Thursday, March 29, 2012

Image transfers in your art journal - a photo-heavy tutorial

This tutorial is one I wrote for the (free and rather fabulous) six month Art Journey workshop over at UKScrappers

It's been up over there in PDF form now for a while, but I thought I probably ought to pop it up on my blog also, for any non UKScrappers members who might be interested....

So here you go :

In this tute we are going to tackle various methods for applying semi transparent imagery to your journal pages – commonly referred to as image transfers

All of these techniques use TONER based images – these come from a laser printer or photo-copier.  They will not work as well (or in some cases at all) with inkjet prints

If you do not have direct access to a laser printer, perhaps you have a partner or friend who works in an office and could run you off some photocopies?  Alternatively many post offices, newsagents, libraries and stationers have photocopiers available for public use for a small fee.

If you can’t get hold of toner based images, some magazine images and patterned scrapbook papers work well with some of the techniques, I even made some Eeyore stickers once for my little one using the packing tape method and some Disney wrapping paper, so go ahead and experiment!

Other materials we will be using are:


Gel medium, any brand, preferably soft bodied and gloss or semi gloss in finish
Clear packing tape or sticky backed plastic
Ordinary nail varnish remover


Method 1 – direct contact gel medium transfer

This involves transferring the image straight onto your page, and it isn’t always 100% reliable – it’s quite likely there may be bits of your image that don’t transfer properly.  I’ll show you a way in a little while to get a much more sturdy gel medium transfer, but this way is a lot quicker, and that distressed look is all the rage anyway :)

The first step is to coat your underlying surface, at least around the spot where the image transfer will be going, with a thin coat of gel medium to waterproof it - you’ll find out why that’s important in a moment….

Here I’m using watercolour paper with a simple spray ink background, as the image I’m going to be transferring is monochrome and quite busy, but you can transfer over pretty much any type of background.
Leave the gel medium to dry (a thin coat will only take a couple of minutes)

Next prepare your toner image – you will note that I have made a mirror image here on the photocopier, as all of this week’s techniques, with the exception of packing tape transfers, will reverse your image, so if your image has writing on it you may want to do the same.

Apply a fairly generous coat of gel medium to the surface of your image – imagine you are lightly buttering a slice of bread – and then while the gel medium is still wet, stick the image face down on top of your page or prepared surface:

Burnish the image down firmly with a bone folder or the back of a spoon.  Although maybe not quite as firmly as I did!  As you can see I ripped a couple of small holes in the paper in my enthusiasm.  But never mind, it all adds to that fashionably distressed look we mentioned earlier ;)

Now leave the whole thing to dry for at least a couple of hours.   Try not to give into temptation and speed matters up with a heat gun, as it can make the gel medium brittle and not adhere quite as thoroughly…

Once you are sure that everything is thoroughly dry, rip the non-stuck edges from around the image and then with a sponge and some warm water, gently wet the back of the paper.  You should see your picture, now the right way round, peeking through.

And now the fun bit!  With your finger, start to rub away at the paper backing.
Be careful not to be too rough with it as you could tear or lift up the image.

While the image is still wet, you might find that it looks finished and fully revealed, until it dries, and then there is still some paper pulp visible like in the photo below:


If this happens, just dampen it again and rub some more.

Eventually, you will have tired fingers, but your transferred image will look fabulous:


And here is the art journal page I turned it into:


Lots of green, white and orange – maybe subliminally the answer to my “where next?” question is Ireland!



Method 2 – membrane gel medium transfer

You’ll have noticed that I wasn’t brave enough to apply my image transfer in the last example directly onto my journal page within the book.  Instead I essentially made my own patterned paper to support the theme of my page.

I like how it turned out, but sometimes you want to integrate your transferred image more fully with the page.

Here is a risk free way to do that – this alternative way of using gel medium in your image transfers is more time consuming, but you generally get a pretty much perfect transfer, and as all the magic happens off page, it’s a lot safer – no risk of messing up that perfect background you have spent hours on….


First take your image – here I am using a colour photocopy, image transfers don’t have to be all in black and white – and apply a thin coat of gel medium all in one direction – the strokes here are all going left to right.

Let this dry completely, and apply another thin coat at right angles to the first – ie up and down.

Continue to apply alternating coats, horizontal strokes and vertical strokes, letting the medium fully dry between coats, until you have around 8 layers of medium on the image.  Leave the whole lot to dry thoroughly.

Next cut the image out roughly and give it a good soak in a shallow plate of warm water.

Once it’s nice and soaked through, it’s time to put your rubbing finger to work again (if it has recovered from the workout you gave it following method 1 :)   )


This time around, trust me, you can be a lot rougher when you are scrubbing off the paper backing than when it was direct onto paper - the membrane that you have created with all those coats of gel medium can really stand up to some abuse.  It’s flexible and a bit stretchy too.

Once all the paper pulp is off, here’s your end result, a floppy, plasticky, membrane with your image embedded in it:

Now all that’s left to do is to stick it to your page (using more gel medium of course, you’ll be needing job lots of the stuff!), and it will really merge into your background, with whatever is underneath – in my case some painted sheet music - showing through clearly:

And here is the final page in my art journal:


(It’s funny, I can say “art journal”, but “artist”?  nope.  That one really sticks in my throat….I wonder why?)


Method 3 – packing tape transfer

If after the last two techniques, you are fed up of peeling gel medium off your fingers, then this next one is for you (although personally I quite like picking it off my fingertips, making it look like my skin is coming off, and grossing out small children with it…..is that just me?  Alrighty then :)  )

For this method, your toner image doesn’t need to be reversed, even if has writing on it, but it does need to be quite small or narrow, as you will be using ordinary packing tape (ie that wide sellotape that people use to wrap up parcels for posting)

I chose this anatomical diagram and resized it to the width of my tape:


The tape in the photo is the absolute BEST for this technique – it is from Staples and it is called “clear view” – it has absolutely no yellow cast to it, like some other clear tapes do.  But any clear packing tape will do the job.

Stick a length of the tape over your image, and burnish it down firmly with a bone folder or the back of a spoon (you’ll have to excuse my fingernails in this picture, they are almost as paint encrusted as my table!)


Next up, yup, it’s the soak and rub again:

You’ll find though that it’s a lot easier to get the paper pulp off the packing tape than it was from the gel medium, so your finger shouldn’t get too tired with this one.

And that’s pretty much it – here’s the resulting “sticker” (the tape usually retains its stickiness even after soaking in water) hung up on my laptop screen so that you can see how see-through it goes:


NB If you have a larger image, that won’t fit onto the packing tape, you can use clear sticky backed plastic as an alternative.  I have found that some brands work better than others though, whereas pretty much any make of packing tape does the job.  Feel free to experiment. 

And here is the page I made with the transferred image.  It was supposed to be all worthy and about us all being brothers and sisters under the skin and all that….. but as I was preparing the transfer all I could think about was Robbie Williams’ Rock DJ video :)  So I got a bit sidetracked :)


Close up in better light:



Method 4 – nail varnish remover transfer

I’ve saved by far the easiest (and cheapest, assuming you already have a bottle of nail varnish remover knocking around the house somewhere) image transfer technique for last.

And you’ll be glad to hear, that with this one your paper rubbing finger finally gets a break!

Transfers from this method are less crisp than via the other techniques already covered, but that can work to your advantage when you want something more dreamy / ethereal looking , or you don’t want the image to be too prominent.

In this example, I wanted to use this cool contour image on a journal page about my favourite outdoor activity, geocaching:

But I didn’t want it to dominate my background.

One thing to be aware of with this technique is that you need to be mindful of what you are transferring onto.  For example, this is NOT a good method to use over acrylic paints, as acrylics are formulated very similarly to nail varnish, so the nail varnish remover does a very good job of dissolving them!  But it works great onto patterned papers, watercolour paints (dried) and fabric.  If you are unsure whether it will work onto a particular type of background, do a little test and see, the results are pretty much instant.

I’m using a simple background of pre-printed scrapbook paper with a green watercolour wash over the top.

Lay your photocopy over the top of your page, and, concentrating on a small section of the image at a time, wet the back of the paper with a small amount of nail varnish remover using a sponge or cotton wool ball (ie. don’t pour a load on):


The underlying image will become visible – quickly burnish it firmly with a bone folder or the back of a spoon.  I say quickly, because as you will find, the liquid will evaporate in less than a minute returning the paper to its original white state.  When you can’t see the image any more, then the transfer is finished.

When you have transferred all your image, bit by bit, lift off the photocopy and you should have a result similar to this:

The transfer is permanent once it has dried, so you can use wet media such as paints or sprays over the top without fear of smudging it.

(NB as an alternative to using nail varnish remover, you can purchase a xylene based blender pen – brand name Chartpak – which is brilliant for this type of transfer.  It gives a slightly crisper and more reliable image than the varnish remover.  Available from art supply stores or online)



And here is my finished journal page using the transferred background:


You can see the transfer just well enough for it to support the overall theme, and also give a nod to the “it’s not about the numbers” sentiment – but it doesn’t overpower the background as it may have done if it was darker.



This brings this image transfer tutorial to an end – I do hope that you will give it a go

I know a lot of people are put off from using image transfers in their journals because they think they look too fiddly, or because they have tried them in the past without much joy.  There are lots of conflicting instructions out there in blogland and beyond, some of which seem to work, others not so much.  But the four techniques I’ve shared with you here are ones that I consistently get good results from, so hopefully they will work for you too!

11 comments:

Carol Q said...

fabulous article and your finished samples look really good. i particularly like the way your brushes merge with the background - lovely translucent effect.

Virginia said...

Wow Sarah - this is an awesome post with soooooooooo much information contained therein, I've tried a couple of the methods previously but some are brand new to me - now if only I was off for the day I could sit and play!

Marit said...

Oh my goodness... I do a lot of transfering myself but I didn't know about the nail varnish remover method... how cool!!! I love your pages and YES, you can call yourself an ARTIST!!!

Sam said...

Excellent tutorial Sarah! I have played with image transfers before but never really got good results. I can see myself refering back to this post again and again...thank you x

fatmonica said...

Brilliant tutorial!I can never get these to work so I'll be back for a closer look and a go!

Carmen said...

Love this tutorial! I'm saving this link to have a play. I haven't properly tried image transfers because it does seem so faffy but I will now. Love that paint brush image.

BTW I can't use the A word either. I jokingly call myself an artiste sometimes but I don't ever say it seriously, I don't know why.

LindaS said...

TFS a great, easy and very useful tutorial. I am especially happy for the photos because the support my english. Thanks

Hanlie Wentzel said...

Wow!! Well done! Best on Image transfer yet:) Thank you xxx

Angelene Flowers said...

Thanks so much! Great tutorial! I appreciate it very much. :)

ellen Donnelly said...

Thankyou Sarah for your image transfer instruction; I'm on the brink of 'giving it ago'! I am making cards and tags and (soon) reinventing book covers - the local library had a sale of children's books, so they are a good size. Your instructions were very clear and encouraging. I think image transfer has much more diversity than using just stamps and of course is infinitely cheaper! Thankyou again. Just out of interest, I live in New Zealand! Ellen

Ivi Malka said...

Thanks for sharing !!! Such a great tutorial