How To: Canvas Photo Transfer

Back in my old scrapbooking days, I used a gel medium to transfer photos onto paper, giving the page a unique look.  Nowadays, photo transfers are common onto glass, wood and canvas.  Pinterest is full of how-to's that make this look like the easiest thing in the world.  Word of's not quite that easy.  The process is easy, however, getting the look you desire is not.

What I like about this type of photo canvas is that they are perfectly imperfect and they look more artsy.  I decided to give it a go, using the same process as the transfer onto paper.  They take little time {although you'll need to leave drying time}, and you'll want to find your patience pants.....this will require a bit more than is needed in a typical day.

You Will Need:

  • a stretched canvas {size depends on the size of your photos - I used 8x10 photos and same size canvas}
  • gel medium {I used one by Liquitex} - they come in matte or glossy, I chose matte
  • foam brush or paint brush
  • photos printed from computer
  • spray bottle of water
Let's first discuss the photos.  I used photos I printed in black and white on my inkjet printer.  The photos must be on regular, inexpensive, copy paper - not photo paper.  An alternative, particularly if you'd like larger sizes, is to have a copy center, such as Staples, print off a photo on their laser printer.  They can print any number of sizes.  You cannot use typical enlarged photos because the backing on photo paper will not allow the transfer and release to happen.  If there are words on your photo, print them backwards as the entire image will transfer backward onto the canvas.

Canvas - can be any type of stretched canvas you find at your local craft supply store.  I find them to be on sale often and pick up a few at that time.

I use foam brushes most often for this type of project but you can certainly use a regular paint brush if you're more comfortable with that.

Regarding the gel medium, it really needs to be gel medium to work consistently.  You will read around the web of others who have had success with other products, such as Modge Podge.  I tried this and it worked for me, but I ended up with much more worn spots then with the gel medium.  It was a bit more difficult to get the paper removed.  Gel medium is also found at local craft supply stores {mine cost $13.00 - bring a coupon}, in the artistic paint section.

Making The Photo Canvas:

1. Using a heavy coat, completely cover the canvas with gel medium.  Use your foam or paint brush to brush it evenly.

2. Spray the print side of the photo, lightly, with water.

3. Take your photo and carefully lay it face down on the canvas, on top of the gel medium.  Make sure to adjust it prior to pressing the photo into the medium.  Using your fingers, press it evenly and gently to remove all air bubbles and to help the photo seal.  Let this dry several hours or overnight.  So far it's easy, right??

4. Once the photo/medium is dry, using the spray bottle of water, wet the paper evenly.  Carefully begin rubbing off the photo paper.  Your first bit of paper will come off like a breeze.  Your confidence will suddenly become high and you'll wonder what in the world I was talking about when warning you.  But alas, you still have more paper on the photo to remove and this time, it gets a little tricky.  This is where you need to pull up your patience pants.....

I found letting the photo dry for a couple of minutes prior to wetting it again allowed me to see exactly where I still had paper.  I also found that rubbing my fingers in a circular motion {lightly!} was the easiest way to remove the remaining paper.  Carefully and patiently, wet and rub until all the paper has been removed.

5.  You will want to allow your canvas to dry and then apply a topcoat to preserve it.  You can either apply a topcoat of the gel medium, over your now finished canvas, or a spray on clear sealer.  Allow to sit until dry.

6. Pat yourself on the back for hanging in there and not giving up - pick up anything you've thrown in frustration and celebrate with a beer, glass of wine, or whatever makes you happy.  You deserve it!  Hang it up and admire it!

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Tami said...

That is SO cool. I like the canvas look too.

I just might have to give this a shot and I'm not a "crafty" person. Thanks for sharing.

Gardeningbren said...

I used to do this type of thing years ago but never on canvas. You have inspired me to try again. So quick question..when you place the damp photo face down on the canvas..the medium is not is moist as well?

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Tami - good for you. This will make you look and feel crafty! :)

Brenda - correct - the gel medium should still be moist when the damp photo is placed on it. You want them to dry together. You don't have to mist the photo, but I found it helps transfer more of the photo.

Our Neck of the Woods said...

How neat! It does seem a little bit complicated but definitely worth the effort. I've always wondered how to do something like this!

Mary Woollard said...

This looks so cool! I'm definitely going to try this! I'm not sure if I have any patience pants for the second part of taking off the paper, but I'll try, haha!

daisy said...

That seems like a great way to add your own photography to your home. I will have to pin this on my craft board. Thanks for the lesson!

luckybunny said...

I've been really wanting to try this. Thanks so much for sharing. This is going on my project list!

Anonymous said...

Very cool. I do not know if I have enough creativity to try this though. I love your comment that you'll need you patience pants....too funny!

Thanks for sharing!

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Carol J. Alexander said...

Someone with cool ideas like this needs a Pin It button on the bottom of her posts. ;) Thanks for sharing on the HomeAcre Hop. Please come back and join us this week: