So, you have a small image you wish to paint on a large surface…

Now what?!


We're going to outline four ways of enlarging an image and four ways of transferring that image onto your canvas, paper or board in the hopes that these techniques will help you avoid future frustrations. 

When the creative juices are flowing we all want to just get at it and start painting, but surface prep and layout is a necessary evil for many of us.  It may be necessary, but it doesn't have to be evil. 


Resizing Images

Changing the size of an image (without distortion) is the first hurdle.

Enlargement Method #1- Grid Method

This is a truly ancient way of doing things; but that's because it works extremely well for transferring and enlarging images onto almost any surface.

Pros Cons
 No special tools needed Very time consuming
Easy to do
End results are generally quite accurate


Enlargement Method #2 - Pantograph

A pantograph is yet another ancient method for scaling images up or down.  A pantograph is a deceptively simple looking tool invented in the 1600's.  Pantographs are made of hardwood or metal and have been drilled with strategically placed holes to allow for scaling images, however their physical configurations can differ from one brand to another.

These are all pantographs...

And this is how they work...

Pantograph animation.gif
The point on the left is fixed to the table by a tiny C-clamp. 

Use the middle point to trace your original image (in this case, it's a red heart).  As you trace the red heart, the point on the right holds a pencil lead and draws the larger image (green heart) on your substrate.

 Pros Cons
Very accurate reproductions and enlargements Requires a specific & pricey tool
Fast results as it transfers and enlarges in one step Requires a large work-surface
Challenging to align the enlargement correctly on the substrate

This method is not ideal for transferring images onto stretched canvas for two main reasons:

  • For a pantograph to work, all surfaces involved must be laid out on the same plane.  Even a slim 5/8" stretched canvas is vastly thicker than a sheet of paper, so getting the pantograph clamped to the table and aligning everything on the same plane takes some creativity.
  • Stretched canvas is a bouncy surface that can cause the point with the pencil hop around as you trace.


Enlargement Method #3 - Projector

 Projecting and tracing an image is another time tested method, and again it's a method that's been in use for hundreds of years.  Projection requires a light source, the right lens, and a mirror configured in the right way. 

Although not technically "projecting", 17th century Dutch artist Vermeer employed a carefully guarded system of mirrors, lenses and light that allowed him to paint highly realistic scenes featuring a truly mind-blowing level of detail.  In modern times, we have mechanical projecting devices that make life easier. 

There are three types of projectors: Overhead, Digital, and Opaque

Overhead Projector:

  • Requires images to be printed or drawn on transparent sheets of acetate
  • Powerful enough that it works in daylight
  • Manual focus
  • The largest and most expensive type of projector
  • Not super portable - bulky, heavy & delicate

 Digital Projector:

  • Requires images to be scanned into a digital format
  • Works best in a dim to dark room
  • Mechanical focus
  • Generally less expensive than an overhead projector
  • Many different types (from basic image projection to HD video and image projection)
  • Very compact & portable

Opaque Projector:

  • Requires a reduced size (5x5") hard copy image (either the original drawing or photograph, or a copy printed on paper).
  • Works only in a darkened room
  • Manual focus
  • Lowest priced projector option, but not by much.
  • Portable and lightweight
Regardless of the type of projector you use the pros and cons remain the same...
     Pros Cons
    Fast and relatively easy Alignments must be square everywhere or the results will be distorted
    Very accurate enlargements Its hard to see your progress as you go, making it easy to miss spots
    Ideal for mural sized enlargements up to 7'-10' Its easy to get in your own way (As you move and trace, you cast disruptive shadows)


    Enlargement Method #4 - Photocopy

    This is by far the easiest enlargement option; visit your local copy centre or print shop and ask for an enlargement.  The copy centre here at Cowan's is limited to a 11x17" maximum print size, however if your original is of high enough quality, the copy wizards may be able to print one image over several sheets in what's referred to as a tile format.  The tiles can then be taped together to form a single large image.

     Pros Cons
    Fast Size limitations
    Easy Possible distortion or pixelation depending on the original image source



    Now that we've outlined some enlargement options, how does one transfer the image onto a substrate?

    Transferring Images

    Transfer Method #1 - Carbon & Graphite Papers

    Carbon paper is a very thin, lightweight paper that is coated on one side with a waxy, black carbon layer.  Those of us born in the 80's or earlier will probably remember carbon paper being a staple of office life.  Carbon paper was commonly used in things like receipt books, the ol' ka-chunk-ka-chunk manual credit card processing apparatus, and for creating document duplicates and triplicates with a typewriter. 

    Carbon paper is meant to be placed face down between your original image and your substrate.  As you trace over your original image (using a styus or blunt pencil) the carbon will transfer onto the substrate creating a duplicate of whatever you are tracing. 

    Tracings done with carbon paper will leave an indelible black image on your substrate.  If you don't want a permanent black tracing, then consider using graphite paper instead.  Graphite paper is virtually the same thing as carbon paper, except that it transfers a grey, quasi-erasable line instead of a permanent black line.



    Transfer Method #2 - Acrylic Transfer

    Acrylic image transfer is an extremely popular transfer method.  Quite frankly, the popularity is surprising because this is a challenging and time consuming task, and the results are far from reliable.



    Materials Needed:

    • Acrylic gel or fluid medium
    • A paint brush or palette knife
    • Laser prints
    • Patience and luck
    Pros Cons
    Requires few materials Only works with images printed on a laser copier or printer: inkjet copies will not work
    Transfers detailed images well Time consuming
    Physically strenuous
    Unreliable results
    Also noteworthy...
    • There are countless ways of doing this technique so there is a lot of conflicting advice out there, and no singular way is right ...or wrong.
    • This is far from an exact science and success is achieved by trial and error; get more prints than you think you'll need because you will need them.

    Here are two different acrylic image transfer tutorials to get you started; one uses a gel medium and the other uses a fluid medium. If neither of these suit your wishes/needs, don't forget there are a zillion more options all over the internet.

    Instructables: Image Transfer with Acrylic Gel Medium

    Golden Acrylics Fast Image Transfer


      Transfer Method #3 - Colourless Blender/Transfer Pen

      Although often referred to as "transfer pens", these pens are actually just solvent-based colourless blender pens.  The best blender pen for this particular transfer technique is the Chartpak Ad Marker 201 Blender pen.  The Ad Marker Blender formula is xylene-based and is unique from other design markers (such as Copic, Touch and Prismacolor) which are alcohol-based and won't work for this technique. 

      How it Works:

      The Chartpak marker contains xylene, an extremely strong solvent (safe in small doses).  The solvent dissolves the toner from a laser copy (must be laser, inkjet copies will not work) which allows the toner to transfer like a stamp. (You may want to print your image in reverse as it will transfer as  mirror image.)

      Step 1: Simply put your image face down on your substrate

      Step 2: Pressing firmly, rub the transfer pen nib over the back-side of your image. Try not to over-saturate.

      NOTE:  The paper will immediately become transparent from the solvent... DON'T PANIC!  When it evaporates, everything will go back to normal.



       Pros Cons
      Cheap Bleeds badly if over-saturated
      Fast Not ideal for transferring onto wood (bleeds easily into wood grain)
      Easy Pen has a very, VERY, VERY strong odour
      Great for transferring finest detail


      Transfer Method #4 - Laser Toner Heat Transfer

      This method uses high heat to directly transfer the image to the substrate.  This is my personal favorite transfer method because of its ease, speed, and accuracy.  Just like the transfer pen and acrylic transfer methods, this only works with laser copies, not inkjet. 

      How it Works:

      Laser printers & copiers utilize a dry, powdered toner; not liquid ink.  During the printing/copying process the toner is exposed to high heat which sets the toner in place on the page.   Heat can then be reapplied to the print to reactivate the toner...

      Materials Needed:

      • a household clothes iron
      • rigid, heat resistant surface (we used 1/8" birch ply)
      • tape
      • laser copies of your image
      • substrate (paper or wood) to transfer onto

      Step 1:  Print your image on a laser printer/copier (NOTE: our final result will be a mirror image of the original, so you may want to print it in reverse.)

      Step 2:  Turn the iron the to medium heat (for silk or wool)

      Step 3:  Secure your substrate in place on a heat resistant work surface (use masking tape if needed)

      Step 4:  Lay your laser printed image face down on the substrate, and tape in place

      Step 5:  Applying maximum pressure, iron the back of your face down image, moving slowly and pressing as hard as possible. Do this for a few minutes.

      Step 6: To check your progress, lift the corner to see how its transferring


      Helpful Hint:

      Solid line drawings (like the top bunny) will transfer much more clearly than soft grey scale images (like the bottom bunny)...


      Pros Cons
      Fast Getting the heat at the right level takes some testing
      Uses common tools Not ideal method for transferring to primed canvas (process tends to scorch acrylic-based gesso)
      This transfer method works on paper, cloth, rubber stamp blocks, lino blocks, metal sheets, and wood. Physically strenuous


      Thank you for joining us!  May all your image transfers be fast, easy and distortion free!

        April 20, 2017 — Karen Bullaro