Two ways to color metal using Image Transfer Solution

April 22, 2011
design by sondra barrington

Alice in Wonderland image transfer bracelet

Hi Bloglandia! Last weekend I did a demo in our Spokane showroom on how to use Sherri Haab’s Image Transfer Solution (ITS) and thought now would be a good time to share these techniques for colorizing metal with everyone.

Image transfer is just that – transferring an image from the paper it is printed on to a different surface (in this case, metal jewelry components). Image transfers have a vintage, ethereal feel, and I love how the different colors of metals shine through. Unlike many of the other solvents and processes used for image transfer, Image Transfer Solution (ITS) is non-toxic. Yay! Plus, it has another purpose not even mentioned on the bottle: it is an excellent way to seal colors onto metal (more on that in a bit).

Transferring Images – ITS Method #1

One caveat: The images you use must be printed on a laser (toner based) printer. Ink jet pictures will not work. The pictures can be black or white or color. Photos and text should be reversed before you print, since transfers will be mirror images.

To be honest, I did not like ITS the first couple of times I tried it. I kinda hated it. Following the directions on the bottle, I prepped my metal with steel wool and heat-set the images in a 325 degree oven – just like it said! – but things just kept going wrong. Either my images would wash right off the metal or the paper would be so very stuck to the metal that no amount of scrubbing would remove it. But I loved the concept, so I kept playing with it. Below is my own method for using ITS. Maybe the package directions will work like a charm for you. If not, I hope my tips and tricks help:

  1. Scuff up your metal (aluminum, brass, copper and silver all work great) with a medium grit sanding pad or sand paper. Steel wool leaves the surface too smooth, in my opinion.
  2. Wash metal with rubbing alcohol to remove dirt, dust and oil – even if it looks clean!
  3. Using a clean, dry paintbrush, evenly coat the prepped metal with just a couple of drops of ITS.

  1. Press image face-down onto metal and press firmly into place to remove any air bubbles. ITS is like glue – you will not be able to reposition your paper at all, so be careful to place it where you want it! Let dry. Use an iron (high heat, no steam) to heat the metal for 1 or 2 minutes. Don’t worry, the paper won’t burn. Let metal cool.
  2. Place the metal into water and using a gentle circular motion, begin rubbing the paper off, leaving the image behind. Don’t get to aggressive or you could lift off parts of the image. Patience pays off here.
  3. After most of the paper is removed, use a sheet of polishing paper and more water to remove the finer paper fibers.
  4. After all of the paper is removed, seal the image with a dab of Renaissance Wax and a soft cloth. It really improves the luster.
image transfer necklace

My photograph looks like a vintage postcard after being transferred onto aluminum. The Swarovski beads are the same colors as the prayer flags hanging on the mountain tea house.

Complete your jewelry piece! The image is permanently attached. You can even punch holes or dap the metal and it won’t come off!

Sealing Colors – ITS Method #2

Image Transfer Solution can also be used to permanently seal inks onto metal! Ranger Adirondack Alcohol Inks are tons of fun to mix and blend onto non-porous surfaces, like metal, but since they are ink, they can be rubbed or washed off. That is, unless you seal them with ITS. When you heat-set ITS, it binds the color to the metal. It will not wash off or bleed onto your customer’s skin.

design by sondra barrington

Vintaj fussy peacock pendant colorized with alcohol inks for a faux enamel look.

You can color your metal with alcohol inks and then, after they’ve dried, paint a thin layer of ITS over the top. Another option is to mix the ITS directly with your inks (just a few drops of each) and paint that mix onto your metal. Either way, once the ITS has dried, you need to heat-set it to make the bond permanent. Just follow the directions on the Image Transfer Solution package for using an oven to heat-set (the iron won’t work for this application).

Looks like patina – but this blue bee was colored with alcohol inks.

There you have it! Two tried and true methods for permanently coloring your metal pieces for jewelry and other applications. Although this post focused on metal, Image Transfer Solution can be used on polymer clay, etched glass and other surfaces too! Since it really only takes a couple of drops per image, you’ll have plenty to experiment with! ~ Cindy

PS: here are some handy links to some other how-to‘s in the Rings & Things blog!

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  • Norma April 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks a lot for these tutorials. It makes me consider the ITS since there are so many applications.

  • Connie Eyberg April 23, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Great tutorial. Thanks!

  • Linda Ames April 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Great info:)

  • patti April 26, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I’ve been using steel wool and haven’t been happy with the results. So, I’ll give your method a try – it sounds more promising. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cindy April 26, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Good luck Patti! I hope the sanding pad/sandpaper helps you as much as it helped me!

  • Charlene July 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    A million thank yous! I tried the method on the package first and had the exact same problems you described. Your method worked perfectly. I really appreciate it.

  • patti August 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I wanted to let you know that I gave your method a try and it works!!! I switched to sanding paper and used the iron directly on my metal instead of my toaster oven. It works every time.

    • Cindy August 8, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Yay! I’m glad it worked for you! I think it is so much easier with the iron.

  • Lysa January 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Do I have to use the special ITS paper? I have the ITS in my cart but am unsure about proceeding.

    • Cindy January 10, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Hi Lysa! You don’t have to use the special ITS paper. Some people prefer it because they find it easier to wash the paper fibers off the transfer, but personally I like regular copy paper just fine. Good luck! 🙂

  • Linda January 16, 2012 at 5:54 am

    This is a great tutorial. I’ve been wanting to try the image transfer, but wasn’t quit sure how to do it, or what I needed. I’m going to have to get me some ITS, so I can give it a try. Thank you for sharing.

    • Cindy January 16, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Linda! It is a fun product to experiment with. Hope you have lots of fun!

  • Sally April 1, 2012 at 3:54 am

    I ‘m so glad to read your blog. This has cleared away my fears of using IT”S. Keep up the great ideas and tips.

    • Cindy April 2, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Thank you Sally! I’m so glad you found the info helpful and hope you have tons of fun with image transfers!

  • Sheela July 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the tips on using ITS. Have you had success with using a heat gun? I tried to transfer an image onto a domed (convex) brass locket. Ensuring the iron gets onto all parts of the curved exterior was challenging. Didn’t work great the first time. Most of the image transferred well, but other parts didn’t. Any tips would be appreciated!

    • Cindy July 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Hi Sheela! I have tried using a heat gun, but the results were not that great. I think what I like about the iron method is the direct heat + pressure seems to = better transfer. Heat alone doesn’t quite seem to do it for me, although it seems like the better the image is burnished down to the metal while the ITS is wet, the more likely the heat gun could be successful. Good luck! I’d love to hear how it turns out for you! 🙂

      • Sheela July 5, 2012 at 10:32 am

        Thanks Cindy. I might need to use the combo: iron + heat gun. Good to know about burnishing it well. I did spend some time pressing all bubbles out. I’ll let you know! Now I need to go buy a heat gun 🙁

  • andrea July 16, 2012 at 3:17 am

    Please better explain the picture. Is it printed at home from a laser jet printer on regular weight paper? or toner? Or is it printed at home on photo paper? A professionally printed photo? Is it a cut out from your favorite magazine? See where I’m going with this? I think know this step will save your readers a great deal of time.

    • Cindy July 16, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Hi Andrea! The photo was printed on a laser/toner printer on regular copy paper. Most home printers are ink jet and won’t work for this type of image transfer.
      I haven’t tried professional photo paper (I think it would be too thick) but I’ve used images from glossy magazines with great success. Good luck!

  • Kim July 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    I am SO glad I found this tutorial! I am planning to make belt buckles, with an aluminum insert that has the design on it such as the ones I have seen on Etsy. Would you have any idea what guage aluminum would work? The buckles are reactangular with rounded edges and not particularly deep. They also are slightly curved. I think it needs to be thin enough to cut to size. Can you make a clean cut somehow or would a lot of filing/sanding be involved? And would you happen to know the best adhesive to attach aluminum to antique nickle? Sorry, I’ve gone way off topic here! Just so glad I know how to transfer images now! Thanks so much!

  • Nancy August 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I’m a novice at using alcohol inks and was wondering how you kept the ink off the raised areas of the metal? Or did you sand it back off the high spots?

  • Ilan September 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Hi great tutorial!
    I would like to do photo etching.
    could I transfer a b&w negative photo and then put it in the ferric chloride acid? (The ink of a laser printer is an acid resister )
    will it etch through the ITS?

    • Polly September 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Hi Ilan,
      I just noticed that my reply posted to the blog itself, rather than to your question. Please see below for answer.

  • Polly September 10, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Hi Ilan,
    The ITS is a great sealant, so I expect that you won’t be able to etch through it. What you need is the Press-n-Peel Transfer Film:
    The only tricky part about using the blue transfer film, is it is very particular about the temperature required to transfer it. The cheap iron I use doesn’t have a reliable temperature gauge/control. The ideal situation is a good iron that actually tells you what temperature range you’re in (rather than just a green/yellow/red dial), and an electric griddle. With the transfer film, you’re ONLY transferring the toner, whereas with the ITS, the ITS stays on the piece (along with the image it trasnferred).

  • kyla September 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Please help. I following first the directions of the paper pack. Had the images printed at Office Max on the ITS paper. then sanded the metal, cleaned with alcohol, then preset the oven to 325, let them cool, then soaked them and used the blue 1200 grit. then buffed and then used ren. wax. The images were either too dark, or not even there. The wax actually took one image off. They also were not shiny after buffing.
    what am I doing wrong?? Help
    thank you in advance

    • Polly September 25, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Hi Kyla,
      Did you follow all of Cindy’s steps above?
      She lists some great tips to get good results. Starting with “Transferring Images – ITS Method #1” she has steps 1, 2, and 3 — did you use that step 3?
      And then she has a photo and steps 1 through 4. In that section, steps 1 through 3 are very important. And then, just a TINY dab of the Ren Wax.

      • Polly September 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

        I’m not sure why they were too dark … what metal are you putting them on? The ITS is transparent, so your background metal color will show through wherever there is no ink.
        Dark metals could be a potential problem.
        Other than that, how do the copies from Office Max look? Are they darker than normal, or do they look nice to begin with?

  • lisa October 8, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Hi i have been playing around with the its product with the pre printed collage sheets they have,and i went to get my own printed on the its blank sheets ,and i can find no one here in south australia to print them for me ,they say because it not a sandard A4 size paper and it will jam,or they are not willing to stuff up there equipment,i have been to a dozen places.reading your blog you say use plain paper,or do you mean plain transfer paper,cheers

    • Polly October 8, 2012 at 8:46 am

      Hi Lisa,
      You can use regular copy paper — the standard paper used in most offices. We didn’t like extra heavy photo paper. But images cut from glossy magazines work great.
      I’m a little surprised that the printers in your area can’t/won’t print to alternate sizes. Most HP and Canon laser printers can easily select 6-10 different envelope sizes to print on, as well as 10-20 different paper sizes (8.5×11 letter, A4, A5, Legal, Executive, …). But maybe that’s just our printers in the US. Maybe we have such a long list of options due to our local non-standard options, plus everyone else’s standard options!

  • James Shannon October 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Will this process work with a large piece of metal (2″ x 24″) that has been black powder coated?
    I want to get colored images onto eyepiece trays that I manufacture. Silk screening is, apparently, not an option, nor are decals (they come off too easily).
    Please advise to the above email address.
    Thank you.

    • Polly October 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

      Hi James,
      The ITS wants to be baked at 325 for about 20 minutes, so try a piece of your powder coated metal in the oven and see if it is still ok.
      If that works fine, then move into issue #2.
      The second potential issue is when you rub (gently sand) off the paper. I don’t know how durable your powder coating is — even if you use a very fine grit like 1200, it might still remove some of your black powder coating.
      I think the only way you’ll be able to know for sure on #2 is to give it a try. I would get one of the assortments of polishing papers, since I don’t know which one would work best for your powder coating. They’re only about $8 for a pack of 8 different grits and they’re useful for other projects too.

  • Diane March 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I know this is an old posting, but if you’re still reading, first of all thanks very much for the tutorial! I also have a question – what if you wish to transfer to a curved form, i.e. a convex or concave shape where you can’t hit it directly with an iron? I wonder if using a hotter oven would bake it on better without the pressure of an iron, since an oven temp set at 325 doesn’t necessarily mean the piece will get to 325… ?

    • Polly March 13, 2013 at 7:32 am

      Hi Diane,
      For heat-setting ITS, pressure is not important, so any method you use to heat it is fine, as long as you don’t overheat your piece to the point where your paper burns (which, from a Ray Bradbury book title in my memory, I believe is 451 F).
      In the past, I’ve used ITS to seal alcohol inks mixed with some delicate pigments, and I was afraid they would singe/darken, so I heated my piece in the oven for a longer time period at a lower temperature (300) and it worked great.

  • Darlene December 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    This is a great tutorial! Thank you a lot I will give it a try. Was wondering can I use glaze for polymer clay instead of Renaissance Wax?

    • Polly December 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Darlene,
      I am pretty sure that your polymer clay glaze should work fine. I haven’t actually tried it so I can’t guarantee it, but I can’t think of any reason that it would not work.

  • Lisa January 24, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! I have been experimenting with ITS on ITS paper for a few rounds now and I’m having a couple of issues that I’m hoping you can help me with.
    1. Even after coating with Renaissance wax, the surface scratches VERY easily. Am I doing something wrong or is this scratching to be expected even with Renaissance wax? I wonder if I should try one of the spray enamel sealers like Krylon.
    2. I want my transfer to go to the edge of my round stainless steel pendant, but I find that even after gentle sanding the edge still feels like there’s paper there on the metal. It’s not smooth and professional looking. In the photo above it looks very professional with a smooth edge. I wonder if it’s because I’m using the ITS special paper which is thicker than regular copy paper.
    Would love to hear your thoughts/advice.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Polly January 27, 2014 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Lisa,
      I find that the ITS is quite durable, so I wonder if you are heating it long enough. It might be worth experimenting a bit to see if an extra 5 or 10 minutes makes it stronger.
      I do recommend one of the spray enamel sealers like Krylon. They give you a more durable finish then the Ren wax does. (Just carefully follow the instructions on the can.) We use Envirotex, but Krylon is good too. I like Ren wax for my own personal projects, but when I’m selling finished jewelry, the spray sealers are best because they are less likely to require touch-up later.
      I will ask for a second opinion on the paper. You may be right about the thickness. The thickness of the ITS paper may have some pros and cons.

  • karla Costa Rica April 11, 2014 at 9:27 am

    thanks for information, a question could use the product in silver or copper and enamel

    • Polly April 15, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Hi, Karla from Costa Rica
      Yes, you can use Image Transfer Solution on silver and on copper. You can also use it on real enamel (because genuine enamel is melted glass, which melts at a much higher temperature). But in case it is not real enamel, test it first. Image Transfer Solution can be used on almost everything that can safely be heated to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
      Sí, puede utilizar la Solución de Transferencia de Imagen en la plata y el cobre. También puede usarlo en el esmalte real (porque genuina esmalte es vidrio fundido, que se funde a una temperatura mucho más alta). Pero en caso de que no es el esmalte real, probarlo primero. Solución para Transferencia de Imágenes se puede utilizar en casi todo lo que con seguridad puede ser calentado a aproximadamente 350 grados F (175 C).

  • Julie Hernandez June 4, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Does ITS work better than Liquitex and if so, do you know why? I have been transfering images to metal using Liquitex gel medium and some come out really great and than with some of them I can’t get all the paper fibers off the metal. Do you know why this could be happening?
    Any information would be helpful.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Polly June 5, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Hi Julie, I haven’t used Liquitex. I’ve only used ITS, but the same thing happens to me sometimes. I feel like I’m following the same steps each time, so usually I assume that I’ve accidentally over-soaked a spot with a bit too much Image Transfer Solution. Or it may even be small inconsistencies in the paper itself. ~Polly

  • Melie October 30, 2014 at 6:12 am

    Thanks so much for this Julie. I have been researching different printing options for a few days now and it’s been so informative reading this article from you explaining all this in detail. Glad I came across this! Thanks

  • Susan January 14, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    I know this is an old post but hopefully will be seen!
    After reading Method 2, I wondered how this would work on aluminum hand stamped jewelry? I am making a medical bracelet for someone who wants it to be waterproof, and I haven’t found anything that will hold up to daily showering. The ink in the letters fades within weeks. Would this work and would it be waterproof? Thanks for any information on this subject!

    • Polly January 15, 2016 at 9:10 am

      Hi Susan,
      ITS (Image Transfer Solution) works great on aluminum. And yes, it’s waterproof!

      • Susan January 22, 2016 at 7:50 pm

        Thank you! I wondered how you kept it so neat on the pendent around all of the detail? Was it sanded off the high parts after it dried? It looks perfect!
        Thank you again,

        • Polly January 25, 2016 at 10:21 am

          Hi Susan,
          Yes, with a sanding block. Sanding blocks work great because they don’t accidentally dip down into the lower spots. We love this Vintaj sanding block, but a similar one from the cosmetics aisle (probably near the nail polish) would also work.

  • Mark March 31, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Polly, had a question on the alcohol inks on the etched area..I tried this on nickle silver that was etched in ferric chloride but the colors become totally muted once dry?…did you use all transparent inks or some opague first? does the ITS keep the color lively?

    • Polly April 1, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Hi Mark,
      The transparent colors do show up differently on different background materials. (Fortunately if they turn out bad, you can clean it off pretty easily, wait for it to dry, and try again.)
      I think I used a mixture of opaque metallic colors, and translucent colors, to get the best effect on darker metals.
      The ITS doesn’t brighten it; it just protects the colors once you have what you like.
      I’m sad to say that the ITS was recently discontinued by the manufacturer. But craft stores sometimes carry a Mod-Podge product for transferring images to metals and other non-porous surfaces. (They also make one for transferring images to cloth, so be careful about which product you end up with!) I haven’t yet tried it, so I can’t say how it compares.

  • liz March 6, 2017 at 3:43 am

    Hello ! great blog – thank you so much! One question for you – do you know what the most sustainable way of applying colour to metal is?
    Thanks 😀

    • Polly March 6, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Hi Liz,
      It depends on so many factors that it’s making my head spin… Enameling could be considered the most sustainable, because it’s permanent. You can torch fire or kiln fire enamels. Our Thompson enamels are for sterling silver and for copper:
      Regarding chemicals, different metals react to different chemicals. So first decide which metal you want to color, then research which chemicals cause that metal to turn the colors you want it to turn. Did you know you can antique sterling silver or copper with such environmentally friendly supplies as eggshells? You put the metal and eggshells (don’t wash them) in a sealed container (they don’t have to actually touch; they just have to share a small sealed airspace), and let the sulphur from the egg slowly do its trick. Less appealing, but equally sustainable and environmentally friendly, home-produced chemicals include things that contain ammonia such as (used) kitty litter or diapers. The metals don’t need to touch these “used” items, but they do need to be in a small-ish space with it.
      Even rubber bands wrapped around the outside of a plastic bag that has sterling silver in it, can tarnish the silver in a stripe right through the bag. (I believe this is again due to sulfur, but not sure exactly what’s in rubber bands.)
      Our oxidizers and antiquing solutions are mostly designed for sterling silver and copper, and some also work on brass or gold. If you are using aluminum, or simply want brighter colors, then these colorful inks, pastes and faux patinas are fun.
      Other than type of metal, and how long the color will last, other considerations for sustainability include: Type and amount of packaging — are they in wasteful blister packs, or can you buy in bulk (if you use enough that it makes sense to buy in bulk), what chemicals were involved in making the colorant, how were they procured (mined, etc.)? Is it an environmentally friendly method? So to really pick the most sustainable application of color, first decide on a type of metal so you can narrow down the options to research. Then pick a color or colors, or method of application, and then you’re at the point where you can start researching how it is created, where the components are likely to come from, what tools are used with it, parent corporations and their practices, etc.
      Sorry, that’s a complicated answer for what you hoped was a simple question!

  • Sabin March 25, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Per ITS website, the ITS solution has since been discontinued! What have you been using in its place?

    • Polly March 26, 2018 at 8:56 am

      Sadly, we haven’t done any image transfers since they discontinued the ITS. We know there is a Mod Podge transfer solution but we haven’t gotten a chance to try it, or any others on the market.