Transfer Photo Images to Wood Using Your Inkjet Printer
The plywood coasters pictured on the left are part of my recent discovery that you can take any digital image and transfer it to plywood, solid wood, wood veneers or unfinished furniture. It's fun, fast and cheap. I've made mouse pads, lap desks, flooring and even wall tiles using this technique.
The result is a fantastic alternative to stencilling or staining and you can even use your computer to create watercolour effects in your photos, or do other freaky stuff to the images. If you're into carving wood you can also use this technique to transfer your pattern directly onto the wood surface.
Start with a package of T-shirt transfer paper, available at office supply places. Print your favourite photos onto the paper. Use the 'Mirror Image' setting to reverse the printed image so that the ironed-on image won't be backwards.
Cut a blank from plywood (TIP: Use Baltic Birch plywood - it's the nicest and you can buy it in small 2'x2' sheets at the Home Depot). Clamp a straight edge (like a carpenter's square or another piece of lumber) so the saw cuts a straight line. If you don't like power tools, you can easily cut Baltic Birch with a handsaw, or cut curvy shapes with a jigsaw.
Sand the surface of the wood. The smoother it is, the better it will accept the transfer. If you sand starting with 100-grit and move up gradually to 180 or 220 grit sandpaper, you'll have a really nice transfer surface. On the other hand, if you want a more antique, flaking look, leave the surface of the wood unsanded.
The iron has to be used dry (no steam!) on a fairly high setting to get the plastic film on the transfer paper to release. Press down and move the iron over the image for about 2 minutes. change directions and maintain steady pressure, making sure to evenly heat the entire surface of the paper.
Test a corner of the heated transfer sheet after about two minutes to see if it lifts easily. If not, apply heat slowly and evenly to the edge. Then peel away slowly, keeping the iron on the rest of the paper to maintain the heat.
If you are placing several images side by side like I did when I made my office chair mat, you'll end up with some space between 'seams'. You can patch seams and bald areas by cutting a similarly-shaped scrap from unused images, and applying it to the naked spot.
Now the bald spot is gone. If you have the opposite problem - dark overlapping seams - you can apply a similar solution. Place parchment paper over the seam and place the iron on the seam for about 30 seconds. This will heat up the seam. Then use the tip of your iron through the parchment paper to nudge/melt the seams together.
This is the chair mat. I took photos of the rug that's already in the office and transferred them to the mat. Now I have a nice chair mat that doesn't scream plywood. (The reason I need a wooden chair mat instead of a plastic see-through one, is that the floor is so un-level that I have to shim the mat up about an inch and a half on one side so I can be sitting on a horizontal surface. You can't shim a plastic mat.)
This is how the chair mat looks under the desk I made from bamboo plywood.
Have fun with your photo transfer projects and send me photos if you do some cool stuff.