Make Your Own Canvas Prints (tutorial)

by ilene on January 30, 2012 · 20 comments

in decor, tutorial

Ever since I saw this Distressed Picture Canvas tutorial last year over at Delia Creates, I’ve been itching to make my own. (Here is another tutorial I found on the web, it seems to be a pretty popular technique!.) Getting professional canvas prints can get pretty expensive so this is a great cheap way to fake it!   You are basically transferring the ink of a printed photo onto canvas.  It makes the photos look a little distressed, too, which is a cool effect.   We got family portraits taken last month for my mom’s 60th birthday taken by my friend DT of ShootForFood so I thought this would be a great opportunity to use some of the beautiful photos that we got from that beach photoshoot.  In the picture above, the canvas on the left is of my parents and the canvas on the right is of my twin sister and her husband.  Both photos were taken by DT.  Aren’t they beautiful?  I love the serene colors and how happy both couples look. The black and white photo in the middle is a photo of Jeff and I taken last year by Caroline Tran at our “trash the dress” wedding photoshoot.  It’s one of my favorite shots, too.

Isn’t my mom so pretty?  She looks good for 60!

To make your own canvas prints you need:

1. blank canvas – these can be purchased at any art supply stores.  Michaels frequently has 40% off sales on their blank canvases or use one of their 40% off coupons to score them cheaply.  Canvases vary in quality and, therefore, price, but I was able to get these 14×18″ canvases for just $6 each!  Also, make sure you don’t buy a canvas that is too big. You need to be able to print out the photo onto paper that is about the size of the canvas and if you buy a canvas that is too big, you may have to pay a lot for oversized printing.

2. printed photo – ok this is really important. You need to LASER PRINT your photo on REGULAR print paper.  Ink jet printers will not work.  Cardstock and photopaper will not work, it has to be the cheap regular printing paper.  Since my canvases were 14×18″, I had to go to a print shop to get my photo printed for just $2 a color print.  The largest this particular print shop could print the photo was 12×16″ so there was an 1″ margin around the canvas, which bothered me a little, but I can live with it.  Otherwise I would have to pay for oversized printing if I wanted to print the photo larger and that costs $10/foot. Yikes, too pricey.  You also want to have the photo printed in MIRROR image, otherwise the photo will transfer over backwards and it may look funny to you.  This is especially important if your picture has letters on it.  I forgot to mirror image my photos and they look sort of off!!

3. gel medium (more on that below)

4. spray bottle with water– I didn’t have a spray bottle so I emptied out and cleaned a windex cleaner bottle

5. foam paint brush

6. sponge (optional)

So the gel medium that you need to buy is probably the most expensive part of the project. You can buy gel medium in an art supply store in the paint section.  Its made to product and seal paintings.  I got mine at Michaels for $9/bottle.  With this 11 oz bottle I was able to make 5 canvases.  There are a couple brands of gel medium and it also comes as regular, gloss, matte, and extra glossy (which all work fine) but this is the one I got:

Before you start, you will want to lay down a trash bag onto your surface because its a really messy process:

Brush a thick layer of gel medium onto your canvas with a foam brush:

Gently lay your photo on top of the canvas, photo side down:

You want the photo to lie completely flat so smooth out air bubbles with your hands or use an old credit card:

Let the gel medium dry completely (takes 4-5 hours) or overnight.   After the gel medium is dry, the paper should be completely stuck to the canvas.  Now comes the tedious part. You will have to remove the paper by rubbing it off.  Spray the paper completely with water:

Let the water soak and soften the paper for a minute:

Then using your hands, gently start rubbing off the paper:

You can use a sponge to help rub off the paper, but be very gentle, especially around the facial areas, you don’t want to rub the image off the canvas:

The image will slowly appear as you rub off more layers of the paper.  It usually takes a few rounds of spraying and rubbing.  You think you got off all the paper but when the canvas dries, you can see a white haze over the image- this means there is still a layer of paper and you got to keep rubbing it off!

You can use a sponge to rub off more of the margins of the photo.   I like the aged, distressed look:

Let the canvas dry then coat with one thin layer of gel medium to seal it:

Let the gel medium dry and then you are done!  See? Super easy!!!

It’s inevitable that no matter how careful you are, some of the images will rub off in places that you don’t want to come off, which drives this perfectionist batty!!   It annoys me that there is big white scratch on my forehead, right in between my eyebrows! Argh!!

But I try to tell myself, embrace the imperfections!!  It’s all part of the charm!

Did you know you can also use this technique on wood, too? My friend Esther transferred her family photos onto plywood and it turned out super cool! Check out her post here! What a great idea!

These photo canvases make GREAT presents for friends! I already made a few as birthday gifts! People will be amazed that you made them yourself!

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1 thatgirlwhit January 30, 2012 at 9:46 am

what an amazing idea!!! thankyou for this….i will have to try it!

2 Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 10:21 am

ileeeeeeeeeeene!! great idea! thanks for the shoutout!

3 Jane January 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm

love it! i want to try!

4 Lisa Johnson January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Very neautiful family you have there. I think I will do this photo transfer. I already have some gel. Thanks for the inspiration.

5 Meanwhile, back at the ranch... January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Yay! I love this. I take tons of photographs and this is a cool way to display them! Can’t wait to try it on canvas and on wood.

6 Mel January 30, 2012 at 9:52 pm

the ones you made for isaac are hanging up in his room!! 🙂 thank you for such thoughtful gifts! such a great idea.

7 whollykao January 31, 2012 at 1:27 am

thanks for the shout out ilene! The canvases turned out really good!

8 Janis February 1, 2012 at 11:53 am

thanks for this idea. I’d probably start small first. But this is way better than paying $$$$ for canvas prints.

9 Amber August 18, 2012 at 6:22 am

Hey there! I’ve been making canvas transfers for a couple of months and just love them! However, I’ve only made 8×10’s. I would love to make a 16×20. I’ve been unsuccessful at finding a place that makes oversized laser prints. Any suggestions? I’ve tried staples but they said it wouldn’t be a laser copy and therefore wouldn’t work. Thanks!

10 Jessica August 14, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Hey Amber! I’ve been trying to figure out exactly the same thing and finally came up with a solution (though you might not need it anymore–I just realized this post is super, super old!). Anyway, I went to and divided my picture into 4 quadrants and saved them as 4 separate files. Then you can go to staples’ website and order laser copies–one normal 8.5×11-sized page per quadrant of your image. Just make sure you fit the image to the size of the paper! Once they’ve made your copies for you, just tape the 4 pages together and you’ll have a giant sized image–perfect for a 16×20 canvas, with space to spare (that’s the same size I wanted, and I’ve done it twice with great success). Just be careful when you get to the wetting-and-rubbing-off-the-paper step here that you’re gentle with the seams, especially near the center of the image where the 4 pages meet. I went a little too fast and ended up ripping the image on my first time around, right in the center of my canvas. It really does work pretty dang well though! 🙂

11 ilene August 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Hi Amber,
I got my large prints done at a small print/copy shop, the biggest they could print on a normal laser printer was 12″x16″. If I wanted a larger print, they had could use a large format printer but it was something like $10/foot which was really pricey.

12 Miranda jones December 16, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I did this but it turned the mod podge pink and my image green 🙁 is it because I wasnt using a laserjet?

13 ilene December 18, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Hi Miranda! You definitely need to use laser jet to print the photos on. and use the gel medium, not modge podge and that should do the trick! good luck!

14 Australian Canvas Prints February 4, 2013 at 4:26 am

It seems to be wonderful canvas prints. Thanks for sharing the tutorial.

15 Angela February 25, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Would it work with any fabric? Solid color, of course, nothing weird, just wondering if it had to be canvas? Thanks for sharing!

16 jojo June 26, 2013 at 5:06 am

Awww, such beautiful family photos! Yes, your mum looks great and absolutely gorgeous (AND young) for her age! ;o)

I’ve finally gathered all the goodies (except laser printed copies of pictures) and will be making them this coming weekend. The local craft store is having a 50% off sale on all the store brand canvases so great timing! Woohoo!

Thank you for sharing your tutorial with the world! :o)

17 Mama Picture This July 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm


Thanks sooo much for this post! I love it and I’m having a blast making my own art canvas’s!

I enjoyed so much that I shared your tutorial and my experience on my own blog here:

Thanks again!

18 A0 Printing September 6, 2014 at 3:34 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on canvas. Regards

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