I feel like it was decades ago that I made my own DIY “Bakery” sign when the show Fixer Upper started to gain popularity. That was the first time I successfully transferred an image to wood (we won’t talk about all the unsuccessful tries, LOL). Wood photo transfer projects aren’t hard, there are just a few key things you need to know or it won’t work.
What prompted this project was when I found these wood art pieces with hooks for cheap at a store moving sale. I’ve been thinking about transferring some family photos to wood lately. I decided I would attempt the “mod podge photo transfer on wood technique” that I’ve used previously. I thought they might be the perfect piece of wood I could try this technique on.
Transferring a photo to wood is a great way to add a rustic touch to your home decor. It’s a simple and affordable DIY project that can be completed in just a few hours. Let me share with you the step-by-step process of how to transfer a photo to wood.
First, you will need to gather all the necessary materials, including a piece of wood, a laser printed photo, Mod Podge, a foam brush, and a credit card. Then, you will need to prepare the wood by sanding it down and wiping it clean. Once the wood is prepped, you can begin the process of transferring the photo to the wood using Mod Podge and the credit card to smooth out any bubbles or wrinkles.
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To transfer a photo to wood, you will need a wooden board. I recommend choosing a smooth and flat board that is free from any cracks or knots. The size of the board should be determined by the size of the photo you want to transfer.
Side note; the boards I’m using are a little more textured than I would like. That being said, it will give it a more “rustic” look.
Gel Medium or Mod Podge
You will also need a gel medium that will help transfer the photo onto the wooden board. The gel medium acts as a binding agent between the photo and the wood. You can purchase a gel medium from any art supply store. You can also use Mod Podge. Even thought Mod Podge isn’t exactly a “gel medium,” it still helps bind the photo to the wood.
Laser Printed Photo
You need a laser printed photo of the image that you want to transfer. It is important to use a laser printer or thermal printer because inkjet printers will not work for this process. The photo should be printed on regular copy paper and ideally should be the same size as the wooden board (I’ll show you how I got around this later).
Inkjet printers are not suitable for this process because the ink will smear and not transfer well to the wood. When printing the photo, it is important to use a laser printer and not a toner-based copier. A copier may not transfer the image correctly to the wood either.
Key takeaway: There will be other types of printers (especially with new technologies) coming on the market other than laser printers. Make sure NOT to use an inkjet printer or toner based copier.
Choosing the Right Photo
Before printing the photo on wood, it is essential to choose the right image. The photo should have a high resolution and good contrast to ensure that the details are visible on the wood. A photo with a lot of white space or light colors may not transfer well to the wood. It is also important to consider the size of the photo and the size of the wood piece. If the photo is too small, it may not look good on the wood.
I had this picture printed at UPS. They did print it on what they call a “thermal laser printer.” When I did some research I found out that a thermal printer is not a laser printer, but it still works for this because it’s not an inkjet or toner based printer.
Once your photo is printed, it is important to trim the paper to the size of the wood piece. This will ensure that the photo fits perfectly on the wood. It is also important to note that the photo should be printed in reverse or mirror image. This is because the image will be transferred face down onto the wood, and the mirror image will ensure that the photo appears correctly when transferred.
You can choose to print your photos yourself if you have the right type of printer, or you can have them printed for you at locations like Office Depot and UPS.
FYI, most stores can only print up to 11 by 17 with a laser printer. Anything larger they probably only print with an inkjet.
Paint Brush or foam brush
You will need a paintbrush to apply the gel medium onto the wooden board. I recommend using a flat brush that is at least 2 inches wide. A foam brush works too.
A squeegee will come in handy when transferring the photo to the wooden board. It will help to smooth out any air bubbles and ensure that the photo is fully adhered to the wood.
Lastly, you will need sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges or imperfections on the wooden board. I recommend using a fine-grit sandpaper to avoid scratching the photo during the transfer process.
Preparing the Wooden Board
Before transferring a photo onto a wooden board, it is important to properly prep the board to ensure the best possible outcome. This section will cover the two main steps in preparing the wooden board: sanding and cleaning.
Sanding the Board
The first step in preparing the wooden board is to sand it down. Sanding the board will create a smooth surface for the photo transfer and will help the photo adhere better to the wood. Here’s how I like to sand my wooden boards:
- Start with a coarse grit sandpaper (around 80 grit) and sand the board in the direction of the grain until the surface is even.
- Switch to a finer grit sandpaper (around 120-150 grit) and sand the board again in the direction of the grain until the surface is smooth to the touch.
- Finish with an even finer grit sandpaper (around 220 grit) and sand the board one last time in the direction of the grain until the surface is silky smooth.
Cleaning the Board
After sanding the board, it’s important to thoroughly clean it to remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated. Here’s how I like to clean my wooden boards:
- Use a soft-bristled brush to gently sweep away any dust or debris from the surface of the board.
- Dampen a clean cloth with water and wipe down the board to remove any remaining dust or debris.
- If necessary, use a mild soap and water solution to clean any stubborn stains or marks on the board.
- Rinse the board with clean water and dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth.
Priming the wood
Priming the wood is an important step to make sure the old tannins or even old paint don’t eventually bleed through the photo. Check out some of the best primers for wood here.
You can see I’ve already primed the wood here. Side note; I should have removed these hooks before primer. I ended up removing them right after the primer coat.
Because this board is square and my picture is 11 by 17, I essentially decided to paint a “border” around the image to fill in the dead space. Let me show you.
I then painted the inside white as a light backdrop for the photo transfer. I used regular old white latex paint.
After it dried I did use a fine grit sandpaper to sand it a little to ensure that the photo has a clean and flat surface to adhere to.
Transferring the Photo to Wood
Applying the Gel Medium to the Photo
Once you have your photo, apply a generous amount of gel medium (or Mod Podge) to the printed side of the photo. I normally use a foam brush to spread the gel medium evenly, making sure to cover the entire surface of the photo.
Pro tip: Make sure to cover the surface of the image with plenty of medium. If you leave any small area without product, it won’t transfer correctly.
Learn from my mistake the first time I tried this ;).
Placing the Photo on the Board
Next, place the photo face down onto the wood board. Use your fingers or a hard edge to smooth out any wrinkles or bubbles that may have formed.
Removing Air Bubbles
To remove any air bubbles, use a plastic card or a squeegee to gently press down on the photo. I started from the center and worked my way outwards. This helps to push out any air bubbles and ensure that the photo is securely attached to the wood board.
Pro tip: Don’t apply too much pressure! You don’t want to accidently rip the paper.
Drying the Photo on the Board
Once the photo is in place, let it dry completely. This usually takes at least 24 hours, but I like to leave it overnight to ensure that the gel medium has fully cured. After the photo is dry, use a damp cloth to gently rub away the paper, revealing the transferred image on the wood.
Removing the Paper Backing
I carefully peel off the paper backing from the photo transfer, starting at one corner and pulling slowly to avoid tearing the image. If any bits of paper remain, I use a damp cloth to gently rub them away. It’s important to remove all the paper backing before moving on to the next step.
Sanding the Edges
This is optional, but you can use fine-grit sandpaper to sand the edges of the wood block. This gives the photo transfer a more polished look and helps blend it into the wood. Sand in a circular motion, being careful not to sand away too much of the image.
I opted not to do this on my images because some of the ink was already missing.
Applying a Protective Coating
Finally, apply a protective coating to the photo transfer to help preserve it and keep it looking great for years to come. There are several options for coatings, including clear varnish, Mod Podge, and wax.
And that’s it! With these finishing touches, my photo transfer to wood is complete and ready to display.
Ready to see my mod podge photo transfer on wood? Don’t expect perfection!
Now I need to decide what to add around the photos? Should I add more photos? What do you think?
Make sure to watch the full video to see my tips and tricks and my first image to wood transfer FAIL!