Photos on wooden boxes

I find boxes so compelling.  The old “I wonder what’s inside that box”, I guess.  I start with plain boxes.  I have gathered several wonderful empty cigar boxes, which are so popular with mixed-media artists, but I’m stymied by working around the design that’s already there.  I prefer an empty surface to start with.  Anyway, my first transfers to wood were with the regular Epson t-shirt iron-on transfers.  If you’ve read my other posts, you must be sensing a theme.  I use those iron-ons for so many things!  If you came here from the inkjet transfer yahoo group, you know that the listmom, Lesley Riley, has invented a new iron-on transfer that’s supposed to be incredible.  I ordered mine and can’t wait to get it.  It’s called transfer artist paper and you can get the instructions and order it from Lesley at

But back to my past experiences with iron-ons and wooden boxes.  Here’s one of the first ones I made,

Irises box / Heat transfer

Irises box / Heat transfer

This is a photograph of a stand of tall bearded irises in our garden.  I printed the photo onto the Epson iron-on transfer paper.  I placed the transfer face down onto the top of the box and held the iron in one place, picked it up and placed it down nearby, until I had covered the whole transfer.  It doesn’t take nearly as long to transfer to wood as it does to metal or tile, but as with those, you just have to peel up an edge and check to see whether the transfer has adhered.  I place the box on a hard surface rather than an ironing board, because you do want to press down hard on the iron.  I also always place a piece of parchment paper between the transfer and the iron, because a bit of the ink squishes out the sides and will get on the iron.  Sometimes the transfer leaves a little nubbly finish on the box – which I don’t mind, it adds texture to the piece.  I varnish over the transfer to protect it and add a bit of gloss. I finished this box by painting around the photo with some white paint.  I made the letters in front by printing the letters on inkjet paper, and gluing them to the clear flat-bottomed pebbles.  I think I attached the pebbles to the wood with very strong double-sided tape, but glue would work as well.

Here’s another:

Masdevallia orchid box / Heat transfer

Masdevallia orchid box / Heat transfer

I love this box.  The photograph is of a deep red masdevallia orchid.  I painstakingly excised the background so all you see is the great shape of the flower.  I did the transfer the same way as above.  The color and texture of the wood shows through.  I glued a ribbon around the sides at the top of the box, you can see a bit of it at the left side of the box.

This is one of my favorite boxes:

Zebra box - Heat transfer

Zebra box – Heat transfer

I took my photograph of a zebra at the Oakland Zoo and gave it an artsy effect by taking out some of the detail.  I cut the photo into pieces to fit the top and sides of the box.  I was amazed that it turned out great on the first try!

I’m adding this instead of starting a new post because it fits in.  My TAP paper, Lesley Riley’s brand new product, arrived yesterday!  It’s a polymer-coated sheet intended to be used with inkjet printers, and is ironed onto your surface.  I picked out a wooden box to print on first — told you I love those boxes!  I chose an unpainted rectangular box and then sized one of my new designs to fit on the entire top of the box.  I wanted to use it because the colors are very intensely saturated and it has good detail.  It’s a collage of a butterfly and a lily flower.

Golden butterfly and lily collage

I read the instructions included with the TAP package, which were pretty basic.  I had read on Lesley’s yahoo group that there were more instructions online, so I quickly logged on.  One detail that isn’t on the instructions with the package is which side of the page to print on.  It seems obvious once you realize that the side that has slight grooves in it is the coated side, but I’ve printed the incorrect sides of so many products that I wanted to be sure.  She does include that information online – actually she says to print on the white side — she made the back side slightly greenish to distinguish, which is helpful.

Lesley’s instructions say to print on the plain paper and medium quality setting.  I did use the plain paper setting, but deviated slightly and chose the best quality setting (“fine” on my Epson 2400).  I watched it emerge from the printer and was very happy — the colors were fully saturated and the detail was very good.   One of my ink cartridges is low and at first I thought that had caused some banding, but it turned out that it was just the grooves of the polymer coating.

I set the iron for the highest setting.  I cut the image out, put it face down onto the top of the box and covered it with parchment paper to protect the iron.  When the iron was ready, I placed it down and pressed.  I could hear what I guess was the polymer bonding or transferring to the wood very quickly.  I moved the iron to another spot and did the same, until I had covered the whole box.  I have an iron with holes in it, so I had to do some overlapping to make sure the entire transfer bonded.  The entire transfer (about 8″ by 5″) was done quite quickly, faster than I’m used to with the Epson iron-ons.   It turned out so beautifully!  The colors are really vivid, the detail is good.  I’ll try to get a picture up soon to show it off.