Wood Gallery Wall Alternative

Photo on Wood Gallery Wall

Gallery Wall of Places We’ve Been

I am always in the market for decorating ideas that aren’t too generic but also aren’t more pictures of us (there are already plenty of those on display). I loved the idea of dedicating a space to places we’ve lived and traveled.

This project started out with nine of the smaller photos tiled into a large square. After about a month I decided that that looked too cluttered and uniform so I added in the larger photos to break it up a bit.

Cost: about $15 per large image transfer

Time: 3 hours (plus 24 hours of waiting)


DIY Large Scale Photo to Wood Transfer - Materials

  • Large wood – I used 24″ x 24″  x .5″ birch. If you buy a 2′ x 4′ Home Depot or Lowes will cut it for you.
  • Engineering print $2.99 for an 24″ x 36″ color print
  • Sand paper
  • Liquitex gloss gel – I used super heavy
  • Mod podge – I used matte
  • Paint brush or small roller

Lessons Learned

  • Be patient. I really struggle with the “waiting for things to dry” part of crafting but in this case it’s not a corner you can cut.
  • Expect a mess. There’s no way to remove paper without getting tiny pieces of gluey paper all over.
  • Don’t worry about perfection. These are meant to look imperfect so a couple of scratches and wrinkles won’t hurt the overall effect.
  • Order 2 Prints. On more than one occasion I have gotten overly agressive removing paper or failed to follow my first piece of advice and leave adequate dry time. At this point I just flipped the board over and started again with a new print. If you’re a perfectionist like I am you can always paint over the back. This way if a guest in your home starts taking art off the wall and inspecting the back of it they’ll see that you really have your shit together.

Step 1: Select and Print Your Image

Downtown Albany NY
Downtown Albany, NY

I went for an image that will look ok with some scratches and imperfections. In general I have better luck with objects than faces.

Photo to wood transfer fail - baby
For example trying to transfer a print of my son was a swing and a miss. I gave my baby a Voldemort nose.

Flipped image of Albany NY
Image flipped

Keep in mind the image will be flipped when you lay it down on top of the wood. I learned this the hard way when I made basketball team coasters and all the player numbers were backwards. Make sure you flip the image before you print it to avoid this.

Image of Albany NY Converted to Look Like Watercolor
Watercolor effect

I recommend using an app to modify the image to look like a painting. I have used Waterlogue ($3.99) and Mobile Monet ($1.99) in the past but there are free ones out there as well. This is another way to hide imperfections and pixelation when blowing up and transferring an image by removing some of the image detail.

To order the print I used Staples engineering prints in color. These are by far the cheepest large prints I’ve found and they print on very thin blueprint paper which is ideal for this project.

Step 2: Prep the Wood

I don’t own (or know how to use) an industrial saw so I always ask a Home Depot or Lowes employee to cut the wood for me.

Once the wood is cut all you need to do is sand around the edges and wipe it down with a paper towel and you’re good to go.

Step 3: Slather on Some Liquitex

Apply Liquitex Medium to Wood
The goal is to get an even layer of liquitex over the entire board. This part is tricky because it has to be thick enough that the paper will stick to it and thin enough that it dries evenly. It helps if you have a paint roller.

Step 4: Place the Image Face Down on Top of the Board

Print facedown on wood with wrinkles
It’s helpful to have an extra pair of hands for this part so you can each stretch out a corner and lay it down on top of the board. Don’t worry if it is spilling over the sides. Spend a minute smoothing down the paper. There will likely be some wrinkles but the more you can adhere it firmly to the board the less they will show up.

Step 5: Wait 24 Hours!

I’m serious – wait 24 hours. I am terrible at this part.

Step 6: Remove the Paper

Removing paper from image
After 24 hours of waiting I usually get the entire image damp using a wet paper towel. I leave a disposable cup of water and more towels or paper towels nearby so I can continuously rewet it as I go. Be careful to store wet towels off to the side because if you leave them on the board the colors may bleed.

Now you can start peeling off bits of paper. Everything I’ve seen recommends carefully rubbing a damp washcloth over it until the paper comes off.

I prefer the high-risk-high-reward method of vigorously peeling it off with my hands and occasionally wiping away the paper with a towel. Some of the color might stain your hands but it comes off with a couple of washes. For reasons I can’t explain I find this part extremely relaxing. Much to my embarrassment when I was working on the gallery wall I did this so much that my iPhone stopped recognizing my fingerprints for a while.

Step 7: Coat With Mod Podge

Add a layer of mod podge throughout. Don’t worry if the mod podge shows up white. It will dry clear in an hour or so.

Final Albany NY photo transfer
Here’s the finished image transfer on the wall!

Completed Gallery Wall
Complete photo transfer to wood gallery wall

The three large images are prints transferred to wood using this technique. The six smaller images are 12″x12″ photos that I glued to boards after sanding and painting the sides. Much like this project, I attached them to the wood using liquitex gloss gel and added a layer of mod podge to the top to protect the images.

To hang them I just used command strips but you could always drill small holes in the back and use hanging hardware.

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