Sunday, February 15, 2009

DIY series: How to print on wood

While doing some research on how to transfer custom graphics on skateboard decks, I came across the so called "toner transfer method" which is used for creating custom PCBs:
Basic idea: Print a PCB layout with a laser printer on some sort of transfer material (e.g. magazine paper) and iron the layout on a platine. The heat "transfers" the toner onto the board.

So I thought, maybe this method can be altered for transferring graphics on wood.

Here's the how-to:
  1. Desing your favorite graphic
    Depending on your laser printer you can also choose colored graphics. Here is mine:

  2. Mirror your graphic.
    It's necessary to mirror the graphic as we will transfer it on the wood. Either mirror your source graphic directly or use your printer settings to mirror the print out.

  3. Printer setup
    Make sure your printer is set up with maximum density and contrast because not all toner will remain on the wood. Thefore we need all pigments the printer can give us.

  4. Print the graphic
    There are several options for choosing a transfer media for your graphic such as baking paper, magazine paper or special transfer paper. I experimented with the back of stickers or labels which worked out fine for me.

  5. Sand the wood Sand the wood with a fine grain sand paper (e.g. 240) so that we get a very fine and smooth surface. This is important because otherwise the toner might flow into the wood structure and graphic details will be lost or will look blurred.

  6. Clean the wood
    We have to make sure that no wood dust remains on the area we will need for our graphic. Some of the toner would be absored by the dust and contrast would be lost. Therfore use a wet piece of cloth to clean and remove all dust.

  7. Heat the wood
    Switch your iron to the 3/4 of the maximum heat and iron the area where the graphic will go. This will remove remaining moisture in the wood (coming from the previous cleaning step) and will heaten up the surface for transferring the toner.

  8. Apply the graphic print
    Place the graphic print on the wood surface. If possible try to fix the print with some sort of tape so that it won't move during iron.

  9. Iron
    Put a sheet of paper on the printed graphic and iron for about 2-3 minutes. Use the tip of the iron to put pressure on graphic details.

  10. Remove the transfer media
    Remove the transfer media immediately after the ironing. If you let it cool down, then the tranfer media will stick to the wood and removing it will take away some of the toner. This is one major difference compared to the PCB process.

  11. Fix your print
    As the toner is on the wood surface it can easily be scratched. Thefore use some finish or resin to conserve your graphic.

  12. Enjoy your work.
    Get a cold beer and enjoy your day's work.
General advice: Test, test, test. Depending on your setup (printer, toner, transfer media, wood, iron, ...) you will get different results. Therefore before using your final piece of wood work, experiment with different setup parameters.


  1. how to remove the transfer on the wood

  2. dose this work on painted decks

  3. Top stuff :) thanks for the post

  4. As you said "Therefore use some finish or resin to conserve your graphic." Which resin???

  5. Try epoxy resin. It's quite easy to handle.