Inkjet wet transfer prints

Writer and photography / Brady Wilks

A digital inkjet wet transfer print can be done in several variations manipulating the print to suit the artist’s expression. Brady Wilks show us how.

Wet inkjet transfer print
Plate 1 – “Olga” – Brady Wilks

A digital inkjet wet transfer print provides a look that no other process can achieve. Due to the variations that an artist can use to manipulate the print and it’s unique visual aesthetic, this alternative photographic process is a powerful and viable option for an artist’s expression.


The process is simple and your supply list is short. You will need an inkjet printer, Wax Paper or a pack of Printer Labels (address, cd, etc.), Matte, enhanced matte, or double weight paper (any paper without a pearl or gloss finish is best), and a bone folder (pen caps, letter openers, small polished stones can work as well). You may also choose to use big heavy books to press evenly across the entire image.

1Prepare your matte paper substrate by having it laid out on a flat surface with the print side facing up. Have your rubbing tool at the ready.

2Take a sheet of labels and remove all of the stickers while trying to maintain the integrity of the waxy paper backing. If you remove the labels to strongly you could rip, bend or distort the waxy side. (*Intentionally damaging the waxy paper is also used creatively later on).

3Load that sheet of paper into your printer so that the ink will be applied to the waxy or shiny side of the paper.

4Prepare your image using Photoshop or other editing software and edit the image so that it is at least 360 dpi with the intended dimension you want to print. Try printing something small around 5×7 @ 360dpi so you can transfer it to an 8.5 x 11 sheet easily with a larger border. This will give you handling room and limit the print size. It is also more forgiving when it comes to borders and even spaces between the paper’s edge and the transfer’s edge. If you do not have experience printing, please refer to tutorials online to give you the specifics on preparing an image for print. The idea is that you want to set up your print so that it gives you a high quality image that you would normally make otherwise.

5Print your image using the label’s waxy paper backing.

6Once it is done, carefully hold the print by its edges. The ink is very wet and will smudge. Turn it up side down carefully, position the print over your ready placed paper substrate. Set down gently at the center and press. You will want to make your transfer soon after it finishes printing so be ready with your substrate. Using a heavy book could help with the pressing.

7Optional Rubbing – Be sure to hold the print down firmly while using your bone folder or rubbing tool. If you move the paper around the print will alter and potentially smear. (*Intentionally smearing the print could also be used creatively).

8Once you are finished pressing or rubbing, you will remove the waxy paper, wipe it off for another use with a little water and a rag or paper towel. Let your new print dry face up.

Note: This is a reverse of the image; doing it this way celebrates the aesthetic found in the transfers of old. If you choose to correct the reversal you may first flip the image in Photoshop or another editing software before printing.


Micro drops and color pools

Due to the nature of the paper and ink from the printer, the image produced is a series of micro spheres of ink. The waxy paper cannot absorb the ink so the result is millions of little dots varying in size and color depending on your image, its color, and density. This results in a transfer made of up millions of little dots mirroring the effect of the wax paper. This can further be manipulated with the following aesthetic decisions.


This aesthetic choice allows you to control the density of the ink being transferred. The harder you press the more ink will be absorbed into your substrate from the wax print. Pressing in patterns on certain areas can produce textural effects reminiscent of fabric, or illustrations. Use large heavy books to press evenly but be careful not to move your paper.

Relief structure

This aesthetic choice comes from three methods. First is to reduce pressing in certain areas so that minimal ink is transferred. Second, removing ink from the wax paper before transfer (very difficult as you are pressed for time and likely to smear). Third, is to crumple up the wax paper and flatten it out again before printing to it. The creases and folds will disallow ink to transfer with the same density.


You may choose to fold and tape your wax paper before printing disallowing the ink to be placed in certain areas. When unfolded there will be a gap in the image. Certain small folds can produce interesting patterns or add psychological depth to the narrative of the piece. Any of these techniques can, but this is the most obvious. *Warning changing the thickness of your paper could affect your printer by smearing ink on the print heads and other areas.

Illustrating with the rubbing tool

Using the rubbing tool as a pen can produce various illustrative qualities and concepts. You can create textured backgrounds, enhance the subject’s lines or even inscribe messages into your work. The results are varied so practice with test sheets first before making full size prints.

Label Patterns

You may choose specific labels and brands in order to produce a series of lines and shapes matching that of the cut labels. When the labels are cut, some brands have depressions or perforations in the backing. This will translate as a loss of ink. Virtually no ink resides in those depressions and certainly wont transfer. The result is a series of white lines or shapes matching the label shapes. 

*Any error, flaw or imperfection may be used as a desired effect. Don’t let the mistakes read as negative. Embrace the process and its serendipitous relationship to physical inconsistencies.

Examples of inkjet wet transfer prints

Plate 1

Plate 1 – “Olga” – Brady Wilks is shown above at the beginning of the tutorial.
This print makes use of a few aesthetic choices. First, the paper was crumpled heavy in a few places as seen by the swooshing curved white areas on the print. Second, I used the rubbing tool to swipe downward on the background creating perceived folds in a cloth backdrop. The original image is a solid paper with no texture. The third choice was to not press in certain areas creating a highlight of sorts seen in left and right sides of the background.

Plate 2

Inkjet transfer print
Plate 2 – “Olga” – Brady Wilks

I first folded the wax paper at an odd angle and taped is at the edge to hold it down. I kept one side of the paper untapped so there would be some dimension to the paper, causing some of the ink to smear. What you get is a small portion of the image is disjointed from the whole, and there is a violent kind of smear where the edge of the paper was folded. After removing the tape I carefully made my transfer, pressing the entire image with a few rubbing illustrations in the hair, and backdrop. No other techniques were used with this image.

Inkjet transfer photograph
Plate 3 – “Olga” – Brady Wilks

Plate 3

This example is a straight transfer with no crumpling and no extra rubbing. I used a stack of books to press the ink in evenly. This example shows off the aesthetic choice of label type and brand. This brand of CD labels had a perforated edge in the middle and a clear punch mark from the die cutter. You can see the circles in the top right and bottom left corners, as well as the side labels in the top left and bottom right which are vertical and straight. You can also see the perforated centerline. The trick here is to create an image within a file that will print exactly where you want the lines from the wax paper to be placed. 

Experiment first, but then try to master each step and use the ‘randomness’ intentionally.

Brady Wilks is a fine art photographer, print maker, and professor of photography. Currently showing work in galleries, selling prints, writing how-to articles, teaching college darkroom and alternative process courses and workshops in the greater D.C. area.

4 thoughts on “Inkjet wet transfer prints”

  1. Great post. Thanks for the clear description of how to use wax paper to transfer. Another technique is to use gel medium and inkjet transparencies.


  2. I am a professional painter, and I want to use image transfer, combined with other graphical techniques. So I am surely interested

  3. I wood like to hit press transfer print easy process. Like some body print by eco solvent printer . Have any latest process? Or any proposal pls inform .

  4. how about washing the fabric afterwards? Is that a no go or is it just not to wash the fabric with anything else, because of color staining?

Leave a Comment