DIY – Transferring your photos onto canvas

When my friend Kalebra Kelby asked me to jump in and cover for Anna Nguyen on the last Pinterest Show I happily and quickly replied “Yes, I would love to” and then followed it up by opening my big fat mouth to ask if I should do a DIY project as well. Why did I say that??

Not sure what I was thinking but I spend the rest of the day searching and researching Pinterest; You-tube and the internet for the “perfect” project. I’m generally not a crafty person but I do have a board or two on Pinterest with some neat DIY ideas that I always wanted to try. Since I needed something quick and I love all things photography this little project really caught my eye: How to transfer your photographs to canvas or other media!

My lunch time that day was spend running around AC Moore looking for supplies; going in circles while doing so. As my luck had it there was a great sale on blank canvas and it made feel a little less bad about spending money on something that might not fruit at all. Trust me; I can spend some money at a craft store for somebody that doesn’t do crafts that much.

Gel Medium

Golden Gel Medium Heavy Gel (Glossy)

With only a few hours until the show I raced home after work to try this out and document my efforts (so I can blog about it later of course).

Here are the supplies you will need:

Gel Medium (about $12 for 8 fl. oz) - It has the consistency of Elmer’s Glue and I’m dying to try out and see if that works as well… and it would be cheaper) I choose the “Golden Gel Medium Heavy Gel (Gloss)” for this project. I was the cheapest gel medium I could find in the store.

Different sizes of stretched canvas (prices range from “that’s not bad” to “omg… they charge what for that?”) – You can also try non-stretched canvas and experiment with the different levels of canvas quality. For this project I used the lowest and cheapest canvas I could get my hands on.

Brush or SpongeI was lucky to find a  bag that had a sorts of different sizes of brushes and came with two sponges (the kind with the stick) and it was cheaper than buying the brushed individually.

Inkjet transfer paperMake sure that the transfer paper is for inkjet printer and not laser printer; there is a difference (so they say)! Besides the gel this will be the most expensive purchase you have to make if you going that route (about 40 buck for 50) We had some at work and I grabbed a few sheets to print out on my inkjet printer at home.

Spray-bottle of water – They really cheap at the dollar store but I had a fancy plant sprayer at home that I used for this (it barely get’s used for plants at all)…. Did you noticed the theme “cheap” here???? LOL

Spoon or Metal Spatula or FingersI’ve used them all and I must say that depending on what method you use I prefer one of the other (no smart comments here). :-)

Access to a laser printer and inkjet printer - (almost forgot these very important things)

Apparently there are two different methods of doing this; I have tried them both with different results.


Method 1 – Laserjet printout 


This one uses your photos printed from a laser printer (very important) on to regular paper (not photo paper). It was also suggested that you bump up the color saturation before printing for better transfer. I think that it would have worked even if I didn’t make my little image look more saturated.

Although I printed out three different photos of mine I only choose the picture of the rose (on the right side) for this particular project.

After printing the photos you will need to cut it a bit to fit your canvas size.  You don’t have to be exact; just cut roughly to that size and leave some space around the edges to make the peeling part easier.


Now you need to brush a good amount of the Gel Medium onto the canvas; not to much and not to little! I’ve tried this several times and can tell you that I found that using the brush applied a better coverage than using the sponge. The brush also provides nice little brush strokes to the transfer which gives you a more “painted” look at the end.

Make sure to brush enough on the outer edges of the frame and  not to much in the middle since this is where the transfer really seems to stick. The middle will soak up more gel and the edges with the frame always proofed to be harder to get the transfer to stick. All of this might take several tries before you get a feel for how much or how little you need to apply.

Next you want to take your picture and press it onto the canvas with the printed side onto the gel. Take a spoon or your fingers and smooth out any air bubbles that you see. You will have to do this several times.


Let it dry for a few hours. It has been recommended to let it sit over night but I didn’t have that much time and I let mine sit for about an hour before I took it off on the show.

Now comes the messiest part of the entire project! You want to make sure you not sitting at your desk over a keyboard like I did during the Pinterest Show. Take the spray bottle of water and spray the side of the canvas that has the photo attached. Make sure the water soaks into the paper. You might have to rub your finger over it to help get the water absorbed. Start peeling the paper off; it will come off in strips and that is normal.

After you get the first (few) layers of keep rubbing your fingers over it until you don’t feel anymore paper left behind. Very important: Do this gently so you don’t rub any of the transfer off. If you still see that there is a “milky” film on your canvas you want to wet it again and rub some more till you have all the paper off. It took me a good bit of rubbing during the show until I had the paper off and it apparently also caused quite a stir with the viewers and my co-hosts.

Believe it or not Jason Joseph and Roni Delmonico had to excuse themselves for a minutes before coming back onscreen. Was is something I said?

I don’t have a picture for this process since my to hands where occupied and I didn’t have any of my trusted assistance around but here is the final product of all my labor:


Rose on canvas from paper print

I thought for my first try it came out pretty good and you can actually make out what it is. I love the “aged” look at well and can’t wait to try it with a few other photos.


Method 2 – Transfer to canvas using transparency paper

I had really high hopes for this methods since this is the less time consuming; less messier version of the first one and it looked really simple on the guides and clips I watched.

The difference between the first method and this try is that you print your photo on inkjet transparency paper instead of regular paper. Make sure you print it onto to special inkjet transparency paper from a inkjet printer. From what I read this is important and it won’t work if you print from a laser printer; but I have not tried it.


Photos printer on inkjet transparency paper

Everybody says to print on the rough side of the paper but after pulling one of the sheets out I had a hard time figuring out which side was actually the rougher one; they both felt pretty rough to me. I tried the “rougher” side twice and each time my image did not transfer very well. I decided to use the guide strip that came on the sheet and feed the side with the arrows into the printer first; making it print on the smoother side. That actually provided a better transfer when I did it the third time.

The same processes applies as in the first method. Cut your photos and then apply the gel to the canvas before you press the image onto the canvas. I used the brush this time but I believe I might have had a bit too much gel on it. With the paper you can brush more gel onto the canvas and it’s more forgiving; with the transparency paper you have to be careful because it’s essentially plastic and it makes the colors run if you have to much gel on it.


At first glance it looked like the paper would transfer the image nicely. I did noticed some color run and tried my best to smooth out the air pockets which is hard to do with a plastic transparency paper also seem to take forever to dry up.  In the clips people only let this sit for a few minutes but they also didn’t use canvas just regular paper; which means it might absorb the gel better.

I even used my hair dryer to speed up the process. Although it seemed to be dry when I finally peeled the transparency paper away the transferred images was barely visible on the canvas. I tried this two more times; each time I choose the other side of the transfer paper to print on to make sure I didn’t choose the wrong side. The smooth side provided for better color transfer but I believe I let it sit too long and when I peeled the paper off I remove parts of the canvas as well.


The shot of this canvas looks actually better than the real one. As far as I can tell at this point method 1 seems to work a lot better but requires more time and effort.

There is also the possibility that my transfer paper wasn’t working as well as should have since it’s been laying around our office for several years. Does plastic has a shelf life?

As I was at the crafts store I also picked up other thing. Can’t wait to test out if either one of these transfer methods work on ceramic and wood.

Stay tuned… there might be more DIY projects on my blog in the near future….

Here are some links you might find useful as well:

My DIY Photography Pinterest Board – Has all the links to the tutorials and YouTube clips.

The Pinterest Show! 2013 Episode 5 – Includes my DIY and comedy segment :-)


  • Jason Joseph

    Angelika! What a great process, so wonderfully detailed and explained! Truly great of you to share with others your process. And all of the ups and downs that go along with trying something new!

    I wonder if it might be beneficial to coat these once they are transferred with an acrylic sealant, in an attempt to preserve them.

    Looking forward to whatever you come up with next!

    ~ Cheers

    • Angelika

      Thank for your kind words JJ. I’m actually planning on coating them but have’t gotten around it yet. :-)