Solvent Image Transfers

Not exactly ground breaking stuff, using a solvent of some type to transfer an image to another surface has been a popular DIY topic for years. I wanted to try it out on fabric, for both a new throw pillow cover and future mixed media projects. There is a huge number of other blogs who have done the same thing with a different solvent product. I have seen people recommend Citra Solv, paint thinner, lacquer thinner, acetone etc. I happened to have a bottle of full strength acetone already sitting in my cabinet, and a few copies of the images I wanted to transfer.

Both of the images above are from Vintage Printable, their user interface is atrocious but the content is so amazing you don’t mind. I would highly recommend poking around there if you want to find royalty free vintage printable images. Don’t forget that to make this type of transfer work, the image needs to have been printed with toner and heat set either on a laser printer or copier machine. Transferring will produce a mirror image, so if you want text to be legible you must flip the image before printing. I didn’t care if my text couldn’t be read so I didn’t bother.

I laid out a few sheets of cardboard, then a layer of paper towels and then my fabric. I used unbleached muslin. I poured my acetone into a bowl and began applying it to the back of the paper. Once the paper was saturated I burnished the image with an old credit card. I didn’t get any pictures of this process, as I had one hand stabilizing the paper and the other frantically applying acetone. I tried it twice, and got better results the second time:

Solvent Image Transfers

The first one I tried, I didn’t reapply acetone and continue to burnish the way I did on the second one. Plus I kept lifting up the paper and checking my progress and the is a bit of blur around the edges because the paper shifted around.

Solvent Image Transfers 3

The second attempt:

Solvent Image Transfers 4

In both cases the transfer is quite faint, compared to the source material. I think this would be a perfectly acceptable result if you were trying for a distressed look or if you were overlaying multiple images in a mixed media project.

I wanted to try a stronger solvent to see if that would make a significant difference. I chose lacquer thinner, something you really should be outside while using. I used the same setup and applied the thinner with a brush:

Solvent Image Transfers 8

I still got some blur ¬†around the edges from shifting the paper too much… probably from taking pictures like this:

Solvent Image Transfers 9

The results were much darker than with the acetone, I did two more with the vintage absinthe ad.

Solvent Image Transfers 11

Both turned out very well, since the source image was a very light color it’s not as dramatic as the bright blues of the first image. I think if you were trying this with black text the results would be very crisp.

Solvent Image Transfers 12

Solvent Image Transfers 10

Overall I think both solvents have their uses. If I were doing a mixed media page, I would probably use acetone since the fumes are nothing more noxious then you get from removing your nail polish. Plus you don’t have the hassle of taking the project outside to do the transfer. If you were trying to transfer an image to wood or fabric the lacquer thinner produces a far superior result.

I can’t decide if I would rather use the blue woman or the absinthe ad for my throw pillow. I might try an overlay border or some text to pump up the intensity before sewing.


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