Printing on Wood

US Flag

Guest Post by Olli Randall

In our modern, digital world everything seems disposable. We take photographs and videos by the hundreds, stick them online and forget about them – leaving only a messy data-trail that will continue to clog up the internet long after we are gone. So it’s nice to occasionally swim against this tide and make something tangible: a genuinely special picture you can take down and touch that looks great to boot. Welcome to the world of wood-printing. Here we talk you through how to turn your disposable digital photo into a nostalgic wall-piece you’ll want to keep forever:

US Flag
US Flag

Choose the ‘right’ photo

The first, and in some ways hardest step is getting the right photo. Wood-printed photos have a tendency to work best with a ‘vintage’ look – so a bright, confusing picture from a carnival or party isn’t ideal. However, if you have to go with one, first put it through Photoshop and desaturate it while bumping up the contrast. That’ll help with the vintage feel. Remember that your transfer will eventually come out as a mirror image. This is usually OK for objects, but can make faces look a little weird. If you’re doing a personalised image of someone (as a gift, say), be sure to ‘flip’ the image in Photoshop before printing.

Choose the right wood

There are a number of ways to do this. The easiest is to simply head down to your local DIY store and get hold of some cheap shelving wood. Anything will do, just make sure it’s as close to white as you can get – use darker woods and you’ll lose some of the shadows and wind up with a murky picture. The alternative is to do something a bit special by using a fancier wood like Maple or Bamboo or birch. If you’re in a position to source and cut your own wood, even better: it’ll give the print a special quality that really ties it to your home. However, it doesn’t matter if you simply buy in store. Once you’ve chosen your wood, you’ll need to make sure both photo and wood are the same size, so decide how big/small you want your print beforehand. Finally, print your photo making sure you use a laser printer. Ideally you want to be printing this onto proper photo paper. If you don’t have the equipment at home, you can get this done at plenty of high street stores for under £3.

Editor note:  Local prices to the U.S. would range anywhere from 50¢ to $1.50, depending on the store you go to and the size of your print.  4×6″ prints will obviously be less than an 8×10 or an 11×14″, and some outfits you get can 4×6″ prints for as little as a dime.  Just be sure to instruct that they use plain paper – not glossy or mat 4×6 inch stock photo paper…the key here is the chemical reaction the paper has with the acrylic concoction!

Apply Acrylic Gel

Take your piece of wood and apply a thin layer of acrylic gel to the surface. At this point, it’s important to remember you don’t want a layer that’s too thick or with any gaps. This gel is going to be crucial for transferring your image across, so pay attention to how you’re spreading it. Bumps, lumps and uneven bits are a no-go: take your time and get it just right. You can use any acrylic gloss gel medium to achieve this. Basics have a range, as do places like Liquitex and Loxley. Most cost under £10 (I found a bottle of Liquitex for under $10 US here in Cleveland area) and are relatively easy to come by. Simply ask in store at your local arts/DIY shop. OK, so now you’ve applied the gel, your photo is ready to go. This next bit will go against every instinct in your body, but trust us on this one. Place your laser-print photo face down on the gel so it covers the entire block of wood. Once this is done, take care to smooth out any air bubbles. Now for the next step:

Leave it Overnight

This part is simple: just leave it somewhere to sit overnight where no-one and nothing can tamper with it. That means out the reach of pets and children!

Remove the Paper

This is the part any kids in the house will love. Messy, exciting and not a little nerve-wracking; removing the paper involves wetting your fingers and rubbing it off, once piece at a time. Of course, this is guaranteed to make one doozy of a mess, but that’s all part of the fun. As you rub away, you’ll being to see your image peek through the shreds of scattered paper – an exciting little moment as you realise exactly how well (or otherwise) your print has worked.

Add a Finish

Once the paper is all off and your chosen image is staring back at you from its rightful, wood-bound place, it’s time to add the finishing touches. We recommend applying a thin layer of wood-stain for about ten seconds then rubbing it off. For your convenience it’s probably easier to do this in sections, as leaving the stain on too long will make the print too dark. To give the final piece a ‘finished’ look (as it ideally should have), sand the edges down – taking care to remove any excess lumps of gel. Then simply add a thin layer of soft wax to seal the print and wait for it to dry.

Viola! You have yourself a custom-built vintage print of your chosen photograph. Hang it up, give it as a gift, set it to one side and get to work on another… the important thing is to cherish it forever.

Olli Randall is a writer at who fills his spare time up with photography, more writing, and relishes in experimenting with different printing techniques.

Final Editor Note:  Stay tuned, after Olli sent me this write-up, I was so inspired, I went out to do it myself.  I’ll be posting my trials and errors through the world of printing on wood later this week!