— whollyKao

the photo-to-wood transfer

This Christmas, I made most of my gifts. The majority of the handmade items were photos transferred onto blocks of wood. It was something memorable to give family (especially for parents, who never seem to need anything!). Everyone seemed to really like them.

I first heard about the photo-to-wood transfer from a coworker. She had found it on Pinterest, and wanted to try it out for Christmas gifts this year. I decided to do the same. The premise is easy: you take a (cheap) photocopy of a picture, adhere it to a wooden board using gel medium, and then rub off all the paper so you’re left with just the image.

I followed the directions on this youtube video, and came up with a nice collection of photos on wood. My cousin Justin was kind enough to send these pics over to me (they’re ones taken at his wedding last July). Came out pretty good, right?

I thought I’d share some tips I learned during this process. Hopefully it’ll make it easier for you when you do your own photo transfers!

Photo-to-wood transfers
gel medium
photo, printed on copy paper
varnish (or Mod Podge)
step one: the wood
I think any wood works, but just look for something that doesn’t have a lot of markings on it, or this will affect your end image. I ended up buying a 2×4 of birch plywood at Home Depot, and getting the guys there to cut it into eight 12″x12″ pieces. You don’t need to treat the wood, but if yours is extra splintery, make sure to sand down the edges.

step two: the image
Two rules of thumb here: use cheap cheap cheap paper (i.e. photocopy paper), and use a laserjet printer. Ink jet images won’t transfer because the ink is water soluble. Also, all images will come out mirrored when you transfer them onto the wood. So if you need words to show up right on the wood, make sure to flip your image accordingly before transferring it onto wood.

I chose to make all my images black and white, but color pictures work just fine too!

Once you have your image, trim to the border so you don’t have an extra white border (it’ll just be extra work to remove this border after you transfer the photo).

step three: adhering the image
I used Liquitex’s gel medium (found it at JoAnn Fabric), and it worked just fine for me. I painted the gel medium onto the photo, then adhered it to the wood. To get the glue to spread around, I took my bone tool and dragged it across the image several times to push all the extra glue out (you can also use a credit card). If you don’t do this, you could end up with lumpy bubbles in your end image.

step four: removing the paper
After the gel medium dried, it was time to take the image off. I used a sopping wet washcloth and laid it on top of my entire image for 5 minutes to soften the paper.
Then it was time to rub the paper. Thanks to the soaked washcloth, the top layer of paper was really easy to remove.

Removing the paper takes a lot of time and patience. I had to do this 3-4 times to make sure all the paper was gone (and that took 30-45 minutes). And you have to do a final run-down when the image is mostly dry. As a rule of thumb, any fuzzy white patches on your wood will remain on it, even after you varnish it.

ta-da! This one is finally done.

I used my bone tool and scratched away all the hard edges to give each image a more vintage distressed look.

step five: finishing it off
I loved the layered look of the plywood I used, but wanted to jazz it up. So I applied wood stain to the sides of the wood, giving it a warm walnut color (top board in the image below).

Once that dried, it was time to varnish. Two coats later, I was done!

So there you have it: photo-to-wood transfers. Next time you’re in need of a gift (or home decor) idea, try this one out!




linked at nifty thrifty things

  1. TheCrafsMan says: October 20, 20156:30 PM

    Esther, thank you for sharing your photo transfer method!
    If you haven’t discovered it already, polyacrylic (aka acrylic/water-based polyurethane) is an even more durable solution for this similar approach as you’ve outlined:


    Hope you find this helpful! It’s a pleasure to work with and, as a bonus, it dries within just a couple hours instead of overnight.

  2. Heidi says: August 31, 20153:08 PM

    Hi! Thank you for the tips! I am trying to make an image transfer on to finished plywood for the cutting board used at the dentist office I work for. Do you know if the image transfer will work since the plywood is finished?

  3. […] Vía: whollykao […]

  4. Gillian says: June 26, 20155:23 PM

    Hoping that someone still checks these! I’ve done my transfer and just been rubbing off the paper. I’ve been working on the white residue from the paper and when I get close to the transferred ink, that comes away as well. Is this just what happens or have I done something wrong? I used Mod Podge as the gel medium as I couldn’t get the Liquitex in time and it was left for 8 hours. Laser printer used, school paper used – so definately cheap! – and it was soaked with a wet cloth over it for 5 mins before I started to remove anything. I’m about to give up and just varnish what I’ve got but thoughts would helpful for next time!

  5. jenne says: March 21, 201510:54 PM

    Why would my picture turn pinkish is it my paper or the ink? I tried colored and black and white and it still turns a baby pink with greenish in other areas

  6. Lynette says: March 19, 20156:31 PM

    Cathy, I messed up a lot of them. My husband used a belt sander on the wood. It worked, but I think you have to be careful not to push TOO hard. I made it even more difficult by buying different shapes at a craft store that had several lips on them. So it can grind it down too much. A block of wood shouldn’t be as difficult to sand.

  7. Lynette says: March 19, 20154:34 PM

    I am sooo disappointed and frustrated. I have tried this 5-6 times, different ways,(as in mod podge, and also brushing on gel medium) but using the same method. When I gently rubbed the paper off, the first layer came off, as I take off more, scratches appear, and it is still milky looking, assuming all the paper isn’t off. Also tried a toothbrush. I don’t know if the wood type would matter. It is so cool of an idea, and thought it would be easy. I have looked at a bunch of videos. Your photo is so clear. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Also tried Mod Podge photo transfer medium. It seems to have more scratches, lifting the image off.

  8. LF28 says: March 1, 20151:47 PM

    I have tried this several times with various results.. Improvement but there are random places that are just scratched off when I am using the same technique for the whole picture. Is it better if the wood is rough or sanded? Tried on Canvas also and it is too hard to remove the paper.. Too many scratches in the end result. Any suggestions..

  9. Cathy says: February 18, 20151:14 PM

    After rubbing off the paper, there must have been an air bubble on the picture because that part didnt transfer. is there a way I can now just remove the entire picture so I can reuse the wood again?

    • whollykao says: February 19, 201511:39 PM

      Hi Cathy, I haven’t actually tried to remove a picture before. I guess you could try to carefully scrape or sand it off, but that might mar your wood. I’m sorry I can’t be of much help here!

    • Maritza Gomez says: February 28, 20156:02 PM

      Hi Cathy, I’ve been trying for the last 3 weeks to do this. I think they haven’t taken because the guy at Home Depot gave me pressure treated wood. I’d be curious if anyone else tried pressure treated wood & their results. Anyway, I know from experience, you can rub a lot of the image off & then sand the rest. Trust me, I’ve used the same cube 4 times. Hth

    • Nessie13 says: July 20, 201512:19 PM

      You just have to wipe as much as you can off an then sand it. An orbital sander takes it off pretty quickly – I had put my piece on upside down and had to remove it! It takes about five-ten minutes tops. You have your fresh piece of wood and you start the long process all over again.

  10. Vivian says: January 29, 201512:21 PM

    Hi, Can I just use a photo that was printed at Walmart or Costco? Like one of those regular 4×6 prints? Is that laser printed? and the correct paper?

    • whollykao says: February 4, 201511:58 PM

      Hi Vivian, sorry for the delayed reply. I don’t think anything printed on photo paper will transfer over to the wood. You want the picture to be printed onto cheapie paper, because you will be wetting that paper down and rubbing it away (and leaving the actual image onto the board). Photo paper is too durable to do that, which is why I don’t think it will work. If you try it and it does work, though, please let me know!

  11. Kelly says: January 2, 20153:44 PM

    I too have done many of these projects. I actually ran out of ink for my printer so I took my images down to Staples and for 5 images it only cost me 49 cents. But what I have noticed is, when I used really cheap copy paper my images came out very light. The copies I got from Staples came out so beautiful. So I asked them what weight of paper did they use and it was 24 lb copy paper. I just finished a project using that weight of paper and my printer from home and it turned out perfect. The only issue I have had on a couple of the projects is when I am rubbing off the paper some of the print comes off. I will keep practicing and I am sure I will figure out what I am doing wrong. As far a my projects I have done, my family loves them.

  12. Amy says: December 24, 20141:11 AM

    I did what you did except I put the gel on the wood then layed the pic down on it. Some of my image rubbed off though as I was rubbing. I don’t know what I am doing wrong!?!?!

    • Carmen says: February 5, 20152:07 AM

      I’ve done quite a few of these over the last couple of years after seeing this great tutorial and here are some tips I’ve learned which really seem to help:

      1) Sand your wood as much as possible to get it really smooth — then make sure to clean all the wood dust off with a damp rag and let dry before applying your medium. The rougher the wood, the more likely bits of medium will flake off when you remove the paper later.

      2) Use a generous amount of medium, and make sure to smooth all the air bubbles out with a credit card, bone tool or paper folder. This will take practice to get good — experiment with pressure so that you leave a good layer of acrylic medium, which is smooth and bubble-free but not too thin so that it rubs off when you remove the paper.

      3) When you start to take the paper off after the medium is dry, use generous amounts of water applied with a sponge. You should be able to see some of the image through the paper before you try to peel. I use a sponge to gradually work the paper off because sometimes when I peel with my fingers the image will come off. The trick is to make the paper very soft with wetting it so that it is not strong enough to peel up the image.

      4) Use gentle fingertips with very little water for the last bits of white paper residue.

      5) Sometimes I brush a little extra medium over the faces of my image before applying to the wood. This makes it harder to get bubbles out, but I want to make sure that no image flakes off on the faces of my photos.

      I hope these tips help you! I love this method and It’s possible to get them really perfect if you don’t like the grunge look. Good luck!

      • whollykao says: February 8, 201510:05 PM

        Thanks for all your tips, Carmen! Am hoping they will help anyone else who has questions or trouble with the tutorial in the future!

  13. Bobby says: December 14, 20143:34 AM

    heya there! thx for d great idea above…everything’s going well for the first trial, but the thing is, the white-ish fuzzy paper is still on the photos even after pretty long time fiddling with it..my question, shld i go further? any other way to get the fuzzy paper off before i varnish? i cud email you a copy of what n how it looks like right now, but yea, pretty stuck at this moment. Any advise? thx!

    • whollykao says: December 21, 20146:06 PM

      Hi Bobby,
      did you wet the paper enough before scrubbing it off? Try that, or maybe try using an old toothbrush to brush the wet paper fibers off? Mine came off entirely when I did that, but I do also know there’s a point where you can scrub too much and you’ll end up scraping your image off. Am guessing if you keep fiddling with your picture, that would happen!

  14. craftymommy says: December 3, 20141:32 PM

    Hi, thanks for the excellent tutorial. I used regular paper at fedex to laser print my image on. I applied mod podge as my gel medium (some other blogs used mod podge and I used that). I didn’t do a good job removing the bubbles and let it dry for about 12 hours before I removed the paper. I see parts of the paper still adhering to the wood…if I try to scrap it off, it removes the image as well. My image is very light, looks nothing like the images I see on pinterest. Did I miss something? I applied mod-podge again for varnish, but I can only see a very light image on the wood…very disappointed. Can I fix this image or do I need to redo it? What can I do to get the image out of the wood, if I redo. Also, if I redo the project, what steps do I need to modify, or what products do I need to change. Appreciate your time and help. thanks. it wont let me post my comment….:-(

    • whollykao says: December 7, 20149:55 PM

      Hi, sounds like you did the steps all correctly. I’m not sure why your transfer didn’t work well, but here are a couple things that come to mind: did your image print out really lightly onto the paper, and is therefore transferring over really lightly? And was your paper damp/wet enough when you tried to scrape the paper that was still adhering to the wood? You could also try using the Liquitex Gel Medium that I used to see if you get a better result. I haven’t used Mod Podge to do the photo transfer, but I’ve seen others do it successfully on Pinterest. Good luck!

    • Jess Bruno says: February 25, 20159:22 AM

      I think the others used mod podge medium, not your typical mod podge, see if you can get ahold of that instead. I personally use the Liquitex brand, it’s fairly expensive but I prefer to pay extra to have my portraits turn out right.

  15. craftenthusiast says: December 3, 20141:30 PM

    Hi, thanks for the excellent tutorial. I used regular paper at fedex to laser print my image on. I applied mod podge as my gel medium (some other blogs used mod podge and I used that). I didn’t do a good job removing the bubbles and let it dry for about 12 hours before I removed the paper. I see parts of the paper still adhering to the wood…if I try to scrap it off, it removes the image as well. My image is very light, looks nothing like the images I see on pinterest. Did I miss something? I applied mod-podge again for varnish, but I can only see a very light image on the wood…very disappointed. Can I fix this image or do I need to redo it? What can I do to get the image out of the wood, if I redo. Also, if I redo the project, what steps do I need to modify, or what products do I need to change. Appreciate your time and help. thanks.

  16. kilija says: November 30, 20147:19 PM

    Your post was very informative. I do have one question. Did you use laser printed photos? Was this done on a home computer or in a store? If it was a store, who did you use. I tried this project and failed.

    • whollykao says: December 3, 201411:42 AM

      Hi, I printed the pictures out on a Xerox machine. So you could go to Kinko’s or Staples and have your images printed there. It won’t work well if you print them on a home printer (inkjet) because the ink will smudge once you put the gel medium on it.

  17. Projets DIY 2014 | Pearltrees says: November 27, 20142:06 AM

    […] The photo-to-wood transfer. This Christmas, I made most of my gifts. […]

  18. Natalie says: November 23, 20148:18 PM

    Hi and thanks so much for the tutorial. I just wanted to ask how you removed the paper from around the whole photo? I am still finding fuzzy white paper around the image (see how you just see timber where the white paper is). Did you maybe just paint the medium on the image only? If I scrub too hard it removes the image. Also was a little scared to use anything sharp to shave off the paper? Thank you!

    • whollykao says: December 3, 201411:48 AM

      Hi, I painted the medium over the whole paper, and a little around the edges too. I used a washcloth over the damp paper to remove most of the fuzzies you are talking about. But I used really cheap paper to print my images on, so when I did this, the excess paper came off easily. If you use nicer paper, there’s a chance it will be harder to remove from the photo. You could also use scissors and trim the photo so that all you have is the subject/people, and not the background, so that there is less white paper to remove. Hope this helps!

    • Jess Bruno says: February 25, 20159:26 AM

      Use a significant amount of gel medium and you shouldn’t have an issue. I’ve noticed, through trial and error of my own, that if I apply a generous, even amount of the gel medium then I can bet a bit rougher on it to get the fuzzies off. I do it in a 3 step process. First: remove the top layer of paper of with your fingers. Second: dip your fingers in water and lightly rub the portrait in small sections at a time. Third: dip a washcloth into water and firmly but carefully rub the portrait to get the remainder of the white off. You will always have a miniscule amout of white paper fibers left but nothing to be concerned with. Hope I helped.

  19. Name Brenda Tonn says: November 23, 20149:13 AM

    I ended up with wavy wrinkles – too much medium? Do you suggest matte or gloss gel medium?

    • whollykao says: November 24, 201412:59 PM

      Did you use a credit card or something to smooth over your paper after you put it on top of the medium? Perhaps it’s from that. And either matte or gloss will do: I used matte, but painted a layer of (shiny) acrylic sealer over it. So I’m guessing it’s equivalent to using glossy medium.

    • Carmen says: November 25, 201412:01 PM

      Regarding wavy wrinkles, I use a lot of medium, roll the back of the print lightly first with a rolling pin and then work any air bubbles I find with a credit card or with fingers. Medium will squish out the sides if you use a lot, but you can just re-use it if you are doing several prints at the same time. Hope this helps!

  20. kausalya says: September 7, 20148:52 AM

    Hii there..

    why the rest of the paper wont peel of.. I tried 3 times to peel the paper and it start to peel of the image and it turns to white cos of the paper :( I used hvs regular paper. what do u mean use really cheap paper? I really need ut advice here.. I want show u my work here

    • kausalya says: September 7, 20149:00 AM
    • Carmen says: December 8, 20142:33 AM

      It may help if you make the paper very wet, then as it dries, roll it off with your fingertips. If the paper becomes too dry, just use a damp sponge or washcloth to wet it again. If the image starts to peel off the wood, then the paper is probably not wet enough.

    • Jess Bruno says: February 25, 20159:29 AM

      She mean low poundage. Typically paper is 20 lbs. at fedex or kinkos (wherever you go). Looks to me like you just have a lot of white fuzzies left with a small amount of non-transfered portrait. Try getting the fuzzies off again and them after that gently use a washcloth on it.

      • whollykao says: February 26, 201512:15 PM

        Right on! Thanks so much for adding your tips to the comment stream. You’re right on about all that you said (using Liquitex over Mod Podge, and using a low poundage paper).

  21. Gifts of gratitude for grandparents | My Blog says: September 4, 20148:14 PM

    […] own parents will be proud to display this homemade craft featuring their grandchildren. Esther of Wholly Kao gives a detailed tutorial so you and your kids can make your own photo-to-wood transfers to present […]

  22. 25 DIY Wood Projects To Enhance Your Home says: August 23, 20147:50 PM

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  23. Stacie says: August 12, 201410:59 PM

    Can you use regular photos printed from Costco? I keep reading tutorials, and it says regular paper. But what is the issue with regular photo paper?

    • whollykao says: August 14, 201410:20 AM

      Hi Stacie, you want to use regular copy paper. If you use any kind of photo paper, it won’t transfer well. The cheap copy paper works well because the glue bonds to the actual photo (which you then adhere to the wood block), then you wet the back of the paper (the surface that’s facing up) and rub the paper off, leaving just the photo mounted to the wood. If you use photo paper, you won’t be able to scrub the back off the same way.

  24. Very good info. Lucky me I discovered your site by
    chance (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

  25. HalfAsianMarilyn says: May 9, 20141:09 PM

    Wow these are simply beautiful and I will try the “invisible background” technique with photoshop! I recently began to follow your art journey and love all the crafty projects! Thank you for sharing!!

  26. Will says: February 9, 20143:32 PM

    Has anyone tried doing the transfer on multiple panels of wood? Not spacing them out but actually having one transfer cover a few panels at a time to create a “planked” look? I have seen a company online doing it ( http://www.plakthat.com ) but wanted to try it myself! Any help / advice would be greatly appreciated!

  27. […] My friend Esther transferred her family photos onto plywood and it turned out super cool! Check out her post here! What a great […]

  28. Carmen says: January 16, 20142:09 AM

    Hi everyone…I’ve found a way to remove the paper quickly without damaging your fingertips. :). Take a soft kitchen sponge (the kind with with the rough side for scrubbing). After wetting the paper thoroughly, gently scrub using the rough side of the sponge to remove the paper. The wetter the paper, the easier to rub/scrub off). Take care of any leftover fuzzies with a gummy art eraser or with your fingertips. This method takes a fraction of the time, but requires a thicker coat of the gel medium. Also, I used artist grade acrylic gel medium in matte (Amsterdam brand) in case that makes a difference. Good luck!

  29. christiane says: December 25, 20139:47 PM

    I love this and tried doing it on a piece of wood that I had painted white with some latex paint prior to transferring the photos.
    When I tried to rub the paper off there was either too much of the fibers left or some of the ink came off.
    Did that happen because I painted the wood?

    • whollykao says: December 30, 20137:32 PM

      Hi sorry for the late reply. I haven’t done this with stained or painted wood before, but I am thinking it shouldn’t affect the photo transfer that much. I am thinking yours didn’t work because of the type of paper you used (should be cheap copy paper) or the kind if printer your photo was printed on.

  30. Tracy N. says: November 25, 201311:42 AM

    Hey, I am wondering if it matters on what type of gel medium or mod podge you use for this project?

    • whollykao says: November 26, 201310:54 PM

      Hi Tracy,
      I used Liquitex Gel Medium, but I’m pretty sure you can use Mod Podge as well.

  31. […] Using your photos transferred to a wood block – an unusual ornament  . […]

  32. aprel says: November 2, 20138:49 PM

    Hey i would like to be able to transfer the photos without the background o the image showing. so have just the subject and the wood as the background. please answer this or me! i really need to know!!! how do you erase the background of the image you’re transferring and how to you make the wood become it instead.

    • whollykao says: November 3, 20139:41 AM

      Hi there, to get that ‘invisible background’ look, you have to start off with a picture where the background is white (or as close to white as possible). If you have access to Photoshop, you can just paint your background white (or clip it out). You can also do this by cutting the subject matter out of your picture, then photocopying that again so that you end up with the subject matter on a white background on one sheet of paper.
      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Nicolas says: November 16, 20136:53 AM

        Hey, whollykao thanks so much for the reply.
        So after I have a picture with a white background like this one:


        Then What? Will the white background disappear when I rub it off? Or do I have to do something else to the image.
        And if the white background does disappear, doesn’t that mean that any other part of the actually subject that happens to be white, while also disappear (for example donald ducks face in the link above).

        Thank you!

        • whollykao says: November 17, 201312:26 AM

          hi there, the white background will be clear (it gets replaced by the gel medium). and yes that means any other parts of the pic that are white will also be clear. if you have more questions, feel free to email me at whollykao@gmail.com

  33. Nicolas Sanchez Lopz says: October 28, 20135:29 PM

    Hi your pictures turned out great!
    I would like to know how you made the picture background disappear. Even in-between the heads there isn’t any background just the wood. How did you do this?
    Is there a way to perfectly get rid of the pictures background so you only get the shapes o people head and the wood texture as the background? I doubt you used scissors to perfectly cut the pictures background out?! Anyways kudos! these look amazing!

  34. Kittykat says: October 17, 201311:46 AM

    I use pictures from Walmart photo center and the back is a layer of plastic – paper – plastic – ink.
    They come off with out using a lot of water but they were a white-ish color. So im going to try the veggie oil thing. Thank you for your tips! ^-^

  35. […] process is fairly straightforward (You can check out pages like Photojojo‘s or Wholly Kao‘s  for full, more fleshed-out […]

  36. Zoe says: May 28, 201312:44 AM

    I tried doing something similar to this one time, but using a different method (not the gel medium) and it was a massive failure! I’m guessing the gel medium is the way to go.

  37. Rita says: May 8, 20134:44 PM

    Love your Mother’s Day craft project! Thanks for this tutorial for photo to wood transfer! Would you like to enter our Mother’s Day Contest?

  38. […] This has got to be my favorite of all the Mother’s Day ideas that I have ran into so far! This takes a little bit of work, but the results are amazing! Pick out your favorite picture and follow the step-by-step directions at Wholly Kao. […]

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  40. […] for plain, lightly colored wood, and one side of my veneer was just that.  I followed this guide (http://whollykao.com/2011/12/30/the-photo-to-wood-transfer/), as I couldn’t find the one I first saw a year or so ago on the MAKE magazine blog) though […]

  41. Photo-to-Wood Transfer Project says: January 4, 201310:23 AM

    […] you step-by-step through the process of making a photo-to-wood transfer on a small piece of wood {click here to see Esther’s tutorial}. Being the advantageous and {slightly} ridiculous individual that I am, I took this idea and […]

  42. Kris says: December 23, 20129:47 PM

    So I tried this and rubbed and rubbed but it is hard to know when to stop. If I rub too much, the ink layer of paper rubs. I thought the ink was transferred to the wood, so that it doesnt rub off. But if I rub too much the ink part comes off too :( so i have a few images with little bits of my cousin’s face missing and the woid showing in its place. Did this happen to anyone else?

  43. Billy says: December 18, 20129:44 AM

    Hello, thank you so much for the tips! They really helped me get a better finish to my transfers.

    Another tip that I was given, which proved very useful, was to use vegetable oil to enhance the clarity of the pictures. When you think you’ve removed all the paper you can without damaging the photo, there may still be a slight layer or patches of fuzziness when it dries. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil, followed immediately by a layer of modge podge to seal it. It helps a lot! Just remember that you do want to remove as much as you can before this step, the oil only goes so far to clear up the image.

    Thanks again!

    • whollykao says: December 18, 20121:48 PM

      Hey Billy, thanks for the vegetable oil tip! I’m sure it’ll come in handy for other readers. I’ll have to update my post to include it!

    • Marissa says: December 23, 20129:13 AM

      Hi there! I’ve done 3 so far to give as xmas gifts, I’d like to try the veggie oil tip.with the remaining 2. How did you apply the oil? (Cloth/brush?)
      Thx in advance and thanks “Wholly Kao” for the very through tutorial! Smother great light colored wood option (if birch is not available in 2×4) is Poplar I paid roughly $25 for it.

      • whollykao says: December 23, 201212:33 PM

        Hey Marissa, thanks for the wood tip! I haven’t personally tried using veggie oil, but I’d assume you would want to apply a thin layer with a cloth, so you can wipe off the excess oil.

      • Billy says: December 23, 20121:09 PM

        I just used a small paint brush and just enough oil to cover the face of the picture! Hope it works, good luck!

        • Marissa says: December 23, 20123:09 PM

          Okay thx! I wonder if using Pam might work just as good if not better :)

  44. Angela says: December 12, 201210:48 AM

    Hi, I have been scraping off white paper for several days now, and when it’s wet, it looks great, but then it dries, and still white-ish. Does this mean that I have not cheap enough paper? It seems that more of the picture is coming off now, and dragging my feet, as I don’t want to ruin it completely

    • whollykao says: December 12, 20124:45 PM

      Hey Angela,
      oh no! Totally understand how you want to salvage the project. Hmm, so I’m thinking your paper may be too thick (or maybe there was a gloss or finish to it), and the gel medium bonded to it, which makes it impossible to scrape the paper away (or when you, you end up scraping the photo away too). What kind of paper did you use? Does the texture of the picture feel smooth, or is it still grainy (like the feel of paper)?

    • whollykao says: December 18, 20121:50 PM

      Hey Angela,
      another reader just recommended rubbing the entire image down buy applying a thin layer of vegetable oil + then immediately coat it with a layer of Modge Podge to seal it. They said it helped improve the clarity of the pic. Might be worth a try!

  45. Trasferir fotos a madera « 80 y tú says: November 28, 20122:00 AM

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  46. Lauren says: November 27, 20122:01 PM

    Hello! Does this process work the same for a larger scale panel, or are there any shortcuts that you know of? Can’t wait to try this for Christmas gifts!

    • whollykao says: November 27, 20129:01 PM

      Hey Lauren, I haven’t tried this on a larger scale, but I’m guessing the best way to do that is to print your image on several 8.5×11″ sheets and tape the edges together on the back side with low-tack tape. Spread a layer of gel medium on the board, then glue the taped sheets down, with the image facing the board. Once the photo-side of the paper has been glued down, take the low-take tape off, then spread the gel medium on to the back side of the paper. Let the glue dry, then wet the paper and peel it off.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if you have other questions!

  47. Jankij says: October 16, 20124:07 PM

    Does this technique work on MDF?

    • whollykao says: October 17, 201211:36 PM

      I haven’t tried it on MDF, but I think it would. Just make sure to cover your entire surface with gel medium, which will make it ‘waterproof’ for when you wet the paper and scrape it off. good luck!

  48. Name sourpatchkid0 says: October 9, 20129:05 AM

    How long did you wait before rubbing it off with water?

    • whollykao says: October 9, 201211:54 AM

      Hey Roschelle, I let the paper dry overnight. It might take less time than that, but you just want the glue and paper to be completely dry before rubbing it with water.

  49. Rich Johnson says: August 1, 20129:16 AM

    Worked like a charm! Here is a link to the one I did! http://www.flickr.com/photos/richjohnsonphoto/sets/72157630781745160/

    • whollykao says: August 1, 201211:54 PM

      That looks amazing! I’m glad it worked for you. Thanks for sharing your pics!

  50. hamna says: June 25, 20127:48 PM

    can this be done on canvas?

  51. Liz says: June 15, 20127:49 PM

    Can I use glazing medium? To get a 35% acrylic paint?

  52. Liz says: June 15, 20127:42 PM

    Hey, I’m having a difficult time finding the gel medium. Could you give me some brand names? I only found acrylic textile medium. Thanks

    • whollykao says: June 17, 20124:00 PM

      Hey Liz, I’ve been using Liquitex Gel Medium (http://www.dickblick.com/products/liquitex-gel-mediums/), but it looks like any kind of acrylic gel medium would work. You can find them at the craft store, with the acrylic painting supplies.
      What you found sounds like it’s made just for fabric. So I’d go look for the regular gel medium. And you can use either matte or gel.
      Hope that helps!

  53. […] http://whollykao.com/2011/12/30/the-photo-to-wood-transfer/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  54. Libby says: May 25, 20121:05 PM

    I love your project. I just tried it at home and had a few issues, mostly with a lot of “scrapes” coming off. I know I should expect some but not as many as I had. I printed my pictures off at Staples… I’m assuming their laser printers are just as good as the ones at somewhere like Kinko’s, but maybe not? I also noticed that you mentioned using low quality paper and mine seemed to be printed on pretty high quality paper. Maybe that could be my issue? Thanks for any help you can offer.

    • whollykao says: May 25, 20121:11 PM

      Hi Libby, yup, I’d assume that Staples would have printers similar to Kinko’s. What makes the cheap paper work best is that it’s pretty thin, which makes it easy to rub off. Was the paper you used pretty thick? Or did it have any kind of gloss to it? If so, that might be the culprit! Good luck, and let me know if you have more Qs.

  55. Maylee says: May 24, 20124:40 PM

    Hi Paula, do you place the photo face down onto the wood after applying the gel medium?

  56. Casey says: May 22, 20122:02 AM

    I tried this. I took the picture on my camera photo disk to staples and had them print it on a laserjet printer. Unfortunately the picture came out really dark. I guess I should just edit the picture first. I took a color photo and turned it to black and white so maybe I should just do it in color? Any suggestions on color vs black and white?

    • whollykao says: May 22, 20124:26 AM

      Hey Casey, it depends on what kind of ‘look’ you’re going for with your finished piece. Black and white feels more vintagey to me, whereas color seems more modern/lively. And yeah, if you are able to edit the picture before you print it, that’ll help. Hopefully I answered your Qs. Let me know if you have others!

  57. Paula says: May 21, 20126:00 PM

    Hey love! I love the way yours came out unfortunately mines didn’t. I went to home Depot bought 2×4 and sanded down and clean the saw dust off. I then used gel medium and placed my reg paper printed off laser and let it sit for 16hrs and placed a wet wash cloth on top for a couple minutes and start rubbing off the paper but while I was wiping it off my ink came off too :( Can you tell me your wait time and your secret to this project. I’m relocating to Japan with my husband and I wanted to make this for his Marines buddy’s for memories thanks

    • whollykao says: May 22, 20124:33 AM

      Hi Paula,
      I let my gel medium dry overnight (24 hours at the most), and then wet the paper and rubbed it off. Seems like you’re using all the right materials. Did your ink come off on the paper (i.e. was the ink still attached to the paper when you rubbed the paper off?). Maybe try printing on a different printer (I wonder if the kind of ink in the printer was the culprit here). Or how much gel medium did you use?

      • Paula says: May 22, 20127:47 AM

        Hi Ester,
        The picture came off the wood. Leaving spots off peoples faces and all. I have a inkjet printer at home. HP Color LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw. But today I went to fed ex and requested for the cheapest of the cheapest printer paper and reprinted the photo so today Im going to try it again this weekend oh and I didn’t use too much gel medium. Just enough to conver the wood fingers cross its my printer hehe

        • whollykao says: May 22, 20124:06 PM

          I’m hoping it’s your printer too! When I did mine, I used the big printer at work (i.e. looks like one at kinko’s)…maybe the toner for those is different from the laserjets for home use? Let me know how it goes!

  58. attempting diy says: April 19, 20123:33 AM

    do you think this project would work on wood that has a stain over the entire piece prior to doing the transfer process?

    • whollykao says: April 21, 20124:07 AM

      hm, I’m not sure if it would or not. I think it’s worth trying if the wood has been stained with an oil-based stain (i.e. waterproof stain). It’d look pretty great, if that does work out.

  59. lovedufromthestart says: April 11, 20122:28 PM

    Reblogged this on lovedufromthestart.

  60. Smez says: April 11, 20128:20 AM

    Cool! Thanks for including lots of details. I’m so excited to start…just gotta choose the photos!

  61. […] thanks to Esther of Wholly Kao for the original photo-to-wood transfer DIY that was the inspiration and guide for this tutorial! You rock, […]

  62. liz (eharries) | Pearltrees says: April 3, 20121:50 AM

    […] I used Liquitex’s gel medium (found it at JoAnn Fabric), and it worked just fine for me. I painted the gel medium onto the photo, then adhered it to the wood. To get the glue to spread around, I took my bone tool and dragged it across the image several times to push all the extra glue out (you can also use a credit card). If you don’t do this, you could end up with lumpy bubbles in your end image. step four: removing the paper the photo-to-wood transfer « whollykao […]

  63. […] to Wholly Kao and Photojojo for this terrific little project! I love it and will do it again! Share […]

  64. […] to Wholly Kao and Photojojo for this terrific little project! I love it and will do it again! Share […]

  65. anna says: April 2, 20123:49 AM

    Is the varnish just for over the stained edges or did
    the varnish coats go over the transferred picture.

    • whollykao says: April 2, 20124:50 AM

      Hey Anna,
      I put the varnish over both the transferred picture and the edges. It helps to give the wood a slightly glossy finish.

  66. Sarah J says: March 29, 20129:55 PM

    Hey there! These turned out great for you, but not so much for me. I found a tutorial similar to this back in December, and attempted to do this twice. Both times a lot of the ink came off and the images were too distressed for what I was going for.
    I’m using a laserprinter and my fingers to rub the paper off, so what could be going wrong?

    • whollykao says: March 30, 20125:52 AM

      Hey Sarah,
      What kind of paper did you use? You want to use real cheap paper (it’s easier to rub off). Did you try printing the images to a different laserprinter the second time you tried it? Perhaps the ink quality in that printer wasn’t the best kind for transferring photos (I heard this doesn’t work well if you use a high end laserprinter). And was the wood you’re using treated? (i.e. has some kind of sealant on it)? That would affect how well the image sticks. And are you giving the adhesive enough time to dry before rubbing the paper off?

      Sorry it didn’t work out so great for you, but hopefully this helped!

  67. Wendy says: March 7, 20125:43 AM

    Thanks for the careful step-by-step explanations. I saw a version of this on Pintrest, and tried it with only mediocre results. The hardest part for me was getting the paper off–your “wet washrag soak” is a good trick, and it helps to know it will really take that long.

  68. […] My friend Esther transferred her family photos onto plywood and it turned out super cool! Check out her post here! What a great […]

  69. photographybooklover says: February 12, 20124:55 PM

    I don’t think i’ll find the liquitex gel anywhere in my area? could u explain what it is so i could explain it to the vendor incase he doesn’t have the same gel? AWESOME IDEA! LOVE IE <3 <3

    • whollykao says: February 12, 20126:10 PM

      Hi there,
      Gel Medium is an acrylic-based gel that’s usually used for painting (it makes acrylic paint thick so that your painting has texture).
      When you use it to do a photo transfer, the gel medium reacts with the toner on your image and bonds that image to the gel. It’s essentially a high end glue that lifts the image off your paper. And the gel dries clear, so once you scrub the paper backing off your printed picture, you’re left with an image that is ‘copied’ onto the gel medium.

      This article says that if you don’t have gel medium, you can also use acrylic paint, gesso, latex paint. As long as the ingredients say “Polymer acrylic medium”, it should do the trick. http://www.calsk8.com/zeitgeist/acrylicgeltransfers.htm

      Hope that helps!

  70. Lori says: February 1, 20128:28 PM

    Truly love this….am going to try this for a wedding present. I do have a silly question for you, what is a bone tool. Was going to type it into Google, but am afraid of what may pop up! LOL!

    • whollykao says: February 2, 20122:46 AM

      Hey Lori,
      haha, oops, I should’ve been more specific about that! A bone tool is a flat plastic stick you use for bookmaking (it helps to make creases in the paper). You can use a credit card instead, if you don’t have one — you just want something you can scrape over the paper to help spread the gel medium and push out any extra adhesive (this ensures that there are no bubbles under your paper). hope that helps!

  71. […] My friend Esther transferred her family photos onto plywood and it turned out super cool! Check out her post here! What a great […]

  72. beckiblake says: January 26, 20125:04 AM

    Very cool. Thanks!

  73. another gravy boat, anyone? | Fête Nashville says: January 23, 20123:24 PM

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  74. Lisa says: January 23, 20126:26 AM

    This is awesome! Thanks for the great tutorial. But, now the question you haven’t answered… did you make that crocheted Christmas tree or did you buy it? And if you made it, please, where is the pattern???

  75. Christa says: January 21, 201211:01 PM

    I am so excited to try this! I have a question though, am I understanding correctly that you printed photos from the computer onto regular paper? Your photos were not printed on photo paper right?

    • whollykao says: January 23, 20122:02 AM

      Hi Christa, I printed the photos onto regular printer paper (not photo paper). And I printed it on a laserjet, like the ones at kinkos (not on my inkjet at home). The cheaper the paper, the better, too. (it’ll rub away more easily).
      Good luck with your photo project! Let me know if you have more questions.

  76. Sarah says: January 21, 201210:05 PM

    Love this! This might be a silly question, but on those were just the outline of the poeple are on the wood (like the one pictured with the knitted christmas tree), did you cut the picture before you applied it to the wood? I assume you did but it looks like such a perfect outline of the figures/faces and their hair tha tI had to ask. Thanks so much!

    • whollykao says: January 23, 20121:59 AM

      Hi Sarah, the picture I used had a white background (it was taken at a photo booth at my cousin’s wedding, where the background was just a white sheet). If you have a pic you want to use and you want the same effect, you could cut out the background with scissors, or if you’re handy with photoshop, you can always use that to take the background out!

  77. Lori says: January 21, 20125:28 PM

    Thanks for the great tips! I want to try this. I love the name of your blog, by the way:) Super cute.

    • whollykao says: January 23, 20121:52 AM

      Hi Lori–definitely try this out, and have fun with it! Thanks for the compliment :)

  78. […] Se fotoguide til arbejdet her på Wholly KaoHar du ikke mod på selv at lave det, så kan du købe færdige billeder her på denne side […]

  79. Jennifer says: January 11, 20125:12 AM

    Such a nice and unique gift idea! I want to make one now. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  80. Ayla says: December 31, 20114:16 AM

    You two are so adorable. I’ve done this with a photograph of Frida Kahlo for a project in art school. It’s such a cool technique. It would be nice to do something similar on some untreated wood furniture, don’t you think?

    • whollykao says: January 1, 201212:20 AM

      Hm, never thought about it on furniture, but now that you mention it, sounds neat. I can picture it on a side table or coffee table or something – it’d make a good conversation piece!

  81. ilene says: December 31, 20113:17 AM

    I’ve been wanting to do this on canvas! i got all the supplies, just need to pick the right pics! its nice to know you can do it on wood!!

    • whollykao says: January 1, 201212:19 AM

      Yeah, do it! I bet it’d look pretty great on canvas.

  82. kathyphantastic says: December 30, 20116:51 AM

    I LOVE this. Thanks for sharing AND yay for handmade Holidays!

    I’m definitely going to try this soon. If only my parents liked handmade gifts…I’ll make them for friends instead.

    • whollykao says: January 1, 201212:18 AM

      Thanks Kathy! I think your friends will appreciate this kinda stuff more :) Hope it turns out well!

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