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How to use glue to lift an image from a photograph

Updated July 20, 2017

Lifting an image from one medium to another is called a "transfer." To easily transfer an image from a photograph, all you need is a photocopy of your image and plain old white glue. White glue is sold at art and craft supply stores under the name "PVA glue" (polyvinyl acetate), but any white glue you have will work. You can also use acrylic medium, gesso, acrylic binder or acrylic paint. This kind of image transfer works best with a black and white or colour photocopy of your photograph, as the glue will bond with the ink in the photocopy. This bond will provide you with your transfer. Glossy photos or images printed with inkjet printers won't work as well, as the ink will run instead of transferring.

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  1. Trim the image you will be using to the size you would like and place it on your work surface. Use your paintbrush or finger to apply a thin coat of glue. The glue will be milky when first applied. Brushstrokes will show up in the transfer, which can be used as an effect. If this is not the look you're going for, keep your brushstrokes smooth and even. If desired, you can use a spatula or your finger to smooth out the glue.

  2. Let the first coat dry for up to an hour. The glue will become clear when dry.

  3. Turn the image and apply the next coat. Each layer should be applied with perpendicular strokes for an even application.

  4. Let the second coat dry thoroughly.

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until you have applied between three and 10 coats. The number of coats depends on what you are transferring your image onto. Your transfer will have to be strong enough to be rubbed or heated without tearing. Apply coats of glue until you are sure your transfer will not tear. Be sure to wait for each coat to dry thoroughly, or you will end up with an unworkable product.

  6. Let the transfer dry completely. This can take between 48 and 72 hours, depending on the thickness of the glue. Be sure to wait, or the glue will dissolve in the following steps.

  7. Put your transfer into the dish of water and soak it for between five and 20 minutes. At this point you will only see plain paper, as the ink from your image has been lifted or transferred into the glue. After a few minutes, the paper will start to dissolve.

  8. Use your fingers to peel the paper away from the transfer. Keep the transfer wet and remove all of the paper. Work carefully so as not to tear the transfer. Remove all the paper or it will show up as empty space in your transferred image.

  9. Trim the edges of your transfer. You can now transfer your image to another surface, or simply use it as a cling on glass.

  10. Tip

    Cover your work area thoroughly, as dry glue can be hard to remove from certain surfaces. If your image contains text or is otherwise direction-specific, reverse it before beginning. If you are not attempting to use an original image, you can transfer from mimeographs or books. Newsprint and pages torn from magazines can also be used to good effect. If transferring an image from a book, remember that once the image is transferred, you will be discarding the paper.


    Rinse your brush between coats, as dry glue will ruin the bristles. White glue is non-toxic, but some acrylic products are not food-safe. If using acrylic products, be sure to rinse your brush in a sink not used in food preparation.

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Things You'll Need

  • Image (black and white or colour photocopy of your photograph)
  • Scissors or craft knife
  • White glue or acrylic medium
  • Soft paintbrush, spatula, sponge brush or finger
  • Dish of warm water

About the Author

Working out of Montreal, Maya Merrick has been writing professionally since 2005. Her novels are "The Hole Show" and "Sextant," the latter of which has been republished in French. She is a contributing editor to "Matrix Magazine" and has appeared in "Geist," "Ukula" and on the blog for "Hour Magazine."

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