Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back To The Icons, or How To Do Image Transfers

I'm back to working on a Mosaicon that's been languishing for months - the icon based on the image of Diana the Huntress.  You first met it in my blog post back in September.  The Leonardo da Vinci icon pushed its way to the fore and the Dia de los Muertos icon bounced in and demanded to be finished.  Diana waited.  Fortunately, she seems to be willing to wait for me.  I'm grateful!

The June 2011 collection from Gecko Galz contained a set of Grecian Girls images.  One of the images seemed especially appropriate for the Huntress icon.  I decided to use that image transferred to a polymer clay tile.  I thought it might be appropriate to share the technique for image transfers here.  Or at least one technique!  There are many.

Choose Your Image
Choosing your image might not sound like a big deal, but it really is.  You don't want it so busy that little details will be lost in the transfer process.  There also needs to be a strong focus in the image.  In fact, the strong focus is what you will transfer.  Backgrounds need to be merged into the tile itself, usually with paint.  You will probably need to size your image, possibly crop it, and most likely need to reverse the image, all of which can be done in Paint, but I prefer Photoshop Elements.  Bear in mind that the image will transfer reversed from how it is printed, so plan accordingly. This is extremely important if there are words or if the image is so well-known that seeing it reversed will cause problems.

Once you've chosen your image and cropped and reversed it, make a page with several sizes of the image.  You're pretty sure what size you want the finished tile to be, but I'm always grateful to have several choices of image sizes to choose from.  For this technique, print the finished page of images on an inkjet printer.  I print them on matte brochure or presentation paper.  You want a good enough paper to get a good ink saturation, but you don't want a glossy photo finish.  After the ink dries, tear out the image you want to use.

Preparing the Polymer Clay Tile
There are several types of clay you can use to make your tile.  I recommend using either Sculpey white clay or Premo white or pearl clay.  The clay color will show through the image, somewhat, and will affect the finished image.  The whiter the clay, the less it will interfere with the color of the image inks.  In the following photos, I've used Premo pearl clay.

Prepare and bake several sizes of tiles.  Having several sizes ready to go makes it easier if you change  your mind about the finished product, or make a mistake that can't be recovered.

Gather Your Materials

For this technique, you'll need the image, the baked and cooled tile and a gel medium. I use Liquitex gloss gel medium. It's useful to have some kind of burnishing tool.  A good old-fashioned Popsicle stick works beautifully!  Having a box of baby wipes and paper towels on-hand helps with keeping the mess at bay.

"Gluing on the Image"
Coat the image with the gel medium and place it, coated image side down, on the polymer clay tile.  With your burnishing tool, burnish the image onto the tile, making sure the ink of the image is in contact with the tile and that there are no air bubbles.  Do NOT start removing the paper backing yet!  You'll be almost certain to tear the delicate ink film if you do.

Remove the Paper Backing
Removing the Paper
Let the image set and dry for a few minutes.  Dampen your finger and start rubbing the paper in small circles.  You'll soon start to notice the paper peeling up.  Gently continue the rubbing, dampening your finger again, if necessary.  You'll start to see the image appear beneath a haze of paper.

Image Appearing Through The Haze
It's tempting to stop rubbing when you see the image appearing, but you need to get as much of the paper removed as possible.  What you're going for here is the ink adhered to the clay tile without any paper marring it.  So keep gently rubbing.  This can take quite a while.  However you don't want to rub so hard that you remove the delicate ink.

Image Appearing
In the image above, you can see how the lower half of the image is revealed, but there is still paper to be removed at the top of the image.  Keep on rubbing!

Transfer Completed!
Once the paper has been completely removed, you need to work the image background into the tile.  This is normally done by painting the tile from the edges of the image to the edges of the tile.  In the photo of the finished tile, you can see that I chose to paint the tile gold.  In retrospect, I might should have painted it a deep rich blue.  It's all up to you!

Finished Painted Tile
Protecting the Tile
Once you have the image transferred and the rest of the tile painted, you might think you're finished.  Do remember to seal the tile!  The image will be delicate and can easily be scratched, especially if you're using the tile as a piece of jewelry.  You'll want to seal it with an acrylic sealer once the paint dries.  Apply several coats to adequately seal the image and paint.

And always remember the most important thing:


  1. Super Cool! I will for sure be doing just to remember where I put my supplies! TFS! Hugs!

  2. Oh goodness, Heather! Let's don't even discuss how I hide supplies from myself.

  3. Heather is right, that is Super Cool! I've done that with tape but not polymer clay. Definitely want to try that! tfs

  4. Thank you! Polymer clay is such fun. I just make sure to completely seal the clay in aluminum foil when I'm baking it and let it cool outside to vent. The fumes can be nasty but that's about it.

  5. Wow, so pretty and thank you for the tutorial. I've played with polymer a couple times. I'd like to find a way to make some molds to make buttons with the clay.

    Have a great day!

  6. Did you know you can make molds for polymer out of polymer? Use a really hard polymer like Super Sculpey or one intended for doll making. When you make the mold and bake it, nothing will bother it! You can use it to mold other polymer projects.