How to transfer print onto wood – PVA glue (Mod Podge replacement) method

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute)

In this tutorial I will present a way to transfer inkjet print onto wood or furniture.

I am not going to show anything new or super-innovative, this technique is widely known, and you can find a lot of examples of using it on hobby & craft websites, however – in most cases – it is known as a Mod Podge technique. Which I personally find very annoying, mostly because of the price you must to pay to buy a small jar of Mod Podge.

After small investigation I discovered, that Mod Podge is nothing more than PVA glue, the one you can buy for ‘next to nothing’ in any stationary store with school equipment. So I started there. After some trial and error process I end up with a way which works fine for me. The results are satisfying, and you can see them on our Wooden Plaques with Print page.

So here it is: How to Transfer Print onto Wood in 5 Easy steps.

1. What you need

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - What you need

The glue I found at the end of my research is a regular contractors PVA glue, bought in B&Q (DIY and home improvement store). Apart from this you need:

  • an ordinary photocopy transparency film (format A4, the same as a regular printing paper),
  • a brush and
  • a plank, or any other wooden surface you want to transfer your print onto. You need some sort of
  • sticky tape also, I use just regular paper masking tape.

The transparency film you see on the image above was used by me many times before. I sanded one side just to break a little a smoothness of the surface. It is just matter of taste. You do not have to do it, as the glue after getting dry becomes very smooth and shiny – it is ok if you like it, but I was looking for more distressed finish.

2. Preparing the printing sheet

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - Preparing the printing sheet

This part is straightforward and involves only three steps:

  • spill it,
  • smear it (use the brush),
  • dry it.

The film must dry completely. As you can see on the picture above, initially white glue becomes transparent after drying.

Once it dries, you are ready to print your design on it.

3. Preparing the plank

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - Preparing the plank

I will not cover the printing itself in this article. If you need any tips in this subject, check my previous tutorial about transferring the print using water decals. Just remember about one most important thing: you must print your design in a MIRROR REFLECTION. This is crucial.

PLEASE NOTE: This method is suitable with inkjet printers only. It will not work with laser printers.

Once you are done with printing, give the transparency film an hour or so, to make sure that ink dries completely.

Start with placing the image on the board and aligning to the desired position. Lay the sheet printed side down, you should see in front of you correct (not mirrored) image. Once it placed as you wanted to, strap the film with paper masking tape (I use this kind of tape to avoid struggling with removing it afterwards, but you can use actually any kind of tape). You will secure the sheet only from one side, to make it possible to flip it over and then to put back in precisely the same position as before.

So you do: you flip the film over and apply a layer of contractors PVA glue to the plank. You smear it accurately over the surface and then you carefully put your design back in the place.

4. Attaching the image

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - Attaching the image

Starting from attached end of your film slowly lay it down rubbing it across the page during the process, to remove all air bubbles. Try not to slide the page, as it may smudge the ink.

Once you are done remove the tape.

This is basically it. The first ‘wet’ phase of the transfer is done. Now you need to leave your plank until it dries up. You must be patient as this may take from couple of hours up to couple of days; it depends on humidity of the wood. If the plank was taken out of a dry attic, where it was resting for a long time, couple of hours will do. However, if you just salved it from the rainy London street and covered with 3 layers of paint, the process will be considerably longer.

Your indicator is the appearance of the PVA glue. You will notice that after laying back your image on the wet glue layer, the sheet is losing the transparency gained after initial drying up. Now it is milky opaque – so you want to wait until it become transparent once again.

5. Removing the film

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - Removing the film

The plank I used in this tutorial was properly dry, so in the evening (after 5 -6 hours) I could get my hands dirty once again.
Wedge the film from one corner and pull. If everything is as it should be you will not have any problems with that. However – if you can feel any resistance putting up by the film, that means it is not dry enough. You need to wait some more. Leave it over night or so.

If you are lucky, whole layer of glue will come off the sheet – this way you can avoid cleaning the film after the job.
The last thing is to take a sanding paper and remove the access of the dried glue from the edges of your plank. You may want to sand the whole surface as well, to make it evenly smooth. When you are happy with the result, you may want to protect your work with the clear wax or polyurethane varnish. I would not try an acrylic varnish, as it is water based and may damage the surface.

That is it. As I said in the beginning of this tutorial, you may see my results on Wooden Plaques with Print.

And below you can find out how the plaque looks after heavy sanding, which revealed colourful layers of paint from underneath.

PVA Glue Print Transfer (Mod Podge Substitute) - Final effect

 

30 COMMENTS

  1. Kamila z Domu na Górce

    Kasiu bardzo fajne DIY 🙂 dziękuję za podpowiedź.
    pozdrowionka przesyłam:)

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Dziękuję pięknie i cieszę się, że mogłam w czymś pomóc.
      Pozdrawiam równie serdecznie!

      Reply
  2. Maria

    Hi! This is a great technique! I would like to know on which surfaces does it work properly and also what happens if I remark some parts of the image with a permanent marker before I transfer it.

    Thank you very very much, I really admire your work!!

    Maria

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      Thank you.
      It will work properly on most smooth surfaces, even on wax candles.
      And regarding marker corrections – as long as the ink is protected with varnish before transfer – should not make any problems.
      Regards
      Kat & Kris

      Reply
      1. Maria

        Thank you very much for your reply! just one more question, what kind of varnish should I use?

        Kind regards!!

        Maria

        Reply
        1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

          No worries.
          Any polyurethane will do.
          Avoid acrylic and any other water baesed varnishes, as they might dissolve the glue.
          Good luck
          K & K

          Reply
    2. Gary

      I love this technique I was using A4 paper and mod podge glue and rubbing my fingers to the bone to remove the paper.
      I tried your way with excellent results.can this technique be used on glass.
      many thanks again for sharing your knowledge

      Reply
      1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

        Hi
        Thank you.
        We have never use this technique on glass.
        If you did it please share your results.
        Kind regrads

        Reply
  3. Pablo

    Hi:
    I´ll try it, but I want to be sure, it will be a “sandwich”: wood-glue-ink-glue, right?, and if you want to remove an area of glue from the upper layer, will not be a tone difference, or a future peeling?, sorry for my bad english…!!!
    You make beatiful objects!!!
    Thanks.
    Pablo.

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      The ‘sandwich’ metaphor is very accurate, thank you.
      As you said there are 4 layers: wood-glue-ink-glue.
      PVA when dried has very high transparency level, almost clear, so there is no colour interference.
      Of course you want to protect your work for it to last forever, I use clear wax, this does the job for me.
      Cheers

      Reply
  4. Fannie

    Dear Kat & Kris,
    I was researching about mod podge, and it’s technics when I come across your page. This is very clear and awesome tutorial! But what intrigued me the most is the picture of Morihei Ueshiba , founder of aikido, as your example. I take this as a divine intervention… 🙂
    Thus I must ask you, if any of you are by chance an aikidoka?

    Thanks again for the tutorial! I will surely try it someday.
    Best, fannie

    Reply
  5. Fannie

    Dear Kat & Kris,
    I was researching about mod podge, and it’s technics when I come across your page. This is very clear and awesome tutorial! But what intrigued me the most is the picture of Morihei Ueshiba , founder of aikido, as your example. I take this as a divine intervention… 🙂
    Thus I must ask you, if any of you are by chance an aikidoka?

    Thanks again for the tutorial! I will surely try it someday.
    Best, fannie

    Reply
  6. Pragya

    Hi,
    This sounds fantastic !! I have never tried image transfers before but was looking for tutorials and this sounds perfect !!!
    I have a question – If I do an image transfer on a wooden plank can I water protect it some how as I want to use it outdoors.

    Thanks !

    Reply
  7. laszlo

    Hi. Just a quick question please. Which transparency sheet did you use? Smooth or printeable? As i was told in hobbycraft that there are those two types. Thank you

    Reply
  8. Hilary

    Just a few clarifications!

    1) You coated the transparency sheet with PVA glue, let it dry, and put the transparency sheet PVA-glue-side-up into the printer so that the image is printed on the PVA glue and then transferred onto the wood? Will the PVA glue not damage the printer heads?

    2) Does it have to be a special inkjet printer to print on transparency sheets? Like waterproof ink / some other plastic-printing ink?

    3) Will it work on a non-porous surface, say ceramic tile? (Although I suppose I could get an unfinished tile and that would be a porous surface!)

    If this works I am certainly very excited to try it – it will save me a lot of running back and forth from the library to get dry toner prints done from the photocopier, like what other tutorials are suggesting! I also like the sustainability of being able to re-use the transparency sheets.

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      Hi Hilary
      Thanks for asking, here are the answers for your questions:

      1. That is right, you print on the layer of PVA, and as long as the glue is dry and you use inkjet printer (not a laser one) it should not to damage your printer heads.
      2. You use regular everyday printer, it is HP Photosmart in our case.
      3. You should check the surface before – just put some PVA on it and check how durable it is after drying up – you will have the same durability after print transfer.

      I hope it helps

      Reply
  9. Stephen Fisher

    Hi, thanks for this tutorial, my first attempt hasn’t worked, I think I used the wrong side of the transparency film, but hoping using the other side works 🙂

    Reply
  10. Phil

    Hi. With regards to your tutorial on transfering an image to wood.
    When i search for transparency film it brings up acetate sheets. Is this the same thing or is transparency film something completely different.
    Fantastic tutorial bu the way
    Phil

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      Hi Phil
      Thank you.
      Yes indeed, we use acetate transparency, non-printable.
      Good luck

      Reply
  11. Elaine

    Just to make sure as I can’t find the info , when printing on to the film do you print on the glued side ?
    Thanks

    Reply
  12. Elaine

    Just to make sure as I can’t find the info , when printing on to the film do you print on the glued side ?
    Thanks elaine

    Reply
  13. Funks

    Looks great and a million times easier than rubbing the paper backing off I’ve saw all over the web. Plus pva is much cheaper than the other gel mediums suggested. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  14. Cherie

    I’ve tried 3 times now and each time all that happens is the paint from the wood lifts and sticks onto the acetate. I’ve left it for anything from 4 hrs to overnight. Is there a particular acetate that is best for this?

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      Hi there
      I guess this is a problem of the paint the wood is painted, not acetate. From my experience a chalk paint (ie Annie Sloan) is the least durable. Acrylic paint is more suitable for this purpose. Try change the paint, just make sure it is properly dry before applying. The sort of acetate does not matter.

      Reply
  15. claudia

    Hello, I want to transfer writing ( like a poem) but how could I do this as the letters will be on the reverse?

    Reply
    1. Kat - Touch the Wood Post author

      Hi
      The text you want to transfer has to be mirrored – you can do it using easiest image editor, you will find loads online services on Internet

      Reply
  16. Bill

    Good article, have it a try but after a couple of failures I realised I had to do thinner coats of glue and allow it to dry longer. Just seen your article using water slide decals, this seems a lot quicker, curious, which method do you prefer?

    Reply
  17. Miss Nadia Harris

    I’m so glad I found your blog! Having tried printing on Freezer paper and mod podge techniques I was losing the will! But I battled on and this actually worked! Thank you so much. I printed on the the waxy part of freezer paper (Being as i already had it!) with the glue and his worked just fine. I had a print of running on the ink during transfer but it kind of adds to the charm, maybe it wasn’t quite dry. I’ll know for my next project ♡

    Reply
  18. Suzanne Brodie

    Hi, I have tried to join your blog but every time that I enter my information it says I am already a member. If this is the case I never receive your emails. How can I rejoin as I love your work.
    Many thanks

    Reply

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