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).

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In the continuing saga of the Wicked Circus Tin, we come to my decision to cover the outside of the tin with wood.

Various WoodsWood by Many Names

For covering my tin, I used bass wood. My choice was based on the following facts: 1) I’m comfortable working with bass wood; 2) it’s light weight (but not as soft as balsa); and 3) I have a small ton of it stashed away (all from the Northeastern Scale Lumber Co.).

But there are numerous types of wood that will work (and at least one that won’t). In the example below, I used a variety of wood choices — everything from bass wood to matchsticks to a very thin mahogany.

Here’s a tip about very thin mahogany: it doesn’t like sticking to metal.

woodsiesOne source of cheap wood that works well is “Woodsies.” Sold by the bag, these are bits of hardwood (birch?) designed for craft purposes and usually found in the “kid’s crafts” section of craft stores such as Michael’s. Popsicle sticks also work.

various gluesOne Glue To Bind Them
Most standard white glues (such as Elmer’s and Aleen’s) will form a bond between metal and wood, but an incredibly fragile one. Cyanoacrylate glues (CA), such as “Super Glue” and “Zap”, form a slightly stronger bond, but with a low shear strength (which is a problem for this project — more on that in the tutorial below).

Enter the Big Gun: Gorilla Glue. Because of fume inhalant concerns and just plain messiness issues, Gorilla Glue is overkill for most craft tasks. But when you need a bond that’s going to hold up to some pretty serious manhandling, it’s a great choice.

Even knowing how well Gorilla Glue works, I wasn’t convinced the bond would withstand the abuse I planned to heap upon my final project. Which is why the tin I’m using in the tutorial below may seem to start in an abused condition — it’s the tin I used to test a variety of procedures (drilling holes, hammering the embossed logo, gluing wood).

- Altoids Tin
- Wood (Woodsies, popsicle sticks, matchsticks, etc. )
- Gorilla Glue
- Latex Gloves
- craft sticks, toothpicks, etc. for applying glue
- Saw
- Mitre/Chop Box (Optional)
- Rubber bands (for clamping)
- Wood Stain or Paint
- Sandpaper

prep the tinStep 1: Prepping the Tin
Use sandpaper to remove paint and rough up the tin where the wood is to be applied.

prepping the woodStep 2: Prepping the Wood
There are two ways to approach this step. You can either cut the wood to the finished size (this requires a good deal of precision) or you can cut the wood into approximately 1.5″ strips and trim the strips after they’ve been applied to the tin.

For my style of work, the second option is the way to go (I deal with enough “precise” work that I avoid it whenever possible).

applying glueStep 3: Applying the Glue

Select enough of your pre-cut wood to cover approximately 1/4 of the tin. Set the rest of the wood aside.

Follow the label directions for applying the glue. Use water to moisten both the tin and the wood and then apply the glue to both surfaces. Apply it as thinly as possible (which I was not good about in this demo, ergo the “yellow foam” you’ll see in later pictures). Allow both tin and wood to sit for approximately five minutes prior to attaching them.

Also note that I’m wearing latex gloves. Gorilla Glue is not kidding when it says it will stain your skin. It will. And if you happen to have some acrylic paint on your fingers and then you get Gorilla Glue on top of that paint, you might just find yourself scrubbing your skin with sandpaper so you can be presentable at some meeting you have to attend.

Not that that ever happened to me.

applying woodStep 4: Applying the Wood
After five minutes, apply the wood to the tin. Remember, you’re covering just 1/4 of the side of the tin.

rubberband clampStep 5: Clamp and Dry
Use a rubber band as a “clamp”. Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to be a super-tight or heavily weighted “clamp” — make sure the rubberband is soundly snug and you’re good.

Allow ample drying time. DO IT. I know waiting is hard, but I strongly recommend about eight hours. You’re about to really test the bond you just created and if you don’t allow the glue to thoroughly dry, you’re just going to wreck your project and you’ll have to start over at Step 1.

trimming the woodStep 6: Trim to Fit
Remove the rubber band and then use a saw to trim the wood level with the tin (as shown in the picture).

This is the step really tests the strength of your bond (and why the low shear strength of CA glue makes it a poor choice for this project). Gorilla Glue passed the test with flying colors. Other than the thin mahogany strips (which failed numerous attempts), none of the wood pieces budged during the rigorous sawing.

This step is also the reason for only covering 1/4 of the tin at a time. The sawing should be done with the blade resting on the tin, sawing outward (which is not possible if you cover the entire tin at once).

Sawing from the outside-inward actually increases the stress on the bond (not to mention it’s much tougher to trim to the right height when you don’t have top of the tin to act as a guide) and greatly increases the odds of you ending up with an unadorned tin in your hand and little strips of wood littering the floor of your workroom.

trimmed woodRepeat Steps 3-6 three more times or until you’ve gone all around the edge of the in.

If desired, use the same process to cover the top of the lid. The top of the lid can be done all at once.

finished Step 7: Apply Finish
Finish the wood as desired. Be aware, while the dried Gorilla Glue can be stained, it does not take stain the same way as wood does. So, if you get glue on your the wood, there will be variations in the color. This worked for me (I actually used glue to paint a “wear pattern” onto the wood, so that it wouldn’t be evenly stained), but if you don’t want a distressed look, either be super careful with the glue or use a paint finish. :)

If you’re wondering about covering the bottom edge of the tin with wood, well, yes, you can. But, and this is the “but” that kept me from doing it, the finished tin will only open as far as a 90-degree angle. If you want your tin to open fully, do not apply wood to the bottom side where the hinges are.

If you do decide to cover the bottom sides of the tin with wood, go ahead and apply the wood with the tin closed (to correctly line up the strips), but open the tin while the glue is drying — nothing like ruining a project by gluing it shut!

The next and final installment of the Wicked Circus Twin saga: When Mistakes Influence Design

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