Creating with Printables | Part I

There are so many beautiful, print-ready images available for purchase online. Have you ever considered their creative potential? The simplest process is to print directly to watercolor or other art paper using either an inkjet or laser printer.  Inkjet prints will retain the painted look because the ink soaks into the paper, similar to watercolors. You can add to, or modify the images, prior to printing so the result is finished once printed.  You can also use the printed watercolor paper as a layer along with colored cardstock to create a series of unique cards, or mount it on mat board (floating mount) and create dimension with applied elements, such as handmade flowers, or simply mat it for framing. 

The Painterly Perspective

There are myriad beautiful digital paper collections, most of which are computer generated rather than painterly. They are well suited for all sorts of paper crafts but can lack the artistry of a painted background that is then digitized.  Painted, digital papers create a more cohesive look when used in conjunction with other painted elements.  For example, the "Copper Verdigris" collection of hand painted digital papers is comprised of twelve color coordinated designs in rich copper and blue-green hues.  There are a few shown in the photo below. If you take a moment to view the collection online, notice how the designs all play well together.  Their painterly appearance can offer a supporting role or be the focus of a project created using several of the coordinates.  If you prefer cool hues you might like the "Frozen" collection with its Wintry mix of frosty blue and violet hues.  I'll show you a few other collections with various color palettes throughout this series.

The Digital Advantage

Digital papers offer several advantages.  They can be resized, mirrored and digitally layered before printing.  They also allow for variation in paper.  Different paper compositions and colors will produce varied results.

More Than Just Paper

Expanded uses for printables involve transferring the image to or mounting on a more substantial surface. These can be used as an attractive background for a painted design, layered as part of a mixed media piece or used alone to decorate an otherwise plain surface.  

Transfer vs. Mounting

Image transfer involves the printed image  moving from the paper on which it is printed onto an alternate surface.  The paper is discarded. When an image is mounted it remains on the paper, which is adhered to the substrate.

There are several ways to transfer an image to various substrates.  Some methods are unique to laser prints, which are toner based. These are suitable for transferring images onto wood, canvas, paper, painted surfaces and fabric, to name a few.  Be sure to wash the fabric first to remove sizing. If you'd like to use a surface other than those mentioned, experiment on a scrap and see what happens. Some processes can only be done using an ink jet printer, still others are suitable for any type of printed material.

Method 1

Decoupage has been around forever. It is perhaps the oldest and most well known way to mount an image.  You may already know how to decoupage but perhaps you could pick up a few pointers here to improve the results. Generally speaking, decoupage involves using a clear medium like Clearly Elegant Stenciling Gel* to glue the desired image onto a firm substrate.  The image is then protected with additional coats of medium to seal the image.  Technically speaking this is not an image transfer but image mounting as you are glueing the image onto a surface.   You can use the same method of applying paper to create a collage from multiple, layered images.

Because you have the thickness of the paper to deal with, decoupage looks best when the image extends all the way to the edges to avoid looking like an appliqué.  To further unify the appliqué with the substrate, bevel the edges by sanding them with an emory board.  To do this, angle the emory board and draw it downward across the edge of the paper so that it tapers to the surface. Coordinating digital papers can be applied to surfaces to make quick work of finishing secondary areas and provide excellent backgrounds for the primary painting area.

On a side note, decoupage works with any  type of printed material that won't run or bleed when it gets wet.  For example, you can use the same process to mount fabric as well.  I've mounted fabric on glass, roclon, wood and metal with superb results.

There are other methods of image transfer using gel.  You can use it to transfer images without paper, which has some obvious benefits.  We'll begin exploring those processes in Part two of "Creating with Printables".

*Clearly Elegant Stenciling Gel was originally developed as an embossing medium for use with stencils. That is beyond the scope of this post but keep your eye out for this topic in a future post.  This gel is suitable for so much more!  It dries crystal clear and can be used as a gloss gel medium for collage work or thinned for mounting fabric as shown here.  As an acrylic polymer it bonds with acrylic paint and can be used as a glue.  I achieve much better results using this gel when assembling projects (adding embellishments, feet, etc)  than either hot glue or stinky glue.

When selecting art please be mindful of ownership and usage especially if you hope to sell your creations locally or online.  Just because you bought a roll of gift wrap with pretty images it doesn't mean you have permission to create derivative works using the art.  Photocopying, or reproducing by any means, imagery from cards or other commercially available work is definitely taboo.