John Jānis Šteins

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Q&A ~ How do I transpose a picture onto a piece of wood?

I drew a very cool picture that I’d like to engrave or carve into a piece of wood. I tried copying the image onto a piece of wax paper thinking I would tape that onto the piece of wood and then follow the lines with an exacto knife to cut them into the wood. I’m concerned that my cut lines may be hard to see. What is the best way to do this? How would you do it??

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  1. John Steins February 9, 2011

    There are many ways to transfer a drawing onto a woodblock.

    The traditional Japanese method is to glue the paper face down onto the block with rice glue (nori-made from rice flour) and when dry, moisten the surface a little and slowly rub away the paper fibers until only the pencil marks remain on the surface of the wood. This method also ensures that the drawing is in reverse.

    Or you can photocopy or laser print your image, lay it down on the wood block and with a cotton ball or some wadding tamp the back of the paper with laquer thinner or wintergreen oil. This will dissolve the toner enough to absorb into the wood thereby transferring the image.

    Downside of this method are the toxic fumes, so it’s best to do this outside wearing a respirator.

    Another method is to scan your drawing into a computer and print it out on some wax paper with an inkjet printer. The inks will sit on the surface of the wax without drying in time for you to place face down on the woodblock. Burnishing the backside with a spoon or other burnisher will transfer the drawing on to the surface.

    The other option of course is to simply draw you design directly onto the block.

  2. Neil Peck February 11, 2011

    Oderless mineral spirits and a T-shirt transfer hot iron will transer a Xerox or laser print with far less toxic fumes than laquer thinner.

  3. Brian W. Thair June 5, 2011

    Turn your drawing over and stick it onto a window. Trace the drawing on the back of that sheet. Blank wood block, carbon paper sheet and your drawing, face down. Retrace the reverse/back drawing and you’re done. If all you did was to use carbon paper behind your face-up drawing, the prints will be reversed.

  4. Brian W. Thair June 16, 2011

    I get 1.5″ thick, cut stone slab fragments for free. Some 10″x20″. Smoothing and polishing with water & local abrasive has gone far better than expected. Stone-cut prints, here I come.

  5. Annette April 19, 2012

    I make my own paper plus take photographs, I would like to incorate both so my question is “how can I tranfer the image to newly maked textured paper?”

  6. Hugh Ekeberg January 8, 2013

    An excellent method using a laser printer:

    1) Get some grease proof paper which is sold in rolls in the cooking section of the supermarket. This paper can stand a lot of heat since it is used to line cake tins or placed in baking trays.

    2) Cut a piece of the grease proof paper and tape it onto some copy paper for support. Use masking tape not plastic packing tape.

    3) Put the grease proof paper and the support paper through your printer and a nice beautiful crisp image will result on the grease proof paper.

    4) Lightly spray your block with some spray adhesive. Then gently place your printed design face down onto the now sticky block.

    5) Burnish or rub the back of the grease proof paper and the toner will instantly separate off and adhere to the tacky block. Wait for the adhesive to dry then engrave.

    This is similar to the photographic method used by the great Timothy Cole.

    You can experiment by darkening the entire image and it’s background in your image editing program or darking the block to some degree first then placing the image.

  7. Debbie September 3, 2015

    How do I transfer a traced image from tracing paper onto oil treated crackled dark wood?

  8. John Steins September 3, 2015

    Hi Debbie, Thanks for your question. One method for transferring a drawing to a dark surface might be the use of white “carbon” paper. Mclain’s Art supply in Portland sells different coloured versions of this so the outline of the drawing will contrast nicely on a darker surface. Hope this helps!


  9. Debbie September 6, 2015

    Tks for the advice but have tried, chalk on the back of the tracing, a white pencil crayon, all types of carbon paper nd stenciling.I come from a small town in South Africa nd our shops here haven’t heard of anything called saral, graphite paper or even a ponce wheel. I’m at my wits end nd don’t know hw to get the design onto the wood. Its repelling everythingi try to put on it…

  10. Daved Ferrell April 28, 2016

    I’ve xeroxed / lazer printed my image and transferred it on to linoleum, plywood and cherry wood with a chartpak blender marker also called an AD marker. (Also works onto fabric for embroidery)

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