Wall signs are everywhere. We see them in every home decor or craft store we visit. It seems that there are more "Live, Laugh, Love" signs than there are walls to hang them on. So if you are looking for something a little more unique and personal, make your own! It's super easy and fun, and the results are fantastic, even for a beginner. 

NOTE: If you have a vinyl cutter (Cricut, Silhouette, etc.) you may prefer to use vinyl in place of a photo transfer. The instructions below are for the Mod Podge photo transfer method. With a vinyl cutter, there are two options, depending on what type of sign you want.  You can either cut the image/wording out of vinyl, or, if you prefer the image to be painted on, you can cut a vinyl stencil using removable adhesive vinyl. This will allow you to paint the image or wording onto the sign. Both methods look great and it is entirely personal preference. 

Before gathering your supplies, decide on the size and style of your sign.  Do you want a small, bathroom sign? A large front door sign? Do you want the edges to be beveled or plain? Are you planning to paint or stain the wood? You can also leave it unfinished, for a more rustic look. 

If you are painting the sign, the type of wood does not matter much- pine will work well. If you are planning on staining it or leaving it unfinished, choose a wood that will give the appearance you are going for. You can easily stain pine and cherry. Maple does not take stain as well, but it will look very nice left unfinished, as will walnut or poplar. Before purchasing your wood, just be sure to think about how you want the finished sign to look. You can also speak to the people at the lumber yard- they can give you pointers on their specific stock.

TIP: In order for the graphic or wording on the sign to be clearly visible and easy to read, you want contrast between the wood color and the image color. If you have a color printer, you can do the transfer in any color you'd like, but if your printer is black and white, your transfer will be black and grey.  I recommend choosing a light color paint or stain for the wood. My personal favorite are white signs with black images, because it really pops.  If you are leaving the wood unfinished, I recommend using a light-color wood like maple or cherry.  

Materials:

  • Inkjet printer (color or black & white)
  • Wooden base - Depending on the size of your sign, you can find this at either you local craft store or lumber yard.  If you are making a small sign, (under 16") you can find these at almost any craft store. The largest I was able to find at a craft store was 8" x 28".  There will also usually be options with plain or decorative edges. Michaels has a good variety, as does Joann FabricsIf you are making a larger sign, you will have more luck at your local lumber yard.  They will cut a piece of wood to the size you'd like.
    • TIP: Many lumber yards will have a discount bin full of imperfect boards. If you're making a distressed, rustic sign, the imperfections may be just what you're looking for!
  • Paint or Stain: If you are painting your sign, I recommend using chalk paint. It has a nice, matte finish and is easy to work with. Joann Fabrics has a good one with a lot of nice shades. For stain, we prefer Varathane Penetrating stain. It is very easy to use, even for a beginner and because it soaks into the wood, you can make it darker by adding multiple coats.  These are just personal preferences - feel free to use whatever paint or stain you prefer!  Just keep in mind, you will want your photo transfer to be highly visible. 
    • TIP for distressed signs: If you plan on making a distressed sign, you may want to choose two shades of paint- one for the base coat and one for the top coat. For example, on the white "Laundry" sign (pictured), I first painted it black, then painted it white on top. This is so when I distressed the white top coat, it showed through to the black underneath. If I had not added the black undercoat, it would be showing through to a light-colored pine and the distressing would not be nearly as noticeable. It also gives the piece some depth and the illusion that it is an old sign that has been painted over multiple times. 
  • Mod Podge: Is there anything that it can't do?? There are two kinds of Mod Podge that can do photo transfers, each have their own benefits. After some trial and error, I was able to determine the difference. 
    • Classic Mod Podge: This formula will transfer the ink only- not the white background. For example, if you have a black image printed on white paper and you want to transfer the black image only- without a white rectangle around it, use Classic Mod Podge.  It will not transfer the white of the paper- only the color or black ink printed on it. This comes in matte, satin, or gloss.  Either will work, its just a personal preference. 
    • Mod Podge Photo Transfer: This formula was created specifically for photo transfers. It will transfer the entire sheet of paper, including the white background. For example, if you have printed a rectangular photograph onto a white sheet of paper, it will transfer the entire paper. If you do not cut the photo out of the printer paper, it will transfer a white, letter-size rectangle with the photograph in the center. Basically, your transfer will be like a photocopy of your printout, including spaces without any ink. I hope that makes sense!
  • Sponge brushThis will be for brushing the Mod Podge onto the printout
  • Gloves: To protect your hands while staining
  • Sandpaper: This may not be necessary if you purchased a finished wood plaque, but if you got your wood from the lumber yard, it will need to be sanded: First with 150 grit to remove the worst of it, then with 220 to give it a nice, smooth finish. 
  • Water spray bottle: Any size will work. If you do not have one, a small dish of water will work, as well.
  • Image or graphic to transfer: Decide what you want to transfer to your sign. The image has to printed in reverse - a mirror image - or your transfer will be backwards. If you want to use a graphic or image, TheGraphicsFairy.com has some really great, vintage and antique images for free. They have everything from vintage logos, botanicals, typography, nature, holiday images, grain sack, and lots more.  They even give a version of each image in reverse, so you do not need any photo editing software. If you want to print a quote or name on your sign,  I recommend using Photoshop. If you don't have it, you can also reverse text to mirror image in MS Word- click here for instructions.  
    • TIP: Be sure to print out your image in the correct size for your sign. This is simple to do in Photoshop, because you can make the image whatever size you'd like it to be. If you are making a large sign and it cannot fit on one sheet of paper, you will have to split it between several printouts. If you do, you can line them up and tape them together, but do not tape over a section of the page that has ink on it. Place tape over a spot that you do not want to transfer. 

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Prepare your wooden base: If you've purchased your wood from a lumber yard, you will first want to sand it smooth. Once it is ready, it is time to paint or stain.
    • TIPS For Distressed Signs: 
      • You may want to distress the wood base before painting or staining. You can do this easily with a hammer or chisel. Gouge the wood with the hammer claw or chisel, particularly around the edges and corners, where a piece would naturally get banged up. Add some scratches that run the length of the board. 
      • If you've decided to add a different color for the base coat and top coat, (as discussed in the 'Paint or Stain' section above), first paint your base coat, allow to dry completely and then paint your top coat. Add enough coats that you cannot see through the top coat to the base coat.
  1.  
  2. Allow to dry completely
  3. Lay your photo, face down, on your sign in the spot you want the transfer to be. Measure or use a level, make sure it is even and straight. Take a pencil or piece of chalk and mark the edges of the paper lightly. This is so later, after you've painted your photo with Mod Podge, you will know exactly where it needs to be and can lay it in the correct spot the first time. 
  4. Photo transfer: Lay down some newspaper or a drop cloth to protect your workspace. If you have a silicon mat, use this, as the printout will not stick to it.  Lay your photo face up on your workspace and, using your sponge brush, paint over the entire printed surface with a layer of Mod Podge. Make sure to use enough to coat it evenly, but try not to over-do it. You don't want the paper to be soggy, but you do want to cover it liberally.  
  5. Pick up your transfer carefully and lay it face down, in the correct spot that you marked earlier, on your sign. Once you press it down, you will not be able to pick it up again without damaging the image, so be sure to put it in the right spot, the first time. 
  6. Soothe any wrinkles or air bubbles with your hands or a credit card. If using a card, be careful not to tear the paper!
  7. Allow to dry completely! I know it is tempting to peel up an edge and peek, but it may ruin your image. I usually wait 24 hours, to be safe.
  8. Spray the back of your image with water. If you do not have a spray bottle, use a water dish and a sponge or your fingers. The goal is to soak the paper. You will need to continually wet the piece as you go, as it needs to be very wet for the paper to come off easily.  You will now rub your fingers across the back of the paper, (do NOT peel) until it comes off. It will come up in rolls and be messy.  Once it dries, you may notice that there is still a white haze over your image. If so, wet it again and keep rubbing. It may look like all of the paper is gone, but it just goes transparent when it is wet. 
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