Laser Printing On Wood

Labeling wood has traditionally involved burning or painting the surface; both require a certain amount of artistry and skill. However, there is a much easier way. Laser prints, from printers or photocopiers, have an interesting property: the pigment, or toner, will transfer to another surface under heat and pressure. Simply put, if you put a laser print face-down on a flat surface and iron it, the toner will melt off the paper and onto the surface. You will then have a mirror image of the print on the surface. It's a simple process and it works great on wood.

This simple technique allows anyone, regardless of ability, to imprint wood with any text or image. Imagine the possibilities: your signature, a valentine heart, instructions for use, flowers, signs, game boards... virtually any text or graphic you can find. All of them can be easily printed on wood.

There are two things to consider before you start: One, the material you are transferring the print to must tolerate more heat than the toner requires to melt, a cloths iron set on 'cotton' is about right. Two, the result is a mirror image of the print; if you are using text, the print will have to start out backwards.

There are really only two steps required:

1) Get a laser print. If you don't have access to a laser printer, start by printing with an ink-jet and then photocopy it. Remember to print a mirror image of what you want; some laser printers have a setting for this. If you start with an ink-jet printer, the mirror image setting is often called 'T-Shirt' mode. Many photocopiers also have a mirror setting. If none of the above options are available, you can always create your source image in a graphics program and mirror it there.

2) Set your cloths iron to cotton or wool and put the print face-down where you want the image to be. Let things get good and hot and then apply lots of pressure. The back of the paper should just start to turn brown from the heat. As you work the iron around the print, make sure the paper doesn't move or you will get a broken or blurred image.

Like most things in woodworking, it takes a little practice to get good results. So, print extra copies and then try them on scraps first. While you're at it, try out the finishing technique you plan on using to make sure it doesn't react with the transferred toner.

It works with color laser prints as well, though darker colors will show up better.

Tip: When checking to see if all areas of the image have transfered, firmly press the iron over one side of the print while you lift up the other side to check. Keep at it, pressing down firmly with the iron as you go. Once that side is complete, do the same for the other side.

Transfer printing opens up a whole new world of possibilities: gifts, signs, layouts, decorations, and signatures are easy to transfer onto wood. Anyone can do it; no artistic skills required, you don't even have to be particularly good at ironing.