Photos on metal, part 1

I love using metal in mixed media works: beads, wire, wire mesh, metal embossed with designs or letters, brads, etc. …..   I used a couple of different techniques on this box:

Hidden treasure box

Hidden treasure box

The box has strips of copper sheeting on the top and bottom front which I embossed using a stencil.  The word “hidden” along the side is metal mesh which I embossed using metal letters.  I also put metal letters spelling “treasures” along the right side.  The image is a heat transfer of a double-exposure photo I took of myself awhile ago (pre-digital, when double exposures were harder but really fun).

Ah, but photos on metal — so many possibilities, but also difficult.

I started out trying some inkjet lazertran on metal.  I got a few rolls of copper and aluminum sheeting made by Artemboss.  You can find it at Michael’s, but I got it at a better price through  This metal is soft enough to cut easily and I really like working with it.  I didn’t have much success with the lazertran, unfortunately.  With inkjet lazertran, if you want the surface of your substrate to show through where your image would be white, you have to clear the white with either turpentine or a substitute.  My aim in putting a photo onto metal would be for the surface to show through, so I did need to use the turpentine.   My results weren’t good – my edges curled, I used too much turpentine and some of the image dissolved, the end image was kind of chalky. 

I next tried using a heat transfer, the same t-shirt transfer material I wrote about earlier for putting photos onto tile.  I use Epson transfers with my Epson 2400 pigment printer.  The results were much better than the lazertran.  Here’s an example:

White phalaenopsis orchid

White phalaenopsis orchid

This is an Artemboss copper sheet with a heat transfer of my photo of an orchid.  I worked with the image so it’s softer than a straight photograph.  The heat transfer process doesn’t work well with sharp detail, so I chose a soft image, and I like the effect here.  The colors of the heat transfer aren’t as saturated as a straight photo, but here my aim was the contrast between light and dark, and that worked fine for me.  I also did some random embossing on the metal sheet and then attached it to a piece of wood with nails.

To print my transfer, I reversed the image (there wasn’t any type or lettering, but I decided to keep the orientation as I had shot the image).  I used the matte black ink and the enhanced matte paper and “best” settings.  I set the metal sheeting on a hard even surface (not an ironing board) and set the iron on its highest setting (don’t have water in the iron).  You really need some heat-resistant gloves to handle the metal, because it gets very hot.  Place the heat transfer face down on the metal, exactly where you want it — any movement will blur the image.  I put a sheet of baking parchment between the iron and the transfer, and held the iron down in one spot for a few moments.  Don’t move the iron – pick it up and place it on another spot next to the first spot.  If your iron has holes in it, make sure you’re overlapping so you don’t leave any spots untransferred.

It takes awhile to transfer to metal. You just have to peel up a little bit of the edge of the transfer to see how you’re doing, and you can then place it back down and keep ironing until you have as much transferred as you want.   There’s usually a small ghost image remaining on the transfer paper, as with the tiles.

4 comments on “Photos on metal, part 1

  1. […] Photos on metal, part 1 I next tried using a heat transfer, the same t-shirt transfer material I wrote about earlier for putting photos onto tile. I use Epson transfers with my Epson 2400 pigment printer. The results were much better than the lazertran. … […]

  2. Jenda says:

    You’re on the right track with heat transfers. Look into Dye Sublimation. It’s actually relatively affordable and very durable. UV is common as well, which can look very nice, but isn’t the healthiest process (also not the worst, but it does create ozone, which is not healthy, during printing). UV prints are also susceptible to scratching.

  3. cj Eureka says:

    i have had great success transferring to metal with water slip decal paper and grafix rub-onz…thanks for sharing…

    • Heidi Rand says:

      cj: I love transferring to metal, but haven’t had as much success as you. Sounds like I have to try again! Haven’t used the grafix either. Thanks for telling!

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