This site uses cookies which are used to provide links to social media websites, to analyse traffic and for affiliate links. Through these cookies, the information about your use of this site may also be shared with these social media, analytics and affiliate partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided or that they’ve collected from your use of their services. Your continued use of this website,, implies your consent to these cookies. Click here to view my Privacy Policy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Transferring Images To Fabric With Tar Gel Tutorial

Hi everyone, I've been saying for a while here on my blog that I was going to experiment with techniques to transfer images to fabric since my old printer had died and I was reluctant to use my new one to print directly onto muslin.  I do love the faded, timeworn images I got when printing directly onto the fabric but I know it is hard on your printer so was looking for other options.

Transfer papers are definitely an option for image transfers but are quite pricey.  The Leslie Riley TAP paper always gets rave reviews and one of my blogging buddies, Mary Ann of My Tate Gallery, told me about some printable fabric called 'Printed Treasures' (available at the Sew Sisters website) which she has used and likes as well.  But both options are quite expensive so I decided to do some experimenting!

I started out by looking to see what was already out there on the web.  The Graphic's Fairy has a wonderful list of techniques at her DIY blog, click here to go check out her article.  There were lots of options listed there but I either didn't have the supplies needed or the techniques were for mediums other than fabric.  Then I remembered a technique that I had learned last summer when I took a wonderful online class with Jodi Ohl using tar gel medium by Golden.  The technique Jodi taught was for working with paper but I wondered if it would work for transferring an image onto fabric as well?  So, since I had the tar gel already, I decided to give it a try and here are my results.  I'll let you decide if you think it was a success or not LOL!

Step one was to gather my supplies; tar gel medium by Golden, a brush to apply it, a vintage image printed onto regular copy paper (thanks to the Graphic's Fairy for this wonderful etching!) and some unbleached muslin.  I wanted an aged appearance to the image, so I used a 'draft' mode for printing the image so that the ink was lighter and less concentrated.

My new printer has water resistant, Durabrite ink (it's an Epson printer) so I really wasn't sure if this was going to work or not!  And I also got carried away and forgot to take pictures of the next step, so bear with me as I explain.

Step two - brush an even layer of the tar gel onto the printed image.  If your printer doesn't have water resistant ink you will need to spray your image with a fixative so it doesn't smear on you as you apply the tar gel.  The one I have used in the past is a 'workable' spray-on fixative by Krylon.  The beauty of the tar gel is that you only have to apply one coat; with other mediums you would need to apply multiple layers to the image, letting each one dry in between, in order to get an even image transfer.  Now, while the tar gel is wet, apply your muslin directly onto the printed image over top of the tar gel.  Gently work out any air bubbles and make sure you have good contact between the paper and the fabric in all areas.  Now comes the hard part, LEAVE IT ALONE!  Don't peek, don't touch it, just leave the tar gel to dry for at least 24 hours.  I placed everything onto a piece of waxed paper and put it aside so that any gel that might have leaked out wouldn't stick the whole thing to my work bench!

Here's a picture of the fabric after the tar gel has dried.  This is looking at the tar gel 'sandwich' from the muslin side.  You can faintly see the image through the muslin.

And this is what it looks like from the paper side.

Step three - now comes the fun, unveiling your transferred image!  Get the paper wet, I just put it right under a running stream of water in the sink and let the paper get good and wet.  Now, put your 'sandwich' fabric side down onto a firm surface and start rubbing with your fingers on the paper side.
The paper will start to 'ball up' and rub away.

Keep on going, rub all the paper away, running the fabric under water as needed to wash the paper remnants away and to keep the fabric moist.  It will take a fair bit of rubbing to remove all of the paper; when you think you are done keep on going because more will come off.  I did discover you CAN go too far though, I ended up with a couple of 'voids' in the image where I got a little to exuberant with the paper removal but it all adds to the aged appearance so I didn't get too upset about it!

Here is the fabric once I was done with the paper removal.

Now, I have to tell you, at this point I was NOT happy with the appearance, I really did not like the white around the etched image.  I think that it is because I used white copy paper to print the image; I wonder if I had used a tinted paper if the background would have been less noticeable?  I have some 'parchment' tinted paper and might try it next time to see if the background is less obvious.  So, since I didn't like the white I decided to add some grunging mix to see what would happen.

Step four - apply your favourite grunging mixture to the fabric, I did it on the back first thinking it might be enough to 'tone down' the white background.

But when I turned the fabric over, the white background was still very evident, so more grunging please on the front!

Step five - into the oven she goes!  I baked the fabric at 200 degrees until it  was dry, turning it every 5 minutes or so to prevent it scorching.  It took a bit for it to dry as the fabric was pretty saturated with the grunging mixture since I had painted it on both sides.  And finally, ta-da!  Here's the finished product.

I was surprised by how much colour the white background had picked up; I used a coffee/vanilla/spice grunging mixture to age it but may next time use a tea mixture to try and attain a lighter colour.  But all in all, I am pretty happy with it.  The transferred image does have a very slight 'rubbery' feel to it but it is very pliable and does not crack when you ball the fabric up.  The last step I did was to iron the image, I used a press cloth because I didn't know if the tar gel would get sticky with the heat and also used a dry iron (aka no steam!).

The colour actually seemed to mellow somewhat with the heat from the iron but as you can see it is still quite 'wrinkled'.  But that's OK, I like it!  Think I will make it into a little pillow/cupboard tuck, backed with one of my new cutter quilts that I just received.

I think the colours of this 'flying geese'pattern cutter will look great with it!

So there you go, I'll let you decide whether you think it worked effectively or not and whether you think it is worth the effort!  The tar gel I used is fairly expensive as well to purchase initially but a little goes a long way so I think, dollar for dollar, this technique would be less expensive than the transfer paper method.  I guess you have to decide which is worth more, your time or your money LOL!

Thanks so much for stopping by today and hope you've enjoyed my little tutorial, I certainly had a great time doing it!  Have a lovely Sunday,



  1. Deb, you a hoot, you are so talented. I LOVE the finished piece. It came out FABULOUS!
    You can do everything, I only wish I could do half of what you do!
    You go girl!

    Happy Crafting.
    Tricia XO

  2. Hey you did it!!! Not bad:) It turned out very good but I was a bit worried when you started grunging it. I thought it might wash off. I'll give it try.

  3. Deb, Thanks for sharing! I will have to try this techinque, I like to try new ways to do things. I think it turned out great. I have never seen or heard of the Golden tar gel medium before. Can you tell me where I can buy it? Thanks

  4. AWESOME!! That turned out really cool!! Gonna have to look for some tar gel next time I go craft shopping!
    Warm wishes,

  5. That sure turned out nice Deb! I'm a bit more impatient but something that would be fun to try. I remember doing a "similar" project with a photograph made into a 'decal' that the kind of stuff this is? You actually rub away everything but the image.
    You are such an inspiration!!!! Your post is so detailed and easy to follow, you should have been a teacher!! Have a great day, my friend!

  6. Wow - I love the image and it turned out great! ~*~Lisa

  7. It turned out great, Deb! Good tutorial! You make it look super easy! This will be my next project!

  8. Ok Deb,
    I will have to leave that to you a professional. It turned out wonderful!! I am not sure I could even do this let alone wait 24 hours!?!
    Thanks for sharing! Another thing to add to my list of "one day I will try this".

  9. Hi Deb - what an interesting method. I have never heard of tar gel. I do like the effect you creating by grunging it...I also prefer that to the white.
    Thanks so much for sharing! I'm going to bookmark your post and try this sometime!
    Enjoy your week dear.

  10. Thanks for this tutorial, I love the look it has.I will have to give this a try.


  11. I loved your tutorial ~ Thanks so much for sharing!
    Prim Blessings

  12. Thanks for sharing . I love this technique . Isn't it neat to see what the end results are . I love how this looks . Great tut !


Due to an inordinate number of SPAM comments lately I have had to turn on comment moderation. Your comment will be published as soon as it has been reviewed, thanks so much for your interest in my blog! Deb xo