Like most people who own digital cameras or smartphones, I have thousands of pictures from the last 7+ years that I could spend hours scrolling through on said camera/smartphone/computer but have not taken the time to actually print out. I am one of those people who determines the quality of the experience I had by the quantity of awesome pictures I took. And it’s kind of been bumming me out that I don’t have any actual hard copies of these great memories in cute little frames from Ikea strategically placed around my apartment.
I have been eyeballing this project for over a year and finally decided to man up and do it. This project took my crafting abilities to the next level. Not only did it involve using a power tool on my own for the first time, it also involved drinking my first-ever post-power-tool beer. It also entails using a laser printer to print out black-and-white copies of your favorite pictures and then transferring those images onto blocks of wood using gel medium and gloss medium.
The final outcome of this project is so worth it. I lit’rally could not be more impressed with how these pictures turned out. From start to finish, the project took me four days and involved lugging a backpack full of wood blocks and a power sander down to my friends’ apartment to utilize their backyard space for the sanding portion of this craft. But do not let the time commitment deter you. These bad boys come out lookin’ GOOD — the perfect homemade and slightly worn-looking way to commemorate those magical memories.
Tools of the Trade
• Black and white laser* copies of pictures (You are going to want to reverse the image so when you place it face down on the wood it transfers with everything in the right order. I did this in Preview on my Mac and went to tools –> flip horizontal.)
• Blocks of wood (I went to Home Depot and purchased an 8″ x 2″ x 10′ plank of wood and then had an employee there cut the plank down into about nine pieces measuring 8″ x 11″ x 2″, which was pretty perfect since my pictures were printed out on regular copy paper.)
• Gel medium
• Gloss medium (I used Liquitex but Mod Podge is another option you could use)
• Electric hand sander if you’re a badass, block sander if you’re not
• Two paint brushes
• A few washcloths
• Protective footwear and eye goggles (if you’re getting down with that power sander!)
Fun Fact: the gel medium and gloss medium are both water based and non-toxic!
Sand down your blocks of wood. This step is mainly to smooth out any rough areas on the surface of the block and also to get rid of any splintered pieces on the edges.
Please note, the first lesson of power-tool safety is to wear closed-toe shoes!
Hold on tight to that hand sander. It’s going to kick a bit when you turn it on. This is a great place to note that it would be helpful to have a friend with you for this step. Not that sanding a small piece of wood is a two-man-job. But in the event that you lose control of the sander and accidentally sideswipe your knuckle it could be useful to have someone around. Not that this happened to me. I’m clearly a lady who knows how to keep her power tools in check. If you know what I mean.
Congratulations! You sanded that wood like a champ, made Bob Villa proud and have clearly earned a beer!
Now that you’ve got your blocks of wood nice and smooth, you are ready to get started on transferring the images to the wood. With your paint brush, paint an even coat of the gel medium on the side of the wood on which you want the image. Then place the paper, ink side down, on top of the coat of gel medium wood and smooth out. Try to get out all of the air bubbles but also keep in mind you’re probably not going to get rid of them all. I didn’t and everything worked out just fine.
Oh yeah, look at that sweet-ass memory getting ready to be immortalized on wood!
Smoothing out those air bubbles. It’s too bad I can’t smooth out the air bubbles in my chin. Wah wah.
Sleep on it! Or go to work and leave the picture alone for a solid 8 hours so the gel medium has time to dry out completely. Magic is happening. Ink is transferring. Memories and photographs colliding with blocks of wood! I’m pretty sure Dave Matthews Band wrote a song about this craft, amiright?
I’m not going to lie, this craft project kind of blew my mind. And this is the step where I was like, “Damn girl, you pulled this OFF!” Honestly, I am not the craftiest gal out there and each time I do one of these “How To’s” there is a point in the project where I feel fairly certain shit ain’t gonna work. At this point you are going to take a damp cloth and wet down the paper and you’ll see the image come through. With your fingers, gently rub the paper away and you’ll see the actual image transferred directly onto the wood. Continue to wet the paper and gently rub until all of the paper has peeled off. MAGIC.
Holy crap, it worked!
I’d like to mention that for this step there are two methods I used. You can either wet the image down and rub the paper off with your fingers which totally works but kind of made my finger pads sore. Or you can wet the image down, let it dry out and then take a damp cloth and rub the paper off that way. It took me a few rounds of wetting the image, letting it dry out and then rubbing off the paper to get most of the paper off. There was still remnants of paper fuzzies to the image, but don’t fret, when you apply the gloss medium it will cover any of the remaining paper fuzz. I have no idea how that works but it does.
After you’ve removed all the paper and you’re left with just the image on the wood you need to let it dry out before applying the gloss medium. This shouldn’t take too long, maybe an hour or two to be safe.
Final step, ya’ll! With your paint brush, apply an even coat of the gloss medium and let dry. Step back and admire your work**. Send pictures of the pictures of your friends and family who are now forever inGRAINED in your wood block photo memories to show them how crafty and awesome you are. Strategically place picture blocks around your apartment.
* So you might be asking, “Must I use a laser printer for this craft?” And honestly, I’m not sure. I used pictures printed onto copy paper with a laser printer but an ink-jet might work out just fine. Honestly, the ink jet might even work better because the paper will be saturated with more ink? So maybe the images will come out more defined? I really don’t know but suggest you give it a whirl and let me know how it turns out!
** During the process of wetting and rubbing off the paper, I managed to tear and scratch off small parts of the image in places. Personally, I don’t think it’s super noticeable and I like the slightly worn look. If you don’t, then just be super gentle when rubbing the paper off.
After spending five years as a hedge-fund assistant, Katie Ligon was gracefully let go and now has a wealth of time on her hands. She lives in Brooklyn. Tweet her at @busy1883.