It started as a good excuse to have a small shindig with wine, ’90s dance hits, photos, wood, gel medium, paintbrushes, the list goes on. After finding a post on the Photojojo blog that detailed the image transfer process, myself and the Moonshine crew decided to experiment with transferring photos to wood panels. Here’s what we did and the lessons we learned along the way.


1. Select and prep your wood, and print your photo. I used a panel 11 by 11 inches and primed it twice, letting it dry and lightly sanding in between. Then I sized my photo to 10 by 8 inches to compliment the linear lines of the panel while leaving room for a border, set it to 300 dpi, flipped it along the horizontal axis, and printed with a laser printer. Cut any unwanted white space, or anything you don’t want transferred.


2. Spread and seal. Use a brush to spread a thin, even layer of matte gel to cover the entire photo surface, mindful not to rip the paper. Carefully line up and adhere the paper, photo-side down, to the wood panel. Once the image is down it’s not coming up, so be precise. Press the entire image into the grain and use a credit card-like object to smooth out crinkles and bubbles, wiping away excess gel.

3. Eight hours later, we peel. After the gel is dry, use a wet rag to saturate the paper (it will look moist). You might want to pat it with a dry towel until it’s damp, not sopping. Then gently slough the paper fibers off with a rag or, as some of us did, peel them away with your fingers. The image is in the gel, not in the wood, so if you rub too hard you might scrape away part of your image. My color image was more delicate than the black and white picture that I transferred on an unprimed panel.

I prefer an aged look, so I took sandpaper and went over the edges of both images to give them vintage feel and to blend the edges with the wood background.

4. Finish it off. Once you’ve completely rubbed away the white paper residue over the image and sanded the edges, use a fresh brush to thinly layer some Mod Podge over the surface, sealing the art entirely.


Because most paper is 8.5 by 11 inches, wood panels that are sized smaller make the process quicker and easier. Make sure to size your photo accordingly — either the exact size of the panel or slightly smaller if you want a border. Get creative and split a panoramic image across three panels, or cut out and transfer the image’s focal point and discard the background.

Unless you want the wood grain visible under the photo, use a light-colored and thoroughly sanded panel. Primed wood with a completely white surface was especially successful for photos with light colors or lots of skin tones, plus after the transfer is complete you can sand off the primed edges to expose raw wood again.

Beware of using too much matte gel; a thin layer works best. If you notice some paper residue once your photo dries, just re-wet and gently rub it off. For your first try, pick an image that you don’t mind looking a bit rustic, just in case you wear away or scratch the image. Like many art and crafting projects, it is what you make it…so make it fun.


  • Briitni Kern

    After moving to Tahoe to pursue skiing and the freedom of the West, Briitni found true happiness. She is proud to call Tahoe her home and loves hanging out with all her amazing friends. The art column is one of her favorite things to write because of all the interesting and unique people she gets to meet along the way.

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