Digital photos and designs transferred to plates, mugs, frames and tiles provide personalized gifts. Specialty coated inkjet papers, such as water-based decals and rub-on transfers, enable crafters with an economical medium to create personalized items from generic items using an inkjet printer and supplies from crafts or home improvement stores.
Specialty papers such as water slide or rub-on decals can be used on many surfaces such as wood or ceramic. Choose a specialty paper based on your desired surface. Some water slide papers can be used on painted wood or ceramic. Rub-on decals may be desirable on unfinished wood and ceramic to produce a painted effect. Remember that transfer sheets usually contain a transparent coating so white areas don't print; when transferred, these areas appear clear. If your wood or ceramic project has a dark background, choose a specialty paper specifically coated with a white transfer background for clearer images. MacPherson Crafts (for Lazertrans sheets) and Papilio (for Aqua Slide and IRO Rub-on Transfers) provide transfers for dark textiles (see Resources).
Check the manufacturer's instructions for the specialty papers to see whether additional tools materials are required, such as a squeegee and fixative or turpentine and varnish (as noted by Papilio and MacPherson, respectively). Ceramic transfers may require heat from a hairdryer or oven. Consider sealing the design with varnish, if desired.
Most inkjet printers have a specialty paper setting. The coating on inkjet transfers (i.e., water slide and rub-on decals) contain an absorbent gel, so ink should be applied sparingly, to make sure that excessive ink doesn't spread through the surface medium. Remember that the image will be affixed on the coated side, so if your design or image contains text, flip the image horizontally to print a mirror image (like an iron-on transfer). Select the transparency or iron-on transfer sheet setting in your print menu if available, because these specialty papers use a similar coating. Otherwise, select the normal print setting, even for photos.
Make sure to allow enough time for the ink to dry on the coated transfer sheet (some manufacturers recommend 30 minutes or overnight). Rub-on decals require a fixative to be brushed or sprayed on the dried image so that the print can be transferred to another surface. Apply this fixative after the ink completely dries, and before cutting out the decal because cut edges will absorb liquid fixative, sealing the design to the paper.
Remove water slide decals from the paper backing by soaking briefly in warm water, between 30 seconds and one minute, until the film begins to separate from the paper. Make sure the decal doesn't roll or curl during soaking to ensure an even application. Take care to smooth the paper and remove air bubbles before peeling the paper backing. The decal must dry completely on the surface; check whether heat can safely be applied to the surface, from the manufacturer's instructions.
Rub-on decals require a firm application with a hard surface so that the fixative adheres to the material. Consider using a plastic card or firm rubber eraser to transfer the image.
Regina Edwards has been a freelance writer since 1990. She has penned video scripts, instructional manuals, white papers and abstracts. She has also ghostwritten diabetes journals. Edwards is a scuba instructor and Usui and Karuna Reiki teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Saint Joseph's University.