Impression Prints

comments (6) August 4th, 2008     

Pin It

Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
Love it! 24 users recommend
Part print, part drawing: an Impression Print creates a soft and nostalgic image using only a household solvent and some elbow grease. Here, a line from a favorite poem, added with the help
of an inkjet printer, completes the print.
Images collected from the pages of your monthly magazines can be repurposed as cards, greetings, gift tags, or embellishments to your scrapbook pages.
Here, a black and white advertisement for a glass pitcher becomes a chic invitation to drinks. Monotone images often yield results that look surprisingly like pencil sketches.
Part print, part drawing: an Impression Print creates a soft and nostalgic image using only a household solvent and some elbow grease. Here, a line from a favorite poem, added with the help
of an inkjet printer, completes the print.

Part print, part drawing: an Impression Print creates a soft and nostalgic image using only a household solvent and some elbow grease. Here, a line from a favorite poem, added with the help of an inkjet printer, completes the print.

In 1970 my parents gave me a pocket-sized image processor. With it I could capture, store, enlarge, edit, and distort images, both color and black and white. It was an incredibly well-engineered piece of "software" as well as an indestructible piece of "hardware." It required no electricity to run. It never needed to be rebooted or upgraded. And, it worked without aid of a keyboard, a drawing tablet, or a mouse. Despite its many fantastic and futuristic qualities, it was, ironically, packaged and sold under the most unassuming of product names: Silly Putty.

Sure, it had its limitations. For starters, it only allowed me to capture two images at a time (one on the front and one on the back of it), and it required a fair amount of kneading to "erase" one image before capturing a new one. True, it only worked on newsprint, but it did that so well that it hardly counts as a strike against it. Worst of all, it was a magnet for pocket lint, cookie crumbs, and sand. Despite these minor shortcomings, though, it was a joy to hold, a pleasure to use, and it gave me the power of possession—I could see an image I liked and, within moments, I could capture it for myself and hold it as my own.

This short journey from “I see” to “I like” to “I want to have” might easily have resulted in me becoming an underage thief (a minor major kleptomaniac?) but, thanks to Silly Putty, I escaped a life of crime and juvenile detention for a life of graphic design, photography, and collage.

As a teenager, I briefly flirted with doing Polaroid photo transfers, but I abandoned this affair some years later when my local drugstore stopped carrying Polaroid film.

Since then I've come to realize that there is little chance I'll ever find anything to take the place of my first love. However, I realize that now and again one might have need for an image-transfer method other than a wad of pink goo. For those occasions, I am happy to offer the following. This process, too, has its limitations, but it works very well when your source images are drawn from glossy magazines and the results have a lovely, hand-drawn (and slightly nostalgic) look that I find terribly pleasing. I hope you feel the same.

Easy Impression Prints

Impression Prints are created by remoistening the ink on a glossy image and then, by exerting pressure, transferring that ink to another sheet of paper. For this project you'll need the following supplies:

1. Some images: Color or black and white, preferably torn out of glossy magazines. There's something about the way ink is absorbed on glossy paper that makes it well suited for this sort of "reverse" printing.

2. A bottle of lighter fluid: Yes, the old-fashioned lighter fluid that is HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. If you do not have lighter fluid, you can also use Acetone (i.e., nail polish remover) but your results will suffer a bit. This craft is NOT suitable for children.

3. Some burnishing tools: I find a bone-creaser, the end of a craft knife (not the blade end, obviously), or the capped end of a pen work very nicely.

4. Some tape: Either Scotch or masking tape will suffice.

5. Some heavy white paper onto which you will transfer your image(s): A somewhat smooth paper works best, but you may wish to experiment with more textured papers to see the effects you can achieve.


Some pretty pages torn from magazines provide the source material for this project. I have chosen some flowers, a romantic advertisement, and a photo of a reindeer ornament, among others.

Begin by selecting the image you wish to transfer. Using tape, add a frame around the part of the image you will be working on. If you don't mask off the surrounding page, chances are you will inadvertantly capture them in your transfer. I recommend against trimming your image to exactly the size you want to transfer for reasons that will become apparent in the next few steps.


I chose the image of a holiday ornament—a reindeer—that I framed in Scotch tape. The tape will prevent me from accidentally transfering any portion of the neighboring images.

The image-transfer process entails using a household solvent. This has the potential to be messy, so I always suggest crimping the edges of your transfer to form a shallow rim to help contain the liquid when it is applied.


Once the tape is in place, fold back the edges of the page on all four sides of your image.

Below is my image with its fully creased edges. When I begin working on this image from the back, these same creases will indicate to me the area in which I need to burnish.


Once all four sides have been creased, your image should look similar to this. Turn over and place the image you intend to transfer face down.

This transfer process will be done from the back side of your image. Flip your image over and make sure all of the edges are properly raised.


With your image face down, the edges of your page should now form a shallow container that will help prevent the lighter fluid from spreading outside the boundaries of your image.

Tape a sheet of white paper to your work surface and then position and tape into place your image. In the picture below, I have folded back the edge of the image I intend to transfer so you can see how I have positioned it—slightly away from the right edge of the white paper but with enough of the sheet left over on the left to turn the finished piece into a small greeting card.


Tape a sheet of white paper to your work surface and then place the image you intend to transfer face down on top of it. I usually tape my image in place to assure it doesn't move during the transfer process.

With everything taped into place, apply a thin layer of ligher fluid to the back of your image. You want the fluid to saturate and be absorbed into the paper. Once the fluid has sat for a moment or two, you can begin burnishing your transfer.


Apply lighter fluid to the back side of your image. The goal is not to have solvent running everywhere but rather to saturate the paper enough so that the solvent is absorbed through to the other side where it will remoisten the ink.

I often burnish from an upper corner down to a lower corner, moving diagonally across the page. It may help you to hold the edges of your transfer with the fingers of your free hand to prevent it from moving or coming untaped.


Burnish the back of the moistened paper. You must apply a fair amount of pressure in order for the ink to transfer. Best results come from using a rapid back-and-forth motion. Press hard, move quickly, and burnish the image as evenly as possible.

Pressure is required to make this process work. In the image below, you can see hatch marks in the page as evidence of my burnishing tool moving back and forth across the page. You will also notice that the solvent has made the image on the other side visible slightly through the paper.


A detail: Notice that the solvent has made the image you're transferring show through the page. You can see the hatch marks that indicate the movement of my burnishing tool. You should see similar marks or it is likely you are not exerting enough pressure.

Before removing the transfer to reveal the image beneath, I often lift one corner and check to make sure the inks have transferred properly and that I didn't miss burnishing any part of the image. If need be, additional solvent can be applied to the back of the transfer and the process repeated to give a denser transfer of ink.


Blot away any excess solvent and then remove the page to reveal your transferred image.

Below, the finished piece wil become one of my New Year cards. For a more finished look, consider running your finished prints through an inkjet printer to add captions, titles, or other greetings.


Once your piece has dried (and any solvent that may have leaked onto the paper has evaporated) simply crease, fold, and trim your card.

For a more free-form approach, forego masking out your image with tape before applying the solvent. This will give you a softer-edged image.


Here a Calvin Klein ad for Eternity becomes an oversized postcard. Notice how the hatch marks left by the burnishing lend a "hand-drawn" look to the transfer.

In some cases, you may find your image has transferred incompletely or without the color density you had hoped for. If that should happen, a few strokes of a graphite stick or some colored pencils can greatly enhance your work.


Notecards, invitations, postcards, recipe cards, or even scrapbook pages: Whenever you want to add interest or texture to one of your paper crafts, consider an Impression Print.
posted in: paper, vintage, alternative, scrapbook

Comments (6)

Anneliese writes: When I was little, I used this technique with some other kind of fluid (I do not remember what it was - it was used to bleach hair and I got it cheaply from my local pharmacy - the result was very similar, with a less stroke-feel but mor of a blur-feel)

I'll take it up again - thanks for the idea.
Does it also work with PC-printed images?
Posted: 5:12 am on July 21st
Jeff_Rudell writes: Dear Eveh: It was easy to add the type to these cards. After I finished making each of the prints (and after they were dry) I simply ran the completed pieces through my ink-jet printer. No scanning was required.

Posted: 3:08 pm on November 9th
eveh writes: Did you scan your print into the computer to add the words and then print it out on computer paper? I love the look of these and they do look like hand drawn prints.
Posted: 6:44 pm on November 8th
dany4bec writes: I am so impressed by all your posts...and now this, I cannot wait to make these. thanks! and you're awesome!
Posted: 1:01 pm on September 19th
crafty_gal writes: OMG...this is awesome!
Posted: 5:07 pm on August 5th
pumpkinniki writes: OMG!!! I JUST HAVE TO DO THIS!!! This would be perfect for my wedding invitations & thank you cards!!!!!
Posted: 10:53 am on August 4th
You must be logged in to post comments. Log in.