I love making small Christmas signs that sit on a shelf. Sometimes, I give them as gifts, and sometimes I sell them. But no matter what, I always keep some for myself! If you’ve already made the spring shelf sitter set, you know the techniques I’m going to share with you are rule-breakers! I’ll walk you through step-by-step how to do a ten-minute reverse graphic transfer because who wants to wait 24 hours? You’ll also learn my trick to get crackled paint suitable for these small signs.
How much wood you need will depend on how many little shelf-sitter signs you want to make. Note: The actual width of a 1×4 board is 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)
- Mitre saw
- Orbital Sander (optional)
- 100-grit Sandpaper
- Polyurethane I used this one, but any brand will do
- Brayer (optional)
- Clear matte Spray
- White chalk paint. This is my favourite DIY recipe
- An old candle to distress the edges of the wood
- Black water wash (2 tsp black paint mixed with 1 c water to age the base colour of the wood)
- Download and print (using a laser printer) four free graphics for small Christmas signs.
1. Cut and sand the wood
- Cut your boards to 3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
- Sand off the sharp edges
- Wipe off the sawdust
2. Make the raw wood look aged
Some people like to use paint for their base coat. My preference is to use a black water wash because once the wood has been distressed, the wood showing through looks like it’s aged from years of exposure. I eyeballed the black paint to water ratio, so it’s actually a little darker than if I did 2 tsp to 1 cup of water. Both ways work, but if you want consistency, then definitely measure!
- Mix 2 tsp of any black paint with 1 cup of water, stirring once in a while as you work.
- I use an old hand towel and cookie sheet to catch drips since the mixture is very watery.
- Lastly, brush on the black water wash with a sponge brush or a regular brush, making sure to cover the front, back, and sides of the wood.
- Let it dry completely before moving on to the next step.
3. Prepare the wood for the small Christmas signs with candle wax and glue
- Rub candle wax along the outside edges, making sure to round the corners.
- 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, you want to 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. Truthfully, I often skip this step!
4. Paint and distress the small Christmas signs
If you’ve done the crackle paint technique with Elmer’s glue before, all the tutorials say don’t overwork the paint on top of the glue. I say work it a bit if you need to or add more paint while the paint is still wet. Why? Because this helps to give random patterns for the small Christmas signs. Basically, it means the glue doesn’t work as well, which, in this instance, translates to working perfectly!
- Apply a generous coat of paint onto the prepared wood for the Christmas signs. 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. You can hurry it along with a heat gun or hairdryer. Just don’t hold it too close.
- The last step in preparing the Christmas signs for the transfer is to sand all around the edges in order to distress the wood. I typically use 100 to 150-grit sandpaper but use whatever works for you.
5. Download and print the graphics for the small Christmas signs
Download the small Christmas signs graphic here. Print it in Landscape mode.
I don’t own a laser printer, so I get my printing done at a self-service copy center. It doesn’t cost a lot, and I like the quality of the printing.
- Download the free Christmas signs graphic and print using a LASER PRINTER, not an inkjet printer.
- Trim the graphics to size. Note: I’ve included a black border around each graphic for ease of trimming. The black border isn’t part of the graphic, and it will transfer to the wood if you leave it.
6. Doing the Christmas sign transfer (in ten minutes or less)
Sometimes accidents are your best friends! Little shortcuts like this are just too good not to share!
A while back, I was working on a reverse graphic transfer. Not long after I pressed the image into the poly, I realized it wasn’t sitting correctly. The tutorial said I had 2 hours for it to dry, so I tried lifting it, only to find that the ink had started to transfer. How curious, I thought. I started to play around with this new discovery until I could replicate it consistently.
Attaching the image to the painted wood
Update: I had a friend who was having trouble with this. After troubleshooting, I tried doing one where you paint the polyurethane onto both the wood and the graphic. This seemed to make a difference, so I’m going to do it this way from now on.
- Apply a generous but even amount of polyacrylic over the painted wood.
- Place one of the reverse graphics (laser-printed) 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, pulling towards the outside.
- Today, I tried using a brayer to smooth the graphic onto the polyacrylic and found it worked really well. I put a piece of paper towel over the graphic, then rolled the brayer over it, pressing firmly. If you don’t have a brayer, then smooth it by hand.
- Start the following steps right away.
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! The combination of wet polyacrylic, paper and pressure helps the paper and poly have a stronger bond.
- Take a spray bottle with water and spray the image. There should be no dry spots on the paper, and the image will be easier to see.
- Dab the image with a paper towel to remove excess water.
- Put a piece of paper towel over the image and either rub it all over with your hand to give it a better bond or use the brayer. (I preferred the brayer.) I found steps 1 to 3 necessary for the success of the quick reverse graphic transfer.
- When the paper is still wet, dry it with a heat gun. You’ll know you’ve dried it enough when the image is cloudy and hard to see. Don’t hold the heat gun too close; the paper might bubble and pull away from the wood. If this happens, repeat steps 1-4.
- Let the paper cool for a minute before moving on to the next steps.
Rubbing the paper off of the Christmas sign
There is no wait time between the last steps and these next ones! Below are the steps to follow, including tips & troubleshooting.
- Spray the paper and dab off the excess water. Too much water can cause the ink to pull off.
- Begin removing the damp paper by starting in the middle, and then work your way out.
- Gently slide your fingers along (instead of pushing them into the paper), causing the paper to roll as it comes off. Today, I tried using a paper towel instead of my fingers once the paper started to peel. It seemed to work faster with less chance of rubbing off the ink. Near the end, I switched back to my fingers. If you try it, let me know.
- The closer to the ink you get when removing the paper, the less water you want on the surface. Too much water at this point will cause the ink to pull off. I just wet my finger before rubbing it at this point.
- A slight cloudiness on the image is normal. If you try to get it perfect looking, you run the risk of rubbing off the image.
- I like to finish the small Christmas signs by spraying them with a water-based polyacrylic in a matte finish.
- So we know there will probably be some cloudiness, but how do you know if it’s too much? Dab some water onto the image with a paper towel. If the cloudiness is gone, dry it and move on to the last step. If not, keep at it!
- Help! My image looks fuzzy! The paper causes this. If you don’t feel you can get more paper off without removing the image, crumple up some clean, print-free paper and rub it all over. This should help.
- Arrgh! My image keeps rubbing off all over. It could be that you didn’t press the image firmly into the polyacrylic or that you have too much water along with too aggressively removing the paper. I’ve had trouble with this when I didn’t let the paint dry properly. Sometimes, you might do it all correctly, and it still happens! I’ve been known to sand everything off and start over. Now, I make a couple of extra wood blocks, paint them up, and print some extra graphics just in case.
The last thing left to decide is whether you’re keeping, gifting, or selling them. If you make enough, you can do all three!
Thanks for stopping by. See you in the next project.