Photo to Wood Transfer Art

A few weeks ago I was hunting for a project. Just a little something to do to scratch that crafty itch I get. I used to not have this problem. I had loads of time for crafting, sewing, knitting and such but lately my creative energies have turned towards writing and my poor sewing machine sits unused for weeks on end.
If you'll remember, I shared a picture from a recent anniversary getaway Mike and I took. I wanted a little memory of that weekend somewhere in the house and decided this craft project would be perfect. I had seen this project floating around here and there and wanted to give it a try. This video was helpful.
The supplies are fairly cheap. Only pennies, really, until you have to buy the gel medium. But even that is manageable because you'll use it for other projects down the road.

Here's the directions in their simplest form: a cheap photocopy of a picture, adhered to a wooden board using gel medium, rub off all the paper so you’re left with just the image and apply a quick coat of varnish. Easy peasy.

**Click below for full instructions plus step by step photos

Photo-to-wood transfers

wood ( I used a 5 by 7 scrap piece of really thin plywood with a smooth top)
gel medium
paintbrush ( I used a wide foam brush)
laser photo, printed on cheap copy paper ( I did this at Kinkos. $.10)
varnish (I used Mod Podge)

1. Prep your wood by sanding off any rough edges.
2. When getting your image ready for printing, make sure you #1 use a laser printer, #2 use cheap paper. The thicker the paper, the more elbow grease you are going to need. #3 you must mirror the image (use the reverse of it) so when you transfer it to the wood, the words or image aren't reversed. Make sense?

3. Once you have the image you want and printed, trim all excess borders.
4. Now the fun part. Using gel medium and a foam brush, paint a nice coat of gel medium directly onto the photocopy image. Once you have a nice layer, flip it face down onto the wood, centering it where you want the image to appear.

5. Using a credit card (or something of that sort), drag it across the back side of the image several times to push out any extra gel medium. You want a completely flat contact between the paper and wood. No bubbles or gloppy glue.

6. Let the gel medium dry. This works much faster on a sunny day. About 15-30 minutes in the sun should do the trick. If you are indoors, I'm not sure how long it will take. Just monitor its progress from time to time.
7. Now the messy (fun) part. Removing the paper. I used an old IKEA washcloth and a bowl full of cool water to do the job. With a soaking wet washcloth, lay it over the paper and let the paper soak in all that moisture until the paper softens. Removing the paper will take time. Give yourself the afternoon~little spurts of time, here and there~ to get it done.

8. Once the paper is softened, use your fingertips to start rubbing off the first layer of paper. Don't rub too hard or else you'll start taking off the ink that has transferred to the wood. Rubbing lightly, just start rolling off the tiny balls of paper.

9. Once you think you have that first layer removed, go stick it in the sun again or let it sit on the counter to dry. You will come back, minutes later, to an almost completely white image again. Bummer. Time to get to work again. Repeat step 8 again and again and again. Probably 3-4 times in all. Finally you will get to the point that when the wood dries, there won't be a layer of white anymore. 

10. I used the credit card I had sitting nearby to scratch a bit of distressing to the image. When I had it the way I liked it, I coated the wood with 2 coats of Mod Podge and voila! Il a été fait.

This project could make really cool wedding decor, a great gift idea or as we have done, just a little memory trigger around our home. Enjoy!


  1. cool, simple idea. i'm trying this!

  2. I've done this before with regular tempra too. Saw it on CBCs Art Zooka. Awesome art ideasusing recyclables there.

  3. fun!! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. That's a neat project!

  5. where do I buy the medium gel?

  6. I bought mine at Michael's. You should be able to find it at most craft stores.

  7. i bought glossy gel medium, do you think that it will still work?

  8. Caroline~ It will definitely work. Your finished project will just have a glossy look as opposed to matte. If you want the latter you could probably exchange it where you bought it. Let me know how it turns out! :)

  9. It turned out great! Unfortunately, I must not have put enough gel medium on the sides because, as the layers came off, the paper started to rip - it looked like my sister's arm was amputated in the picture! Haha!

  10. Super excited to try this! Planned on giving out pictures of my first ultrasound to tell my hubby's family about the little one on the way. This would make it so much cooler!

  11. will floating gel medium do the same thing???

  12. I wish I knew that answer Krystie! I would ask someone at your local craft or art store. Let me know how it goes!

  13. i asked the lady at my hobby lobby and she said how should i know its ur project and walked away
    but i bought it anyway, my edges keep curling up and i dont think its going to work. im heading to micheals tomorrow if it dont work by morning!

  14. Wow! Nothing like some good customer service. Sheesh! You should be able to return it (even if you've opened it.) Its worth asking. Yes, Michaels will have what you need.
    Keep me posted!

  15. I have attempted this project several times with no luck... The photo ink isn't transferring and us coming off in the rubbing process... I made sure I'm using a laser printer but I'm not using a whole lot of gel medium I think I'm being stingy do I need a generous layer

  16. hi i am gonna attempt this soon i have the materials just havnet decided on a photo yet :( so i have a couple questions before i try this. does it matter which mod podge u use? the kind i bought is gloss with the orange label, will that work? the gel mediun i bought ( took me forever and asking 3 people that work at hobby lobby for help to find) is liqutex matte super heavy gel. will that work? any extra advice will be greatly appreciated. thanks in advance

  17. I bought matte medium will that work the same?

  18. I've seen other sites say to leave it dry for 8-10 hours- I do like your timeline MUCH better, as Christmas is closing in. Why such a discrepancy? Also, has anyone tried spaying the wood with a poly spray as a finisher?

  19. You can print directly on the wood, making the image look much more vibrant and in full color or black and white.

    You can make them online too, like this:

    I have 2 from there and they look beautiful.

  20. Hi! I love this idea! I am going to be building an entryway bench and would love to use this idea to put photos of our kids on the top. Do you think this method would work for the sustainability of the photos in such a high-traffic area? Thank you!