Transfer Image Canvases

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

After an Instagram pic of the progress made in our play room, there was some interest in seeing a new tutorial on making transfer image canvases. I know transfer canvases are like so two years ago but you guys seem to love them still and since I was making a few new ones anyway, the post just came together.

Just to be clear, I still LOVE transfer image canvases. But what’s not to love? They are handmade, large scale photos of my choosing, done for very little money and the outcome is beautiful. I can make new ones any time I want and I can recycle ones that I’m not so in love with anymore. Plus I love the people in the photos and I like to see their faces on my walls.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

This is my favorite view in the house right now.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

This tutorial is one of the longest I’ve written in a while. You guys are making me work! :)

Supplies

-gel medium – Golden Gel Medium in Regular Gel (Gloss or Matte)
-a canvas – white is best as it gives the colors of the image the best bright base
-high resolution, toner-printed image/photo
-foam brush
-spray bottle filled with water
-cotton rag – I use an old washcloth for the texture

Gel Medium:

I’ve used both the gloss and matte versions of the Golden Gel Mediums with the same result. I do not know if other gel mediums work because I’ve stuck with the Golden brand. The medium also works to coat and protect the transfer when its finished.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

Image/Photo

As I said in the last installment, the quality of the image or photo is the make or break of the project. If the photo is no good, the transferred image will be no good. :) As you can see with this new crop of canvases, both full color and black and white images work, as would sepia and any other form of photo treatment. A few more things to keep in mind:

-Make sure your image or photo is high resolution. This means the file is rather large and has lots of pixels. High resolution means a clearer picture and a clearer picture means a clear transfer. If a favorite pic doesn’t look good in a big size, try scaling it down for a smaller canvas.

-Reverse the image, especially images that include text. Programs like Photoshop or Corel will do that.

-Size the image to the canvas you intend for it to go on. Canvases and copy prints aren’t usually the same size. You can either adjust it to fit perfectly or allow some of the image to hang off like I did. For the 11×14 canvas, I used a 11×17 print. I did specifically ask them to blow the image up as large as it could go on the print so it would work.

-Make sure the image or photo is printed on 20lb paper. It has to be the 20lb paper. If the paper is any thicker, the transfer won’t happen.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

How to transfer

First, spread an even layer of gel medium on the surface of the canvas with a foam brush. I left the shot below in contrast to show what mine looked like. The layer is as even as I could get it and had just enough to coat the surface of the canvas. Make sure it’s all covered. If there are any bare spots, the image won’t transfer. Also, if there are any blobs or puddles of medium, it will transfer badly too.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

Lightly spritz the printed side of the image and then lay it face down on the prepped surface, making sure to align the print to the canvas edges. Then, beginning in the middle, gently press the image down, smoothing it out with your fingers. I have found my fingers work best but you can use a brayer or straight edge to help smooth it out. Be wary of ripping the damp paper however. As the paper dampens further, more wrinkles and bubbles can appear. Just keep watching and smoothing. More than likely, it won’t be perfect but that’s okay. It’s really only the deep wrinkles and big bubbles that are troublesome. Let the paper and canvas dry completely. Overnight is a good length of time.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

When it’s dry, grab the spray bottle and wet the paper surface until you can see you image. Begin to carefully remove the paper. The first sweep usually includes large pieces, like the extra that is hanging over the edges and such. Be careful! If you rush or try to do it too quickly, parts of the image can pull away with the paper.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

After the larger pieces are gone, begin rubbing. The wet paper will ball up and peel away. I use both my fingers and a damp rag to remove the paper. The rag has some texture my fingers don’t and really helps remove the paper. This is my canvas after one pass.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

When you’ve removed as much as you can on the first try, let it dry a little. As it dries, the white paper will be more visible, letting you know where you need to work. It’s tedious, yes. But the outcome is worth it. Below, the right side is dry while the left side is wet again so I can work.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

Repeat the process until you are satisfied. I did between 2-4 passes on my canvases. It’s never going to be absolutely clear but that’s okay. There may be spots or bits of the image that pull away and leave white spots. That’s okay, too. It makes the canvas interesting. If you have large or badly located white spots, permanent markers or paint can be applied to fill in or cover it up.

When it looks just as perfect as it can, top it with a clear coat. The gel medium works, as will Modge Podge.

Still bothered by the little bits of paper that won’t come off? I have a trick for that:

Before the final coat, spray the canvas again. Use a towel to wipe away the excess water leaving the canvas damp. The white paper is invisible when the paper is damp. It shouldn’t be dripping or soaking wet, just damp enough that the paper is not visible. Finally, apply the clear coat and the paper bits will stay invisible.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

And that’s all I know. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I would love to help if I can.

A whole grouping of canvases can be done for so little and the look is amazing.

Transfer Image Canvas | this heart of mine

Have a wonderful, extended weekend and see you back here next week.

Take care.

About Amy Christie

Amy is a wife, mother of two and a maker. Making is her thing whether it is food, DIYs or photos of her children. Follow Amy on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Twitter, and through her once-a-month newsletter to keep up with the latest from this heart of mine.

55 thoughts on “Transfer Image Canvases

  1. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing! I’m curious where you get your images printed? Is
    There a special way to order so that this works the best? Thank you!

      1. I know you said 20lb. paper but what kind? Are they printing the images on “photo” paper or is it more like copy paper?

        It just seems like some photo papers are kinda beefy and would be slow to break down in water, (but might be easier to simply peel the paper off in one pull).

  2. hi, love this and am going to share it with my ever increasing young family of cousins.
    you mentioned recycling – do you just repeat the process right over the existing image or do you have a technique for removing the old image?
    tia, judy

    1. For recycling a canvas, I use sandpaper to scuff and roughen up the surface so a new layer of white paint will stick. When the surface is completely covered with white paint and the paint is completely dried, you follow the steps as listed starting with coating the dried paint layer in the gel medium. Have fun!!

      1. Does it matter if the white paint is water soluble? I’m hoping to recover some previously painted canvasses, just wondering which type of paint to get.

  3. I’ve been trying out this technique for a few weeks now and it doesn’t seem to be working for me. Some blogs say only use inkjet printers – others say only laser printers. What do you use? I DO use the 20 lb paper and the gel medium. However after I let it dry over night and wet it to peel away – even after rubbing lightly, the entire paper comes off (ink and all) and nothing is transferred into the canvas for some strange reason. Like it never soaked in?? Any advice?

    1. I’ve made plenty of transfers and get them laser copied. I have even transferred them onto fabric and made quilts!

  4. Hey, I have a brithday coming up for my “big brother” and I have this dragon picture thats a coloring page but if I did this (paste it on a canvas) would I be able to paint over it so that it’s colored but with paint… would it work or make it horroble looking?
    Thanks.

  5. Amy,

    Hi!

    I’ve been trying to make canvas for my friends as fits forever. I have two of my best friends weddings that I would love make canvases for. Where can I get an oversize print that I know will work??! Please let me know! Also, does any company print on the actual canvas paper?

    Thanks!!

    1. You can definitely order images printed on canvas and then mounted on the frame. Lots of groups do that. If you want to make these transfer image canvases, follow the directions above: reverse your full sized image and then get it printed on 20lb paper, either in color or B&W. The copy needs to be as big or bigger than the canvas you are wanting to use. After that, follow the directions for the rest and you will have success! Good luck!

    2. If you are looking for a quality canvas prints ( not a polyester one) you can use canvascreationstudio.com. I know they have custom sizes..

  6. Hi, I’ve been trying to do the canvas transfer and as Denise above mentioned I also I have the same problem. The image doesn’t transfer correctly and the paper tears up as I rub it gently. I let it dry over night and gently part it with a damp sponge. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Please help.

  7. I want to make a collage can you place more than one picture on the canvas? I was thinking of putting one on and doing it then when it is done puting the next one on will it work?

    1. Hi Amy! I love this project! I would like to work on this as soon as possible but I have a question before I can start. Do I need to use a laser ink jet printer to get the best results or can I use a regular ink cartridge printer? I don’t have a laser printer and don’t want to take my photo to a public printer. Please help! :)

      1. Hello Monique! In order for the image to transfer, it needs to be printed with toner. An ink jet printer uses ink which will NOT transfer. A laser printer uses toner so that is the way to go. If you don’t have a laser printer, I think a print shop might be the only way to go (copy machines use toner too). Sorry. Good luck!!

        1. Thank you so much for clarifying this question for me! It’s such a great project which I’m so excited to try and since being a newbie I wanted to make sure I understand the difference in inks before I started. Again, thank you! :)

          1. For all the people wondering about inkjet vs laser printer: I used my inkjet printer and it works, but because the colors are created by the inkjet using combinations of red, blue, yellow, the transfers end up coming out with a twinge of pink or green tones to them. Even though they look normal on paper, I think the gel medium causes some color separation during the transfer. Even black and whites come out with slight coloration. I liked it just fine this time but for some projects when I’ll want the true colors of my original, I’ll have to go to a store for prints.

  8. Do you think a poster would work for this? I’m trying to make a wall hanging of wolves and can’t seem to find any that I like within my price range.

    1. Depends on what you mean by poster. If you mean finding a poster image you like, getting it printed on 20lb paper and then proceeding through the steps as written, then yes, that would work. Trying to get a poster image to transfer will not work. If I’m totally off on the direction you were thinking, shoot me more questions and I’ll try to help!

  9. Why am I doing wrong the pictures are not transferring to that canvas? First I cover the canvas with the gel medium, then I put the photo face Down, next I make sure there is no bubbles, then I let it dry overnight, then I wet the canvas and start rubbing and my image is no transferring at all

    1. You have to get your photo laser copied. I go to Staples and even Office Depot to get them done. It costs less than $3 to get it done.

  10. The paper, you said should be 20lbs, is that all purpose or photo paper? I am going to try this this weekend. It looks like fun and if I can make it work, what a wonderful gift for Christmas or for someone’s birthday. Thank You for sharing your ideas.

    Christine

  11. Love it and it works good for me!! I make one yesterday the only problem is that I put to much gel ; ( the 2nd will be look much better. Thank you Amy!

  12. Hi
    Thank you for showing us how to transfer a print to a canvas. I followed your instructions but my canvas looks dull, I have not put a final coat on the canvas yet and was wondering if this is why my canvas print looks dull.
    I wanted to check if I should be putting on another coat of Gel Medium and letting it dry and then leave it as it when it’s dry or do I need to peel or scrub away the gel again? Am unsure about the clear coat stage?
    Thanks in advance for your advice.
    Sukey

  13. I read a few of these post…some people just spread mod podge on the canvas, then lay the picture (photo side up) on the mod podge and when it dries lay some mod podge on the photo..cant it just be done like that?

    1. Hey Ray – the method you are describing does work it’s not a photo transfer but a simple photo mounting process. I’ve done it with prints and posters and loved the result. If that works for you, go for it!

  14. I used 20 lb paper and did as you said but the paper won’t come off at all. I’ve wet it and tried everything and it won’t come off. I used Golden medium gel polymer. Was that wrong?

  15. Hello. I would like to know what type of clear coat that I may use to cover the white paper that left behind?thank youuu !! ^^

  16. How can I avoid holes and get all the paper off? Is it because my surface is not porous enough? I did get enough paper off parts enough to see the image using more than 20 lb. paper. Then sand my butt off and that is working. Now I’m using thinner paper and am scared to peal without more research.
    Help!

  17. Hello, I would like to know did you have to order somewhere online to have a photo enlarged. I have a 16×20 and 14×18 and walgreens doesn’t print those photos on reg paper, but poster boards they do, of course I don’t want that.

    1. Hey Ahmad – I didn’t have to order anything enlarged online because I was able to cover my canvases with an 11×17 print from my local copy store. I have not tried a print larger than 11×17 but have thought about doing it and here’s how I thought I might accomplish it – divide the image up into quarters (or however many parts necessary), cut off borders and then tape the image together to create the one larger image. From there, proceed through the transfer steps as listed. Now as I write this, I just might have to try it and post about it! :)

  18. I tried this and like a typical newbie rubbed way too hard and most of the picture came off. Is there anyway of taking the whole picture off the canvas?

  19. Hi Amy, your transfers look wonderful! I am about to attempt my first one and wanted to ask you what are your thoughts on putting a few coats of white acrylic paint on canvas prior to transferring the image? I think it might give it some nice texture, but wonder if the gel medium will work. Thank you!

  20. So I tried this on a colored canvas. And the pictures ended up looking really dull. The background of the canvas is dark gray and so the pictures blended into that color oddly. They looked fine and bright when I first wiped off the white paper. But now dull and dark . Is there a way to bring out the color Vibrance from the pictures? Please help me out. Thanks!

    1. The canvas needs to be white. I just added that bit of information in. White is the best (and really only) option. The white gives the color of the image a bright base. The color of your canvas is preventing the colors of the image from showing. Sorry!! Hopefully you’ll try again, this time with white canvas.

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