How to Print Pictures on Wood
Waxed Paper Transfer

This is it. The original “How to Print on Wood” post from The Art of Doing Stuff.  It’s one of my most stolen pieces of content but luckily for you, you’ve found it in its original form complete with actual instructions.  Read on …

Printer on cabinet for printing on wood with just waxed paper.

Skip right to the tutorial.

I’m funny. Sometimes ha-ha funny, sometimes  left-out-of-the-fridge-too-long funny.  But as we all know, there are times for funny and times for seriousness. This is one such time.   For seriousness that is.

So this post will involve no funny. No laughing, no snickering, no coffee spitting. Because the information I’m about to introduce you to deserves a reverence that can’t be accomplished when diluted with hilarious jokes or cutting sarcasm.  When I first published this post in 2014 it got a bit of attention.  Mainly because it takes a simple idea and allows you to do it at home without any special equipment.

I’m going to teach you how to transfer any photograph or picture onto wood.

You don’t know it yet, but this is the greatest day of your life.  You get to produce something beautiful without any pain or tearing of your woman bits.  Plus it won’t turn into a whirling, dangerous ball of hormones in 13 years.

I decided I wanted to try making something but it involved transferring a photo onto wood so I did a little research.  Most of the tutorials I came across involved a few specialty materials  like matte gel and the backing paper of printer labels.  I didn’t have any printer label paper handy and don’t even know what matte gel is.  Like most DIYers I wanted to DIY, NOW.  Right this second, NOW.

So I kept looking for a simpler solution.  Mid search I suddenly remembered my mother mentioning something Mag Ruffman had done a couple of years back.  It was the perfect solution and it works GREAT.

All you need is a printer, a roll of waxed paper and a dream.

That’s right. All you need is a regular inkjet printer (this one is the newer version of the one I use) and regular waxed paper. I have an HP wireless printer and this technique works with this printer. It’s the only printer I can guarantee this works with, although it will work with most as long as it’s an ink jet.

(update:  since posting this a couple of years, there’s been a lot of success stories and a lot of frustration stories, mainly due to the printer you’re using.  I can only guarantee this works with the kind of printer I have which is a cheap, old HP printer I got at Costco. )

How to Print Pictures on Wood

1. Cut a few sheets of wax paper to the size of a standard piece of printer paper.

Wax paper cut to size of regular printer paper.


2. Find a smooth, light coloured piece of wood. Actually find a few so you have some to practice on.

 

Raw wood ready for printing propped against a white wall.

 

Find a high resolution image you like. Or make your own. The Graphics Fairy is a great place to start for copyright free, high resolution images.



3. Once you have an image you like, reverse it using whatever photo program you have on your computer.  If you’re not sure how to do that just Google it.

4. Put a sheet of your waxed paper into the printer and click print.

Inkjet printer with wax paper fed into it.5. As the waxed paper comes out of the printer, gently guide it. You have to be careful it doesn’t roll under itself or touch itself in any other way because it will smear the ink.

Printed wax paper coming out of inkjet printer.


6. Put your image exactly where you want it on the wood. Remember … this can be any unfinished wood. A bench, table, box, or anything!

Once you place your image you can’t move it.  Do not move it.  It will smudge. You will be sad.  Then you will cry and it will smudge some more.

Laying printed wax paper on piece of unfinished wood.

 

7. Holding the transfer tight to the wood, and working quickly, swipe the edge of a credit card across the image. This pushes the ink from the waxed paper down into the wood, which absorbs it.

Don’t be wimpy about this.  Push hard, but not so hard that you rip the waxed paper.  You can gently lift the paper to see if it’s transferring well.  If you notice spots that haven’t transferred, rub it some more with the credit card, this time burnishing it.

Running credit card over wax paper to rub ink into wood.


8. When you’re pretty sure that you’ve transferred as much ink as possible lift off your waxed paper and get ready to call someone. Because that’s the first thing you’re going to want to do because this method works so well.

You’ll be stunned.

You’ll naturally want other people to be stunned. It’s a DIYer thing.

Raw wood with perfect image of the word Vegetables and primitive images of a turnip and cabbage.

I tried a few images just because it was so fun.

Very detailed image of cutlery on wood.

 

Like I said earlier you can use this technique on any smooth, unfinished wood like old crates, tables, or chairs. For anything that’s going to have wear and tear, just remember to spray it with a a clear matte finish after you do the print. Any wood sealer will protect it.


If you don’t have a table, chair or dresser you want to print on, you can just find a nice old board and prop it against the wall, or hang it.

Raw wood with image of vegetables printed on it leaning against white brick wall in farmhouse kitchen.



Quick Reference Directions:
Waxed Paper Transfer

1. Cut sheets of waxed paper to the size of computer paper.

2.  Print your image onto the waxed paper with any Inkjet printer. (must reverse image first using whatever photo program you have) In answer to some of your comments, no, it doesn’t matter which side you print on. Both sides of waxed paper are waxed.

3.  Carefully place the image on your wood (wet side down) and then rub over it with a credit card.

4.  Removed waxed paper and the ink is now transferred to the wood.

5.  Seal with a matte spray wood sealer if you like.

 

TIPS

  • Use smooth wood.  Rough barn board won’t work, but smooth barn board will.
  • Darker colours on lighter wood works best.
  • Dampening the wood a bit with a sponge will make the transfer darker, but it might blur and smudge if you’re not extremely careful.
  • If the waxed paper won’t feed through your printer, tape it to a piece of regular printer paper before feeding it into your printer.
  • Some readers have also had success by using the slippery side of freezer paper so you can try that.

I made my piece of printed wood into a rustic planter.  Read how to make your own in this post. 

Rustic planter box with image of vegetables printed on the wood.

 

how-to-print-pictures-on-wood

Laughter may now resume.

 

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474 Comments

  1. James says:

    I built both of my children’s beds from pine and thought this would be an awesome way to personalize their beds. Alas, no matter what I do, I cannot get this to work for me… I tried taping paper to the leading edge and even tried taping the whole sheet of wax paper to a regular sheet of paper. All it does it get eaten inside of my printer without even giving me a glimmer of hope. I will try and get some freezer paper and see if that works…feeling discouraged…

    • Karen says:

      Hi James. Well that’s no good. From the sounds of it, it’s your printer. Aside from buying a new one I would suggest cleaning the rollers inside your printer. It could be they aren’t grabbing the paper properly. Also check to see if your printer has a thickness selection for paper and choose the thinnest paper. Finally, fiddle around with changing the printers settings (try photo for instance, or if you’re using photo, try regular paper). Good luck! It really does work, lol. Promise. ~ karen!

  2. Melinda says:

    OMG. I stumbledupon your site-I’m so happy I did. You’re amazing.

    ” Both sides of waxed paper are waxed.” Dying laughing at this. Who’da thunk it?

  3. Aïda says:

    Wow you are witty and I like it! I also very much like the printing on wood idea! Thanks a bunch for sharing it and your wit! Have a great day!

  4. Shawn Sum says:

    I am speechless! I never in my life thought that it would be this easy!! Thank You! Will definitely impress my wife with this trick!

  5. Wendi Clement says:

    Have you tried using a photo? I would like to transfer a photo of my husband’s dog onto wood. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Wendi. A photo would work perfectly. Just make sure it’s a good clean shot. It’ll work best of course if the dog is dark and the wood is light. If the dog and wood are the same colour it won’t be as effective. ~ karen!

  6. Karnk says:

    Yes I tried this very, very carefully and totally jammed in my printer. Had to remove rear access to get it out.
    So this does not work on any inkjet printer.

    • Karen says:

      Karnk – Just because it didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. I’ve had many things that end up jamming my printer where I have to remove it from the back. If you’re truly interested in this technique I’d try it a few more times. If not … then of course you don’t have to. Hand feeding the paper helps. Just guiding it down to make sure it catches in the rolleres. ~ karen

  7. missy says:

    Does this do any harm to your printer like to the print heads or anything as it being waxed ?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Missy – No, it shouldn’t harm your printer at all. It doesn’t come into contact with the print heads at all. ~ karen!

  8. Sharon says:

    Having a problem. Have been printing on wax paper but now the printer won’t do it. If I put a regular sheet of paper in, it will print on that just not the waxed paper anymore! Frustrated!!!
    Have tried another brand of waxed paper and parchment paper but nothing seems to work anymore. Any suggestions? My projects are falling behind! Thanks

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sharon – Try taping a piece of waxed paper to regular paper and see if it will feed through that way. If all else fails go and buy a new printer. You cannot fall behind on your printing on wood projects! 😉 ~ karen

  9. Lenita says:

    Girl, you are freaking me out. First the ingenious firepit, now this! This is BRILLIANT!! I love transferring stuff. Always happy to find another substrate! Lowes may have to ban me from the lumber department…

    • Karen says:

      I know. It’s a horrible, horrible, dangerous thing to know about. It’s WAY better than the fire pit if you ask me, lol. ~ karen!

  10. Melissa says:

    The ideas are great and very useful but in the beginning you talk about nixing the jokes and reverence then you go on to talk about tearing woman parts and then much later about crying? You either have a terrible sense of humor or are just trying to insult women by feeding into sad and silly stereotypes.

  11. abby says:

    cool tutorial!! quick question–what kind of printer do you use? I tried this once before (a long while ago) and found it made a mess inside the printer; do you think that’s just because the paper wasn’t lined up properly?
    thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Abby – Mine is an HP Deskjet. It’s not a particularly good printer. I believe I paid about $99 at Costco a few years ago. Just try to gently guide the paper as it goes through. Just coax it along if you have to. Good luck! ~ karen

  12. Stephanie says:

    Will this work on an already finished piece of wood? Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stephanie. No, I’m afraid the wood needs to be unfinished, so the ink has something to soak into. If it’s been finished then the ink will just rest on top of the finish and then smear off. ~ karen!

  13. Amber says:

    This is pretty cool but does it have to be an inkjet printer or can I use any printer? Cause inkjets are beyond out of my price range …

    • Jacki says:

      Inkjet printers are the cheapest kind. You can get one for as little as $60. The ink is generally the most expensive part. I’ve found if I buy a more expensive printer ($99 for Kodak), the ink is cheaper. Watch for sales.

  14. laura says:

    Love this project!, and your super funny instructions!

  15. Michaela says:

    I will try this with a picture with me and my Grand daughter in order to let her know how much I love her. I do not get to see her as much I want too. thank you.

  16. Kristine says:

    Have you tried ironing the wax paper to the wood?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kristine – I have not. You could try it just to see if it works, but transferring it with the credit cards really is easy. Have fun! ~ karen!

  17. Ellen says:

    hmmmmmm…. I’ve never heard of a dingle dangle tree………

  18. Vintage Geek says:

    Hello!

    Thank you so much for sharing your incredible creation! I am soooooooo excited!

    QUESTION: Is there a particular type of printer that works best? I have a bottom loading one and the wax paper keeps getting caught and wrinkled. : ( I’m assuming top loading works best?

    Thank you!
    Sandra

  19. Amie says:

    Karen,

    A heads up, a pin that is using your photos from this post is floating around Pinterest, with no credit anywhere to you: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/124974958384656006/

  20. frank says:

    You can do the same with a print on plain printer paper. Just use a hot iron over the back to transfer the image. No risk of smudges. I’ve used this method many times.

  21. Karyn says:

    I came across this from Pinterest, however the pin I clicked took me here
    http://simpledesignho.me/2014/06/15/game-changer/

    Which appears to be another blogger using your images and I don’t see a link back to here. I don’t know if stuff like this is a big deal to you, but I just thought you should know.

    • Karen says:

      That sort of thing is VERY important to me Karyn. Thank you. I appreciate you letting me know. It’s one of those sites that has no contact information of course, but I’ve left a comment asking them to remove my images immediately. ~ karen!

  22. Liz Durand says:

    Hi! If I have a printer which uses toner, ¿can I do the transfer?
    Thanks, great idea!!!

    • Trish says:

      Do not use wax paper in a printer that uses toner. It will melt the paper and you’ll have a gooey mess and could ruin your printer. Toner printers use heat to set the print, unlike inkjet printers. I worked at a copy center for a while with toner copiers and printers. There are many super cheap inkjet printers you can buy, so good luck!

  23. Suzy says:

    I am wondering the same thing as Liz, can a cheap HP desktop printer that take cartridges from Walmart work?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Suzy – I can only speak for my own cheap HP desktop printer from Costco and it works just fine. As long as it’s an inkjet cartridge printer. Which, chances are if it’s a cheap HP printer from Walmart it is. Just give it a shot. Rip out some freezer paper, cut it to size and try to print on it. It won’t hurt anything to try it. ~ karen!

  24. Darlene says:

    Just ran across your site while browsing for grandkids word art. Loving it!

  25. BRP says:

    Just an FYI, if you are having trouble with your waxed paper jamming, try ironing two pieces of it together, then feed it into your computer. Bet that helps! Thanks so much for this wonderful idea, by the way. I’m excited to give it a try.

  26. Brenda says:

    There is transfer paper you can buy that you can use to iron pictures on fabric once an image is copied on to it. Don’t know why it wouldn’t iron on wood as well as fabric. Seems to make sense that it would.

  27. Nick says:

    This is awesome! After reading some of the other comments it seems that everyone automatically starts formulating things that they can make. Very inspirational!
    Would Mod Podge work for solidifying the printed piece or just make it a big smeary mess?

    • Karen says:

      LOL, I’m not sure if it would become a smeary mess or not. I’d heat set it first with an iron and thin towel. Then try to seal it with whatever you want. I’d probably go with a wood sealer though. ~ karen!

  28. Peri Aplin says:

    I want to get more of your ideas! How do I get on your email list? : )

  29. Cleverwabbit says:

    Hi this is a great idea, do you think it will work on glass?
    Thanks!!

    • Karen says:

      Hey Clever – Thanks! I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work on glass. The ink needs something to absorb into (like wood or something else porous) With glass the ink would just rub right off and smudge. 🙁 ~ karen!

  30. Jennifer Dirks says:

    Just love this idea, so many possibilities. I was wondering do you think this would work on glass?

    • Karen says:

      I’m afraid not Jennifer. The ink would just smudge because there’s nothing for the ink to soak into. Having said that, nothing is impossible so you could always give it a shot. That’s how I learn most of the things I do. I just try it. (you’d have to wait for the ink to dry and then when you’re positive it’s dry, seal it with something.) ~ karen!

  31. Linda says:

    This is absolutely the coolest (and cheapest) way to transfer. I’m amazed how great it looks. I so thank you for sharing it.

  32. Darlene says:

    This is so cool! Thanks so much for sharing the details. I’m going to post it on my blog.

  33. Trish says:

    OMG! I am sooooo glad I found your blog post! I am currently delving into the inkjet transfer to wood realm of creatin’ stuff and have read blogs and watched videos til my eyes and ears finally bled out. I’ve seen the same ones…the label thingys and the gel. I didn’t want to waste money on the stupid labels just to have a carrier for my ink, nor did I want to have to buy the gel. I did, however, try another method that’s pretty cool. It required painting one side of copy paper with washable glue, letting it dry, then running it through the printer. The print came out perfectly, but the transfer part…not so much. Then I decided to just print on copy paper without the glue but instead brushing the glue to the wood. Then I laid the print side down, let dry for HOURS, then removed. This worked out much better. BUT…this…this here, using wax paper and just scraping the paper to transfer the ink to the wood is brilliant! I’m sooo going to try this today. Not only do I NOT have to wait HOURS for anything to dry but I get almost instant results. *wiping tears of joy off my keyboard* If it’s possible to follow up with a picture of my newest creation using your method, I will do so ASAP. And let me add, you are hilarious! My kinda person! As I say adieu for now I’m going to head to the kitchen where I believe some wax paper is loitering in one of my cabinets. I will follow up with my results. You just made my day!

  34. Trish says:

    Okay, I couldn’t wait. I DID IT! OMGosh this is truly a game changer! If you want to see my new masterpiece, here is the link to a picture on my facebook page, hope that’s okay. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202534370983080&set=pcb.10202534372503118&type=1&theater I plan to add an acrylic sealer and Mod Podge to it, plus I’ll be painting text on it when it’s all dried. Let me add a tip for those using a printer with a tray, rather than a top-feeding one. I have an Epson dual-tray printer (yay me!), so it was impossible to attempt feeding the wax paper through because the printer won’t print with the drawer open. Then my BRILLIANT mind devised a simple plan…this can work for a top-feeding printer too, if you’re having problems. Tape the wax paper to a piece of copy paper along the edges, just enough to ensure it won’t slip around in the printer. I just added tape around the opposite ends of the paper on each side, folding the tape over the edges. Just be sure it’s nice and flat when you’re done taping. It also made it easier to cut the wax paper to size. Any-who…I will be sharing your fabulous blog on my facebook page because the whole world should know about your deceptively simple method. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Karen says:

      Yay Trish! I’m glad it worked right out of the gate for you. It usually does. Good job by the way! I like the layering look you’ve done. ~ karen!

      • Trish says:

        You’ve created a monster, Karen! Thanks so much for your comment. I actually didn’t do any layering though I will be adding text. I decided to make the image in black and white and it transferred beautifully. Because I’m so darn excited, I decided to do JUST. ONE. MORE before I am too tired to form sentences. This time I used another photo of mine, one I took of the Kansas City Chiefs Stadium. I have another double heart wood block painted in a pale white. Oh wow, it turned out amazing. I still have the lines from the printer, likely due to the wax paper not going through smoothly enough or else I need to set the ink to “economy.” I like the effect anyway, so I’m very happy. Anyway, I MUST show it off. I will also be adding text to this one, so it’s not finished yet. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202534889316038&set=pcb.10202534894996180&type=1&theater I’ve shared your blog on my page, so I hope others drop by. I can’t figure out how to follow you though…please let me know. And thank you again!

  35. Tricia says:

    This is great! Will the transfer work on painted wood instead of unfinished?

  36. Dawn says:

    Nailed it on the first try. Thank you so much! Wish I could post the photo.

  37. Very energetic blog, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?

    Here is my web site – Marketing Research

  38. Kim W says:

    I have read almost every post trying to see if someone has already asked this question. I just bought a brand new piece of pine…, then i was going to sand it, stain it.. maybe take a hammer and torch to it…. =) Can i use this technique on STAINED wood, but NOT finished, so it would still be abl e to absorb? Thank you in advance… and LOVE your personality coming thru in your writing.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kim W – I’m gonna be honest with you … I have no idea, lol. My hunch is it won’t absorb because stains are still oil based which coat the wood. If I were you I’d just quickly wipe some stain on the back of the pine or a scrap piece and give it a shot! And let me know how it turns out! ~ karen

      • Katie Frank says:

        Hi Kim and Karen! By any chance, did either of you find out if this would work on stained wood? 🙂

        • Karen says:

          Hi Katie! No, I never did try it. It isn’t something I plan on trying either, lol, so hopefully Kim will have figured it out. Since she’s the one who was wondering about it in the first place, she’s your better bet anyway. And truthfully, just give it a shot and see what happens. ~ karen!

  39. Susan says:

    This is a brilliant idea!!

    Half the things in my house are now covered with wooden boxes in the house with various pictures. It’s a great way to brighten up storage boxes.

    I’m going to try the fabric print next

    Great website
    S

  40. Susan says:

    Sorry I got a bit over excited and pressed “Post Comment” a bit too early on my last post – I should have read it properly – LOL

    I meant to say half the wooden boxes in the house are now covered with various pictures

    Still love the site ~ S

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Thanks Susan! I know that printing stuff is addictive! Wood, fabric, … doesn’t matter. It all looks great and takes over your life, lol. ~ karen!

  41. jannicke øverby says:

    Hi i tried to transfer text to waxed paper the same paper you used as shown.. But the waxed paper is to thin and not as stiff as normal paper.. i almost broke the printer to my dad.. the paper got stuck inside.. what did you do different..and is it possible to find more stiff waxed paper that can take the printing..

  42. Paint It White says:

    Wow! what a great idea, hope you don’t mind if I share it. I can’t wait to try it out for myself:)

  43. Cat Smith says:

    Omg!! Just read your instructions for wax paper transfer to wood ( fabulous!). Got to the comment about your mom – Mag Ruffman…. I love your mom! I used to search the PBS channels to find her (If I Can Do It). Loved her format, style, explanations. Red Green smacks a bit of the same program structure….

    Now, I find you, with more exciting things to pursue. Thanks for the fun blog! I definitely want to join it. Happy!

    • Karen says:

      O.K., now you’re going to make me go back and read my own post Cat, lol. Mag Ruffman isn’t my mom. 🙂 I did reference her and maybe I also referenced my mom. I’ll have to go reread the post to be sure, lol. However … I have worked with Mag Ruffman years ago and I do have a mom so I guess we can go with calling her my mom. 🙂 ~ karen!

      • carol centracchio says:

        I want to know if i can tranfer to glass blocks with wax paper? Or how can i get something for glass no crafts store has the vinyl transfers. Help

        • Karen says:

          Hi Carol. I’ve never tried it onto glass blocks, but I’m inclined to say it won’t work because the ink has nothing to soak into. You’re better to try screen printing onto glass or painting over a glass etching stencil with glass paints. ~ karen!

  44. veronica gonzalez says:

    Muchas gracias, me ha gustado mucho voy a conseguir el papel y después les comparto lo que hice¡¡¡

  45. Deanna says:

    Hello, did everything according to the instructions, printed image was fine, but did not transfer on the wood surface..what am I doing wrong.. would it work if I use a warm iron to aid the transfer?
    The idea sounds great.. if it would only work for me.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Deanna! If you print the image on the wax paper does it smear on your finger when you take it out of the printer? If not, the ink is absorbing into the wax paper. Are you taking and transferring the image to the piece of wood *immediately* after you print it? If not it could be drying on the paper before you transfer it, making it impossible to transfer the ink to the wood. There’s something going wrong somewhere obviously but without seeing you actually doing it it’s hard for em to diagnose. 🙁 It really is pretty foolproof so there’s something going on somewhere. Lemme know! ~ karen

      • Deanna says:

        Hello Karen, thanks for the quick reply.
        Meanwhile I watched a video on Utube, where the person uses the backing of a labels sheet with the labels off and recommends wetting the surface.. the transfer with this thicker wax paper works well but it smudges, so the next time I ll leave out the wetting of the wood surface.
        In any case it really is an ingenious way of image transfer that I will be using on my flea market finds in the future. Thanks again for posting about it. Deana

  46. Tracy says:

    Hi! I’m researching a Christmas gift I want to make for my mom and just found this page. I LOVE this idea! I have a visualization of something I’d like to do with this, but there’s where it stops. I’m awesome at visualizing crafts, horrible at executing them. Any suggestions on finding someone to do something along the lines of this as an outsourcing project? 🙂 I’ve checked Etsy and am Googling like mad, but I think it’s going to be a custom order.

    Thanks!

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  48. Laurie says:

    I LOVE this! Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to try it!

  49. Kerstin Miller says:

    I love this idea….but, yes always a but…..my printer keeps rejecting the wax paper.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kerstin! Have you tried taping the waxed paper to a piece of regular paper? (just barely tape it so it’s easy to get the tape off quickly to do your actual transfer onto the wood) ~ karen!

    • Jennifer says:

      Excatly my printer is also doing the same thing. It will pull it in but starts bunching up right when it is supposed to come out. Even with me guiding it in and out it still does this. Which ends up to be crinkled and smeared at one of the edges. I did try it even like that and can see it will be such a great look on the wood.

  50. Kim says:

    Can you transfer onto wood that has been stained?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kim! I haven’t tried it, but my guess would be it depends on the stain and how old the stain is. Stain has oil in it that would create a barrier on the wood preventing the printer ink from sinking in. But if it was stained AGES ago it mayyyy work. The only way to know for sure is give it a shot.~ karen!

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