Acrylic / Gel Medium Transfers
Hello, and thank you for visiting my site! I threw this together for
my friends a few years back, and I had no idea it would become the
world's #1 site for acrylic gel transfers. . . . .
Mixed media Paul
Welcome to my page of information on acrylic gel medium transfers!
I've been playing with the technique for a few years and it was hard
to perfect, but I have taught several people how to do it with great
ease. I just think that transfers are fun and its a good way to
experiment with images. I was looking around on the web for different
info about what other people are doing, and I couldn't find a lot of
information about the technique that I use. Most people are saying to
use either the most poisonous chemicals imaginable, or that it takes
8-24 hours. I do transfers using only acrylics, and they take mere
seconds or minutes. I can't really believe how simple it is, and that
it is not too commonly known. If you enjoy mixed-media art, then you must learn
What is a transfer?
A transfer is any process that takes a
printed image, and removes it from whatever it is on, and then transfers
it to another surface.
The story goes, that once upon a
time, Robert Rauschenberg, the great American painter, was in his
studio messing around and he spilled paint thinner onto a canvas that
had a magazine page sitting on it. I think he may have let it sit for
a while, but when he went to pick up the page, the image had been
melted by the solvent and reproduced itself onto the canvas! Voila!
The modern transfer was born, or something like that.
In 1991, when I was a freshman at PSU, I had the
opportunity to study under Mel Katz. We did various abstract techniques that were very
direct and fast. One of these was the transfer. We used some intense
paint thinner that was only available at this obscure store. We taped
magazine pages face down onto paper, then brushed on some solvent, then
rubbed it with the edge of a spoon, then - bingo- the image was on the
paper. This was great, we got some cool results, but my problem then
and now is that I don't like poisonous chemicals. If you think you are
cool, gnarly or smart, go for it. Be the romantic artist whose studio
apartment is soaked in toxic garbage and breathe all of the poisonous
fumes you want. You can use Goof Off, lacquer thinner, lighter fluid,
or even xylene blending pens to make your transfers, I just honestly
don't think its worth it. But whatever the case, this class
introduced me to principles of abstraction and transfers.
I had heard about acrylic transfers but I had never seen one done
before 1997 or so. The process wasn't exactly clear, and there were
several different methods used. One of these is the commonly known
method that involves building up the acrylic on the photocopy until it
is thick and then soaking it in water so the paper falls off. This is
good but it takes too long in my opinion. So I experimented on my own
for a couple of years until I came up with an easy, quick method to do
gesso and acrylic
transfers onto wood. Fujita '02
What makes a transfer work?
When a transfer succeeds, it is a firmly fused layer of medium
that is bonded quite well to an image that consists of photocopy
toner. What is it about acrylic and toner that causes them to stick
together so well? I posed this question to my father, retired chemist
Tom S. Fujita, and got a long and complex answer. Basically the
acrylic is an emulsion, which explains why it starts out like liquid
and then dries up like a flexible plastic. When it is wet, the
molecular structure of the emulsion is desperately grabbing out
for something and so when the water evaporates, they bond to each
other or whatever is next to them. Thus - voila - your paint sticks to
the canvas. So then you take a photocopy, which is made from toner,
and expose it to acrylic, and they bond together. Tom felt that on a
molecular level, the emulsion is melting the toner, however there are
never any visible smears or blurs unless you use a computer printout
which kind of works but not really. At any rate, this would appear to
lend to theoretical archivability but who knows? Maybe you have a
better explanation which I would be curious to hear.
Why do a
It is, in my opinion, the best way to put an image onto a
surface. How would one go about putting a transparent image onto
another image? You'd have to use a computer or make a transparency.
What about adding an image to a painting? Well of course you could
just collage it on there, but unless you use special materials its
just going to look like crap and disintegrate within a few years. All
of these problems can be solved using a transfer. The result is a
collage effect with the physical stability of a painting.
This is a photocopy transfer drawing on printmaking paper. I used
dozens of copies and gel medium and that's it. The surface is totally
Acrylic vs. Oils
Acrylic transfers work best with acrylic
paintings or mixed media works. As a general rule, one should not mix
oils and acrylics on the same painting. But there is nothing really
stopping you if that's what you want to do. However, if you try to do
acrylic transfers onto an oil painting, it may not truly bond
together. Putting the transfers down first might be the better idea if
you plan on using oils.
detail of some more
complex layering techniques - Fujita 2005
Photocopies or other printed material - I like photocopies because you
can pick out exactly what you want to transfer, and the quality of the
black is very good. However, any printed material will theoretically
work. I have used mimeographs, old books, newspaper, and various color stuff.
Canadians I've heard of are very advanced in transferring color onto t-shirts and
stuff, but I have not done too much color. I like the absoluteness of
a b/w copy transfer.
Acrylic gel medium - Gloss gel works good. But
anything containing acrylic will function. Acrylic paint, gesso, latex
paint, or various mediums work as long as the ingredients say "Polymer
acrylic medium" then that's the stuff.
Baren - This is a printmaking tool that is used to rub a block
print onto paper. I use the cheapo brand that's just a plastic handle
attached to a round pad that is layered with a friction-reducing mesh
fabric. Some barens are made out of bamboo, but I like the plastic
ones because they allow the user to exert pressure with the handle and
not just by pressing down on the back of the baren. A spoon could work
also, or some people use a special bone. Sometimes I use a brayer. The point is that you need to
press down on the copy really hard without messing it up.
Surface - What do you want to do the transfer on? I have used nice
printmaking paper which was ok but tended to peel up because of the
rigorous process involved. Unstretched canvas worked alright (you
could use a stretched canvas but you would have to place a hard object
behind the canvas in order to get the proper amount of pressure)
I like wood the best. I have transferred onto walls, all sorts of
gessoed surfaces, and all sorts of 3-D surfaces. It is possible to
transfer onto a bumpy surface but its more unpredictable.
Water - You will want a small container of water.
Sponge - Optional. Some people prefer a sponge or other tool to
remove the paper. I use my bare hands unless its a really rough
How to do a transfer:
1. Take your surface and make sure it is relatively clean. Then
figure out what image you are using and where you want it to go. You
can apply the medium either to the surface or directly onto the image.
From here on, I will refer to the vehicle as "medium" although that
can include gel medium, gesso, acrylic paint or any combination of
2. If you are applying the medium to the surface, you could use a
brush and get a very precise area to be filled with the image. If you
are applying the medium to the image, it works good just with your
finger. The reason I do this is that it is easier to feel that you
have the right amount of medium. Also, if you were using a brush and
doing a bunch of transfers, you would have to continuously worry about
the medium drying up and ruining your brush. If you leave your brush
in water, you create the hassle of then having to totally dry your
brush off each time you get more medium because the excess water
picked up in the brush will totally throw off the consistency of the
medium. You do not want to water down the medium.
I just smear gel medium onto the photocopy with my finger until it
completely coats the copy. Don't leave huge gobs on there because you
don't need to and it will be slower drying. However if you feel the
medium starting to get tacky then it is too thin and it starting to
dry. You need just the right amount. Different amounts get different
results. Sure, you can just glom it on there, but you will have to
wait a while until it is completely dry. But this can achieve a thick,
glossy surface with the transfer sitting on top of it. If the surface
is uneven, this can be helpful. If the surface is flat, then you
really need just a thin layer of medium in order to make it work
4. Once you have the proper amount of medium going, then its
basically like gluing one thing to another - pretty simple. Its also
kind of like making a print. Lay down the image, and then press it
down firmly into place. Then, like a block print or whatever, take the
baren and begin smoothing and pressing down the image from the middle
out. Here's where excessive medium can harm the process. If there's
too much, the image will slip around on the surface. You want the
image to really be sticking in place. One method is to use a roller to
flatten the image, just lay down a piece of paper on top otherwise the
gel will ooze all over the place. At any rate, smooth down the image
with the baren or other tool until the image is solidly stuck down. No
air bubbles or blobs of medium should be underneath.
5. The idea here is that the photocopy or other image is 100% in
contact with the gel and the surface in a perfect layer. But if its
not perfect that's ok too. I like the distressed edge of an imperfect
transfer, and that can be taken all the way into abstraction by just
transferring a random brushstroke on a solid black photocopy. Once the
copy is firmly in place, wait a second and then peel up a corner of
it. after just a few seconds, parts of the copy will begin sticking to
the surface. If it doesn't stick and the gel is still wet, press the
copy back down and wait. If the medium is not too thick, your transfer will be
ready almost immediately. What you should see is your photocopy
separating apart. The black toner and the layer of paper facing it
should be stuck to your surface. The rest of the paper in your hand
should have the toner removed from it. This can be the tricky part,
and to ensure success you could just leave it alone until its
completely dry. If you have perfect timing, you can potentially see
your image, but normally the image is somewhat visible and covered
with fibers of paper.
6. Now comes the fun part - bringing the image back out. You can come
up with any technique for this that you want, but I just use my bare
hands because I can really feel the transfer and feel when I have the
paper removed. Take a small dish of water and get a half a drop on
your finger and then moisten the layer of paper that is stuck on your
transfer and rub it off. Repeat this process until all of the little
fibers of paper are gone and you have a clean transfer. There are
different methods for different circumstances, but just a tiny bit of
water works good for me because I can get more friction and remove the
paper more easily. This step can be kind of tricky, as you can rub
away the transfer if it is not completely dry. But you can also get
the paper off more easily if it is fresh and still a little moist.
NOTE: since I made this page, I had to do a grueling transfer project
where I was using wood surfaces. A friend who helped out felt that it was
easier to put a bit more water onto the transfer to get it off. This
is definitely true if you are using a strong and waterproof surface,
and if the transfer is totally dry. I also used an eraser to get the
paper off when the surface was just too rough or whenever I felt that
my fingers were worn to the bone. This sped up some parts of the
7. You can layer transfers over transfers, and one thing to note is
the quality of blackness that you are achieving. A raw transfer is not
glossy like pure acrylic medium because you are looking at the back of
a black copy. In this state it is possible to add pencil. But if you then paint a layer of clear medium on top of
the transfer it will bring out a more glossy black, and a glossy
surface. Furthermore, if you have multiple transfers on top of each
other, and then lay on a coat of clear, you will be able to see the
depth of the layers much better. This is a very cool step involving
principles of glaze painting, where light enters the surface of the
painting and then bounces around within the transparent layers, giving
it a glow from within, as opposed to a matte black surface where the
light hits the piece and then kind of just stops.
8. Get crazy! There are endless possibilities
for transfers. Lately I have been doing multi-colored transfers by
applying different colors of paint and tinted gel to the photocopy. Its
also good to lay down the medium, and then put several different
copies down in a collage-type arrangement and then transfer them
all at once.
Ok finally some step by
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