How to Transfer a Photograph Onto Wood: Easy DIY Tutorial

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Ever since catching a few photo transfer craft projects online, it’s been on my to do list.  I love natural materials so I focused on transfers to wood blocks. In the spirit of discovery for photography month here at 4 Mothers, I’ve just my first batch delighted to report that I think this is a keeper!  It’s easy (easy enough to do with patient children), takes few materials (fewer than I saw listed in other online tutorials), and makes a memorable and inexpensive keepsake or gift. You do know that Father’s Day is around the corner, right?

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What you’ll need:

– a block of unfinished wood (from the dollar store, or scrap from the hardware store)

– a photograph printed from a laser printer onto regular copy paper (note: the photo will end up being a mirror image unless you flip it on your computer before you print it.)

– Mod Podge or gel medium

– a sponge brush (or paint brush, which I used)

That’s it!  I went to the art store because I couldn’t find my jar of Mod Podge, and was all ready to buy that and a gel medium. The beautiful thing about art and craft stores is that the people there actually practice these things, and the young salesperson told me that Mod Podge and gel medium basically do the same thing. This fellow earned instant credibility as he had done transferred lots of photos in his time, including onto wood. Loved walking out of the store with just one product and more cash in my wallet.

What You’ll Do

1.  Cut the printed photograph to fit the wood to your liking.

2.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the picture side of the printed photograph.  Be gentle here, especially if using a paintbrush rather than a sponge brush. I thought I was but my brush took off a corner of the picture.

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3.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the wood’s surface where you want the photo displayed.

4.  Place the photograph picture side down onto the Mod Podged wood, so that the two Mod Podged surfaces meet.

5.  Smooth out the photograph with a flat sided tool (I used my rewards card from the art store, naturally).

6.  Let dry completely (2 to 3 hours).  (The art guy dries his for 24 hours “to be safe” but I like to walk wild, and just a few hours worked out over here.)

7.  Cover photo paper with a wet rag for a few minutes.

8.  Rub the white of the paper off the wooden block.  You’ll do this with a rag or your fingers by gently massaging the paper in different directions. The key word here is gentle; if you’re even a bit rigorous, you will rub the photograph off too and expose the wood underneath.  The goal is to remove the white surface of the paper while leaving the printed surface intact.  I think a bit of exposure of the wood is okay since the overall look is pretty rustic (I left mine alone), but you could also fill in the spaces with a grey marker as needed.

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You’ll probably need to repeat steps 7 and 8, going through the rubbing process more than once.  I thought I was done the first time and was surprised at how cloudy the photo was after it dried, so I had to get back to it.  Do it as many times as you need to until you’re satisfied with the image.

9. Once you’re finished removing all the white paper and the photo is dry, apply a layer or two of Mod Podge to the surface to seal the deal.  (It’s a sealant as well as a glue.)

That’s it!  This is one of those rare craft tutorials that is actually easier than it looks.  Hands on time was much less than an hour, and it’s pretty satisfying work. My son watched with pleasure as I transferred a photo of his first sleepover – this would be an easy sell for crafting with patient kids, and I think it would make a lovely gift from a child to anyone.

You can use any type of wood you like, as long as it’s unfinished so the photograph will stick (some people use sandpaper for extra grit; I didn’t need it), but I used a nice thick block that can easily stand up on its own.

Finally, the glory of this DIY project is that it’s both fun and forgiving. The goal of paper on wood is not to reflect perfection (for the birds, as they say) but beauty, through the people and images you find it in.

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