Friday, May 16, 2014

DIY Canvas Photo Transfer

Last week I posted pictures of my canvas photo transfers on Instagram I got a ton of requests to do a tutorial. So, here it is!

The great thing about having an artist for a brother is that when you casually mention how you like something crafty but can't deal with the price tag, he responds with "Oh, that's so easy to make. I've done it tons of times!"

Because my brother is a pro and I'm not, I made a few mistakes during the course of this project (and called him in frustration a couple of times last week...thanks for being patient, dude.) but that's good for you all because now I can help you avoid the same mishaps. Ready to make some canvas photo transfers?

Price Breakdown and Supply List
3 11x14 canvases - $16
3 11x14 laser printed photos on regular copy paper $3
1 jar of gel medium $12
2 foam brushes $1
kitchen sponge (free from my house)
spray bottle $1
Total: $33

You can find the canvases and gel medium cheaper than this! When you start to do this project, check out your local craft stores (JoAnn's, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, etc) for weekly specials and coupons. Some weeks they have buy 1 get 2 free deals on canvases. There are also different kinds of canvases. I bought the mid level ones because they were having a buy one get one deal, but the cheapest brands work just as well. 

Don't forget your coupons! These craft stores offer 40%, 50% and 60% off coupons you can download straight to your phone. 

When choosing a gel medium, my brother suggested going with brands like Golden or Liquitex. For my expat readers, you can probably find Liquitex easier since it's a French company.

When it comes to your pictures, simply put the files on a USB and take it down to a place where they do printing, like Office Depot or Staples. Make sure your pictures are reversed (mirror image style) otherwise your photos will come out backwards when you transfer them. Get them to print your pictures on a laser printer on regular printer paper, NOT PHOTO PAPER. You want to make sure there is a lot of toner on the paper.

Let's do this!

Step 1: The night before you want to begin your project, paint your canvas with gel medium. Make sure it's really covered, but be careful not to glop too much on there. If there's too much gel medium it can cause your paper to ripple.

Once your canvas is painted with gel medium, carefully lay your printed photo image side down onto the gel medium. Gently smooth out any ripples or bubbles (you really want this baby to stick!) and let dry overnight.

Step 2: By the next morning, the gel medium should be dry. Take your spray bottle and spray the paper with water until it's saturated. Then take your sponge and start rubbing in a circular motion, gently rubbing the paper off of the image.

Water will reveal the image underneath!

Don't be afraid to get it really wet. The paper won't come off until it's really soaked

This step takes a while. Wet the paper, remove some of the paper, and then take a break. Too much rubbing will tear the image. If you want a very distressed look (like my picture of us in front of the water) use your fingers to remove the paper. They're more corrosive than a sponge and will be tougher on the image.

Step 3. The paper removal step takes a while. I came back to the project throughout the day, removing paper, letting it dry a bit, coming back, could even use a hairdryer to speed things up a little. When the paper dries you can see all the spots you miss and go back over them. You want a good balance with the sponge-don't go crazy and scrub the paper within an inch of its life, but don't be too soft either. Rub in circular rows across the canvas.

Here's my progress with this image throughout the day...

Basically, keep going until the white film is mostly gone. 

Step 4: Once you've gotten most of the paper off, you can either leave it as is or seal it with some Modge Podge. I chose to paint mine with Modge Podge to give it a glossy finish. Totally up to you.

And...ta dah! They're finished!

This one is my favorite, but you can see I went a little heavy on the gel medium, resulting in some ripples. But once it's on the wall, you can't tell.

To hang them up, I took the easy way and hung them on two nails. Piece of cake.

So, is that a project you think you'll try? Maybe this weekend? The fun thing is they're so cheap to make you could switch them out as often as you wanted to. 

Have any questions? I'm happy to answer! :)


  1. That certainly is a great project and makes a nice gift. It is nice when brother's are so patient. Blessings, Catherine

  2. They turned out so well... I've seen this method online before, but was really sceptical!