Making Image Transfers for your Altered Book


Altered book artists continuously strive to find the best method to do image transfers. These transfers are popular for the appealing appearance and for the vintage look they give to a project.

There are many ways of transferring images. This page contains instructions for only a few.

The Jonathan Talbot Method

johathan talbot's book on collage and image transfers Developed by collage artist Jonathan Talbot, this method is said to be revolutionary. Many altered book artists wouldn't use any other technique.

I haven't tried this myself, so I can't offer any guidance. I can tell you that the method involves using a special tack iron and release paper, among other items. (Release paper is the shiny slick paper that stickers are attached to. Nothing sticks to release paper). If Talbot's method interests you, I'd suggest you invest in his popular book, Collage: A New Approach available above through Amazon.

The Packing Tape Method

This is the easiest method of doing image transfers. You use clear packing tape, readily available at Walmart, Dollar Stores, supermarkets, etc.

photocopier transfers
This packing tape transfer is done with a toner based photocopy.

You also need an image to transfer. Glossy magazine images work well just as they are.

To use images from newspapers or a computer printout, photocopy them using a toner based photocopy. Office supply stores like Staples offer color or black and white photocopying with a toner based machine.

Since packing tape is relatively narrow, you are limited to images small enough to fit on it. You can try piecing two or more strips of packing tape over a larger image. If you are very careful and somewhat lucky this can work.

photocopy transfers
The cat is transferred using Image Transfer Material ™. The transfer is then glued over patterned paper that matches a design elsewhere in the layout.

It is also possible to purchase Image Transfer Material ™ for your larger images. These are 8" by 11½ sheets of transfer paper. They work like a charm, but I'm not sure how readily available they are. The online store where I purchased mine has shut down.

Method for Packing Tape Transfers

1. Cut or tear your image from the magazine or photocopy. Leave a little margin that will lap over the packing tape.
2. Cut a strip of packing tape, and place it sticky side up on your work surface.
3. Carefully, so as to avoid wrinkles, place your image face down on the sticky side of the tape.
4. Burnish (rub) with the back of a spoon, credit card or bone folder. Burnish well, until the spoon feels hot.
5. When well burnished, place your packing tape with its adhered image in a bowl of warm water. Soak for awhile, until the back of the image feels spongy.
6. Remove from water. Rub the back of the image with your thumb, in a circular motion. Carefully rub off the wet paper. Re- place it in water if necessary.
7. You now have a strip of packing tape containing the transferred image.
8. Attach your packing tape to your altered book using whatever adhesive you prefer. Since these image transfers are semi transparent, you can attach them to patterned backgrounds for special effects.

Inkjet Transfers

inkjet image transfer
This inkjet transfer is done on sandwich paper, using Golden Soft Gel Medium.

Most of us dream of doing excellent image transfers using images printed by our inkjet printers. We want the convenience of not needing to go out to do toner based photocopying.

Alas, this technique is more an art than a science. The results depend upon the type of ink you're using, the paper you have printed to, the paper you're transferring to, the type and amount of medium used, and the length of drying time allotted.

Tip: Please be aware that transferring with this method gives you a mirror image. If you are transferring text, you will have to print it out as a mirror image, or avoid it altogether.

The technique is straight forward. Simply print out an image onto the paper of your choice. Using a foam brush, brush the front side of the image with a coating of medium. Place the paper, medium side down on the paper or other surface that is to receive the transfer. Rub lightly with your finger, then burnish well with bone folder, spoon, or other tool. Allow to sit for a while. Test carefully every ten or fifteen seconds. Add more medium or do more burnishing if it looks necessary. When the transfer is complete, peel the printout paper away and discard. The other paper contains your transferred image.

Straightforward as it sounds, much can go wrong. I have tossed out more inkjet transfers than I have used. All too often, the transfer is blurry, uneven, and splotchy. You must learn "by doing" the correct amount of medium to use, and the correct amount of time to let it dry.

The following tips might help:
1. Popular mediums for this purpose are Golden Soft Gel Medium (a soft gel) and Golden Polymer Medium (a fluid). Some prefer one type; others the other.
2. Success is more likely with black and white images than with colored ones. Increase the contrast somewhat in your photo editing program before printing your black and white images.
3. Archival/pigmented inks are said to work better than dye inks. My printer uses dye inks.
4. The paper you print on plays a major role. Some recommend Great White Imaging and Photo Paper, reasonably priced at places like Staples. Sandwich paper transfers can also be effective. Print out a tiny image on your paper first and test it before trying large image transfers.

Lazertran Image Transfers

Lazertran is a relatively new product that produces remarkably brilliant, transferred images. This web site has a page about Lazertran.

Acetone Transfers

Note: A site visitor from New Zealand sent me the acetone method. I have not tried it.

This method gives a mirror image transfer.

  1. Locate some acetone, possibly available at a pharmacy or drugstore. Nail polish remover containing acetone also works, but some varieties work better than others.
  2. Place the toner-based image face-down on the paper you want to transfer to. Apply acetone to the back of the image with cotton wool. Avoid skin contact to prevent irritation.
  3. Burnish with the back of a teaspoon, then lift off the original paper to reveal the transfer beneath.

Take noteThis works best with small pictures. Acetone evaporates quickly and large image transfers end up being disjointed and spotty. Practice to discover how much acetone to use and how long to burnish it. Too short a time will mean the image won't transfer, and too long a time means the image will start to transfer back on to the original paper.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated room.

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Return to Altered Book Home Page when finished with image transfers.