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Directions for gum arabic transfers

Gum Arabic transfer is a method of printmaking. You can use gum Arabic and printmaking ink to transfer an image from a photocopy to another surface. The resulting gum prints have an appealing, painterly quality. Each print produced will be slightly different from the last, even if you make the transfer from an identical copy. In addition, you can transfer a flat image to an uneven surface such as a cylinder or even a rock.

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  1. Pour a small amount of oil-based printing ink on a Plexiglas panel. Work the ink back and forth with a soft ink brayer until it is evenly textured. It should be smooth but sticky and not too runny. Prepare only enough ink for one print.

  2. Spread a thin, even layer of gum Arabic on a separate, clean Plexiglas panel with a damp sponge. The panel should be 3 or 4 inches larger than the photocopy you will transfer. Spread the gum Arabic in an area large enough for the photocopy.

  3. Place the photocopy face up on the layer of gum Arabic. Smooth it from the centre with the sponge containing gum Arabic to remove any wrinkles. You may have to lift up the corners to smooth it. When all the wrinkles are removed, coat with a light, even layer of gum Arabic.

  4. Roll the brayer in the ink to load it. Roll it over the photocopy in one direction and do not overlap the strokes. Reload the brayer as needed, but roll it on blank newsprint to clean it before reloading. Turn the image 90 degrees and cover with strokes in a perpendicular direction.

  5. Dampen a clean sponge and remove the excess ink from the surface. Work as fast as you can so the ink does not dry out. Use light strokes and be very gentle. You can easily tear the paper in this step. Soak the sponge in clean water and squeeze out the excess as needed. Blot any excess water off the surface with paper towels.

  6. Position a sheet of lightweight paper on top of the photocopy. Use a wooden spoon to burnish it evenly onto the surface. Slowly and in one motion, pull the paper off the photocopy by the top corners. The image should be transferred to the paper.

  7. Tip

    You can buy gum Arabic at art supply stores and craft centres. Use high-contrast images for the best prints. The prints will be a reverse copy of the original, so keep this in mind if you are printing text. Use 20- or 24-pound photocopy paper. To transfer an image to an uneven surface, peel the original off the Plexiglas panel after removing the excess ink. Place the original face down on the target surface and burnish. The target surface should be clean, grease-free and preferably glossy.


    This is a very messy process. Make sure you are wearing an apron or old clothing.

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Things You'll Need

  • Printing ink, oil-based
  • Plexiglas panels
  • Soft ink brayer
  • Gum Arabic
  • Sponges
  • Photocopy
  • Newsprint
  • Paper towels
  • Lightweight paper
  • Wooden spoon

About the Author

Karren Doll Tolliver

Karren Doll Tolliver holds a Bachelor of English from Mississippi University for Women and a CELTA teaching certificate from Akcent Language School in Prague. Also a photographer, she records adventures by camera, combining photos with journals in her blogs. Her latest book, "A Travel for Taste: Germany," was published in 2015.

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