How to replicate these printed wood signs?
September 24, 2018 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Woodworkers and artists: How would you create a wood piece with text printed on it (not vinyl)? Link below.

I would love to make signs like these. The descriptions I’ve seen state they are hand painted, but I don’t think it’s possible on something like this (a piece of music) or a big wall of text. I have one with a short phrase printed on it and they are not vinyl decals, the entire finish is smooth. Any idea how it’s done? I’m not concerned with the framing, only the printing process. Thanks so much.
posted by sealee to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can print it on paper and adhere it to the wood with an acrylic gel medium - Golden or Liquitex would be my brand recommendations. The entire finish would be smooth.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:08 PM on September 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

There are a couple of methods.

The first is to basically glue the paper to the board with an acrylic gel such as Mod Podge or the ones vegartanipla mentions. You can then apply a top coat of something protective, such as a matt varnish. Any raised edge around the paper can be eliminated with a combination of sanding and top coat layers.

The other method is to paint the background in white, then use a transfer medium (Mod Podge make one, but there are others) to transfer a laser-printed music score to the board. The process involves sticking the printed page (reversed) onto the board with the medium, leaving it to dry, then soaking it to break down the paper while hopefully leaving the black print intact, thus transferring it to the board. In my experience this is tricky, and the results can be a bit hit-or-miss, especially with fine detail.

You'll see DIY methods involving inkjet printing onto freezer paper etc. - most of these result in a faded/distressed image on the wood - it doesn't look like the music scores you linked were done that way.

There are other possibilities, including specialised printers.
posted by pipeski at 3:09 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

How sharp and crisp is the lettering? Could it have been screen-printed? Hand painted but using a cut-out template? (although the lines look too straight for that).

The acrylic gel medium thing is possible, but then feels way more like false advertising because that is nowhere near hand painting. At that point, why bother with the wood, just frame a print.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:21 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The item you linked to is described as 'hand made', so I don't think it's hand painted as such. If someone had meticulously hand painted a musical score like that, I'd expect it to sell for much more than it does.
posted by pipeski at 3:37 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

The details do actually specifically describe it as "a hand painted sign," I just assumed that was a big stretching of the truth because yeah, there's no way at that price. Of course, it could also be a straight up lie.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:48 AM on September 25, 2018

Zooming in on that image, it sure looks pixelated. There’s movement in the lines that match adjacent lines.

I’m going to guess an inkjet-printed image that was turned into a silkscreen.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:39 AM on September 25, 2018

There are two possibilities to adhere an paper print (which this is) to a wood surface.

It could be laminated (under thin plastic) down onto a sheet of MDF, which is also called "plak-it", and is a service one can buy for small dollars from many vendors. These are distinguished by being perfectly smooth, and usually having beveled edges painted a contrasting colour.

Or it could be glued down with acrylic medium and then had a liquid varnish applied. I've done this to create very similar signs. It's not difficult, but the finish is not perfectly smooth as it will show brush marks or spray/roller stipple. Usually the edges are not beveled.

(It is vanishingly unlikely that the sample was actually hand painted.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:40 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Looking closer at the photo, it looks like there are strips of wood running around the print, which would suggest plywood or MDF or hardboard or some other thin substrate under the image. I can't tell if the image is recessed or not. It may not even have a varnish coat on top. It could be screen printed on matboard, which is then glued down.

A lot of this comes down to stylistic choice. Personally I'd want an unvarnished print as it would not be shiny at all. The print could be glued down to a mounting board, or screen printed directly on something like gatorboard. And then the wood frame applied.

I do believe that this was "hand made" because the frame is not made the way a professional frame would be at a frame shop; it's not mitred 45o at the corners.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:45 AM on September 25, 2018

You can print out anything you want (backwards) on a copy machine that uses toner (toner, very important) and then transfer it to wood using acetone. You put it toner side down then soak the back of the paper with acetone. Remove the paper and boom, there's your print. It's easy and extremely cheap.
posted by phunniemee at 4:54 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Check YouTube for "Toner transfer to wood." As others have said, it's just a matter of printing it backwards and then transferring it. It's not difficult.

To me it just looks like a print in a frame.
posted by bondcliff at 6:19 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's not clear what you're going for because there's nothing special about the linked examples. If you aren't invested in making a sign that's hand-lettered (as the linked samples clearly aren't) and you don't need to see visible wood grain showing through the printing (the only wood visible in the examples is the frame), then what's the difference between a simple framed paper printout and what you want to achieve?
posted by jon1270 at 7:10 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

For the ones that are short phrases, my experience is that the way a lot of them are made involves a vinyl cutter with a stencil that is slightly adhesive. There are paint-your-own places that do it this way, and I've been to one, and my experience was that they were a little fussy but not that hard to get reasonably crisp edges on. I think it's theoretically possible that the sheet music might be done with the same process; it would be very time consuming and a lot fussier than something with thicker lines, but it seems like the finished product is fairly large, so you'd just need access to a cutter of a size that would produce the appropriate stencil.
posted by Sequence at 7:17 AM on September 25, 2018

My mom has something like this from a place she used to work for (a sign shop, no less). It's a page of sheet music epoxied onto a board of fir (I think, or madrone), with whimsical Christmas things around it. It's most assuredly hand made but there's less effort than say silk screening or whatever else is listed above.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2018

I don't know how fancy you want to go but here's my cheap & cheerful method.

My local Staples/Office Max sells black & white architectural prints. I have had prints made in that size (2' x 3') & bigger for around $5.
At that size, gluing to a substrate (melamine or hardboard panel) is tricky. Paper can swell & wrinkle & if you don't apply uniformly it will show in your final product. Using a spray glue, while a bit messy, can solve that problem.

My Method:
Position the print on the board
Use low-tack masking tape to tape one side down to the vertical side of the substrate.
You want the tape to act like a hinge between the print and the substrate
Lift the other end of the paper up and hold it (helps to have an extra set of hands here)
Spray the substrate with spray glue being careful not to spray the front of the print
Starting from the taped side gently smooth the print a few inches at a time while slowly lowering the lifted end until it is completely adhered
When smoothing put a piece of wax paper under your hand so you don't smear the ink.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 10:37 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

pipeski: "The other method is to paint the background in white, then use a transfer medium (Mod Podge make one, but there are others) to transfer a laser-printed music score to the board. "

phunniemee: "You can print out anything you want (backwards) on a copy machine that uses toner (toner, very important) and then transfer it to wood using acetone. You put it toner side down then soak the back of the paper with acetone."

You can also transfer toner with a clothes iron.
posted by Mitheral at 9:13 PM on September 25, 2018

Could it just be a 4x8 flatbed printer? That'd certainly be the easiest option. Something like this Roland UV printer.

- Take some wood-- paint it white, then distress it with sandpaper.
- Load it onto the UV printer to print the black elements.
posted by Static Vagabond at 3:45 AM on September 26, 2018

Thanks everyone for the information, this is all new to me so I appreciate the suggestions of methods and products. The sign I have (like the one linked) appears to be printed onto MDF and is perfectly smooth, making me think it’s the gel medium or Plak-it as have been suggested above.
posted by sealee at 4:40 PM on September 28, 2018

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