Heartwarming DIY Wood to Photo Family Keepsake Project

Family wedding photo on wood
Scarlett Ballantyne
  • 01 of 10

    A Meaningful Gift You Can DIY

    Wedding photo and wood wedding photo together
    Scarlett Ballantyne


    Finding the right gift for a beloved family member can be a tough task. Your parents' anniversary, gifting your in-laws during the holidays, or your siblings getting married are all instances where you'll need to find a meaningful gift. Creating something affordable from scratch may seem intimidating, but going that extra mile will always show your recipients how much you care for them. Making a keepsake piece of art using a DIY photo transfer process is a simple yet effective way to make a cherished memento that your family will love.

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  • 02 of 10

    Supplies Needed

    Supplies needed to transfer a photo onto wood
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Here's what you'll need to complete this project:

    • A photo of your choice, printed to 8” x 10” (or sized to fit your cut wood)
    • Laser photocopy of your printed photo (very important!)
    • An unfinished piece of wood, cut to roughly the same size as your photo.
    • Gel medium
    • 2 small foam paint brushes
    • Damp cloth or sponge
    • Sandpaper or wood sanding block
    • Glue and sealer finish or latex varnish
    • Hanging brackets
    • Ribbon to hang (optional)
    • Craft paint (optional)
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  • 03 of 10

    Choose a Photo

    Couple photo to transfer to wood
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Start by choosing a favorite family photo for the project. It works best if the photo doesn’t have too many face details, which can be muddled during the transfer process. Use your favorite photo-editing program online to make any changes to your photo, such as going from color to black and white. At this time you can add your photo filters or amp up the color. Once the photo is transferred onto wood, it will appear more aged—which is part of the beauty of the project—but if you want more intensity, you can create it during the photo edit. If you are not very technically inclined, there are easy-to-use online editing programs such as  PicMonkey, which make photo editing a snap.

    Important Note: When printing the photo, make sure that it is a mirror image of the original. You can do this during editing or by choosing a mirror image on your printing settings. That way, when it is transferred on to the wood, the finished product will appear the right way.

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  • 04 of 10

    Print a Laser Photocopy

    laser copy printed photos
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    This is very important; for the photo transfer to work properly, the photo must be done in a laser copy. Any photo done from a home inkjet printer will not transfer properly with the gel medium. Don’t skip this step, or you will end up with a goopy, inky mess and will have to start with a new image and piece of wood. You can print it from home first, and make a laser copy of it at a local print store. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Optional: Sand the Wood Piece

    Sanded wood piece
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Prepare your wood with a light sanding. Many home hardware stores offer free cutting services. An untreated wood shelf is the exact right width, then cut into 10” to 12” pieces, gives you a few of the exact right sized pieces for this project. Lightly sand the cut edges, and if you wish, paint the edges in a color complementing or contrasting your image. This is an optional step, as it will look great unfinished also.

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  • 06 of 10

    Apply a Gel Medium

    Applying a gel medium to the wood with a foam brush
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Take note of any knots or imperfections in the wood before you start, as this will show through in your final design. Then apply your gel medium with a foam brush. Apply it in an even layer all over the side of your wood where you want to apply the image. Try not to get it too thick or too thin, as this will affect how the photo looks after it is transferred.

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  • 07 of 10

    Apply Your Photo

    Sticking photo to the wood
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Take your laser print and apply it face down onto the gel medium. Take your time to make sure it is centered and use your fingers to work from the center outwards to slowly remove air bubbles. You can use a smoothing device such as a credit card or a plastic ruler to smooth your image onto the wood. Some of the gel medium will ooze out the sides—just wipe it off with a damp cloth. After the air bubbles have been smoothed out as best as you can, let it dry overnight. Don’t try to rush the process as the gel medium must be thoroughly dry before you start the next step.

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  • 08 of 10

    Remove the Paper

    Removing the paper
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    This is where the project gets a little bit messy. Use a damp cloth or sponge to soak the paper and start using your fingers to gently rub the paper off. Don’t pick at it with your nails, but rather slowly rub the paper, which will start to come off in small bits. You will need to let it dry again—just 10 or 20 minutes—and do it a few times to ensure that all of the paper is off. Generally, take more care around the detailed parts of the photo such as faces, so as not to accidentally mar any part of the photo.

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  • 09 of 10

    Sand the Edges

    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Once you are satisfied that all of the paper has been removed, lightly sand around the edges of the photo transfer to remove any excess gel medium and to soften the look of the photo edges. Not every photo transferred has to look aged or vintage, but softening the edge of the photo with sandpaper works to blend the photo into the wood. Use a new foam brush and add a thin coat of glue and sealer finish (antique matte finish works well) or a latex varnish. Let it dry and repeat according to the product instructions.

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  • 10 of 10

    Add Hangers

    Finished photo on wood
    Scarlett Ballantyne

    Once the wood is dry, use fastening hardware to add hangers on the back. For this photo, we used two hooks and strung a burlap ribbon through it to hang the final product. Your family will love the effort and time you have taken to create this special gift. And the total cost to create it was under $50!