Photocopy transfer

The Art of Transfer

In the 50’s and 60’s Robert Rauchenberg began to use solvents to transfer found images from newspapers onto paper. Since then artists have been fascinated by the lure of the found image and photocopy transfer is just one of the ways that images may be transferred to alternative substrates.

Solvent transfer print by Robert Rauschenberg

There are two principle techniques for transferring photocopies. Both rely on a typical laser printed image (books, newspaper or magazines may be used with the adhesive transfer process).

Adhesive Transfer

Adhesive transfer works by gluing the image face down to the substrate then wetting the back and carefully rubbing away the paper. This will work with a wide range of printed imagery except for inkjet prints. These are water-soluble and therefore cannot be dampened. Photocopies or laser prints are ideal for this because the image occupies the top surface of the paper making it easier to separate. Adhesive transfer will take to most surfaces including wood, fabric, card, paper and stone. The surface to be transferred to needs to be robust enough to withstand gluing, wetting and rubbing!

What Glue?

The type of glue is crucial to the success of this technique. PVA will not work because it is reactivated when wet as are other types of glue. Use clear or coloured acrylic because this sets solid when dry and is impervious to water. The glue on most sticky tapes and sticky backed plastic make these materials ideal for transferring to and excellent results can be obtained on sellotape, parcel tape, silver plumbers tape, masking tape and insulation tape.

If using clear acrylic varnish then the background surface will show through the image. The surface therefore may be prepared with a painted or collaged background or chosen for its inherent quality such as wood grain.


Make sure that the photocopy or printed image is on paper that is larger than the surface to which it is to be transferred. This will ensure that glue does not seep around the edges of the image and get on the back of the paper. (This is not necessary when using tape or sticky backed plastic).

Apply a collage background using the acrylic varnish to stick down thin papers or tissue.

Coat the surface to be transferred to with a generous amount of acrylic and place the image on top face down.

The sticking process is crucial to the success of this technique and how well the image is stuck down determines how well the transfer comes out.

Press the back of the image with the flat of your hand and roll over the back with a dry roller to ensure a close adhesion.

As the water in the acrylic soaks into the paper the transfer image paper will stretch and ruffle. The first few minutes of sticking should therefore be devoted to ensuring that the two surfaces stick properly to each other.

Allow the acrylic to dry completely before going to the next stage.

Wet the back of the transfer image with a damp sponge and start rubbing the dampened paper until it starts to peel off the back. The image underneath will reveal itself but as it becomes clearer rub lighter just in case it starts to come away.

Allow the water to dry off. The image becomes cloudy due to residual paper fibres. Varnish with oil based glossy varnish to clear the image of cloudiness (alternatively rub a little oil into it but take care when using oil on tape or sticky backed plastic)

Download the full PDF notes here

GreenMan Festival 2018. Fish on a stick Festival Workshops with children and families:

Solvent Transfer

In these more enlightened days a non-toxic alternative to the powerful solvents that Rauchenberg used can be found in the form of tea tree or eucalyptus oil. However, given the many various types and makes of photocopier or laser printer and the habit of manufacturers to update and improve the printers and toners that they produce, it is wise to do a quick test on the print to see if it works before investing too much time and money. Simply dab a printed sample with the tea tree or eucalyptus oil and see if it rubs off.

Ready printed material such as newspapers books and magazines yield disappointing results. The type of substrate that you choose will also have a significant effect. Generally the more absorbent the surface the better the result so paper is best and cotton fabric slightly less so.


Lay the copy face down on top of the surface to be transferred to.

Sprinkle the tea tree or eucalyptus oil on the back of the copy. The oil may be left in drips or spread around with a finger or tissue. Depending on the type of of photocopy or laser print, some oils may over thin the image resulting in the colour running. To avoid this leave the oil to dry off for a minute or two before applying pressure to the back of the paper.

If you have a press, do all of this in situ on the press bed then carefully lay the blankets over the top and run it all through.

If you do not have a press follow stages 1 and 2 then hold the copy still whilst scribbling on the back of it. You will need a HB pencil and a firm grip.

A free download PDF of these instructions may be found in my Printmaking Resource section.

Download of these notes and many more in my Printmaking Resource section