Technical Savvy: Using Transfer Paper

When creating a painting I like to layout the composition on tracing paper first, which allows me to reposition elements before committing them to the surface.  I then also have a line drawing to use as reference while developing the painting.  I can transfer as much or as little as I like to the surface.  To transfer from a tracing place it on your painting surface then slip a sheet of transfer paper beneath the tracing.  I usually use either white or water-soluble blue transfer paper.   These show up on most surfaces.  Use a ball-tipped stylus to trace over the line drawing transferring the traced elements to the surface.

Transferring a large or complex tracing
It is easy to keep your place on a large or complex pattern if you tape a sheet of waxed paper over the traced pattern before beginning to transfer. Your stylus will crease the waxed paper creating white lines where the design has already been transferred. No need to risk shifting the pattern to peek beneath.

Transferring onto convex curves
To wrap your traced pattern onto a convex surface like a sphere, try tracing the pattern onto plastic wrap with a sharpie marker. Then use a small square of transfer paper to move around beneath each segment of the pattern.

Tip for using water-soluble transfer paper
  • Store water-soluble transfer paper in its plastic packaging; it is sensitive to moisture.
  • Humidity will cause your transfer to fade.  If you live in a very humid climate don't expect the pattern to remain strong for weeks.
  • New water-soluble transfer paper can be very strong.  You can wipe the paper itself to lessen the intensity before using.
  • Especially intense chaco lines can reappear as the surface dries.  Simply rewet and allow to dry as often as needed until the lines have disappeared.

White transfer papers

    There are two types of "white" transfer paper available.  These are bright white Saral which is the most visible on all but white or very light pastel surfaces and white graphite which is a soft white recognizable by its beige back side.  White graphite will provide crisper lines than Saral but may not be visible on very light backgrounds.

    • To make a white graphite pattern more visible after it has been transferred to a light surface you can wipe your hand through household dust (a good excuse for shirking housework--you need to save the dust) then lightly rub over the graphite lines.  
    The variety pack
    From time to time you will have a surface color that just won't work with white and the project is not suitable for using a water-soluble paper.  This is where a variety pack comes to the rescue providing you with one each of red, yellow blue (not Chaco), white graphite and black.   The advantage is you have with these choices is that you can coordinate you transfer lines with the colors used on the project so they are less likely to show if you trap them under a layer of paint.  For example, you might be painting a red flower.  By using the red transfer paper your lines will be hidden within the hues of the flower.  Another advantage is the ability to use a different color for various elements within the design.  If you have text overlapping scrolls with floral and foliage elements sometimes the lines can become confusing.  By using red for the flower, blue for the leaves, yellow for the scrolls, etc. you will always know which line belongs to which element.
    • To reduce the intensity of the transfer paper wipe it with a soft paper towel before using.
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