Transferring Digital Images to Canvas
Continuing the project I started with DIY Abstract Art, my final decision (thanks for all your comments) was to attempt transferring the watercolor images to fabric or canvas for an unframed look. Since part of my motivation was to explore a new technique, I would like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned during this process…
No finished product to show yet…
First of all, because there is a BIG difference between the image you see on the screen and the image that comes out of the printer, I start by printing a few proofs on white paper. At least with my printer, red colors have always printed horribly compared to the original digital images… Although I make sure I convert the image to the printer’s color profile, proofs for this project keep coming out too red/brown, lacking a lot of the watercolor detail, and sort of dingy.
In order to produce an acceptable proof (still, way below the image quality observed on the screen), I’m forced to tweak the color correction at the printer level – not something I’m proud of when I’ve already worked the image in Photoshop. After ten or so trials, my best proof results from a reduction of the black ink, an increase of the yellow ink, and an overall reduction of color intensity… plus some additional Photoshop tweaks. Without these corrections, the image prints as a reddish-brown blurb without any appreciable brush strokes.
Now that I have a control print on paper, it’s time to start experimenting with the different methods to transfer the art to canvas or fabric. My options are:
- Print Canvas by Fredrix: Letter-size sheets of primed canvas that you can load on your printer and print on, straight from the computer.
- Iron-on Transfer Paper by Canvas Concepts: Like any other iron-on transfer paper, except this one claims it is specially created for transfers to canvas.
- Contact Transfer: Cover a photocopy of the image with Contact paper, burnish, soak it in warm water, and softly rub the paper off while it’s wet. The result is a thin transparency of the image which can be glued to any medium.
- Gel Medium Transfer: Cover a photo with the sticky medium, apply it over the fabric, burnish and peel the paper off.
- Blender Pen: The process involves using a pen loaded with Xylene to cover the back area of a photocopy placed facing the canvas or fabric.
Because of the rougher texture of this medium, a lot of the subtle detail from the original image is lost. The first impression comes out too light. I make a second print with identical settings right over the first one, and obviously the density of the color improves (I get more color than I did before), but the overall effect looks dull. Colors lose a lot of saturation, and the contrast between light and dark is not as pronounced as it is on the image printed on paper. It’s possible that results could be improved with more tweaking (i.e. color correction, print profile, printer’s selection of medium, etc), but at $1.50 per canvas sheet, repetitive tweaking is not cheap.
Update at 7:24 pm
Printing on the coated side of the sheets (duh!) results in a nice and vivid image, with a tiny bit of shine, and the bonus: appreciable canvas texture. What I need to figure out now is how to best put four 8×8 tiles together into one larger piece.
Iron-on Transfer Paper
The Canvas Concepts product costs $2.83 per sheet. Since the instructional illustrations show the process of transferring an image to a pre-stretched canvas, that’s exactly what I do: I proceed to iron my transfer straight over an 8×8 pre-stretched canvas, but the final product is not what I expect. Most of the area where the canvas touches the wooden frame results in a bubbled transfer. The area in the middle (which I had filled underneath with a small towel) comes out great. If the whole thing had come out like the center of the image I would have considered it a relative success. The truth is that colors look dull, dark and lack contrast in comparison to the original image.
Just to give this method a second chance, I try one more transfer but this time I use a flat piece of off-white fabric. I’m not sure of what kind of fabric I have here… It looks like a blend of cotton with something else that makes it slightly shiny. I try with a different image of similar tones and brightness. The end result looks a lot nicer: I don’t get bubbles, and colors look more vivid. The bad news is that the fabric under the image shrinks a little and I can see a tiny little bit of waxy residue in some spots. Not too much to bother me, but the shrinking is a bummer… As good as it looks, I won’t be able to stretch this piece over the 8×8 frame I had. The obvious lesson: Next time, transfer a much larger piece than you need or preshrink the fabric for the transfer.
This method produces the most vivid, clean, and flexible transfer so far. Because the image isn’t mixed with any textures, the transfer retains as much detail as you can get printed on high-quality photo paper. The final product is a transparency, so it’s possible to play with colors by using different colored backgrounds. The only issue I have with this method, is that the result looks plastic and reflects some light. Although you could paste the thin transparency on a canvas or fabric, you won’t be getting that natural cloth look. I like, however, that this method provides the easiest, and surest way to combine several letter-size tiles into a seamless larger piece, which I need in this project since I intend to produce 16×16 inch pieces.
Gel Medium Transfer
Via art-e-zine, the original recipe for this technique calls for fluid matte medium, which I didn’t have handy. So I tried an experiment with gel medium instead. Unfortunately, by the results obtained, I think I didn’t apply enough of it everywhere. As I peeled the paper off, some of the color didn’t transfer and the image scratched in several spots. To make it harder, the paper wouldn’t peel off the places where a heavy coat of the glue had been applied, so I had to rub it off softly with a wet finger.
In the end, this transfer feels a little lighter than an iron transfer, though it shows less of the fabric texture through the image. It also appears to look more matte – even on the same fabric. It’s not a bad look… The color intensity is preserved, and I’m tempted to try it again and see if I can get a better result. The method, though, is by nature more prompt to “happy” accidents, which is not the look I’m going for with this project.
I wish I could report results from attempting this interesting technique. The truth is that my local art store does not carry the famous pen, so I haven’t been able to try it. For what I’ve learned so far from all these experiments I know that my first attempt will be to transfer to a smooth fabric… maybe satin. I think this may produce the sharpest and brightest image.
Would you like to experiment with any of these techniques?
Art-e-zine presents several resources for image transfers with detailed instructions and samples. Three of the methods discussed here come from this resource. Have fun, and PLEASE let me know if you find the Holly Grail of image transfers from digital to canvas… At this point I’m going to try a couple more things, and if all fails may end up just going for print and frames (bummer), or I’ll just paint the abstract art. HA!