Homemade wall art (i.e. DIY Photo Transfer Onto Wood)


There’s a pretty simple-sounding project that Google will generate 234830528343 How-To results for, and that’s superimposing images onto wood.

The process is fairly straightforward (You can check out pages like Photojojo‘s or Wholly Kao‘s  for full, more fleshed-out instructionals):

  1. Print the reverse of an image on a LaserJet (NOT Inkjet — ink will more often than not bleed) printer.
  2. Brush on matte acrylic gel medium — more is better than less, but a thin layer should do.
  3. Firmly adhere onto a slab of wood, making sure to get rid of all the air bubbles trapped therein — use fingers, a credit card or a brayer.
  4. Dry overnight.
  5. Wet the paper.
  6. Rub off the fibers with your fingers — gently.
  7. (Some people like the “vintage” look yada yada. If you do, sand it.)
  8. Seal everything with a sealant of your choice, be it the same gel medium or Mod Podge (I used glossy Mod Podge).

Here’s what (most) How-Tos don’t tell you about photo-to-wood transfers:

  1. Don’t expect to be able to rub all the paper off: You’ll inevitably be left with a good amount of paper fiber fluff on your piece. (That said, your Mod Podge/gel medium sealant should help reduce the visibility thereof.
  2. Don’t use small, detailed images: …unless you’re going for the ruined-art look. Any more sizeable chunks that happen to rub off (and they will) smack in the middle of the image will look just awful — and not in that “artistic license” “faux-vintage” way.
  3. Don’t use images with all-over color: Same reason as above. 
  4. If you have big areas of near-white hue — be it blue, green, or what have you — remove it beforehand: It’ll show up as a weird tinge on your wood and won’t look pretty. On that note, larger areas of color seem to work better for this project (especially since it’s the ink that the gel medium is adhering to, duh!)
  5. Did you know that some gel mediums are toxic?!: (Sorry, I’m really paranoid about toxic things.) Thankfully, Liquitex Acrylic Gel Medium, which I used, is labeled as non-toxic.
  6. If you mess up once, give up: …on that particular slab of wood. I tried sanding down my block of wood to from scratch. Scratch, my ass. The image refused to stick to the wood, no matter what I tried. (Admittedly, this might just be my own incompetence at sanding. An even sand should produce the surface you need.)

“Simple” notwithstanding, it took me several tries to get this right. Part of the problem was probably that I was using tiny 5 X 3.5 wooden slabs that I had cut from a wine crate and sanded myself. Here also are the images I used, clear violations of #2 above.:

by Anna Noelle Rockwellby Ramie Nunallyby Cheri Greer

Here’s a quick rundown of my efforts:

I had fairly decent success with the first, a custom piece by Anna Noelle Rockwell (check out her Etsy listing for more info). The only issue is that the entire background was grey — light enough not to warrant initial concern, but dark enough that my wood slab looked as if it were covered in a film of grimy dust. Not optimal, especially given that I’d left a border of plain wood around the image. I ended up having to scrape away all the plain background bits with an X-ACTO knife, a fairly time-consuming process in and of itself.

I also had mild success with the second, called Ikebana, by Ramie Nunally, except that any small chunks that rubbed off created gaping white spots amid all the brilliant orange of the backdrop and not in that “intentionally damaged” (a.k.a. “vintage”) way either. I sadly sanded off the entire image and started over again, only to incur the same problem, at which point I contented myself with filling in the spot with orange color pencil (which rubbed off during sealing) and leaving it at that.

Finally, the third piece.

I thought the birch trees (by Cheri Greer) would share my sense of poetic justice, wherein the fiascos of the first two attempts at photo transfers — not to mention the act of transferring a wood onto, well, wood — would (unintended pun) result in a much easier experience.


I will say that with all the vibrant colors and simple lines of the art, not to mention the negative spaces showing clearly the bare wood underneath, the parts that adhered looked absolutely lovely.


As a whole, the damn piece of paper absolutely refused to stick to the slab of wood whatsoever. Twice, I tried to make it work. No dice.

This is what I ended up with, the second attempt turning out significantly worse than the first:

Birch Fail

So I gave up (for now).

But I’m happy to say that the two horses are more or less presentable and worthy of display:


P.S. I realized after everything that I’d forgotten to think about how I was going to hang the two wood slabs. Came up with a quick solution: soda can tabs!


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