using acrylic medium to transfer toner prints to acrylic sheet

I thought few comments about using acrylic medium to transfer toner-printed images to other substrates might be helpful. I’ve recently used this technique to transfer laser prints of photographs to acrylic sheet. The web already has a lot of published content about this topic, and here are a few of my own thoughts.

The type of printing process affects the transfer. Images printed with toner inks transfer better than inkjet prints; the colors are brighter and the images are more clear and intact. Inkjet has its own aesthetic though; prints transfer with a more airy quality. Pigment inks will likely be more lightfast than dye inks, which are more commonly in use. Offset printed materials transfer well, but are often printed on coated papers (magazines, for example). The coating sometimes transfers along with the image. Flexographic inks (newspapers) transfer with an aesthetic similar to inkjet. Images from all four processes can be successfully transfered with acrylic medium.

I thought about buying a color laser printer. But after a quick cost/benefit assessment, I realized that paying 65 cents per copy at a local Fedex Office was a very good deal. So that’s what I do. Its a great idea to try some different printers to find ones that print crisp, clean photos without pixelation, streaks, or a bias in color. A correction can be applied to files before printing, so that the prints are more true in hue and saturation. This is particularly important with skin tones, where even slight shifts in hue can dramatically alter perception. The human eye and memory are particularly sensitive to the color balance of skin tones.

The type of paper affects the transfer. I like to use 20# copy paper; its likely lower in filler than heavier papers (including 24#) and the fibers seem to separate more easily from the image after transfer. The 20# paper had the clearest, brightest image of the several different weights I tested. Coated papers transfer an image with good color and clarity, and leave a very nice surface. However, little specks of coating often transfer along with the image, and for this reason the ones I tested not a good option.

The type of acrylic medium affects the transfer. I like to use a basic matte or gloss medium; I avoid the gels. Gel mediums are thicker in consistency and make it more difficult to get the bubbles out during the transfer. Golden Acrylic performed better for me than Liquitex, which tends to become whitish and soft when rubbing off the paper. Matte and gloss produce slightly different effects; a combination may also be used.

I like to coat the images with a couple of thin layers of acrylic before transferring them. This effectively seals the image, and the effects of small bubbles in a transferred image become much less noticeable. I like to apply acrylic to both surfaces when transferring; this affords a little bit more medium for removing bubbles and ensures complete coverage. I smooth them out with my fingers, as opposed to using a tool of some kind (squeegee, putty knife, razor blade, etc).

A surface can be masked in places where the transfer is not desired. I’ve used clear shelf liner (contact paper) for this purpose. It applies and removes easily, can be repositioned, and the adhesive is not particularly sensitive to water. It can also be reused. Its great for masking the areas where I’d like to glue two pieces of acrylic sheet together; I’ve found it easier to transfer before gluing than to glue before transferring.

I use my thumbs to rub the wet paper from the transferred image. I can often feel what’s happening better than I can see it. I use lots of water (ie under the running tap) to remove the bulk of paper fibers; they roll up in knits and wash away. Using less water (a drop or two) creates more friction (less surface tension) and helps when removing the final few fibers. The acrylic softens a bit when it gets wet; and hardens again when it dries. Its often useful to dry and re-wet a transfer before rubbing off residual fibers.

The toner surface of a transferred image is exposed and is somewhat fragile. A couple more thin layers of medium makes it more durable, and likely gives it some extra protection from UV, the environment, and cleaning. I prefer medium to alternatives like polymer varnish.

The quality and nature of this topcoat affects the image. Medium is generally not self-leveling. The surface retains the characteristics of how it was applied; a brush will leave brush marks. I like to use its surface tension to give it some character. Plastic wrap and aluminum foil can create interesting surfaces, as can paper, pallet knives, and a host of other tools and materials.

Transferred images can be fairly easily scraped from hard surfaces like acrylic sheet with a razor blade. The blade will scratch the acrylic, but the scratches do not seem to be noticeable when new images are transferred.

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