Thursday, January 12, 2012

DIY Photo on Canvas

I have a stack of canvas and stretcher bars in my basement that I bought back in college. I've been meaning to do something with them, and have been looking for a good tutorial on how to transfer photos to canvas. Most of the tutorials I found required special materials I don't normally have laying around the house (and will never use again), or needed an image printed on tissue paper. Printing on tissue paper wasn't the kind of living-on-the-edge experience I wanted to try, especially since I just got a new printer that actually seems to like me! (More about my love/hate relationship with my old printer here.) Then I realized that I also have a bunch of iron-on transfer paper. Canvas is fabric, right?

You'll need:

Ink Jet Printer
Staple Gun
Paint Brush

I opted to use dark transfer paper this time around, but I'm sure this would work equally well with regular transfer paper. (I'll let you know when I try it.) *** Update - see the canvases I made using regular transfer paper here.*** Read all directions that come with your paper carefully before starting!

I started by printing a photo (this one was taken with my phone using the free Retro Camera app for Android) directly onto transfer paper. My printer can print borderless prints, so after trimming I ended up with an 8½ x 8½ inch print. I used 9 inch stretcher bars, but 8 inch bars should give you similar results if your printer doesn't do borderless prints.

Lay a towel or pillowcase on a wooden cutting board or other solid heat-proof surface. Peel the backing off your printed image (if using dark transfer paper) and lay it on the canvas. Cover it with a piece of parchment paper (comes with the transfer paper), and iron for 3 minutes.

Let it cool for 2 minutes before slowly peeling off the parchment paper. If any of the image peels up with the paper, lay it back down and iron a little bit longer.

Once the image is transferred to the canvas, put together the frame. Wrap the canvas around the frame centering the image on front, then flip it over and start stapling.

Staple the canvas to the back of the frame, pulling it taut as you go.

Do the corners last, wrapping the fabric around the edge and laying it as flat as possible on the back. 

Trim any excess fabric on the back. I went a little overboard with staples. One every 2-3 inches should be plenty!

I used a 9x9 inch frame which left a white border around my 8½ inch print. Since the decorative edge on my photo was the same color as the canvas, I just left it to blend in with the border. If you prefer, use a smaller frame or acrylic paint to hide the edges.

Go over the entire canvas with a couple coats of Mod Podge. Not entirely necessary, but it dries clear adding brush strokes to your "painting" and a giving it a protective coating.

Hang it up and enjoy! This was so quick and easy I'm already planning to make a bunch more...


  1. Wow, that's cool! I'll have to try that out sometime.

  2. Replies
    1. You could try it but I don't think it will work as well. The instructions for the transfer paper were very clear that you had to use a solid surface for ironing (they even said not to use an ironing board!), and if you're using a premade canvas, there's nothing behind the fabric to support it. Maybe if you had a board that fit inside the frame so you'd have something to press against...just make sure your using an unprimed canvas. I have a feeling primer would melt leaving you with one big sticky mess!

  3. this looks great. What kind of printer did you use? I'm worried the iron-on glue stuff will gum up my printer.

    1. I used an Epson Artisan ink jet printer, and have never had any problems printing on transfer paper. The instructions specifically say not to use laser printers or any kind of printer that applies heat (HP Deskjet 1200C and 1600C are mentioned). I guess if the paper feels warm when it comes out of the printer I wouldn't risk it.

  4. I am not sure if I am too late with my questions but... I have heard that you can use wax paper for transfers. Have you tried this or is this type of applique only good for certain projects?? Thought perhaps it could save some money on the printing paper... Sad to hear a premade canvas would not work as well either :(

    1. I've never tried waxed paper for transfers. If you try it let me know how it works!

    2. I have tried it and the ink beads up and it is not a sharp transfer. It can smear pretty easy.

  5. Very nice idea for making an amazing 'DIY Photo on Canvas' the canvas you have made, it's really looking attractive. you have added great tutorial for making this, everyone can make this to follow your step, i am also want to try it shorty, thanks for sharing the tutorial.

    framed wall art

  6. Wax paper won't be as sharp, I've tried it, but it does have an artistic look. Have you tried folding the corners first then the sides like upholstering seat cushions? The corners are a little bit easier to miter, but I will try this method on the canvas and see it both ways. Thank you for your time to make this tutorial. I am so inspired i love it.

  7. Great tutorial. The final print looks better than what you'd expect from Costco or Walmart - plus you get the satisfaction of DIY. One cool concept we have mastered is printing a single photo across multiple canvases. Its an easy way to move away from a plain single print to an expansive abstract design.

    Photos to Canvas

  8. Great tutorial and very creative. Give me more idea on DIY's. I start a new blog, search additional reference about upcycle and found your site. Thanks alot.

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