How to image transfer – paint thinner style

I know, I know, there are tons of image transfer tutorials out there, but I just want to put in my 2 cents, and after endless hours of experience I think I can safely say my 2 cents does mean something. This is, by the way, is the start of a new series, and first up is paint thinner.

Introduction – ‘Paint Thinner’

1. (Chemistry) (often plural, functioning as singular) a solvent, such as turpentine, added to paint or varnish to dilute it,reduce its opacity or viscosity, or increase its penetration into the ground (cited from

Thinner encompasses many types of solvent, such as acetone, mineral spirits, turpentine, etc. I’m not very knowledgable about the specifics, but the cheapest, most common and the type I use the most are just called thinner.

  • Laser printed image (flipped)
  • Thinner
  • Brush
  • Tape
  • Tool for rubbing
  • Keep the solvent away from your mouth and eyes.
  • If you know that you’re going to be exposed to the thinner for quite some time, get a mask which at least covers your nose.
  • It would be best to work in an open area so that the strong smell can dissipate, but if that is not possible, open all your doors and windows. You can turn on the fan too, but beware that this may cause the thinner to evaporate more quickly, which in turn may affect the quality of your image transfer.
Some tips before you start!

Before you begin it is best to decide either what kind of image you want to transfer or on what type of surface you want that transfer to be on. Do you want a black-and-white image? Color? Detailed patterns? What about the surface, how smooth? How textured? How porous will the surface be?

Generally, images with lots of delicate patterns will be harder to transfer and require a smoother surface such as wood. Coarser surfaces with lots of pores/gaps will not pick up patterns as well. Moreover, images with lighter color tend to be harder to pick up/not appear on dark/rough surfaces. Most importantly, surfaces such as canvas which are primed cannot be used with this method. This is because it is non-absorbable. Actually, choose any surface which can absorb water that is stiff enough and will not permanently change shape (it’d be best to just do some experimenting before hand), and it’s pretty much a go. I think.

I have mentioned before that the image must be laser printed. This is because inkjet will result in the thinner dispersing the colors. It won’t be pretty. And I’m going to stress again that you need to flip the image, especially with images containing letters, otherwise you will make a horrendous mistake like I did (read on).

Another factor that will affect how the transferred image turns out is the rubbing tool. This can be literally anything, although I will say that heavier tools (i.e. metal, wood) will reduce the effort and strength you need to exert while rubbing, and sharp edges can tear your paper. It is also a good idea to have tools with wider rims and smaller rims so that you can change if an area needs lots of coverage while another needs finer details. I personally use either the rim of a metal cap on a jar, the grip of a screwdriver, or the knobby end of a metal letter opening knife (..which I found somewhere in the house).

The Method

Is simple enough.

  1. Cut out the image, leaving some white along the rim.
  2. Position the image, ink side face down, onto the surface, then tape it down without interfering with the ink area. Preferable to tape at least on 2 sides so that the image won’t move from its place.
  3. Dip the brush into the thinner and quickly apply onto an area. The paper should turn slightly transparent and you should see the details of your image. Rub quickly and a bit forcefully on the wet area to transfer the ink. Take a peak if you want to see how well it has transferred. I suggest doing little by little area first because thinner dries quickly, and after the first coat, the level of ink transfer drastically drops. After a while you will be able to gauge how large an area you can cover before the solvent completely dries.
  4. Repeat until the image is completely transferred.
  5. …And you’re finished!

Side note: different thinners have different qualities to them. Some are runny like water and dissolve very, very quickly, while some can be pretty viscous, with near oil like quality and evaporates pretty slow compared to the type above. I rather prefer the runny one because although it forces me to work more quickly, in my opinion it delivers better color transfer. Also, turpentine works pretty well, but is of course more expensive.

Example & Walkthrough

I am going to demonstrate through one of my studio works I had completed for my IB Visual Arts, although it is…a bit of an extreme case.

This one I basically took photos of my friends and traced it with a program on my laptop and added a few touches.

Tags 1 - Ramida

Because the final image was too big, I had to cut it up into approximately 7 full sized A4’s and transfer them one by one. The image is 50x100cm.

I then proceeded to tape and transfer the image parts one by one…with some help from my friends. One advice: try to stick to a table if you can. Doing this on the floor was quite frankly very painful to my back. Moreover, the scent of the thinner was almost beyond unbearable after being exposed for such a long time, plus can be hazardous to the health too. By the end, I was wearing those breathing masks that look awfully like the ones during WWII, and I thought I had gas poisoning. Not recommended to work nonstop for that long people.

Anyway, as I was nearing the end of this first piece…I realized something…

untagged - Ramida

Let’s play spot the difference! Ha ha you win, everyone wins but me.

This took me about…hm lets see..4 hours? How on earth did it slip through my consciousness through all that time? But, well, the first attempt wasn’t all that good anyway.

I went back and fixed the file, split the pieces, then started again. Finished around the 5 hour mark this time.

As you can see, there are some patches in the piece as the ink did not transfer equally. That was partly due to the material texture, change in thinner, and my waning strength. A piece this large you can spot the flaws pretty easily, no worries.

The material used in this studio work is a coarse material with lots of pores and quite uneven surface. It reminds of of straw, and is like the material of big rice sacks if you can imagine. I chose this one because if gave me that rough, worn edge I was looking for in my piece, and despite the results not being perfect, I was satisfied.

Oh, and I did a companion piece to go with it too.


Materials/surfaces that I have tried out and that works: wood, clay, stiff clothing material, cement, etc. (glossy surface a definite no)

Some ideas: pots (eg. plant pots), furniture, signs, drink coasters, table plate mats, walls, etc.

These creations are courtesy of my aunt, who is great at all these things. I am her helper XD.

There are some more things that I have done, but haven’t got the photos. I will try to update this gallery once in a while.

Also, I realized that even though I said colors *work* as well, there aren’t any examples on this post. This will be remedied as soon as possible.

As always, if you have any critiques, corrections, suggestions or questions, please feel free to say so.

Thanks, and until next time xx


11 thoughts on “How to image transfer – paint thinner style

  1. I really enjoyed this post, especially because you included all that can go wrong. Most tutorials on this method make it seem a lot less complicated and probably result in a lot of failed attempts. Thanks for the pointers, this craft technique has always interested me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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