Duct Tape Image Transfer (InkJet)

If you’re sitting around puzzling about the basic premise behind image transfers using a InkJet printer (and, wow, who isn’t), let me put your mind to rest: it’s all about “floating” ink on a non-porous/semi-porous surface and then using some sort of burnisher to transfer that floating ink to a porous surface where it will sink in and dry, effectively “staining” the porous surface.

If you read this blog, you know I’ve had my issues with image transfers (here and here), so when I was working on yet another project requiring a transfer, I decided that until I found a quick and easy transfer method, I would not rest.

Which is, of course, when I realized that the answer to my puzzling was the familiar and comfortable answer to so many of my puzzlings: duct tape.

This realization led me to experiment with a wide variety of tapes (two types of duct tape, clear packing tape, tan packing tape, blue painter’s tape, white artist’s tape), and, frankly, all of them work to a certain degree.

Any of them would do in a pinch. Okay, not the white artist’s tape, but all of the others.

After way too much experimentation, there were three tapes closely ranked as the top performers: 1) Standard Silver Duct Tape (I happened to use 3M brand), 2) Nashua brand Transparent Duct Tape, and 3) Blue Painter’s Tape. These three tapes had the least amount of problem with the ink “beading up” and causing blotches in the transferred image.

The #1 limitation to image transfer by tape is the width of the tape. If you butt strips of the tape together, you end up with tiny strips of no ink (at the butting). If you overlap the tape, too much (and even a little might be too much — this is highly dependent on the image), you end up with hills and valleys of ink making an extra dark or light strip.

Which may be why the blue painter’s tape did not win in this experiment — it works extremely well, but I only had a very narrow roll and quickly became irritated by the inability to print even a small image without attempting to compensate for the “hills and valleys”.

Besides, duct tape is inherently cooler than painter’s tape.


- InkJet Printer
- Ordinary Printer Paper
- Image to be transferred
- Duct Tape
- Burnisher (for the most part, I used a wooden tool designed for sculpting clay, but a wooden clothes pin, a credit card, and an acrylic roller also worked)

duct tape image transfer (laserjet)

STEP 1: Print the image(s) you wish to transfer. This gives you a guide for placing the tape and will help with lining up the image when you wish to transfer it to a new surface.

STEP 2: Cover the image with duct tape.

STEP 3: Print the image(s) again, this time on the duct tape covered paper. At this point, I’m compelled to offer two bits of advice and a caution: 1) always leave a border of plain paper (no duct tape) on all edges (particularly the lead edge that feeds into the printer; 2) before placing the duct tape covered sheet of paper in the printer, remove all other paper from the loading bay — this prevents the duct tape (even the non-sticky side) from “grabbing” the paper below it; and 3) Odds are that all InkJet printer manufacturers recommend against running duct tape through your printer… do so at your own risk.

burnish duct tape image transfer (laserjet)

STEP 4: Place the printout, duct tape side down, on the surface you wish to transfer to — in this case, orange and white checked cotton fabric. Hold the paper down with one hand and rub the back of the image with a burnisher of some fashion.

That’s all there is to it. Here are some examples of duct tape image transfers:

duct tape image transfer to cardboard, paper, wool felt

Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the duct tape as a quick and easy way to get digital images onto fabric as a pattern for embroidery, needle felting, fabric paints, etc. Sometimes, as with the pumpkin images on the wool blend felt, image adjustments are needed for a solid transfer (in this case, thicker lines).

duct tape image transfer to wool blend felt, cotton, silk

duct tape image transfer to bass wood

duct tape image transfer to bass wood

While both the silver and Nashua transparent duct tape worked well, the transparent tape repeatedly edged out the silver for transferring small details in photographs.

silver vs transparent duct tape image transfer

I’m pretty happy with this quick and easy transfer method — after all, who isn’t happy when using duct tape?

All right, one last transfer image:

Now if I could just suss out a way to use WD-40 for image transfers…

UPDATE: Over on Craftster, some folks pointed out that duct tape is now sold in 8″x11.5″ sheets — how perfect is that? But be aware, I did some googling about and while the sheets eliminate the issue of “tape width”, they are a bit pricey (running $1-$2 per sheet).

15 comments for “Duct Tape Image Transfer (InkJet)

  1. Carolyn
    October 17, 2012 at 8:05 am

    You are amazing! (you are probably so over me telling you that) Thanks once again for doing all the hard, frustrating work and letting us sit back and reap the rewards of your efforts. A- mazing!

    • Jivvy
      October 17, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Carolyn, you’re one of my inspirations for continuing to update my blog and, at this point, you could probably post what you had for lunch and I’d be happy. ;)

  2. Yvette
    October 19, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Way cool! How would you do this on photos that are bigger than the width of the duct tape?

    • Jivvy
      October 19, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Yvette, I’m guessing that the least problematic way is to buy the 8″x11.5″ sheets of duct tape they make for crafts. But they’re not cheap ($1-$2 per sheet). I did some experimenting and found that when working with a roll of tape, the best results came from making the smallest overlap possible and paying close attention to the seam when burnishing.

  3. October 19, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I can’t wait to give it a try. I’m going to pin it for later testing. I love how it transfers onto the felt, that’s great for embroidery as I always had trouble transferring a pattern on to felt!

  4. October 19, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Wow, just wow!!

  5. October 19, 2012 at 10:25 am

    This is brilliant! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

  6. Judy Mills
    October 19, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Amazing! Thank you!

  7. Barb Leffeler
    October 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for doing the research and testing. I’m going to try it. I have not seen transparent duct tape. I’ll look for it now.

    • Jivvy
      October 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      Barb, if you’re in the US, check Home Depot. The roll I used was part of Mr. Jivvy’s stash (not mine) and he doesn’t remember where he got it, but HD’s web site has it. Amazon.com even has it, but no prime shipping.

  8. October 21, 2012 at 1:47 am

    I wonder if you could use the sheet duct tape and then clean the image off with alcohol or acetone and reuse the sheet of duct tape…

    • Jivvy
      October 21, 2012 at 1:54 am

      Yes, you can. I had some window cleaner sitting next to my work bench and squirted some of that on a paper towel and the ink wiped right off of the duct tape.

  9. Viney
    October 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Furrealz? That’s marvoelusly good to know.

  10. Hazzard
    November 20, 2012 at 2:03 am

    That is so cool it’s hot. Now to find out if it works the other way up – down here in Australia.

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