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How to make a painted sign using image transfer

A few folks asked me to create a step-by-step tutorial on creating what appear to be painted on signs using image transfer, as explored in my 2019 Mik challenge build [link], Mackenzie's Mercantile.

 

Devon suggested the technique in this video, aimed at photos and not hobbies:

 

 

Here's an overview of the process:

 

- Print the image reversed from left-to-right on a laser printer
- Coat the toner side of the image with gel
- Apply the gel side of the image to your surface (in my case wood)
- Let it dry at least 12 hours
- Moisten the paper using a wet rag
- With your finger wrapped in the moist rag, gently rub the paper backing off

 

A few extra things I discovered along the way:

 

- You need to apply the image over a white background so you may need to paint a region white
- Make sure you use enough gel
- A bit of patience is required to remove the paper with the moist rag. You need to be gentle but persistent.
- When applying over a painted background, you can dry brush that same color to simulate fading

 

Here's an example of this technique:

 

 

Preparing your image

 

There are a few things to think about when preparing your image:

 

It has to be a bitmap image. So if you want to create a sign in an editor you have to somehow convert that into an image. For example, my Mackenzie's Mercantile sign started out as a design in Google slides. I then used a utility on the Mac to grab a region of the screen to turn that line drawing into a bitmap. I'm sure there are many other ways to do this, but this worked for me

You will need to size the image to the right width/height. There's a simple way to do this in Google slides. You can select an image and bring up "format options". Click to select the "lock aspect ratio" open and then change the width or height to the size you want, as shown here:

 

You will need to flip the image horizontally. The reason is because you are going to put gel on the image toner (face up to you) and then flip it over to apply it to the surface, which will flip the image. You can do that using the Arrange -> Rotate -> Flip horizontally menu item in Google slides, as shown here:

 



with this result:


 

Prepping the surface

 

First, paint the surface:

 

 

Then you will need to create a mask so you can paint white over the top of the surface color. I use self adhesive sticker project paper from Avery. Print the un-flipped images so you can cut out the mask (more important if it isn't a rectangle):

 

 

 

And paint the white:

 

 

Don't worry terribly about perfect even coverage or a bit of white leaking under the mask. You will be touching up the paint later in the process, and having uneven boundaries and color variation in your sign will look better anyway.

 

Transferring the image

 

Here's a short video showing how to apply the gel to the laser printed image and then attach the sign to the wood:

 

 

After it dries for at least 12 hours, you remove the paper backing, very carefully, using a wet rag. Here are the steps:

 

  • Use a moist wag to wet the paper backing




  • You will start to see through the moist paper as shown here



  • With your finger covered by the moist rag, gently rub the paper to remove it:





  • Let the image dry for a few minutes, and any paper not removed will start to show as a white film. Remove that by more gentle rubbing. Repeat until there's no paper left:

 

Here's a short video that shows the same process for those that prefer seeing it live:

 

 

Weathering

 

After removing the paper on these signs, it's time to weather them. Since I have 2 signs I thought I'd try weathering them in different amounts (same technique though). For one I'm going to see if I can make it look really old and faded into the background. For the other, much less fading but still a bit of softening of the edges.

 

Here's a video showing what I did for the sign that's being most faded:

 

 

And here are a few photos of the final result:

 

 

Pluses and minuses

 

This technique seems like a good way to get complex images and signs that you want to look weathered on a rough surface. I've only tried it on wood but suspect it will work on most any surface that has some "tooth" (and maybe just a primer is needed for other surfaces).

 

I'm not so sure this will work if you want a perfect image transfer. There are enough areas for things to get a bit roughed up, particularly when removing the paper, that I'm skeptical that you'd be happy. And on a rough surface I'm not sure anything will really work well.

 

For my purposes, wanting to model buildings in the boonies that are not maintained well, this seems pretty good.

 

Lastly, sometimes it seems to me like the gel can get a bit thick and "fill in" the rough surface, rather than molding to it. But when I tried to skimp on gel, it didn't really stick well. Some experimentation might be required. While writing this article, I found cutting through the transferred image was ok: the xacto knife went through fine, and I found that cutting a few times while tipping the knife back and forth helped make a big enough groove to be visible.

 

Enjoy!

 



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