How To Transfer a Photograph to Canvas

How To Transfer a Photograph to Canvas

Kimber Watson
Feb 25, 2010

I recently returned home from a long vacation and 800 or so photos later, I vowed that this trip my pictures would make it off my computer. While I'm still working on the album, I decided it would also be fun to display a few of my photos in an unconventional way, but without spending a lot of money. Aside from the linen canvas boards, this project was fabricated with materials I had on hand.

What You Need

Iron-on transfer paper
Linen artist canvas board
Cotton or linen fabric (slightly bigger than the size of your photo)
Contrasting thread
Multipurpose Adhesive (I used 3M Super 77 which is photo safe and works on fabric)
Photo Protectant (I used Krylon Preserve It! in matte)
Picture wire and hardware

Computer and printer
Image editing software
Scissors or shears
Sewing machine or needle
Hard surface or cutting board (do not use an ironing board!)


1. Choose your photograph. It works best if you use photos with high contrast as well ones in sharp focus. Keep in mind that you'll lose some of the crispness during the transferring process. Of course you can always tweak it some with your image editing software (this is also where I antiqued my photo). You'll also need an image with a high resolution.

2. If you want your image to appear as it was taken, you'll need to make sure you flip your image horizontally. This is especially important if your image contains text (it will read backwards otherwise).

3. Print your image. Read the instructions that came with your image transfer paper so you know which side to print on. I always first print a test page to make sure I'm printing on the right side and it's lined up correctly.

4. Carefully trim the excess transfer paper from your printed image.

5. Lay the pillowcase on a hard surface such as your countertop or a cutting board (an ironing board is too soft). Prepare to iron on your image by smoothing out any wrinkles from the pillowcase and press. Do the same with the fabric that will be receiving the image transfer. Arrange the printed transfer image face down onto the fabric.

6. Press your image by working from left to right. Starting at the top, slowly move the iron horizontally across the image transfer paper. The pass should take about 30 seconds. Repeat the process on the middle section and then the bottom. Now work from the bottom edge, but flip the iron and and do the same thing moving towards the top. I usually make a few more clockwise passes for a couple minutes. Make sure to press firmly!

7. Wait a minute or so for the transfer to cool slightly and then carefully lift one corner up and peel the the transfer sheet away from the fabric. Do not allow the fabric to cool for too long or the paper may be difficult to remove.

8. Stopping here, note that these are the general guidelines for any image transfer process, be it a mounted canvas or a t-shirt.

9. To mount it to the canvas board as I did, trim away excess fabric. I find it easier to sew a straight border this way, than dealing with bulky fabric. Using a contrasting thread, play around with the stitches on your machine until you find one you like. Sew a border by lining the foot of your machine up with the edge of photo. Backstitch at the end. Don't worry if it's not perfectly straight, this will just add to the handmade charm. If you don't have a sewing machine, you can sew or embroider by hand or leave this step out.

10. Trim away thread ends and then trim away the rest of the fabric from the border, leaving about a 1/4" border. If you would like a frayed edge, wash in cold water, dry on low, and trim any loose strands. If you need to iron, put the pillowcase between the iron and your fabric transfer.

11. Take fabric photo outside or on a protected surface and spray lightly with the photo protectant. Wait 2 hours before you handle it.

12. While you wait, attach the picture wire and hardware to the back of your canvas board.

13. After the photo has dried, spray the back with the multipurpose adhesive. Center image on the linen board and adhere while still tacky. (If you don't have a good eye for placement, you can measure and mark where the photo should be placed.)

14. Smooth edges of photo firmly.

15. Hang photo!

Additional Notes: If you will be applying more than one image on the fabric, make sure there is enough space so you can iron between them without hitting another image.

Images: Kimberly Watson

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