In this tutorial I will show you 5 different ways to print on wood. These are great methods that will allow you to make custom designs such as signs, plaques, gifts, or just branding your creations.
Step 1: Gather Materials.
- pine board
- nitrile gloves
- Polyurethane varnish Polycrylic
- brush for working with acids
- Liquitex gel medium
- foam brush
- spray varnish
Step 2: Setting up
I tested 4 methods of how to transfer a drawing from paper to wood and one method using a technique. I used the same image on each board, which had my logo with a large block of text, a picture, and regular size text, so for each type of application, you will see how well the wood responds with the different application options.
All of the pictures were printed on my laser printer (not inkjet). I also mirrored the picture so that it would display correctly on the tree.
Step 3: Method 1 – Acetone
The first method is to use acetone to transfer the toner to the wood. All you will need is acetone, a paper towel, and nitrile gloves to protect your hands, and you can also use an old plastic card. When working with acetone, be careful and read the safety instructions.
I put the mirrored picture on the plywood and wrapped it for a more secure hold. I then dipped the wipe in acetone and applied it to the picture, pressing it firmly on top.
After a few repetitions, the toner transferred to the wood and the paper came off the wood.
Pros: very fast, decent image quality, clean process
Cons: Image quality is average, acetone is a strong chemical
Step 4: Method 2 – Ironing
The next method is to use a regular iron. All you have to do is iron the paper. Like in the last step, I wrapped the paper around the wood and then ironed it, trying not to move the sheet relative to the wood. I tried to put a lot of pressure on the iron and set the iron to a high temperature, but I don’t think the temperature was high enough.
The picture didn’t come out right, and I think it was because the iron didn’t heat the paper enough. I’ve heard that using wax paper can improve the situation, also some craftsmen do picture transfer using a soldering iron with a special branding tip.
Pros: the cheapest method, pretty fast
Cons: poor image quality, the possibility of burning yourself, charred wood or paper
Step 5: Method 3 – Polyurethane varnish
The third method is based on the use of water-based polyurethane. I used Polycrylic (that’s just the name of the manufacturer, so you can buy any analogue). You need varnish, an acid brush, a stiff toothbrush and water.
I applied the polycrylic with a small brush, trying to create a thin film so that it would be wet but not become a puddle. Then I pressed the paper directly onto the damp polycrylene and pressed the paper from the center to the edges, removing any air that got under the paper, and then put the wood aside where it dried for about an hour.
After the piece dried, I dampened it with water and then peeled off as much paper as I could get off with my hands. Next, I took a toothbrush and gently rustled it over the surface until all the remaining paper was scrubbed off.
The quality was excellent! Everything but the small imperfection on the “F” looked very good. I was truly surprised by this way of wood printing.
Pros: great image quality, safe water based coating
Cons: removal of the paper is quite messy, takes an hour to dry
Step 6: Method 4 – Liquitex gel solvent
The fourth method was a gel solvent. I used Liquitex gloss, a foam brush, an old plastic card, a toothbrush and water.
The process is similar to the one in which lacquer was used, the only difference is that we have gel in our hands, not liquid. It’s better to work with gel with a foam, because a brush leaves a lot of bumps and streaks.
I pressed the picture in the gel and blew out the air trapped under the paper, first with my fingers and then with a plastic card. Then I left the blank to dry for 90 minutes and then scraped the paper off with a toothbrush.
This version also looked great, but there were a few pieces of paper left on the wood that couldn’t be scraped off with the brush.
Pros: great image quality, safe water-based gel
Cons: harder to remove than polycrylic, makes the surface rough, takes a long time to dry
Step 7: Method 5 – CNC laser
So, now let’s try a technological method. I had access to a Full Spectrum Laser Hobby 20×12 device and used it to apply the same image. Setting up the device is very easy.
The image quality, as expected, was good. The only problem area turned out to be the photo, which the laser found difficult to copy. But the text and logo, completely black in the photo, look great.
Pros: great text and logo detail, set it up and the machine does it all for you
Cons: expensive to buy, hard to find for rent, doesn’t handle photos very well
Step 8: Apply the finish coat and the final opinion
I decided to apply a coat of varnish to the finished pieces to see how the look of the pieces would change and this procedure changed my opinion a bit about each of the methods I’ve tested.
The acetone really darkened after the varnish coating and I liked the final look a lot better, so I’m placing this result higher than the gel sample.
The iron-on variation…so it remained poor quality.
The polycrylic darkened even more and looked even better. This is a definite favorite in my ranking.
The gel also darkened, but the wood surface did not even out, and the bits of paper I failed to remove were visibly sticking out. It took me a lot longer to get a result similar to polycrylic.
The CNC laser version almost didn’t darken, but became a little more like scorched wood, the detail was still excellent.