If you have a design, pattern, or drawing that you would like to transfer onto your wood there are many different ways you can achieve that regardless of whether the pattern was taken off the internet or created by yourself.
When choosing which of the below methods suits your project best, you should consider the size of the pattern, color of the wood, budget, surface (flat or wavy), purpose, and, of course, your personal preference.
1. Carbon Paper
Carbon paper is the most common and simple way to transfer a pattern onto wood. It is similar to transfer-paper in the way you apply it but it is probably a little better as carbon paper leaves a darker mark that is very well visible on wood.
This way is best if your pattern has a lot of detail and you are using wood that is not dark, such as butternut or basswood. Darker kinds of wood require transfer-paper instead of carbon paper.
To a pattern onto wood using carbon paper you need to do the following:
- Print/draw your pattern on paper.
- Locate the area on the wood where you want to the pattern to be transferred
- Put carbon paper over the area where you want your design to be seen
- Put your printed/drawn pattern on top of the carbon paper
- Tape the paper to the wood to make sure it does not move as you trace it
- Trace the outline of the pattern, it’s best if you use a ballpoint pen.
- The carbon should have transferred onto the surface of the wood in the areas where you pressed on it with the pen.
This is a very simple method that always works pretty well. As an alternative to carbon paper, you can also use graphite paper, which is exactly the same thing, except you can erase it off wood much easier.
You can find carbon paper in most office stores or your local large retail stores for about a dollar. If you are in the US, head to your closest Walmart and you will most definitely find it there.
2. Transfer Paper
As mentioned previously transfer paper is very similar to carbon paper, the only difference is that it comes in many other colors other than grey.
Transfer paper is used instead of carbon paper on dark woods, such as walnut and mahogany. This way the outline of the pattern is visible with one of the brighter colors, standing out on dark wood.
The Method od applying transfer paper is exactly the same as carbon paper:
- Place the transfer paper between the pattern and the wood
- Tape it so it does not move
- Trace it!
Another benefit of transfer-paper is that you can separate your drawings into two different colors. This is especially useful if you are for example tracing two faces next to each other and you don’t want to get confused.
All you have to do is replace the transfer paper from under your pattern with another color, and then trance the second part of the drawing that you want to be in a different color, just make sure that your pattern is well taped to the surface of the wood and that it does not move.
Transfer-paper comes in all colors. The best colors to use in our opinion are light-blue and white as they stand out really well and are easily visible in all different lightings.
Transfer paper can be found in most art stores, it is not as common as carbon paper in retail stores and office stores but with a bit of luck, you may even find it there.
While with carbon paper and transfer paper you may have used non-flat surfaces in some cases when tracing, with Iron it’s different. You should only use an iron to transfer your design onto the wood, if your wood is flat, otherwise, it does not have a chance of working out well.
This method is best if you need a very precise design that perfectly shows you the outline of the pattern. Also useful if you are required to have curved thick lines and other complex detail that you will have a hard time getting right when tracing.
The great thing about using an iron is that every detail of the design is transferred onto the wood, and it may even be slightly faster than tracing it if you need to transfer many designs, or a larger one that is more complex.
This is how you transfer a pattern onto wood using an iron:
- Place the printed image on the wood “face down” with the drawing touching the wood and not facing up
- Tape the paper to make sure it does not move as you iron it
- Gently stroke the paper with the iron to head up the paper and clear it of any folds. Do not hold the iron on one spot for a long time
- When peeling off the paper off the wood make sure it is hot otherwise the paper will get stick to the wood
- As you peel off the paper off the wood, check for any undeveloped areas, if there are any, place the paper back on the wood and work on them with the tip of the iron (If you taped the paper at the start the paper will go to the exact same location and will not be shifted
- Peel off the paper once you’re happy with the transfer
If you are going to use this method read below as there are some very important things you must know!
- The most important thing you should know is that it will only work if the image is printed out on a laser printer. Inkjet-printed images will not transfer.
- If you have any numbers or letters on the design, keep in mind that they will be in reverse as you place the image on the wood “face-down”. If you want them to be original you will have to print them as a reflection
- Bright colors work best for this kind of transfer, but the usual black color will also do a good job.
Overall this is not the most recommended method as there are a few complications that can happen when ironing the design onto the wood. However, if it is necessary to transfer detail on the wood, iron is a hard but a good method for such a task.
4. Lacquer Thinner
Lacquer Thinner is an alternative to the iron method, it is quite similar though.
Please always use safety gloves and only execute the process outside as lacquer thinner is a chemical substance.
Just like the Iron, lacquer thinner is best for fine detail and also requires a very high quality printed image. The color black is transferred a little better using lacquer thinner than an iron.
The process of applying lacquer thinner to transfer the pattern onto the wood is the following:
- Place the printed out paper on the wood where you want the pattern to be transferred “faced-down” so that the image is touching the wood
- Only when wearing gloves and taking all protective measurements, rub the lacquer thinner into the paper with a cloth in circular motions covering all the area of the paper
- Just like with the iron, if you have any numbers or letter those will be in reverse
This method works really well, however, once again this is best for wood that is flat.
5. Transfer with an Inkjet printer
What you will see in most other methods that require you to print things out is that you will need a laser printer, which you may not have or have to pay extra for when you go to your local computer store to print it out.
Below is a tutorial of how you can transfer an inkjet printer image onto your wood. The example focuses on a colorful image, but do not let it confuse you as you can still transfer black patterns and such onto your wood piece.
This is a good method if you have an inkjet printer at home, this way you do not have to go and use a laser printer when transferring a pattern onto your wood.
If you are unsure of what vellum paper is, it is a thick seethrough material that can be bought from art stores, it is usually made out of cotton but older models are made out of animal skin, so if you are vegan you can double-check with the brand if this is suitable for you.
Vellum paper is best if you are working on 3D projects such as sculptures or any other uneven wood projects. This is due to its strong texture but high flexibility which makes it easy to trace around as well as easy to bend on an uneven surface.
Unlike other methods we have discussed above, the idea of vellum paper is not to trace through design, but instead to trace around it with a pencil that’s dark/bright enough to leave a mark on the wood.
Here is how to use vellum paper to transfer a pattern onto wood:
- Cut out the pattern you want using scissors out of vellum paper
- Identify the area where you want the pattern to go to, use tape to keep vellum paper in the right place
- If your surface is uneven, use multiple pieces of tape for the pattern not to move as you are drawing around it, the more uneven areas the more tape you should use
- With a pencil, draw around the pattern, make sure the pencil is sharp at all times for the most accurate representation of the design
If the design you are looking to trace also has some areas inside which you need to transfer, this is a little more difficult but also possible. Cut out a few wholes from the inside of the vellum paper and try to draw around it as well, while it may not be as accurate you will get a rough idea when carving the wood.
7. Cardboard templates
Cardboard templates are a cheaper but less advanced alternative to vellum paper.
Create your own cardboard templates when you are on a mostly flat surface and you want to transfer a design onto the wood using a pencil
If you are unsure where to get the cardboard from, do not worry, it is already in your home. Use anything from a cereal box to amazon delivery packaging, this kind of cardboard will work just fine.
The idea is very similar as with vellum paper, to transfer the design onto wood you must:
- Cut out the cardboard with a paper-knife to form the right pattern
- Tape/hold it steady
- Trace around it with a pencil
As simple as that, and you can get most patterns onto your wood using this simple but fairly effective way.
8. Graphite pencil
This is something “smart kids” did in wood carving classes when they wanted to draw on wood. It’s a very neat and easy method and does not require anything except for a 6B or higher graphite pencil
This method is best if you do not want to buy carbon paper and want to DIY it from home. It is by far not the best method, but it’s simple and effective
So here is how to transfer a pattern using just a graphite pencil:
- On the backside of the image that you want to transfer onto wood, color it all in with a thick layer of graphite, just use the pencil and color it all in as if you’re drawing the Malevich square.
- Place the image on the wood where you want the pattern to be transferred, with the image facing up and the graphite touching the wood
- Tape the image for it to be steady as you trace it
- Using any pen or pencil (ballpoint pen works best) trace the drawing over the paper
- Take off the drawing and you have your drawing on your wood
Believe it or not, this method actually has an advantage over carbon paper. You can erase the graphite off the wood, and carbon can only be carved out. Of course, you can just use carbon paper in the first place.
The same trick can also be done with a charcoal pencil!
9. How To Trance a Pattern On Wood For Wood Burning
If you transfer a pattern onto wood for wood burning it is a little different if you want it there to be carved. Mostly because wood burning involves, well, burning, so you do not want any chemical substances around there.
It is very important that you have not used lacquer thinner or paint or any other toxic elements on your wood before you wood burn
Which leads us to the best way to trace a pattern for wood burning is either carbon paper (method N01) or using a graphite pencil (method N08)
Tracing around tracing paper or vellum paper also makes sense if you are using a less flat wood surface.