How to Transfer an Image onto Plaster
This post will show you how to transfer a laser printed image onto plaster.
Keep in mind that this technique probably won’t give you a perfect result. For me, part of the reason for this process is the introduction of slight imperfections that add character to the final piece.
- Create a plaster base (method below) using Plaster of Paris in an appropriate waterproof container.
- Make a laser print of the image you want to transfer.
- Coat plaster and image with gloss or matt acrylic medium and allow to dry.
- Transfer image.
Creating Your Plaster Base
To create the base first prepare a mould. I use take away containers or other plastic from my recycling that has been cleaned and dried.
How much plaster to mix depends on the size and thickness of the work you’re creating but I used 300g of plaster and 150ml of water to create a block that was about 10cm x 15cm and 2cm deep.
Mix two parts Plaster of Paris to one part water, or according to instructions on the pack. Pour the plaster into your mould immediately and let it set, preferably overnight. While mixing, wear gloves and a mask and wipe up plaster spills immediately. It’s not terribly dangerous stuff, but you don’t want to breath it in or get it in your eyes.
If you want to hang the plaster plaque, fix something to the back of the mould now.
When dry, first gently sand the surface of the plaster using fine grade sandpaper. Dust it off and then apply acrylic medium to the surface of the plaster where the image will be. It really soaks it up, but apply a couple of coats and let each one dry thoroughly before applying the next. Gloss tends to give a better result if you don’t mind a shiny look, but I like matt medium and the added textural quality from the imperfections that are introduced.
Preparing & Transferring the Image
Print your image on a laser printer. Apparently this also works with a photocopy, but I haven’t tried it and so cannot recommend it. Inkjet will not work for this technique.
Remember when you transfer your image it will be reversed, so if you’re using text or you want it to appear exactly as it was, reverse it before printing so it comes out the right way.
When you’re ready to do the transfer, trim your image to size, coat the front of it with plenty of acrylic medium and lay it face down on the plaster which you should also coat with acrylic medium again at this point. Both image and plaster should be liberally coated with it. Then, gently but firmly, rub or brush the back of the image to get rid of any air bubbles and to encourage the paper to stick to the surface of the plaster. Pay particular attention to the corners and edges. Carefully remove excess acrylic medium with a damp sponge or kitchen towel.
Leave it all to dry thoroughly. I often become impatient at this point, but if the acrylic medium has not dried properly then there will be gaps in the final image.
When dry you might find that parts of the image haven’t stuck to the surface of the plaster properly or have bubbled up. If this happens then using a sharp craft knife, carefully cut into the bubble to make a slit, add more acrylic medium, press it down firmly and if you think it’ll help cover with baking parchment followed by something heavy on top to stop the bubbles forming.
Using baking parchment stops any acrylic medium that escapes from sticking and tearing the paper when you remove it.
When it’s all dry and well stuck down, gently rub the paper from the surface of the plaster. It helps to moisten your fingertips before you do this. In circular motions, gently rub the paper with your fingertips; this will remove the paper but leave the image stuck to the plaster surface. You’ll see balls of wet paper forming and underneath that your image will appear. Keep going until it’s all revealed and clean.
When all the paper has been removed and everything is dry, you can add paint or other embellishments to the surface.
Sealing the Image
If you want to seal the plaster, use a few coats of acrylic medium. Just make sure everything is thoroughly dry beforehand or the surface of the piece might bubble. You could also try a spray varnish.
Other Methods for Transfer
Instead of using acrylic medium, you could try using citrus solvent to transfer your image. Print your image with a laser printer, apply the citrus solvent to the back of the paper, and rub the back of the image very hard to transfer the image onto the plaster. You might have to do this several times to make sure the image has transferred, so don’t move the image until you can see the result.
Why You Might Use Plaster
I used an image transferred to plaster to represent fragility, imperfection and decay. Using this technique, the finished piece is never going to be perfect; there will be flaws – areas that didn’t transfer, bits crumbling off, etc. To initiate and hasten the decay I left my pieces outside on an exposed windowsill for several months, causing the images to bubble and fade, and areas of the plaster to rot.