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Reverse Graphic Transfer

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Reverse image transfer

A reverse graphic transfer in ten minutes (or less)? Yes, please! I show you how in this step-by-step tutorial.

Generally, a transfer can take up to twenty-four hours using Mod Podge or two hours using Polyacrylic. I’m not a fan of the hurry-up-and-wait method, so it got me thinking; what if I could do it all at once without waiting? The first experiment worked so well that I thought it must be a fluke! In order to be sure it wasn’t a one-off, I did several more transfers and much to my delight/relief, they all worked! (Insert happy dance here!)

If you’d like to learn how to make the shelf-sitters shown in the photo as well as a free download of the graphics, this link will take you there.

Hi, and welcome! I’m Lisa from The Old Tree Cottage. Breaking crafting rules is indeed what I’ve done, and I have to say, I’m proud of it, mostly because it actually worked! If you want to find out what other crafting rule I broke related to this, then you’ll want to check out this tutorial because it all happened at the same time!

Supplies for the reverse graphic transfer

  • Polyacrylic (I used this brand, but other brands should work as well)
  • Spray bottle with water.
  • Paper towel or clean rag
  • Print the reverse image graphic using a laser jet printer. As much as I’d like a laser jet printer, I can’t justify the cost when I don’t need one very often. Instead, I go to a self-serve copy center and print what I need. Note: I haven’t tried this with an inkjet printer so I can’t say if it will work.
  • Chalk-painted wood that has had time to dry properly. I used a 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 block of wood in this tutorial.
  • Heat gun or hair dryer. (I used a heat gun.)

1. Doing the transfer (in ten minutes or less)

Disclaimer: At this point, I’ve only done this technique with homemade chalk paint as the base on small blocks of wood.

Attaching the image to the painted wood

  • Apply a generous but even amount of polyacrylic to the chalk-painted board. Fig. 1
  • Place the laser-printed reverse transfer face down onto the polyacrylic.
  • Smooth it out, starting from the middle and working your way out. Fig. 2
  • Remove any excess polyacrylic around the edges with a paper towel, pulling towards the outside, away from the paper.
  • Next, place a clean piece of paper towel over the image and then rub it all over to help it grab onto the wood. Fig. 3
Here comes the reverse graphics transfer plot twist!

I feel like there should be a drum roll for the next steps because this is where the hurry-up-and-wait part typically happens. But not this time, my friend!

  • Take a spray bottle with water and lightly spray the image. (Fig. 4) There should be no dry spots on the paper.
  • The next step is to take a clean paper towel and dab the image immediately, removing the excess water. (Fig. 5) Too much water sitting on the paper for longer than a few seconds may compromise the adhesion of the ink to the paint.
  • Press the image all over again using the paper towel to ensure it has bonded with the poly. Check for any bubbles and tap until you get them out. Fig. 5
  • Next is to dry the image with a heat gun. You’ll know you’ve dried it enough when you no longer see the image coming through on the paper. (Fig. 6), Tip: don’t hold the heat gun too close because it could cause the paper to bubble or pull away from the wood. If this happens, spray the paper with water, dab the excess, pressing firmly to get a good bond with the wood again.
  • Let the paper cool for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next steps.
  • Lightly spray the paper once more, just enough that you see the image. Immediately dap the excess water off before it has a chance to saturate everything.

Rubbing the paper off

When I was experimenting with this technique, I found the following could affect the quality of the transfer;

  • Applying the reverse graphic image before the chalk paint has been allowed to dry properly.
  • Water sat too long, saturating the paper and the wood, causing the ink to rub off when removing the paper.
  • Rubbing too aggressively by pushing into the wood instead of sliding the fingers over it.
Removing the paper from the wood block on the spring shelf sitter
Fig. 7
  1. Lightly spray with water, then immediately dab the excess off. Never have excess water on the paper because the ink may rub off.
  2. Start in the middle of the image and work your way out, sliding your fingers over the paper as opposed to pushing into the image because it reduces the chance of rubbing the image off. Fig. 7
  3. When the paper feels dry, and it’s not peeling off easily, stop and lightly spray with water again, then dab the excess water off right away. You may need to repeat this several times during the process.
  4. Tip: Does the image looks super cloudy when dry? It just means you haven’t removed enough of the paper, so you’ll have to repeat the above steps. Note; slight cloudiness on the image can usually be concealed by applying a top coat of the same polyacrylic used to do the image transfer.
  5. The last step is to protect the transfer with the same polyacrylic that was used to do the image transfer.
Rustic black and white shelf sitter with a Hare. The brown ones are not jelly beans.
This is the finished reverse graphics transfer. There is no clear coat on it yet. That’s the final step.

So there you have it! A reverse graphic transfer done in ten minutes! Whoop-whoop!

Like anything, if this is your first time trying this method, some practice may be needed with the technique. Let me know how it went! If you’re looking for more projects, check out my DIY projects.

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