A pigment transfer is essentially a print. The process uses acrylic paint to transfer pigment from a paper surface to another receptive surface. We typically use standard photo copies for the transfer. The original image is covered with the paint, placed face down onto the new surface, and allowed to dry. Once dry, the paper is scrubbed off with water and a bristle brush. The result is the original image completely transferred to the new surface, with the variables inherent in the process, creating a unique reproduction of the original.
THE PIGMENT TRANSFER PROCESS
The following method outlines how to transfer pigment from paper to any surface that takes acrylic paint. The process is designed for transferring the pigment from black and white or color photocopies, but can also be used on graphite, ink, computer prints, magazines, and a variety of other printed material, with varying results.
These steps are intended to create the most accurate transfers possible. There are a number of variables that can be adjusted or completely ignored to create a more weathered result. Once you have an understanding of the process, you can then start making adjustments to suit your desired outcome.
- Acrylic Paint - We use acrylic medium, preferably a thick gel medium, but you may also use gesso, as well as any colored acrylic paint. We use Utrecht brand Gesso and Acrylic Matte Gel Medium.
- Photocopy with the Mirror Image of Your Original - as the process reverses the image, be sure to mirror your image at or before the printers
- The Transfer Surface - any flat surface that will take acrylic paint, such as canvas, paper or wood
- Foam Brush, Roller, or Paint Brush
- Spray Bottle - needed for the paper removal
- 2-3 Inch Plastic Bristle Scrub Brush - in the cleaning section of your grocery store
- Staple Gun - or another means of attaching your paper to a flat surface, such as double sided tape
- Fan - necessary to control moisture during drying
- A Flat Surface - either a wall to attach the transfer to while drying or plywood cut to the exact size of the stretcher (we stretch our canvas onto plywood during the transfer process)
- Cotton Rag - we use old t-shirts
- Gesso - to prime the transfer surface, though you may also prime a paper surface with acrylic medium
- Screen Printing Squeegee - makes the actual transfer a lot more consistent, though you can use your hand if without
- Scissors - anything to cut excess paper
STEP BY STEP
1. Begin with a standard black & white or color photocopy, on plain paper. Ink jet prints will work, but about 50% of the ink will come off as you scrub, resulting in a fainter image. Make sure there is about an inch or more of extra paper on each side of the image.
2. Staple the photocopy, print surface up, to a flat surface. This controls the expanding and shrinking process the paper goes through while wet and drying.
3. Paint 3 layers of acrylic medium onto the print surface of the photocopy. Allow each layer to completely dry before applying the next. Speed up the drying process by using a fan and heat if cold. The two ingredients for fast drying acrylic paint is warm, moving air.
You can completely avoid this step and transfer the original photocopy to your surface. The layers of acrylic medium helps create a more reliable, precise transfer. The layers of dried medium make it less likely any air bubbles will tear off while removing the paper. It also makes the paper less likely to warp or ripple while drying.
4. While the layers of medium are drying, prepare your transfer surface. If the surface is receptive of acrylic paint, either gesso or acrylic medium. The white in the photocopy is the white of the paper, so an initial white surface will recreate this. As for paper, use a larger sheet that you will eventually cut down (we often do multiple transfers on a large piece of paper).
5. Now, you are about to attach your image to your transfer surface. If using canvas, either attach the canvas to a wall or table (unstretched) or build a plywood surface the size of your actual stretcher and stretch the canvas to this surface. We use this method because the work to be mobile during the transfer process. If transferring to paper, have the large piece of paper either attached to a wall or a flat mobile surface.
6. Paint one final layer to your transfer surface and photocopy. While still wet, place your image on your transfer surface and align the edges. Gently apply pressure and move from the center of the image to the edges, forming a strong bond between the transfer surface and the photocopy, as well as removing as many air bubbles as possible. Only work the air bubble out in one direction, either horizontally or vertically across the surface of the paper. Be gentle, you can tear or distort the paper as your are pushing the air bubbles out, especially if the paper is wet or if there is humidity. You can use your hands, but we always use a screen-print squeegee for the most uniform results. On large transfers of over 20 inches, the squeegee is essential. You can also remove air bubbles by taking an x-acto knife, cutting a small 1/4 inch slit in the middle of the air bubble, and pushing the air out the small hole. Often times, while removing air bubbles, several will connect and form a large air bubble, which is a good time to use the x-acto knife. If you are transferring to paper, attach the paper to a wall once the air bubbles are removed. This keeps the paper from wrinkling during the drying process.
7. Let the paint completely dry. The transfer will dry quicker in hot, dry environments and slowest in cold and/or humid environments. You will be able to feel moisture on the back of the photocopy paper, as well as feel the softness of the drying paint when the transfer is still wet. A full day is a safe dry time. Be sure to use a fan while drying the transfer. This keeps the paper from wrinkling during the drying time.
8. Once the transfer is dry, take a spray water bottle and wet the paper. Take any type of stiff-bristle brush. We use a plastic brush that is about 4 inches long, has a handle, and 2-3 inch plastic bristles.
9. Scrub the wet paper. This is why you need a resistant surface, you simply can't do this step on a stretched canvas. You begin with heavy scrubbing and, as you remove the layers, begin scrubbing more delicately. Scrub a layer, wipe off the loose paper, spray, scrub again, wipe off, spray paper, take an old t-shirt and get the small particles left behind. Finally, just barely wet the paper and use your fingers to get any tiny bits of paper left behind.
Note: You can remove the pigment while scrubbing the paper. You may want this, it creates a weathered effect. Also, if there is still moisture in the paper, the pigment will scrub off easier, so for instance if it is humid or if you have perhaps let the transfer only dry for several hours, there may still be moisture. Just be careful while scrubbing. Or, if you want the weathered effect, then take advantage of this.