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How to Transfer a Photo to an Oil Painting

Transfer a photo to your painting for a work of art.
emulsion-08 image by Paco Ayala from Fotolia.com

Photo transfers give paintings a great, grungy, altered art look. Mixed media techniques such as this can be dramatic and expressive, as well as subtle. This activity is rated moderately challenging not because it is actually hard, but because it may require multiple attempts to get a product you are satisfied with. Keep that in mind when you choose or create the painting you will use.

Things You'll Need:

  • Brushes
  • Gel Medium, Heavy Or Light, Glossy Or Matte, Such As Can Be Purchased From An Art Supply Store To Add Texture To Paint
  • Paint
  • Photo, Printed On Regular Copy Paper
  • Canvas

Prepare the Canvas

Prepare the canvas.
abstract canvas pattern image by Galina Barskaya from Fotolia.com

Prepare and paint your canvas the way you do for any painting, keeping in mind the position and size of the image, as well as the fact that your image will be transferred in reverse and will not be perfectly opaque.

Brush your image with the gel medium and position the image face down on the canvas. The gel medium will draw the ink out of the paper and act as an adhesive.

When the gel medium is dry, take a large, coarse paint brush saturated with water and rub the back of the paper until you get down to the image underneath. This step will take quite a bit of rubbing, but be careful not to rub too vigorously because that will start to remove the image from the canvas. Of course, if that's the look you want, then rub away!


If you want to transfer text, print a mirror image of the text so it reads the right way when you're done. You may want to cut your image out so you only transfer the subject of the photo and not the background. Good quality paper is not necessary; in fact, it will make removing the paper harder.


  • Don't try to peel the edges of the paper off the canvas. This will stretch the gel medium and cause the edges to peel away from the canvas. Instead, use a sharp knife to trim the edges away.
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