In this tutorial I share four Fall signs designs for free. You can ditch the “wait 24 hours method” for transferring the graphics and try my ten minute transfer hack! I’ll also show you how to get the best crackled paint results for small 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 signs. No two will look exactly alike, which, to me, is the beauty of anything handcrafted.
The actual width of a 1×4 board is 3/4 x 3 1/2″. Each sign is 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″.
- 1×4 board (the length depends on how many you will be making)
- Chopsaw or mitre box and handsaw
- Orbital Sander (optional)
- Sandpaper (150 grit)
- Brush for applying Mod Podge.
- White chalk paint
- An old candle to distress the edges of the wood (optional)
- Black water wash (2 tsp black paint mixed with 1 cup of water to age the base colour of the wood)
- Print reverse image graphics using a laser printer. See step five for details
1. Cut and sand the wood for the Fall signs
The finished size of the Fall signs is 3 1/2 x 3 1/2.
- Cut your boards to 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
- Sand the sharp edges
- Wipe off the sawdust
2. Add the base colour to the wood block
I prefer a black water wash because once the wood has been distressed, the wood showing through looks like it’s aged from years of exposure. But this is your project, so you do you.
- Mix 2 tsp of any black paint with 1 cup of water, stirring occasionally as you work.
- Tip: Use an old hand towel and cookie sheet to catch drips since the mixture is very watery.
- Lastly, brush on the black water wash, covering the front, back and sides.
- Let it dry completely before moving on to the next step.
3. Prepare the wood with wax and glue
Another time-saver is to do the candle wax and Elmer’s glue in one step. Note: the wood colour is actually lighter than shown.
- Start by rubbing candle wax along the outside edges.
- Next, apply Elmer’s glue along the outside edges following the direction of the wood grain, making sure to paint the glue a little farther in than the candle wax.
- Then, take a paper towel and lightly dab the glue.
- Finally, take a heat gun and lightly pass over the block for no more than a few seconds.
4. Paint and distress the wood block for the Fall sign
If you’ve done the crackle paint technique with Elmer’s glue before, all the tutorials say we don’t overwork the paint on top of the glue. But not in this case because I really feel the large cracks you get with the original method look out of place on small pieces like these 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 Fall signs. Less is more once you’re done applying the glue. Thick glue means big cracks, which is what you don’t want!
- Apply a generous coat of paint onto the wood. I like to paint in the direction of the wood grain. This means that the cracks will also be following the wood grain. If you need more paint, add some!
- Let the paint and glue dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.
- The last step is to sand all around the edges in order to distress the wood. I typically use 100 to 150-grit sandpaper for this.
5. Download and print the Fall sign in reverse image
Download the reverse image for this fall sign tutorial. Below is a sample of what it looks like without the reverse image- or choose your own graphics. I always print extra in case I make a mistake and ruin one. Trust me, it’s a thing- with me anyway!
It’s important to note that I’ve only tried the technique I’m about to show you with a laser printer. I go to a self-service copy center and print what I need while doing my errands because I don’t have a laser printer.
- Download the free Fall signs reverse image and print using a laser printer. Not an inkjet printer.
- Trim the graphics to size. Note: I’ve included a border around each graphic for easy trimming that isn’t part of the graphic.
6. Doing the transfer (in ten minutes or less)
Disclaimer: I’ve only done this technique with homemade chalk paint. I’m not sure how it will work with other types of paint.
From mistakes comes discovery and this one was a gamechanger! I was doing reverse graphic transfers using polyacrylic. I chose it because I only had to wait about two hours instead of overnight before removing the paper. As I was laying the graphic down onto the polyacrylic, I tried to move it because I didn’t have the placement quite right. I was surprised to see that some of the ink had already transferred onto the surface. Being the curious person I am, I played around until I had consistent results.
Attaching the image to the painted wood
- Apply a generous but even amount of polyacrylic to the painted block of wood.
- Place the laser-printed reverse transfer face down and smooth it out, starting from the middle and working your way out.
- Remove any excess polyacrylic around the edges with a paper towel, working from the middle to the outside.
- Next, place a clean paper towel over the image and rub it all over to help it grab onto the wood.
Here comes the reverse graphics transfer plot twist!
This is where the hurry-up-and-wait part typically happens. But not this time, my friend!
- Take a spray bottle with water and spray the image. (Fig. 2) There should be no dry spots on the paper. I found this step helpful to get better adhesion to the painted wood.
- Remove the excess water by dabbing it with a paper towel. Adding water will reveal any parts of the image that haven’t been adhered to properly. Should this happen to you, press down on the area with a paper towel.
- Now that the paper is wet, it’s time to dry it with a heat gun (Fig. 3) because you need to dry the polyacrylic. When the image (that was clear when wet) becomes cloudy and hard to see, then it’s dry enough. Don’t hold the heat gun too close, or the paper could bubble. If this happens, spray the paper again, dab the excess, cover it with a paper towel and rub to get the paper to attach to the poly and painted wood.
- Let the paper cool slightly before moving on to the next steps.
- Spray the paper again, making sure that all of it is wet.
- Once again, dab the excess water off with a paper towel.
7. Rubbing the paper off of the Fall sign
There is no wait time between the last steps and these next ones! I found the only time this method didn’t work for me was when I didn’t let the paint dry properly or rubbed too aggressively. Like most things, you may have to practice a few times before you get the technique down. In the finished version of the picture (below) you can see where I wasn’t paying attention and rubbed too much. However, because I love the vintage, worn look, I was still happy with it.
Start in the middle and work your way out. The best way I’ve found to remove the paper backing is to gently slide your fingers along allowing the paper to roll. This reduces the chance of rubbing off the image.
- When the paper starts to feel dry, spray it with water, then dab the excess off before rubbing at the paper again; you may need to repeat this several times during the process.
- You haven’t rubbed enough of the paper off if the image looks really cloudy when dry. 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 transfer the image.
- The last step is to finish with a coat of polyacrylic that was used to do the image transfer or use a clear spray.
And there you have some vintage looking fall signs to keep, gift or sell.