The Purpose of Transfer Paper: Recreate Art the Easy Way

If you’re into doing something creative or want to explore your artistic side, then you have probably shown interest in drawing, designs, printing or even calligraphy as a hobby. But, even if you aren’t the next Da Vinci, you could still have a lot of fun recreating art. You don’t have to come up with your own designs, you can simply trace an existing picture or drawing and transfer it onto a surface of your choice.

With the help of transfer paper, you can recreate some wonderful works of art faster and with less effort. Transferring is a very popular technique among young people who want to have a unique print on their T-shirts, bags or jackets. But you can literally use this paper to transfer a design or drawing to any surface such as canvas, ceramics and create unique personalised items such as mugs, vases, wall art, etc.

trace papers


What’s Transfer Paper?

Transfer, or also called trace, paper is similar to carbon paper that was mainly used in the past for record-keeping purposes (today it’s not that popular). Trace papers (or graphite papers) work in the same way, except you use erasable graphite. If you’re a younger person or new in the art world, this will help you make an instant copy of something you would place on a sheet of carbon paper underneath your writing paper. This way you trace the image onto the sheet below.

Using the traditional carbon paper for art-transfer purposes isn’t a great idea because it’s coated with wax which makes it hard to erase if you make a mistake. Transfer paper that is designed especially for artists is much cleaner than carbon paper. Transfer paper is non-greasy so there is no residue (or at least it’s a far lesser amount) and is easy for erasing. So, if you want to have an easier time exploring your artistic side, you should probably look into the various types of trace papers available on the market.

Inkjet Paper

This is one of the most used transfer methods for home use. It involves the use of a normal inkjet printer and normal inkjet inks. It’s great for transferring images onto light and dark coloured fabrics. When using it on a white or light fabric, the image gets a reverse print (mirror image). The image is then placed face down onto the fabric. You can transfer the design with a heat source or repeat the lines with a ballpen.

Sublimation Paper


Sublimation Paper

This paper is used in connection with sublimation print systems and inks. With sublimation, the ink becomes a gas without liquefying first. The process lays down different amounts of primary colours and a clear coating onto the paper. The gas solidifies on the page and creates a full-colour image. The clear coat protects the ink from smudges when it gets heat pressure.

Plastisol Screen Printed Paper

Also known as Hot-spit or Hot-peel, this transfer paper is a complete product that is almost the same to screenprinting. The image is transferred onto the plastisol paper with a screen-printer and the image is then transferred onto the fabric with a heat press.

How to Use Trace Papers


How to Use Trace Papers?

Clean the Surface & Cut the Transfer Paper to Right Size

Transfer paper can be used on various surfaces including paper, wood, ceramics, canvas and so on. No matter the surface, it must be clean. Use a microfibre towel or a soft cloth to wipe down the surface (it will remove any dirt or dust).

It’s ok if the transfer paper sheet is a bit larger than the design you plan on transferring. The print-out of the design can be your guide to cut your paper to the needed size. Cut with scissors or a precision knife so the edges of the paper do not rip or snag.

Copy the Image You Want to Transfer

You must make a copy of the image you want to transfer. Transfer paper requires you to push down and trace over your design (it may ruin an original drawing). If you aren’t using an original design, simply print out or find a template of the image.

Be sure that the image is printed in the exact size that you desire to print. Cut a piece of transfer paper in the same size as the source photo. Gently tape the transfer to the canvas and be sure that the “messy” side of the transfer paper is faced down towards the canvas and the clean side up.

Use an archival artist tape to tape the paper to the canvas. This tape is great because it doesn’t contain any acids and can be easily removed without any residue left. Put the photo on top of the transfer paper and be sure that it’s facing the canvas in the exact way you want. Then, use a pen or pencil to trace the outline of the image. Gently remove the tape and the paper and see the results.

Transfer Paper on a T-Shirt


How to Use Transfer Paper on a T-Shirt?

If you’re going to use this type of paper to print a t-shirt, you can use a heat press. The size matters for this type of machine. If you have smaller designs use a smaller device (there are also medium and big heat press machines). If you’re going to use light colours, the ink is usually translucent and can appear only on light coloured fabrics. The dark papers are used for the transfer of images and letters to dark coloured shirts. The ink is transferred on a white background.