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Old 03-24-2009, 07:39 PM
Steve Ellsworth's Avatar
Steve Ellsworth Steve Ellsworth is offline
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Highlands Ranch Colorado
Posts: 784
Default How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Here is the way I do transfers perhaps you can make it work too.

The chances are real good this will do the job for you, I have used it on quite a few models of Hp's and Epson's but it may not work for your particular printer and ink combination. Concocting a universal solution for every printer now that inks are changing is a challenge.

With that said, there are some simple methods that you can employ to your ink-jets output to figure out what your chances are of attacking the ink to obtain a decent transfer. Notice I say attack the ink. If you have a dye or a pigment printer then the rules change.

Over all the concept is simple. You must dissolve the ink on the transfer before you migrate it to another surface without destroying the image. There is no mechanical process, it's all by chemical action.
That surface you are migrating to, whatever it is, has to be receptive to the ink.

Bare metal of any type is not a good receiver for ink. So by necessity we must create a receptor or ground which is stable yet readily absorbs the ink without bleeding.

The reason for this should be apparent, many things can be used to transfer a design. Unfortunately most of them will bleed and not hold the resolution required for detailed engraving under the scope. Any process that does not hold a minimum of 600 DPI to 1200 DPI resolution will give poor results.
This becomes a real issue when transferring vector images which are composed of one pixel.

Setting up for the test.

The first step is to make a couple of transfers and let them dry for different durations. Keep notes or date the sheets with a Sharpie.

Some inks lock up over time and they may become quite useless for transferring after a short period of time. Newer products are designed to form a chemical bond with the transfer material to prevent them from smearing or fading.

The majority of these fall into the category of the “permanent photo quality or presentation types”.

Anything that wreaks of physical longevity should be avoided. Older, less sophisticated photo-printers and office printers are far more conducive to transfer work than exotic photo-printers.

The new transfer sheets will cause you untold grief. It's far better to stay with ancient technology that was designed long before these concerns of permanency became an issue.

My choice are transfer sheets that were designed by 3M for copy machines. The original overhead transparency. These have sufficient tooth to the material to take a sharp print but they do not lock into the inks.

They are easy to spot because they have a sheet of paper attached to them by a glue strip along one side. Because they were designed to be used in a copy machine they have no problem being run through a laser as there is little difference between the two machines.

All of the transfers I am using today are printed on the older 3M sheets and were printed well over a year ago which speaks to their resistance to ink penetration beyond the base ground.

I paint as much or more than I cut. So I have quite a collection of materials to experiment with.

Over the years I have learned what most of these products are capable of. Still, it took almost a year to find the right combination to make this work.

My studio is in the basement so I am a stickler for human friendly materials.

The majority of the products I use are water base and human safe. But when using these materials you still have to read the labels as not all water based are non hazardous. The rule of thumb is to read the label. If there is a hint of nasty stuff, leave it alone and find a substitute made from natural products.

Now with all that in mind take a transparency and see how tough it really is.

If you lick your finger and wipe the transfer and it readily dissolves you have a winner.

If it doesn't then you would need to move on to something a bit stronger like Simple Green, or a citrus based product, or KOH-I-NOOR. In this case I am going to use Simple Green concentrate to test the ink.

A spritz of soap in water, shake it up.

I have applied it gently with a small soft hair brush.

As you can see in a matter of a few brush strokes the ink has completely dissolved from the material. The object is not to scrub the ink off with the brush. You just want to move it very gently to see the chemical reaction.

If the ink was resistant but dissolved with the Simple Green within a nominal time say 10 seconds I might consider using a wetting agent to facilitate the absorption. It's possible to speed that up by making things “wetter”. Calgon for dishwashers is such an agent and there are products from Kodak which speed up the process quite well. Generally these are not a necessity.

Now that we have determined that the ink is workable we have to concern ourselves with making the metal suitable to receive it.

Metal is impervious to ink. Ink has no adhesive properties. So we have coat the metal with a receiver. There are a couple of ways to do this.

The first solution is very simple to make. It has several properties which make it viable.

It attacks ink and at the same time provides a receiver substrate which dries crystal clear, is thin tough and water proof . It will not tear up anything you apply it to nor does it ball up under the graver point.

To make this we start with MOD PODGE.

It's a simple water based adhesive glue that plays well with acrylic products. Little old ladies use this to make transfers from newspaper cartoons. You can find it at Hobby Lobby.

Mod Podge gives us the adhesive qualities we need to stick to the metal. But out of the jar it's too thick and doesn't do the job by itself. Thinning it with water doesn't work. Water breaks down the adhesive qualities.

The addition which pulls it all together is Golden Airbrush Medium.

This is used for thinning acrylic paints. Acrylic paints, mediums and Mod Podge have similar characteristics in so much as thinning them with water will break down their adhesive qualities. This stuff was invented to over come that problem. You can check their site for a lot of good information on products and tricks. I tried other brands and they didn't work.

Aside from keeping the glue intact it likes to eat ink too. which is exactly what we are after. Normally this is all that is required in the soup but the mix can be changed a drop at a time to give it a little more bite a should the ink be locked in. Lots of choices out there for ink eaters at the art stores.


The mix isn't all that critical. Maybe a ľ teaspoon of Mod Podge and an ounce of Air Brush medium. Put it in a jar and stir it up. Looks a lot like 1 percent milk.

Next we take our material and clean it. You will soon see why most people have so much trouble making a transfer and end up with something that looks like this.

For cleaning use good alcohol. Everclear is safest.

But you can use off the shelf high test

Don't mess with rubbing alcohol.

Too much water in it.

What ever you do, don't waste any of this stuff on transfers.

You'll need it to drink to get through this tutorial.

Once you wipe the area, keep your fingers off the area that is to receive the transfer.

Then tape the transfer into position.
The tape hinge is important. Don't skip this part.

Next lift up the transfer and using a soft brush paint the mix on the metal. Paint right up to the hinge and get it quite wet.

Remember ink-jet transfer is a wet in wet process. It's the complete reverse of the laser process. This is where most people fail. They try to paint the mix on, let it flash over, apply and burnish. Sorry but that process only works well for laser pigment transfers. Burnishing ink leads to deformation of the image as you move the ink around between the acetate and the metal. It also ruins the transfer sheet and makes it useless so that it cannot be reused.

Once the metal is wet, flop the transfer over and down pressing it onto the metal. The trick is not to let it shift while the liquid does it's job. That's one of the reasons why the hinge is so important. You can see this is very wet.

You may notice a change in the color of the ink when looking through the acetate as the ink gets saturated. You can take your finger off a few times to check if you want. When it looks even, pop up the edge of the acetate and lift it back. Don't tear off the hinge just yet as you may not have a perfect transfer.

If for some reason a portion of the image is missing and it looks like this it's probably a cleaning issue, you can start over or reapply the medium and pick up whats missing in another pass. That's why the hinge must be good. But here we have no hinge so we would have to start over.

Were it hinged we would wait a bit for the coating to dry by blowing on it or flashing it with a hair dryer. Then after it's dry and only then gently put some more liquid on the area which needs patching and flop the transfer down again repeating the process.

This is the beauty of acrylic. It can be layered a thousand times once dry as it doesn't attack itself.

Therefore you can repeat this as many times as required to complete your image or until your hinge self destructs.

When the process is done right the transfer quality is more than sufficient to handle any engraving project.

Engraving a highly polished surface under a well lit scope can be really hard on the eyes

So we change the process a little.

For this technique we use a specific product. Designers Gouache.

No, It's not the same as Chinese white or plain white water color or even acrylic. It has the wonderful properties of being thinner, tougher, opaque and it sticks better to metal . It gives you a clue as to whether you have adequately cleaned your engraving surface as you apply it.

Take a good look at the knife which has been painted from end to end and see if you can tell where the residual oil was left from my fingers after handling it.

Surprising isn't it.

The lesson here is that if water based Gouache won't stick to your metal nothing chances are good that nothing else will either. Any acrylic or water base transfer method would probably fail in some respect. Any laser medium using Damar or shellac would be less affected.

Adding Gouache as an underlay is a good idea until you get familiar with any transfer process. Just be sure you don't apply it thickly. All you need is a damp brush and draw it across the end of the tube to pick up sufficient paint for your application. Works great on black metal....

Once the Gouache has dried, simply paint it with the medium and do the transfer. You will have a nice off Grey surface to work against.

It takes quite a bit of effort to screw up a transfer when engraving after it has dried. If you are paranoid you can always slap another thin coat of medium over it. Flash it with a hair dryer and begin to cut.

Regardless of the mediums you employ, keep them thin. Excessive buildup of base materials make engraving difficult. Keep in mind when making your mixes that viscosity serves no purpose.

As I said earlier, different inks, different measures.

If the ink shows signs of dissolving but doesn't behave well you may have to do a work around. It's not inconceivable that you could be working with two mixtures. One for a receiver and the other to work on the ink.

It could be a simple as adding a couple of drops of Simple green, alcohol or KOH-I-NOOR. However alcohol will ultimately vapor out and you will have to adjust at some point in time.

Keep your base layer in a separate bottle from the one you experiment with.

However whatever you use should not destroy your receiver. The chances of any of these products messing up your transfer are nil. When you are finished working you can easily remove any acrylic material with Fantastik cleaner.

You should be able to whip any ink-jet in a matter of minutes following this process. At worst you'll know if you need a different printer.

Acrylic doesn't care what you paint it on as long as it's clean. It does just as well on ivory, wood, glass, plastic, as it does on metal. Because we are not looking for archival permanence it has more than sufficient strength for engraving purposes. Many people work on metal finishes that are striated or porous, these are easy to transfer to as the mix fills in the gaps and gives a smooth surface to transfer to.

In general your transfer will equal your printer output. Learn about DPI and resolution and the processes of converting bitmaps to other formats which print better. When possible stick to vectors. Always print a large to small. Even then some printers or software will degrade the image as you shrink it.

It should be apparent to everyone why this process can't be sold. You can't remark other peoples products and sell them. Neither can you accomplish much when you spend this much time putting together how to do it;s.

This will be the last one for quite a while. If you enjoy it and it saves and makes you a few bucks send me a folder or something you have engraved for my collection.

Happy Engraving.

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Old 03-24-2009, 08:25 PM
monk monk is offline
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Posts: 826
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

STEVE: AN ABSOLUTE BIBLE, ISHOULD SAY ON DOING A GREAT TRANSFER. thanks so much for taking the time to do this for all to learn from. if this isn't the final word on the subject, nobody's ever gonna get a transfer done right.
by the way, pal, you look so much better now that you got your tooth fixed !
monk, the drunk
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:55 PM
Dave London's Avatar
Dave London Dave London is offline
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Location: Colorado Springs
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Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Great Tutorial Steve
And You are getting better looking
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Old 03-24-2009, 09:54 PM
Ken Hurst Ken Hurst is offline
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Location: Robersonville, N.C.
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Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Steve --- all I can say besides a'thanks" is WOW. You have done the community a great service and should be recognized for your generousity ! Thanks again. Ken
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Old 03-24-2009, 11:57 PM
rod rod is offline
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Posts: 623
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Stevie Wonder!

Great job, and you are a generous pal to all of us!

I'll Skype ya tomorrow and we can catch up...

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Old 03-25-2009, 03:07 AM
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Chapi Chapi is offline
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Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 174
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Thank you so much for this in-depth and informative tutorial. I don't think I have seen any of this information presented anywhere else, and I know I have not seen a tutorial on transfers that is this thorough and explanitory. A thousand times thank you!
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Old 03-25-2009, 05:03 AM
SEngraver SEngraver is offline
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Location: UK.
Posts: 3,484
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Morning Steve,
That was cracking stuff.Teaching and sharing your ideas and your time is highly apperaciated.I can now understand transfers better, a lot better right down to the ink,laser etc etc.
What is the difference between acetate and transperancie sheets?
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Old 03-25-2009, 07:06 AM
DGrub DGrub is offline
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 128
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Good morning Mr. Steve and a million thanks for your generosity in sharing not only your knowledge, but also all of the time and effort it took you to put together such a thurough and informative tutorial! Many, many thanks!
Best Regards,
Dan Grubaugh
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Old 03-25-2009, 09:29 AM
Peter Peter is offline
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Posts: 640
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Great tutorial Steve. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

I know a GREAT dentist should you want to upgrade your bite

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Old 03-25-2009, 08:01 PM
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Otto Otto is offline
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Location: Abilene, Texas
Posts: 257
Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Here's what I use. I really like it and it's simple. I take Grumbacher Damar varnish and thin it 50/50 with turpentine. Then I take some white pigment from the paint store and add just enough to make it fairly opaque. Paint it on and let it dry. Like 30 minutes. My printer is a Canon i550. I set it for transparency paper and grayscale printing. I use whatever transparency I can find as it all seems to work with this.
Otto Carter
Abilene, Texas

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?
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Old 03-28-2009, 03:37 PM
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Daniel Houwer Daniel Houwer is offline
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Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Hi Steve,
That's really a great tutorial! Thank you very much. Now go and see about al those brands or replacements.
Thanks a bunche!

The best things in life are still made by hand.
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Old 03-28-2009, 11:49 PM
Vanknife Vanknife is offline
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Location: Florauna Park Pretoria South Africa
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Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Good Day Steve E. That is a very usefull tutor thanks for the info and thanks for putting it together and sharing it.


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Old 03-29-2009, 05:33 PM
Gail Gail is offline
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Default Re: How I do Inkjet Transfers and the Receipe

Steve E, your time and effort in putting this together is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

festina lente
make haste slowly
A. Caesar
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