Photo Transfer to Wood

16 Oct

This is a craft post. Not into crafts? You may still want to read this one as I can promise, it’s pretty cool with a capital C.

For anyone who’s a frequenter on pinterest, you’ve most likely seen this craft in a variety of pins. This is the pin I saw many months ago and always wanted to try, showing a photo transferred on to a canvas:

Pin from A Beautiful Mess blog (one of my many favorites to read, check ’em out!)

Now this craft came to be thanks to my good friend Andrea, who’s been featured in a variety of posts thus far related to her September, 2012 nuptials (Mr & Mrs letters featured on the place card table at her wedding reception and spicy, turkey meatballs that were served at her bachelorette party). She had the idea to use this craft method of transferring a photo onto a different surface for the table numbers at her wedding reception. Neat right?

The plan was to transfer different photos of her and her now-spouse on to one side of a wood block. The other side of the wood block had the table number. The block itself would stand upright through use of a dowel and simple wood base. If you’re going to do this at home (I sure hope you are as intrigued as we were and try this out) this is what you’ll need…


  • Wood block/s (you can cut down a larger board from a Home Depot/Lowe’s type store or find these in small, manageable sizes at most craft/hobby stores)
  • Black and white photo/s printed on white printer paper from a Laser Jet printer (the end result will be reversed from whatever image you print…so if necessary print off the original photo already reversed so it prints on the wood in the original photo format)
  • Gel medium (we used this one from Liquitex in the Ultra Matte Gel variety)
  • Mod Podge
  • Multiple foam brushes (one for each the gel medium and the Mod Podge as well as enough for all the people crafting)
  • Newspaper or paper bags to cover your work surface
  • Old rag (you’ll want to throw it away when you’re finished)
  • Small bowl filled with water
  • Scissors

How to Make:

If you’d like to make a version similar to Andrea’s that stands upright, you’ll want to create your base supports first. Use a power drill to create a hole in the wood block/s that’s an appropriate size for your support (dowel or otherwise). Drill a similar hole into your base support.

Next, sand the wood block/s down, both sides. The sanding will help the gel medium adhere better to the surface of the wood.

Thankfully, Andrea has handy men in her family who cut and sanded the wood blocks for us and they also drilled the dowel holes and base supports (not to say us females can’t be handy and tackle this process). But for those who’d like to give this craft a try, it’s pretty simple to do those ‘pre-work’ steps to cut and prep the wood, no worries.

Print off the picture/s you’d like to use in black and white, being sure to reverse the image prior to printing if you want the image to appear as the original photo does. (We used black and white photos so I can’t vouch for how well color printed photos transfer. I do highly encourage you to experiment though – let me know if it’s a success!)

Two important points about the photos – use normal, white printer paper and use a Laser Jet printer. These notes are particularly important as this project actually was completed twice. The first time (the version you’ll see in most of the photos) we used photos that weren’t printed on a Laser Jet printer and the ink didn’t transfer as well as we had hoped. Andrea re-did them prior to the wedding reception with Laser Jet printed photos and they looked worlds better. (You can see the difference in the photos below.) However, if you’re looking for a light, vintage look the non-Laser Jet printed photos may be what you actually want. Just helpful hints for you to keep in mind based on our experience.

Now here’s where Andrea and I started – with already-sanded wood blocks and photos already printed on white paper. (You’ll want to cover your work surface with newspapers before you begin.)

First, cut the photo/s down to the size of the wood block/s.

Generously coat one side of the wood block with the gel medium. Be very liberal with the amount you use as it will only help to more effectively transfer the photo to the wood.

Press the photo face-down on top of the gel medium-coated wood block, smoothing out any air bubbles and ensuring you have it nice and centered.

You’re going to repeat this with as many photo/wood block pairings as you have. Once all the photos are firmly attached to the wood blocks, you’ll want to go entertain yourself for several hours while everything dries. I’d recommend overnight, personally. Then the next morning you have something to look forward to as soon as you wake up.

This is when the small bowl of water and old rag are needed. Dip the rag in the water and start to gently rub the paper off of the wood block. You’ll need to scrub for a while and the photo will go through a few different phases before all the paper residue comes off. You can see in the pictures below that at one point it may even look green (and will most likely stain your rag in the process). Just be patient, have faith and keep going. There shouldn’t be a smidge of paper left on the wood when you’re done. (This paper removal process is a bit messy so be sure you still have your newspaper or paper bag underneath all of the wood blocks.)

When the wood block/s have dried from the damp rag/paper removal, use the foam brush to coat the entire photo side of the wood block/s with Mod Podge. This works as a sealant. Let the finished product dry for about an hour to ensure the surface is completely dry (it may appear dry but in fact be a bit tacky if you don’t wait long enough).

Now as I mentioned above, we did this project twice. Here is what the resulting wood blocks looked like when we used the photos printed without a Laser Jet printer (still a cool, vintage-y look in my opinion)…

…and here it is with the Laser Jet printed photos…


The key about this entire project is that the imperfections are what make the finished product look neat. If you have a few air bubbles or creases where the photo didn’t fully transfer to the wood, that’s alright. It gives the photo a little character. (Perfect is boring anyway.)

This would look great up on the wall or standing upright on display – like the table numbers at Andrea’s wedding. Or, you may have something else entirely in mind. Be creative and give this a go!


2 Responses to “Photo Transfer to Wood”

  1. Andrea October 16, 2012 at 7:45 AM #

    Great post Bets 🙂

  2. Betsy Vose October 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM #

    Glad you liked it Mrs. Montez. 🙂 Now to give it another shot with a photo for my own wall!

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