Friday, October 24, 2008

Inkjet Transfer Experiment #1 - Using an HP PSC 1350

This is the experiment that inspired me to start this blog. This is the first of many experiments to come.

Before I show you the results, I wanted to tell you a little bit about the printer I used, the technique I used, the products I used, as well as the conditions I work under. If you just want to see the results without all the "theory", just scroll down to where the pictures begin. :D

The Printer:

It's an HP PSC All-in-One 1350. This experiment is the only time I'll be using it from here on out. There's something wrong with it, where the printer's not reading that there's a color cartridge in it, and after 2 color cartridges failing, I don't want to invest any more money into it. So, after this, my experiments will be done on my new Epson Workforce 500 (It has a document feeder for scanning! But, it doesn't print on transparencies...well, not yet anyway *rubs hands with glee and laughs evilly*).

The most important thing to know is that most inkjet printers from HP, Canon, Lexmark, and others, use dye-based inks. Dye-based inks are water-soluable, and that's what makes it so hard to achieve easy, good results with inkjet transfers. That's the whole reason we need special papers, special products and lots of practice. The HP 1350 uses dye-based inks.

Epson, and now Kodak, make printers that use pigment-based inks (HP makes some, too, but for now, they're for their high-end printers. The name of the ink is Vivera, but, heh, there's Vivera dye inks for their low-end printers, and Vivera pigment inks for their high-end printers. Confused yet?). This means the inks aren't water-soluable. Using pigment inkjet prints means your options open up considerably when it comes to transfers, because you don't have to worry about the inks running from water-based media (like acrylic gels and mediums).

From what I understand, pigment-based inks also last longer when it comes to inkjet prints, and aren't subject to the considerable fading that happens with dye-based inkjet prints. If you'd like to know more about this, you can visit Wilhelm Imaging Research, where you'll find extensive tests done on numerous brands and printers.

The Papers:

I used both JetPrint's Imaging & Photo Paper and HP's Everyday Matte Photo Paper to print my images on. Both papers have clay coatings on them, and so the ink rests in the clay coating, and not so much in the fibers of the paper (from what I understand). That makes it easier to release the inks off of the paper and into your medium, without having the inks all wash away when you try to remove the paper.

Jet Print's paper is the old Great White Imaging & Photo Paper, and per rumors on the Inkjet Transfers Yahoo Group, may no longer be in production. Because I can't find the JetPrint Imaging & Photo paper in stores in a Google search (and the company's website is down), I think it really may be gone.

The Products:

Product 1: Golden's Regular Gel - Matte. Originally made for artists to extend and mattify their acrylic paints, this medium has shown a variety of different uses. It's basically heavy-body acrylic paint without any pigment, or clear acrylic paint. It's acid-free, and makes a great collage glue, too. There's not a lot of moisture in it, so it doesn't warp and wrinkle paper as other glues do. It also turns out to make a great transfer medium.

You can visit the Golden Paints website for more info on the varieties of gels & mediums they have. Also, their instructions for image transfers are here:

Most places tell you to use the Glossy version of this gel for image transfers, because the colors show through much better in the glossy versions. That's true, I've found...the colors are more vibrant. That's because acrylic gels are glossy by design, and in order to make an acrylic gel matte, the manufacturer has to add "matting agents", which is basically itty-bitty specs of "white stuff". So, when you use a matte gel, it will dry more translucent than transparent, and thereby, tone down the colors in your image transfer. However, I'm not a big fan of glossy, so I got the matte version.

Product 2: Liquitex's Gloss Medium & Varnish. Basically, this is a glaze medium, thinning agent and acrylic varnish, all rolled into one. It's glossy and pretty liquidy...about the consistency of liquid starch. I tried using one of the Liquitex's gel mediums for a transfer, with horrible results (the inks just washed away), and when I read their website, I found out why. They don't recommend their gels for image transfers, but instead recommend this medium. The instructions for image transfers are here:

Product 3: Elmer's Squeeze 'N Caulk - Clear. Claudine Hellmuth recommended this product for laser/toner print transfers in her book, Collage Discovery Workshop. It's relatively inexpensive, at $5 for 8 oz. I've found it makes a great collage glue, too, because it's got some latex in it, so the paper remains flexible, with minimal warping. However, I can't tell you if it's archival or not, since caulk makers don't seem to worry about whether they're acid-free on paper *grin*. It dries to a glossy finish.

I can't link to the technique, because it's in Claudine's book. But, I did the exact same technique I used for the Golden Gel and Liquitex GM&V, which was to brush a coat onto my printed image, let it dry, brush another coat on, let that dry, wet the back of the transfer to remove the paper more easily, and peel and rub away. What's left is a transparent "skin" with the image embedded into it. You can then glue the image onto whatever substrate you want.

The Conditions:

I live in Colorado, which is a very dry climate. Everything here dries super quick. Just wanted you to know that, because results may vary depending on humidity.

The Results:

Here are the scans of each transfer. The images on the left started out on the HP Everyday Matte Photo Paper and the images on the right started out on the JetPrint Imaging & Photo Paper. You can click on each image, to see larger versions.

Here's the original image:

Golden's Regular Gel - Matte:

Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish:

Elmer's Squeeze 'N Caulk-Clear:

Just a little note...the transfer on the right has a whitish cast because I laid the transfer down on a page of my art journal that had gesso on it, and the caulk picked up some bits of gesso. That stuff is STICKY! So if you try the Elmer's caulk, you shouldn't have that whitish cast.


I would say so far, JetPrint's Imaging & Photo Paper outperformed HP's Everyday Matte Photo Paper, in it's ability to release the ink into the medium. It was also easier to get off, since it's not as thick as HP's paper. I didn't really like how the green spread all over the transfers, but it's better than a lot of it washing away, which is what happened with HP's paper.

Sigh...too bad they seemed to have stopped making it. I encourage you to join the Inkjet_Transfers Yahoo Group, though, because people there are testing all kinds of papers, looking for a substitute. If anyone's going to find it, it's those folks. :D

It should be noted, however, that the HP paper was developed to work on HP's printers, where the main goal is for the inkjet print to stay in the inkjet paper. So, the HP paper may work better on a printer not made by HP, when it comes to inkjet transfers. Also, because the paper is thicker than the JetPrint paper, it took more water and more time to rub the paper off, which may have allowed more ink to wash away.

And among the three mediums, Golden's Regular Gel - Matte, outperformed the other two mediums, as far as its ability to retain the color in the medium. All three transfer mediums made strong skins, all were easy to apply, and they all dried at about the same rate, so all other things being equal, the ability to retain the bright colors of the original image made the Golden's Gel come out ahead.

The Liquitex GM&V did about the same as the Elmer's Caulk, as far as color retention goes, but I like the Liquitex medium itself a lot better. I like how the Elmer's caulk is stretchy and strong, but it is seriously, seriously sticky. I did this experiment about two months ago, and the Elmer's transfers still have an ultra-sticky surface (FYI, they've been sitting in my art journal, though, so it's possible they just need to be out in circulating air for a lot longer). If I wanted to use these transfers, I'd have to coat the caulk with another medium, just to tone down the dust-magnet-ness of them. Plus, I like the Liquitex medium because it's so multi-purpose (glaze, varnish, Pearl-Ex medium, thinner) and I can get it easily at Michael's.

I'll be repeating this experiment in my next post, only this time, I'll be using my Epson Workforce 500, with Durabrite pigment inks. I'm also going to add transfers from a piece of plain ole copy paper, to see if that makes a difference. Stay tuned!

Image Transfers...

...ephemeral, lovely, mysterious…

And dang hard to master.

There seems to be at least 20 different transfer techniques that I've run across and at least 30 different products to try, ranging from the ultra-cheap (clear packing tape) to the ultra-expensive (Lazertran). It all varies, depending on where the image came from (inkjet printer? laser printer? magazine?), where it’s going (paper? fabric? metal? clay?), and what you want to use it for (collage? T-shirt? art quilt?).

Sheesh, huh?

My own journey into the world of image transfers started about 6 years ago, when I was wandering the aisles of Michael’s, looking for inspiration (Do you ever do that? Roam the aisles of a craft store, not to buy anything, but just seeing what the possibilities are?). In the glue aisle, I came across Omni-Gel by Houston Art, made specifically for image transfers (makes a great collage glue, too). I read the bottle, and thought “Image transfers? What the heck is an image transfer?”

Oh-ho-ho, was I in for a surprise. I came home, Googled it, and found the Art-E-Zine web page all about them. Suddenly, this whole new world opened up to me, and my wheels began turning. I immediately went back to Michael’s, got the Omni-Gel, printed off some images on my HP Inkjet PSC 750, and set to work.

First, I tried printing off my images on just regular copy paper, and then followed the Omni-Gel process of making a gel “skin” of that image. But, when I wetted down the paper to remove it, the ink ran off of the transfer something fierce. I ended up with a grey-green ghost image, where it had originally been black.

So, next, I tried printing off my images on some HP Matte Photo paper* I had, and wow! It worked! The transfers came out beautifully. The ink ran a bit, but not nearly as bad as it had before. I still have one of my practice ones, shown below, from 5 years ago, and it's still as if I made it yesterday (but it's been in a drawer...hence, the wrinkles…I’ve since learned that HP ink fades considerably in UV light).

However, as beautifully as it finally worked, it bothered me how much it all cost. The Omni-Gel was $10 for an 8 oz. bottle (which I used most of in my practice tests), and the HP Matte Photo paper was $15/50 sheets at the time. I’ve since learned that’s not too bad at all, as far as costs go, but at the time, it bugged me. It also bothered me that it was so hard to get inkjet images to transfer, where you needed special paper, special products, and lots of practice, while there were so many ways to get laser, toner and magazine images to transfer easily. On top of this, just looking at all the image transfer techniques on that Art-E-Zine page just made my head swim with possibilities. I wanted to try them ALL.

So, I set out on a quest, to find my own Holy Grail of Inkjet Image Transfers: the One True Process that would be reasonably priced, relatively easy, and could be used with my inkjet printer.

I’ve learned so much on this quest, the main one being that it doesn’t really exist, the One True Way to the Perfect Inkjet Image Transfer, lol. There are just WAY too many considerations for there to be only one True Way. There’s only the process that works best for what you have, what you need, and what you can afford. But, now I’m hooked, and I wanna know how each process works, when stacked against other processes/products.

And so, because I’m going to test this stuff anyway (especially Inkjet Transfers), I wanted to share the results with you. These experiments aren’t meant to be how-to’s, because there are gazillions of tutorials out there that can explain it far better than I can. Whenever I can, though, I’ll give links to tutorials that I used to run my experiments. My main idea is just to show you the results. It’s helped me so much to be able to compare different products and methods, side-by-side, and I’m hoping that it will help you, too.

But, before I jump into my 1st big Inkjet Transfer experiment, I wanted to point out a few places that have helped me tremendously in learning about inkjet transfers.

Inkjet Transfer Yahoo Group - A group started by fabric artist Lesley Riley, with detailed instructions in their Files section for all kinds of different ways to transfer inkjet images to your fabric, metal, paper, etc. This is the group that taught me about why my HP inks ran so horribly in my first inkjet transfer (because they’re dye inks, and therefore, water-based), as well as why my HP Matte Photo paper worked better than regular copy paper (it’s the clay-coating on the paper). There's continual discussion and advice about printers to use, types of papers or transparencies to print your image on, as well as information about laser and toner copier transfers. Very active, helpful group with no posting requirements.

Art-E-Zine's List of Image Transfer Techniques - This is the list that got me started on this path 6 years ago, when I made my 1st successful image transfer using Omni Gel. Includes techniques for several different mediums, like Polaroid film transfers (expensive medium, but gorgeous results), polymer clay and laser/toner transfers.

Heart-A-Day's Squidoo Lens on Image Transfers - Another excellent resource. She has a great list of tutorials, books and videos that show how to make transfers, step-by-step.

In the next post, I’m going to show you the results of my 1st big Inkjet Transfer experiment, where I compare 2 different papers with 3 different mediums, from images printed on an HP PSC 1350.

*As an aside, HP has changed the packaging on the original Matte Photo paper I used, so now it’s called HP Everyday Matte Photo Paper. I can’t tell you, though, whether it’s the same formula they originally used. It feels the same to me, but because I no longer have my HP PSC 750, I can’t do a true comparison between my 1st transfer with the old paper, and this newly-packaged paper.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Introduction - Let the Experiments Begin

Hello there. I'm Kristina, a 36 year-old chic who decided to try a more heavy hand at creative endeavors after I got sick almost 4 years ago. Sick with what, you ask? Well, it's a long story, but the highlights are that it involves chronic pain, isn't deadly, and involves "female troubles". Yeah, enough said, eh?

So, I've been taking this crash course in mixed-media art ever since, with the Internet, books and some very kind online friends as my guides. Because of that, I've spent a lot of time trying out different supplies and techniques, in this effort to find out what I enjoy, artistically. And after all this trial and error, I've found that it's become its own means to an end, its own niche, for me.

Meaning, I like to experiment. A lot. With everything I can lay my hands on.

I blame it on my previous, short-lived career as a scientist. Actually, I'm not even sure I can claim that title, scientist, since really, I was a research assistant. That basically means I did the grunt work in a lab, but, for simplicities sake, let's just call that close enough.

After sharing a lot of my technique experiments with a close friend, she recommended that I put this all into a blog. It's a good idea. I don't claim that it's original, though. A lot of these products and techniques, you'll find reviewed and demonstrated on ScrapFriends, on Yahoo Groups like arttechniques, and in various instructional books and DVDs. Probably with better pictures, too. :D

But, I figure, since I'm going to do these experiments anyways, I might as well share them with others. Maybe then, you won't have to shell out quite the cash that I have.

LOL, who are we kidding? You're going to buy supplies anyways, right? Ok then, well, maybe you'll know a little bit more about what works, what doesn't, and maybe you can tell me why something worked for you that didn't work for me.

So, that's why I chose the title "Art Alchemist" for this blog, because these are my early experiments, fumbles and foibles. Plus, "Art Scientist" just didn't sound as catchy or romantic, and "Crafty Scientist" and "Art Alchemy" were already taken, dangit (both blogs that I really enjoy...I mean, where else can you get Western Blot Earrings??? Are those not the coolest things you've ever seen?).

I look forward to sharing what I learn with you, and look forward to hearing about your own experiments as well.