Introduction: 5 Ways to Print on Wood

In this Instructable I'll show you 5 ways to print on wood. It's a great way to make custom woodworking projects like signs, plaques, and gifts or just to customize and brand your other projects.

Be sure to watch the video above, and if you like it please subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Step 1: Gather Materials

Picture of Gather Materials

Step 2: The Setup

Picture of The Setup

I tested 4 DIY methods and 1 tech heavy method for printing on wood. I used 5.25" x 3.5" pieces of wood to test everything and used this image for test prints. I’ve included my logo which has large block text, a picture, and some normal sized text. This will do a good job showing how each way to print on wood reacts to different text and image types

All the prints were done on my laser jet printer, not an ink jet. And I mirror imaged the artwork for the ones I actually used to do the wood prints.

Step 3: #1 Acetone

Picture of #1 Acetone

The first method is using acetone to transfer the toner to the wood. All you need for this process is some acetone (I’ve heard lacquer thinner also works), a paper towel, nitrile gloves to protect your hands and optionally you can use an old key card or credit card. And be careful with the acetone and read and follow all the cautions on the can.

I laid the mirror image print out on the wood and creased the paper over the edge to hold it in place. Then I used a shop towel dipped in the acetone to soak the paper and press firmly downward.

After a few passes the toner is transferred to the wood. Then the paper peels right up with no stickyness and reveals the image.

Pros: Very quick, decent image quality, clean process

Cons: Average image quality, acetone is a harsh chemical

Step 4: #2 Clothes Iron

Picture of #2 Clothes Iron

The next method is a simple clothes iron. All you need is literally just the clothes iron here. I put the paper down like before creasing it over the edge.

Then I literally just ironed the paper, making sure to keep it from moving around. I tried to press down hard and had the iron on high, but I still don’t think it was enough heat.

This one did not look good. I think it was because this iron is pretty light duty and just didn’t get hot enough. I’ve also since heard that printing on wax paper might make a difference or using a branding tip on a soldering iron.

Pros: Cheapest method, fairly quick to do

Cons: Poor image quality, possible to burn your self or scorch the wood or paper

Step 5: #3 Polycrylic

Picture of #3 Polycrylic

The third method is using a water based polyurethane. I’m using Polycrylic which is just a name brand poly. You’ll need the polycrylic, an acid brush(or other small brush), a stiff toothbrush and some water.

I brushed on the polycrylic with a small acid brush trying to get a thin film that was wet but not puddling. Then I pressed the paper down into the wet polycrylic and smoothed the paper from the center outward to remove any air bubbles and firmly seat the paper into the polycrylic before setting the wood print aside to dry for about an hour.

After the finish had dried, I wet the whole back first then peel off as much as you can by hand before scrubbing. Then it’s just gentle scrubbing with the toothbrush until all the paper is gone.

The quality was excellent! Other than that little chip on the side of the “F” the wood print looked amazing. I was really pleased with this method of printing on wood.

Pros: Excellent image quality, water based safe finish

Cons: Messy removal of the paper, takes an hour to dry

Step 6: #4 Gel Medium

Picture of #4 Gel Medium

The fourth method is to use a gel medium. I used Liquitex gloss, a foam brush, a key card, a tooth brush, and water for this method.

The gel medium goes on similarly to the polycrylic except it’s a gel vs a liquid. I found a foam brush worked well to distribute the gel because the brushes left too many ridges.

I pressed the paper into the gel then pushed out the air bubbles with my fingers then the key card. Then I set it aside to dry for about 90 minutes and scrubbed with a wet toothbrush afterwards to remove the paper.

This one looked pretty awesome too, but there were a few spots that still had a little paper that I couldn’t get off on the first go.

Pros: Excellent image quality, safe water based gel

Cons: Harder to remove than polycrylic, leaves behind rough surface, longer to dry

Step 7: #5 CNC Laser

Picture of #5 CNC Laser

Alright, this is the tech heavy approach. I have a Full Spectrum Laser Hobby 20x12 and I used it to make the image as well.

The setup is pretty easy and there are some great Instructables on here about lasers.

It turned out really sharply defined as expected. The only issue was with the image which a laser has a hard time replicating. But the text and logo design that are solid black looked great.

Pros: Excellent detail on text and logo, set it and let it go

Cons: Expensive to buy, must travel to find one to rent, not great on pictures

Step 8: Applying Finish and Final Thoughts

Picture of Applying Finish and Final Thoughts

I applied some spray lacquer to the wood to see how it changed things and it did change my opinion a little.

The acetone really darkened up with the lacquer applied. I liked this one a lot more after the finish and I’d put it ahead of the gel medium.
The clothes iron….what can I say, it still stinks

The polycrilic darkened up even more and still looks great. This is definitely my first choice.

The gel medium also darkened but the finish was not very smooth. The extra paper bits I didn’t get off really showed through. So to get it as smooth as the polycrylic I’d have to spend a lot more time cleaning.

The CNC laser didn’t really darken up. It’s more of a burnt wood look, but the detail is still great.

If you enjoyed the video I'd love for you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more great content. Also if you want a little more in depth review you can see it on my website at: http://fixthisbuildthat.com/print-on-wood-5-ways-diy-image-transfer/

Comments

pedropin (author)2018-01-04

1.buen dia como es el proceso con papel de tatuaje temporal Gracias

obillo (author)2017-12-30

Really good ible and it makes me want to get started pron to--but it leaves me with one (probably) dumb question: how do I mirror-image the artwork??

ShannonW49 (author)obillo2018-01-04

You must use image editing software of some sort. Most will have a "flip" or "mirror" option you can use on the image to reverse it.

Basically, you have to have a reversed version of the image (a modified second image file or a "flipped" image in an editor), and then print that. I don't think Windows has the ability to mirror an image as it prints it. Maybe version 8+ does, but I stick with 7.

BruceC96 (author)2017-12-28

I made it a full 12 seconds before the first ad popped up. After that, I wasn’t able to display an image, only voice. My summary...junk. This site is another in a long list that are just junk. And I am being nice.

JosephM375 (author)BruceC962018-01-02

i would run some junk controls or even adware scanner on your computer as the video is just a embed of youtube player nothing more i can watch videos all day long without other pop ups yes some videos stop in the middle and show another ad or video but has nothing to do with this sight that has to do with the advertisement on the youtube video itself this is a great site to find diy stuff and most of the pop ups are from your browsing history so i wouldnt hold that against this sight they have to pay for the hosting and bandwith somehow

jwzumwalt (author)BruceC962017-12-28

I use Firefox with the "Addblock Plus" addon and don't get adds on this or any other site - problem solved. (As I write this, my browser says it blocked six adds)

AaronD3 (author)BruceC962017-12-28

Greetings Bruce, I encountered that issue yesterday too. Never before have I had that problem on this site. I was using an older Ipad at the time, and right now, I am using a newer IPhone. I am not sure what caused the issue, but hopefully the Instructables IT folks are on it. You should really give the site a second look, as I think it is one of the best ever. Cheers!

AnitaH25 (author)2018-01-01

You should have a try using temporary tattoo paper. Mine have been perfect every done and done in minutes. No rubbing or waiting.

abbasporyazdanpanah (author)2017-12-28

This is great idea

RetBill (author)2017-10-31

Excellent, can you do the polycrylic on chalk painted wood for an old sign look?

SergeE (author)RetBill2017-12-28

Hmmm... come to think of it, the polycrylic is acting as the receiving surface and glue. So as long as the polycrylic can stick to the host material the transfers can be as good as shown here ... Worth trying on glass and other host materials ?

fixthisbuildthat (author)RetBill2017-11-03

Never tried that...would be interesting.

SergeE (author)2017-12-28

Thanks for doing this. Polycrylic seems to be the choice for transferring laser print outs. Unfortunately, I have an ink jet printer. It's time to get me a low cost laser printer ... or print my transfers at the in-laws until I do get a laser. Only ~ 361 days until Christmas. ;)

I suspect colour laser would work just as well, right ?

ArtKru (author)2017-12-28

One thought... I've found that if I slow down a laser engraver and reduce the power, I get a darker and more consistent engraving.

chefspenser (author)2017-12-28

Excellent! I really wanted to see/hear comparisons of methods, and you did a really clear post. You have terrific photos of the results and the techniques. Thank you!

MDL4 (author)2017-12-28

Nice and clear indestructible. One question, are you using a laser printer (to print the image) or a ink jet? Does it matter? I did not find that information in your post. Thanks

ArtKru (author)2017-12-28

One thought about laser engraving wood. I've found that if I reduce the power and slow the laser down a lot, I get a darker and more consistent result when engraving an image.

Jillllee (author)2017-12-28

I Like that you compared the four methods with pros and cons. It really helps on deciding what method to try first. Thanks so much,

Torrach made it! (author)2017-12-28

I researched this previously, and found your video on YouTube. Very nice to have all that information on hand to figure out what I wanted to do. After all, if at first I don't succeed I get very discouraged. Here are two examples of me working with a waterproof (when dried) wood glue. I was trying first on a bamboo cutting board on the right, but it never did properly adhere to the bamboo cutting board. The one on the left was a scrap of pine shelving I had at the end of a project. The idea is to have all of my mother's favorite recipes on thin wood sheets that we can hang in the kitchen walls.

dbeutel42 (author)2017-12-28

Fantastic, Thank you for sharing this!

CKL (author)2017-11-09

This is great. All the formats together in one ible. Great way to compare the formats. Thanks for doing to groundwork.

ImamudinS (author)2017-11-05

What type of printer to use?

★DigiDavidex (author)ImamudinS2017-11-07

Laser

ImamudinS (author)★DigiDavidex2017-11-08

Thanks for the answer

★DigiDavidex (author)2017-11-07

Polycrylic for the italians is Vinavil?

katesl (author)2017-11-05

Superb work

gking8 (author)2017-10-29

Can also use PVA Glue instead of polycrylic.

fixthisbuildthat (author)gking82017-11-03

I'll have to try that

liquidhandwash made it! (author)2017-10-30

ive got one more for you Polyvinyl acetate or PVA glue have a look here

http://instructables.com.mevn.net/id/Vintage-tin-and-timber-signs/

Very cool!

Natalina (author)2017-10-30

Thank you for sharing all these different methods side by side, this is really helpful!

Glad it helped!

laith mohamed (author)2017-10-30

Thanks for the methods

Yup!

rspence (author)2017-10-31

Does one type of wood work better than another?

fixthisbuildthat (author)rspence2017-11-03

Wood with closed pores (pine, cherry, maple) and sand it to 220 grit or higher

John Morrissey (author)2017-10-31

I have tried a number of techniques to print on wood, somewhat unsuccessfully. I have not tried the polycrylic method. Will definitely do so. Thanks for sharing.

You're welcome!

SpeedOfLate (author)2017-10-31

Ooh... I have a birthday gift due tomorrow for a writer friend. I'm going to try to make a Writer's Block!

Funny! How did it come out?

blimey (author)2017-10-31

Great Instructabel. Some methods I haven't heard of before. I've tried using PVA without much success. Another method if you only have a inkjet printer is to print onto acetate or transparency film and then immediately press the image onto the wood. The ink stays wet long enough to be transferred to the wood and is quick, easy and gives pretty good results. You must make sure that the film doesn't move while pressing it down.

fixthisbuildthat (author)blimey2017-11-03

Cool, good info

CvbarnJR (author)2017-10-30

Just what I have been looking for. SURPRISE, SURPRISE. I have all the materials and supplies in my garage, of course I do not have the laser printer. Now to get started.

Have fun!

CaitD1 (author)CvbarnJR2017-10-31

Easy solution for the laser printer....most copy shops use only laser. Office Depot and Staples both use only lasers and the little UPS/copy shop close by makes great copies for only a few pennies. Just set up the format you want, print it on the ink jet, and get that copied at the store on their laser printer.

Glad I could help!

NikolasK5 (author)2017-10-31

Thanks for this article it can come in hand because I do make handmade menus.

About the iron way, I think that if you can use some hard to burn cloth below the iron and the paper so that you have a more flexible surface, it may work better.

I definitely needed more heat!

pbesong (author)2017-10-31

thanks. this was really helpful. i'm going to try it with some polycrylic i have at home.

fixthisbuildthat (author)pbesong2017-11-03

You're welcome!

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