Classic Luggage: Revisiting the Gel Medium Transfer

I originally aired this transfer tutorial on 08/31/07 on my reviews blog. As I prepare to shut the old blog down, I will be transferring some of the most popular tutorials onto The Land of Lost Luggage as you know it today. Enjoy!

I have been seeing a lot of projects using transfers recently and also reading a lot of conversation regarding transfers not working properly. A few weeks ago I took a class by Golden and I decided to share some tips I learned. I’ll try to get good pictures of this process for you:


Start with a prepared surface. On this canvas panel I used acrylic paint. I see a lot of people starting off with healthy coats of gesso, but if you read your packaging carefully, you’ll see that the canvas panels are frequently covered with gesso already. I skip this step.

Sometimes, if I am working on paper, and I feel like adding a lot of paint, I will start with a gesso wash...but normally, the paper holds up for me without it. (And I use a lot of paint!) You can use gesso to create a variance in your paint colors, but I use it primarily for strengthening purposes.

The image: The best image to use for this process is a laser printer copy or magazine page. Ink-jet printed images will yield unstable results. Want a good transfer? Take the time to run over to Kinkos (or your regular copy place) and get a nice color copy. When selecting your image, be aware that lightly colored or white areas will not transfer to the project. In these areas, depending on what type of medium you used for the transfer, the prepared surface will show through. You can build the color back up with paints or pencils, etc.

And now for the medium. Golden mediums are my favorite. A medium is a substance that will work between the canvas and the image. It will be the substance that will take the image from the paper and adhere it to your canvas. There are many types of mediums, all with different effects. Depending on how you want your image to look when it is dry will be the determining factor on which medium to choose.

About Liquitex (don’t hate the player here..): I have never had a bad transfer using Golden products. Recently I decided that I was going to go for a matte gel transfer because I wanted a lot of translucence in the final product. I didn’t have any Golden gel, so I used my Liquitex. The results were very undesirable. For some reason, the gel medium did not hang onto my image as nicely as my Golden mediums do and much of the image came off in the cleaning-up process. Bad since my transfer projects take two days; I don’t want to have bad results. Keep your Liquitex mediums for things other than transfers. I use mine a lot for attaching pieces of ephemera and/or other doo-dads to canvas and paper.

I like Golden’s “Fine Pumice Gel” a lot. It takes the paint and ink very well. That is what I will use for the project pictured here. It does not dry transparent, only translucent; so the prepared canvas will not show through in the light colored areas of my image.

Turn your image face down and gage where it will be placed on the canvas. Apply (I use a knife) a thin, even coating of your medium to the canvas. Make sure that there are not areas that are very thin! This may take some practice, but take your time. The medium takes a long time to dry, you have ample time to spread it out nicely. (I use a pencil to lightly outline where I want my image to be. That way I can see where to spread the medium.)




Once the medium is on the canvas, carefully place the image onto the medium. It is important that you do not get ANY of the medium on top of the image. The back of your image must remain clean. Double check the edges…if any medium gets on top of the image, the result will be such that the image will not transfer in that place. You’ll see the back of the image in your finished piece.


Once the image is into the medium, gently smooth it down. (I use my finger.) The goal here is to ensure that every area of the image is touching the medium nicely. I like to think of this step as going over new wallpaper with that wallpaper brush. Smooth it out.


After the image is smooth, you can take a small paint brush and clean up the edges where some of the medium may have oozed out from under the image, always making sure the transfer medium does not get spread onto the back of the image.

Now- don’t touch it. Don’t hurry it up with your heat gun, don’t watch over it. Put the piece aside in a safe place and allow it to completely dry. I let mine sit over night.


The next day, it’s time for the magic.

With a small bowl of clean water, splash water onto the back of the image. You can be generous here as the water will not hurt the painted surface. (Be more careful if you used paper as your surface.) Once the water is pooled up a little, begin to rub the piece with your finger tips.




Rub a dub dub…the pulp will start to come up off the image and you will see your image (In reverse) on the canvas! Use more water if needed. Just keep rubbing. Once all of the big pulp pieces are off the image, you can let it dry to see what’s left over. If there is pulp fuzz on the image, you can use a little more water and rub some more.


One of the magic steps we learned in class was to use the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to clean up any more stubborn pulp that won’t come up with rubbing. Wet the sponge, wring it out, and then wipe. Voila!


Your transfer will brighten up once it dries. You can use a heat gun now to speed up the drying process. Once it is dry, I like to add acrylic paint washes to highlight some areas and embellish the rest of the project.