Wednesday 26 November 2014

Image transfer musings

I've spent a fair few hours wrestling with various forms of image transfer onto Polymer Clay over the past few months. I have various (hundreds. . . ) of cool images that I created digitally by various means, that I have wanted to get off the computer and onto any substrate that will take them. Getting them onto Polymer Clay seemed an interesting challenge.
My explorations so far have been aimed at trying to get images onto raw clay that I could then manipulate by wrapping them round things. Most of the brighter and crisper ways of transferring images all seemed to involve baking the clay, or blasting liquid clay with a heat gun. OK in their way but you are left with a stiff, flat thing that is unwrappable.
The only way I found to transfer onto raw clay was the one that Donna Kato mentions in her book on Creative Surface Effects. It involves using a laser print, (it doesn't work with inkjets) and water. Several people have Youtube vids of this technique too. Basically you place the image face down on a bit of clay, rub/burnish the back of it to make sure the image is in good contact with the clay surface, then, using water and your index finger, rub gently-ish until the paper rubs off. This leaves you with the image that was once on the paper, now imprinted on the surface of the clay. There are various subtleties to it but in a nutshell, that's what you do.
What I then tried was to wrap that image around a pre-made tube bead, either baked or unbaked. The problem I encountered was that the image stuck to my fingers and smudged badly. OK, I tried hardly touching the image when wrapping, but that was very hard to do as some pressure and guidance is needed to get the wrap at the right angle etc.
I tried this technique with trans clay. The image stuck to the clay better, and much less to my fingers, but the resultant image looked a bit faded and dull somehow.

Early experiments

So I thought a bit and decided to try a mix of trans and white clay, white for the image quality and trans for the relative handleability. I tried about 80% white to 20% trans. This was better and I got some reasonable results, with the caveat that I wasn't going for anything pristine, I liked the wonky, cheap transfer/ancient artifact/rustic vibe I was getting, I just didn't want smudged images.
On a whim I tried something out. .  I figured that what I needed was something in between the image and my fingers that would protect it from smudging when being handled, so I tried a thin coat of Klear floor polish brushed on. This worked OK up to a point. . .
The issue with the basic laser print/water technique is that when left, over time the ink gets stickier and the clay gets stiffer and likely to crack when being wrapped. Putting a thin layer of weak varnish on helps with the first problem, but not so much with the latter, you have to try to judge when the varnish is dry enough to handle but that it hasn't dried to the extent that it will crack when wrapped.
I have had some success with this but still have to handle it as little as I can as the act of wrapping seems to re awaken the stickiness somehow. It's also not consistent enough for me to draw firm conclusions about what I am doing. I feel it sort of works, most of the time ;-)
Any of you found better methods?
Jon x


  1. This is really interesting Jon. I look forward to seeing how you develop this technique.
    Tina from the Poly Clay forum.

    1. Thanks Tina, I'll update when I find out more, or manage to nail the technique to my satisfaction.

  2. Interesting post Jon. What about using a small piece of parchment paper to hold the transfer (image side to parchment paper) as you position the base bead, then roll up the bead and wrap the parchment paper around it completely and smooth the bead gently to get rid of the seam. Parchment paper (baking paper, whatever it's called) is one of my must have tools. It's great for smoothing seams, so it would help with that aspect of your beads also. I love your transfer bead designs BTW!!

    1. I'll have to try that, Mel, thanks. I would worry that the image would stick to the parchment paper or if not, smudge a bit. But I shall experiment and see. I have a roll of it lurking in a kitchen cupboard. Probably years old. . .

    2. Let me know how you get on. :)