piece of plastic to smooth the surface out and get rid of all air bubbles.

Inkjet Image Transfer to Wood

You have to let it dry completely overnight, preferably 24 hours, and you’re ready for the next step. Now the fun begins. You can immerse the wood piece in water, or if it’s a large one like a furniture surface, etc. you soak it wet with a sponge or use a spray bottle.

Soaking Mod Podge Image

When the paper is completely soaked you peel it off gently. You can hold it under running water for the small wood pieces. Then gently rub the rest of the paper pulp off with your fingers. And that’s it! You have a nice and smooth surface with your photo transfer on it. An easy method for photo transfer to wood with glue.

Transferred Image

Images courtesy of matsutakeblog.blogspot.co.uk

4. Photo Transfer Using Acetone or Xylol Xylene

This is a fantastic photo transfer method you can use on wood, metal, and many other surfaces. I really like it because is extremely easy. I’ve found it on villabarnes.com. It’s another great way to make your upcycling projects more unique and exciting.

Supplies needed:

So what do you need? The simplest way is to buy a blender pen. You can get it in most craft shops or on Amazon. But if it happens that you’re in the middle of a project and your blender pen stops working there is a  different solution you can use.

First is an old, well-known Acetone can be used as a transfer medium. But not the nail polish remover kind unless you have 100% pure acetone one without any additives.

A second way is actually using the solvent found in the blender pen which is called Xylol Xylene. If you, for example, have a large image to transfer you can get a big container in hardware stores.

In both cases, you must be careful while using them. They are damaging to the skin, eyes and respiratory system so wear gloves, safety goggles, and face mask/respirator and use them in WELL VENTILATED AREA.

Use the solvents in a glass container and only small amounts at a time- they evaporate quickly. You can either dab your empty pen in or use a sponge.

You put your photo/ graphic you want to transfer on the wood surface(remember to mirror it) and apply the acetone or Xylol.  You can secure it by using some painters tape.

Aceton image Transfer on Wood

Image courtesy of villabarnes.com

Try not to overdo it with the solvent because it may cause the ink to bleed. Several thin layers are better than pouring it over the image.

The next step is to rub the photo with the back of a spoon or a bone folder. Apply firm pressure but don’t rush. You don’t want to damage the paper.

Peel off the paper from the wood and let the transfer dry. Just to mention this only works with laser printed or copied images.

5. Photo Transfer to wood Using Gel Medium and Mod Podge

I think this is the most popular way for photo transfer to wood. It works with black and white or color ones. It’s very similar to Mod Pod and Glue way, but instead of glue, a gel medium is used as a transfer medium and Mod Podge to finish off. All you need is:

  • laser printer or already printed image/photo – laserjet ones are best or xerox copies, for color images you can print them on a photo paper(quality of the photo is far better than normal paper) and then have it copied in color
  • a surface to transfer to like wood
  • a gel medium
  • a Mod Podge

First, make sure the wood is clean and dry without any finish. Then spread some of the gel medium on it and on the photo itself. Put the photo on the wood facing down and press. Get a credit card or similar tool and get rid off of all air bubbles and excess gel.

Let it dry overnight/ 24 hours and then the same way as previously wet the paper and rub it off. The last step is to put a layer of mod podge on top to seal it off.

A nice video to show you the steps:

6. Photo Transfer Using an Iron

This is the most, in my opinion, a surprisingly easy way of transferring any color photo. All you need is:

  • a hot iron
  • photo printed with a laser printer on regular paper or
  • a photo printed on “iron on” paper
  • piece of the wood surface to transfer to

Then you have to follow some simple steps:

For “iron on” paper follow the steps:

Looking through many tutorials online, I’ve found all the different uses for Mod Podge, for example. Some use it as a sealant and some as a photo transfer medium. The same goes for using inkjet and laserjet prints. I guess this is a bit of a trial and error method. So pick one and if it doesn’t work, try another one until you find one that produces the best results.

If you want a more vintage look but only have new wood to work with check my post on how to distress wood and make it look old and weathered.

FAQs

Technically, yes you can use the Elmers glue to transfer a photo to wood. You’d need to follow the steps in the glue and mod podge method and swap the mod podge for Elmer’s glue.

A PVA glue can be used to transfer photos to wood. You either follow the mod podge/glue method found above but replace the mod podge with PVA glue using a normal paper and inkjet printer. Or you can use OHP Transparency Sheets instead of paper to print the image on. You have to cover the sheet with PVA glue and let it dry completely before printing. An ink jet printer has to be used in this case.

This is as simple as covering the piece of wood you want the picture on with mod podge -cover an area slightly bigger than the image. Next place the photo on top. You can use a credit card or something similar to remove any excess glue/air bubbles. Once dry the mod podge turns clear and is not visible.

Using a regular photo printed on a photo paper won’t work. You either have to make a copy of that photo on the photocopier or print it on a regular paper using a printer(laser or inkjet).

Depending on the method you choose you can use:

  • Label back paper
  • Regular printing paper and inkjet printer
  • Regular printing paper and laser printer
  • OHP Transparency Sheets and inkjet printer
  • “Iron on” paper

In simple words, a gel medium is a binder without pigment and its primary purpose is to change the consistency and/or appearance of acrylic paint. It can be used as glue for example for adding mixed media to paper or painting.

If you have different experiences with transfer photos to wood, failures perhaps? I’d like to hear from you. My favorite is how to transfer photo to wood with glue method, mostly because you can use your home printer to print the design/image.

Anyway, feel free to comment or drop me an email. And don’t forget to pin it to your Image Transfer board :)

Have a fantastic day!

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15 thoughts on “6 Simple Ways How to Transfer Photos to Wood to Get Awesome Results”

  1. Hi there,
    Your tutorials are very easy to follow by the way! I would like to transfer photo’s on wood, but I wanted to age the wood beforehand, using vinegar, steel wool and hydrogen peroxide.

    Would you know if the photo’s would stick ok, to the treated wood?

    Lisa

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa!
      I’ m glad you liked it :) As for your question I think the picture would stick as long as you won’t seal the treated wood. When you age wood this way whatever you put on it goes into the wood fiber.
      It’s still pretty much raw wood so I can’t see the reason for the picture not to stick to it. The only thing is it might not be as clear/visible as on light colored/plain wood but that might be the look you want to accomplish.
      Have a nice day!
      Kasia

      Reply
  2. Super easy one is, Mod Podge now make a photo transfer medium. So all you need to do if use a photo copied picture of your choice. Cut to fit your unfinished wood. Add Mod Podge photo medium transfer to the copied picture side of your picture as well as the wood. Then you stick your picture glued side down. Let dry completely. 5 hours worked perfectly for me. Then set a warm clothe over your dried wood. And scrub of gentle with your fingers to reveal your picture to wood transfer. Top it off when completely dry again with a finish of your choice.

    Reply
    • Yeah, it’s pretty easy. But if you feel you will mess it up I’d suggest printing off a couple of images and make a test image. If it turned out not quite how you like it, you can always sand off the wood and start over :)

      Reply
    • Hi Ashlie, unfortunately, the iron method won’t work with the inkjet printer. You could try the mod podge or transfer medium method. These are great for transferring images printed on inkjet printer.

      Reply
    • Hi Jennifer,
      I’m sorry for a very late response. I imagine any PVA-based synthetic glue would work. Elmers brand is a very popular one available on the market that’s why it was used. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  3. I use copy paper. with the picture
    face up, slide the copy paper behind it. with the ink side toward the wood. Tape it
    down and with a ball point pen, trace the picture the basics. Take off and burn it.

    Reply
    • Hi Carlette,
      I’m afraid a regular photo printed on a photo paper won’t transfer. It’s the ink that gets transferred from the paper to wood. And since regular images are developed using chemicals, the transfer won’t work. I’m sorry I couldn’t help.

      Reply

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