from the curb to the wall: 10 steps to transform wood to art
How do you DO that?
It’s the most common question we hear from those seeing our wood art for the first time. Everyone wants to know all about our process of transferring photography and art prints to pieces of salvaged wood.
Is it hard? Is it easy? How long does it take? Could I do it?
No. No. A few days. Yes and no.
While this blog post breaks down all the steps required to transfer images to wood, we thought it would be easy to start off by first showing you the life of a #getARCHd wood block, from curbside cast off to hanging on your wall.
Looking to transfer your own photos to wood? Here are 10 steps to transform your wood to art, broken down with slightly more detail.
Step 1: get salvaged
Whether found on the side of the road or leftover from a friend’s porch renovation, the majority of the wood we use is salvaged. Wood that is unfinished and unpainted serves as the best source material. If you’re having trouble finding wood to salvage, you can always visit the lumber section of Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Step 2: get cut
Very rarely do we salvage a piece of wood that is JUST the right size. We use a RYOBI miter saw to cut down large pieces.
Step 3: get sanded
To perfect the image transfer process, the wood needs to be as smooth as possible. We use a RYOBI belt sander to buff away all the rough edges so each side of the wood is baby bottom smooth and splinter free. If you don’t have access to a belt sander, a simple hand held power sander paired with coarse sanding paper works just as well (though with a little more manual labor involved).
Step 4: get stained
While some paint the edges of their wood art, we prefer to stain all the sides (minus the smoothest side where the image will be transferred). It adds that rustic, shabby chic feel to the finished piece of art. Our product of choice is Minwax Wood Finish interior stain in red oak.
Step 5: get designed
This is the key step that sets apart our art from the rest. After measuring out the block of wood, we design each piece in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Some pieces showcase Kristen’s photography OR Lindsey’s graphic design while others feature a combination of both of our skills. No matter what, every piece we sell is an original ARCH’d creation.
NOTE: for the image transfer process to work, you must print your images out on a laser printer. We have all of ours printed at our nearest FedEx Office location. Also, don’t forget to flip your image (reflect vertically) before printing, or else your art will appear backwards after transferring.
Step 6: get painted
While some transfer their images directly to a surface of unfinished wood, we’ve found the process works best if you paint the surface prior to applying. We use a generic white wall paint (with primer) found at any Home Depot or Lowe’s. Be sure to allow sufficient time for drying in between staining and painting, or your stain will bleed thru your paint layer, causing the need for multiple coats of white paint.
Step 7: get applied
Once dried, brush an even layer of gel medium across the painted surface of your wood. We use Liquitex Gloss Gel Medium. Immediately lay your image facedown, directly on the gel medium, and use a plastic squeegee (can be found at some specialty art supply stores) to smooth out any air bubbles. We wouldn’t recommend purchasing the rubber squeegees, as they tend to rip the paper during application.
Once applied, the gel medium needs a few hours to absorb the ink from your image (which is how this whole magic art works). We typically apply our images and leave them overnight to dry, though we recommend at least 4-6 hours before moving on to the next step.
Step 8: get rubbed
Thoroughly soak the front of your wood piece (image/paper side) with a wet rag. Using that wet rag, gently rub the surface until all the paper peels away to reveal your image on the wood. This typically takes a few attempts for all the paper fibers to rub completely away. After rubbing away the majority of the paper with the wet rag, we suggest letting the piece dry slightly before finishing the process with your fingertips (insert your own that’s what she said joke here).
NOTE: Printing your photo/design on regular weight copy paper will make this process much easier. Don’t use cardstock.
Step 9: get sanded (again)
Using a hand-held power sander and the roughest quality of sand paper, we further distress each edge of our wood pieces. This also helps to remove any excess get medium that may have dried along the sides or corners.
Step 10: get sealed
We seal each wood piece with a thin layer of polyurethane to provide a long lasting, protective finish. Our poly of choice is Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in Clear Gloss.
Congratulations! You are done. You now have a piece of wood art.
However, for us, before a wood piece can be listed and sold in the ARCH’d Etsy Shop, it has to officially get ARCH’d. We stamp our logo on the back in metallic silver or gold. We also add a small metal sawtooth bracket for easy hanging. For your sanity, we recommend the brackets without the tiny nails, like these.
Only now are you ready to showcase your new art on your wall.
The wood piece featured in this blog post is available for purchase from the get ARCH’d Etsy Shop here.
To quickly recap, here are the supplies you’ll need to make your own image transfer on wood.
- unfinished wood
- miter saw
- belt sander and/or hand-held power sander
- sanding papers (extra coarse)
- paint brush (we use 1″ foam brushes)
- wood stain
- white paint
- photo/design (flipped in reverse)
- laser printer
- white paper (the thinner, the better)
- gel medium
- cloth rag
- metal sawtooth bracket (only for hanging up art)
Any questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments. Want a piece of wood art without all the work? Visit our Etsy Shop.
NOTE: We also take custom orders and are happy to transfer your personal images to wood pieces for you. Send us a message thru Etsy or email us at info [at] getarchd.com.
– Lindsey & Kristen Archer