Photocopy Image Transfer Method


I discovered this way of transferring a photocopied image to various surfaces while reading a book published in England on card making. The crucial liquid ingredient was called "cellulose thinner," but after some googling, I discovered our US equivalent is Xylene. Xylene is found with paint strippers in the paint department of major hardwares. While you are there buying Xylene, go through the ceramic flooring area and get a plain surface (very smooth) tile to use as a work surface. Xylene is POTENT and will eat up many usual work surfaces. The ceramic tile will cost from as low as about 15 cents for one about 4" square, to about $1.25 for one 12" square.

This is how it works: The backside of the photocopied image is moistened with the Xylene, then put face-down on the receiving surface. Burnish the image. Lift paper carefully. There is the image!

You must photocopy the image(s) you want to transfer with a copier like you find in libraries, etc. Ordinary inkjet computer printer images will NOT work with this process. I believe laser printer images will work, but I don't have one to try.

Before your trip to the library or copier center, decide on the image(s) you want to work with. Locate the images. If the image has words, you must 'flip' it (make a mirror image of it) before you print it. Using the computer program of your choice, arrange all the images on one sheet, print the sheet, then take it to the library and make the copy or copies you want. Each image is to be used only once. (Each succeeding printing of an image is much fainter and probably won't be so pleasing to you.)

Here is a picture of the materials -

(Klean-Strip) Xylene

ceramic tile

paint brush to apply the Xylene

photocopied images (note mirror-image messages)

Not shown: burnisher, receiving surfaces

Now you are ready to make the image.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. Xylene will give you a headache, or worse. You may want to wear protection on your hands, too. Xylene is made to STRIP off paint, and as I said, it is very potent. ***USE CAUTION - DO NOT USE AROUND CHILDREN OR ANIMALS***

I used it directly from the can by opening the little top, then dipping the paintbrush directly into the can. As soon as I had the image moistened, I recapped the Xylene.

Tape the receiving surface to the ceramic tile. If necessary, make faint pencil marks to help you place the image. Have a burnisher ready. I used a bone folder, but the bowl of a teaspoon works well too. Do not use an embossing burnisher with the teeny-tiny tip... you want a fairly good-sized burnishing surface.

Cut out the image, leaving plenty of extra paper around the edges to use to hold it while applying the Xylene. Dip the paintbrush into the Xylene, and 'paint' the BACK of the paper with the image. You will immediately see the image through the paper. This is what the paper looks like as the Xylene is applied:

And this is an image after it has been burnished. The new image is on the right, the 'used' copy (note that it is a mirror image) is on the left. The bone folder is the blue thing above the card. (Note: my 'bone folder' is actually made of plastic, and using it to burnish the Xylene-impregnated paper 'melted' the end of the folder - I TOLD YOU that Xylene is potent stuff!!)

Ever the experimenter, I tried the process on other materials. Here are the results:

First row -

*Hershey bar gold foil - didn't transfer at all (bwaaah!)

*Clear plastic - not hardly worth the try on this particular plastic. Interestingly, the smooth side of the plastic (bottom piece) worked better than the pebbly side (top piece). Some other plastic might work better.

*Vellum - so-so. I don't know if the vellum I used was real vellum. Top is front of vellum, bottom is back side.

Bottom row -

*Wood - works great!

My friend Carmen in Canada said she'd just read a magazine article about this same transfer process, but using "Goof Off" instead of Xylene. I believe Goof Off will work even better than the Xylene I bought as it actually contains more real xylene in its formulation. Here is a link to similar products:

Products similar to Xylene

For further information on this process, here are a couple online articles:

Image Transfer Follies

Direct Photo Copy Transfers

I tried coloring one of the transferred images with Prang colored pencils, then very lightly wet the colors to blend. It worked great. The black didn't smear at all.

You may be wondering why you would want to use this method when you can just print the image with your computer printer. Well, you can apply the image to some surfaces that will not print effectively with your inkjet printer, like thick mat board, posterboard, wood, etc. I believe it can also be used on fabric, but I haven't tried that yet.

You can also photocopy images from other sources that are easy to slap onto a photocopier glass, but are time-consuming to capture and then print on your computer... magazines, your own drawings, rubberstamp images, public domain clipart books. I'm sure you'll think of other sources.

I want to try it on tissue paper next - another paper that does not go through my computer printer successfully.

Let us know what results you have, especially with different materials!

Comments (3)
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I work in a Histology laboratory and work with Xylene everyday. You must always wear gloves and use in a well ventilated area. This stuff is harmful to your health and must to used with care.

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My gosh Red, are you sure you're not a professional acting as a amateur???

Your instructions are so detailed and beautifully presented!!!

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Sherwood Botsford (z3, Alberta)

XYLENE IS POISON. It also is sometimes found in natural gas at low concentration. To give you an idea of how poisonous: Dirt near a gas well is hauled away as hazardous waste if it contains 25 parts per million of xylene.

If you can smell it, you are at risk. The stuff is tough on the liver at high doses, and carcinogenic at low doses.

Stay safe. Buy the transfer paper or use an iron.

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