Photo transfer from paper to metal

Palle Lindgaard-Jørgensen shares his method of transferring a photo from paper to metal in a few easy steps.

Writer and photography / Palle Lindgaard-Jørgensen


I have worked with this process for more than 10 years. It’s quite a simple process where the ultrathin laser print of a photo on paper is “glued” to a metal surface and thereby transferred from the paper onto the metal surface.

“What I like about the process is that the metal shines through the laser print and gives the colors a metal look. Also, the transfer process is somehow uncontrollable and sometimes the laser print is removed leaving smaller holes in the transferred picture.”

I like to photograph worn objects – and the transfer process adds to the objects by making it look more worn than the original photo. The methodology is described and illustrated below:

Metal plate for creating the phototransfer.
Metal plate for creating the phototransfer.
1 Find a suitable metal plate to transfer the picture to. I use aluminium plates which can be bought in a builder’s merchant. I worked initially with the size 40×50 cm and later worked with size 50×75 cm. The smaller 40×50 cm plates have a smooth surface and I have sanded them prior to the transfer of the picture to make them stick better to the surface.

2Print a photo on paper in a laser copier. The transfer works best with a laser copy- an inkjet gets blurred as water is involved in the process. In my experience printing on 80 or 100 gram paper works well. With a plate of 40×50 cm I have used an A3 print.

Picture to be transferred.
Picture to be transferred.

Golden and brush to be used in the photo transfer process.
Golden and brush to be used in the photo transfer process.
3 Add Golden polymer to the metal plate surface. I have used Golden Medium Gloss as the transfer medium. There is a number of commercial transfer media on the market – however, the Golden Medium Gloss has worked fine for me. I have added it with a soft brush carefully applying it, and securing that the whole area to be covered by the paper print receives a similar amount of Golden medium. You may use tape to limit the area which receives the Golden Medium to the exact size of the print.

The paper on the metal plate.
The paper on the metal plate.
4 Place the laser print on the “glued” plate with the photo side downwards. This is the most critical step in the process, and you need to be careful with getting any air bubbles out by pressing hard onto the surface and to use that all areas of the print sticks to the surface. I use a roller and puts pressure on the paper rolling from different directions across the paper surface. I always use a metal plate larger than the print in order to have a sort of Passepartout around the picture. Wait until the next day before you go further with the next step.

Water and a kitchen sponge.
Water and a kitchen sponge.
5 Rub the paper off with a sponge. This process is also critical as you on the one hand need to apply some force to get the paper off, on the other hand, should avoid removing the laser print from the metal surface. I use the soft side of a wet kitchen sponge and remove the paper with circular movements of the sponge on the paper. Immediately you can see the motive of the photo. Start from the middle and picture and move towards the sides and be very careful at the edges not to remove the laser print. After you have removed the first layer- wait some hours before you repeat the removal with the sponge. After the second time you will find that most of the is paper removed and the laser print looks clear without any paper.

6 Finally add a thin layer of Golden Medium Gloss to lock the laser print onto the surface and protect it. As you can see the picture is mirrored. If you want it to be exactly like you photo you need to mirror it prior to printing. This is particularly important if you have text in the picture you want to use. You will need to practice this process a number of times before you can make a good transfer, so you may start with a small 10×10 metal plate to get a feel of the process.

The final print transferred in using the photo transfer process.
The final print transferred in using the photo transfer process.

I hope you will enjoy to work with the process.

Palle Lindgaard-Jørgensen has worked with alternative photographic processes for more than ten years. He works with photo transfers, photogravure, xerolithography, cyanotypes and albumen prints. See Palle Lindgaard-Jørgensen’s gallery.

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