Toner Photo Transfer Tutorial for Polymer Clay – Mistakes to Avoid

Photo Transfer Onto Polymer Clay

Vid #75: Four Things NOT To Do With Your Image Transfer, Pendant Jewelry Projects:


Toner image transfers are fun and fairly easy to do if you follow the right steps. This inexpensive photo transfer method is done using regular photocopies or laser printed images. It does not require the use of special papers.

Here’s a link to a quick written tutorial on the technique:

How To Image Transfer To Polymer Clay

In the process of learning this method, I have made some mistakes. Today I’ll share a few of them with you so that you don’t have to make them yourself:

Mistake #1) Rubbing too hard when peeling away the paper: This can remove ink that has already been transferred to the clay surface. Instead, always use a very light touch, gently rubbing in circles to remove the wet paper from the transfer.

Mistake #2) Water too warm: When rinsing the paper off your image transfer, it is important to use cold water or the ink will warm up and smudge.

Mistake #3) Using parchment paper on top of image while baking: Parchment paper can wrinkle in the oven and leave light and dark areas on the clay. It is best with the image transfers to not put anything on top while the image is curing. This means you have to be extra careful not to get air in your clay because you won’t be able to bake your transfer between two ceramic tiles as you normally would to prevent bubbles.

Mistake #4) Waiting too long to bake: Make sure to bake your image transfer as soon as possible after transferring the image. As the ink sits on the clay, it can become very sticky and will smear easily until it is cured.

Have you ever made image transfers this way or do you prefer another method? What kind of problems have you run into? If you have any questions or comments regarding this technique, make sure to leave them below!

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The full version of the Image Transfer preview video shown above, is available for purchase at my Polymer Clay Bead Making Videos Library in the Volume-006 Back Issue Package.

In the Image Transfer Mistakesvideo I go into detail about problems that canĀ  happen due to:

  • Rubbing too hard.
  • Using water that was too warm.
  • Using parchment paper during the baking process.
  • Leaving the transfer too long before baking it.
  1. Randee M Ketzel, 09 October, 2008

    Thanks for the tips–I too have found that a light touch is definitely best! One thing I discovered (been doing a lot of these lately) is that the paper after being burnished and wetted usually come up in layers; to contain the mess of all those little bits of paper, I have been gently removing the top layer of paper, then removing the final layers down to the raw clay under a very thin stream of running water, catching the bits in a sieve to prevent them from going down the drain; the process goes much faster, I seem to get less smudging, and I’m not constantly stopping to dispose of bits of paper sticking to my fingers.

  2. Cindy Lietz, 09 October, 2008

    Very good advice Randee! This is especially true for the thicker papers. The one I used in this demonstration is very thin and doesn’t really separate into layers like a lot of papers will. But the better quality papers will work great for your technique! Thank you so much for sharing your experience here!

  3. Diana Souza-Castro, 10 October, 2008

    I truly enjoy your methods of teaching immensely, and you are so (NOT) intimidating as you bring a person through step by step. This is a blessing in disguise to a majority of us, expecially when you are my age (64). Thank you for your Patience, and also for your Great Work!!!! Your beads are gorgeous, and have to try some marbling too. They make gorgeous round disks! Will have to do some experi- menting with my clay, and check around for some of the goodies you were using. For myself, being an artist is such a Blessing, and it has encouraged me through some difficult times. It is great therapy!! Thanks again!!

  4. Cindy E, 01 November, 2008

    Hi Cindy, Thanks so much for this information. I have been perplexed about transferring images to polymer clay. Now, thanks to you, I think I have found the way! Hugs to you.

  5. Lisa Cobb, 07 December, 2008

    I am just about to start experimenting with the transferring of images onto clay. My question is , is there a particular type of paper that my image should be on, or just regular computer paper that I can put in a laser printer. Also does this process work best in the polyclay oven- or does the kitchen oven also do the trick? I am so happy I came across your site. Thanks so much. Lisa Cobb

  6. Cindy Lietz, 08 December, 2008

    Lisa, when doing this type of transfer, you only need regular office paper, which is nice because it is cheap and readily available.

    A polyclay oven is just a toaster oven with a fancy name. You can use your own oven if you like. If you get serious about working with polymer clay it is nice to have a separate toaster oven to work in. Click the link by my name for an article on the benefits of using a toaster oven over your regular kitchen oven.

  7. Eva Wills, 06 January, 2009

    Looking for the recipe for skin tones. They are the ones that are listed as bonus color recipes but I have a membership and still not able to find them.

    Thank you

  8. Cindy Lietz, 06 January, 2009

    It’s great to hear from you here at the blog Eva. I remember our email communications back in Oct’08 when you got set up as a charter member at the library. But I believe this is your first post here on the blog. So… welcome!

    Anywho… in regards to your question about the bonus color recipes, I’ll take this opportunity to let everyone know how they work.

    Every month with the paid library subscription, you get 4 tutorial videos and 4 A-recipes.

    The B-Recipes (Bonus-Recipes) are given away for free to those who subscribe to my Polymer Clay Guest List Newsletter. This is the only way you can get the bonus recipes.

    I have set up the Bonus recipe system like this because it gives everyone a good “excuse” to come back to the blog at least once a week, if not more often.

    I publish a ton of information here at the blog… and it is all free. Those who take the time to read the articles, often make apoint of letting me know how much they are learning from the articles. And that is the whole point :)

    The Newsletter edition I emailed out last week [Vol 008-0] provided links to all of the Bonus Recipes I have given away to date. It was a special edition to help everyone get caught after the busy holiday season.

    Now in regards to the Skin Tone Recipes you were asking about Eva, one of them has already been given way [Volume-006-4B Recipe: Porcelain Skin]. You will find the link in last week’s newsletter email from me. The other Skin Tone Recipes [Cocoa Skin, Fair Skin, Copper Skin] have yet to be posted. They are coming though, so stay tuned.

  9. Stacie, 07 May, 2010

    I am having trouble with paper fibers remaining – it doesn’t matter how light of a touch I use with cold water, the image is damaged before the paper is all removed. Maybe I am being too particular in the quality of transfer to expect with this method??? I am trying to do something new in my little area to sell at craft sales but I am very particular. The mothers bracelets have run their course and I want something new to bring to people

  10. Phaedrakat, 08 May, 2010

    @Stacie: Hi Stacie, I totally understand wanting your items to be perfect. That’s just being professional, and wanting to provide a good product. I haven’t tried Cindy’s method yet, but I feel certain her images are complete, and I know she wouldn’t produce a tutorial where the image had paper stuck to it. So of course, you’re not “expecting too much” regarding the quality. Something in your process must be different from Cindy’s; it’s just a matter of figuring out what it is! I’ll try to help… :-)

    Did you use a different type of paper for your image — maybe something with special fibers or something? Did you burnish your image completely before trying to remove the paper? What about your clay? What type did you use? Did you condition it completely, so that it’s a nice, warm, pliable consistency to accept the transfer?

    I’m trying to gather information, so that when Cindy gets back after the weekend, she’ll be able to take a quick look at your answers and perhaps spot the problem right away. Or sometimes when someone asks a question it will jog your memory and you’ll go, “Oh yeah, I know what happened!” (That’s happened to me, anyway…) :D

    Just to clarify, you have a good image transferred to the clay. It’s just that the paper is stuck, and you can’t remove it without pulling off some of the image. Is that right? I’m wondering if maybe the paper w/image was left on the clay too long before trying to remove? Cindy mentioned that she left the Hogwarts image too long before baking and it got sticky. If your image was left too long before attempting to remove the paper, the same thing might happen. The ink could have gotten sticky, and now it won’t release the paper. Just a guess, but maybe?…

    Well, I’ll stop trying to “figure it out,” since I’m not getting anywhere! ;~) Write back with some more info, if you can, and Cindy can take a look on Monday. I sure hope this works out for you. It sounds like you really want to create some cool items to sell. I’ll bet you end up with some gorgeous creations. Good luck! ~Kat

  11. Cindy Lietz, 14 May, 2010

    @Stacie: Phaedrakat has done a great job in trying to get to the bottom of your problem. Hopefully you will come back and answer her questions so we can help determine an answer for you.

    There is nothing wrong with being particular. This method can often be far from perfect. If you need something that is absolutely pristine, then you may want to try the water slide transfers that are available. (just Google it) Though water slide transfers have more of a plastic-y decal kind of look to them as compared to the ink transfers such as this method here.

    Do let us know exactly how you’re doing it and we will see if we can help you.

  12. Deb Williams, 14 July, 2010

    I am trying to use vintage postage stamps and labels on my Fimo clay. What is the best thing to use to adhere the stamps and labels to the clay and then how do I prevent it from puffing up in areas after baking. Also what is the best product to use for a matte finish on the clay pieces once they are baked.

    thank you

  13. Cindy Lietz, 22 July, 2010

    @Deb Williams: Hi Deb, just thought I’d better pop in here and mention that I have a really cool way to incorporate stamps and any other types of paper materials into your polymer clay art projects. I will be doing a tutorial soon, so stay tuned!

  14. Jocelyn, 15 July, 2010

    I have a Lexmark X5070 combination model. Does anyone know of specific instructions for this model? Just looking for some encouragement that it is possible before I delve into trying.

  15. Phaedrakat, 17 July, 2010

    @Jocelyn: Hi Jocelyn, usually you can just Google the make & model of your printer, along with “manual” or “instructions” or something like that. I’ve done this with all kinds of electronics or appliances, and they usually have a pdf file manual. Good luck!

  16. Jocelyn, 17 July, 2010

    Thanks, Kat, you are such a doll. Meant has anyone done transfers with a Lexmark machine…what tips or suggestions might apply with that model. Still taking your advice and googling it. Betcha something is out there. Many thanks for responding.

  17. Phaedrakat, 27 July, 2010

    @Jocelyn: Oh, duh! (Don’t I feel like a big dummy!) I actually have a Lexmark all-in-one, but I haven’t tried transfers with it yet. Please let me know if you come up with any special tips for it… :D

  18. Amy R, 28 May, 2011

    Hi. I did the transfer and it came out great until I baked It. The color black became gray and I also did I color transfer and all the colors turned out dull and opaque. Why? Is it the ink quality? Too much heat? I baked it at 275F. Should I apply a finish? Will this give its color back. What should I do? Thank you.

  19. Cindy Lietz, 30 May, 2011

    @Amy R: Hi Amy, I am thinking that there probably is still some paper left on your transfer and when it ‘dried’ in the baking process, it caused your transfer to become cloudy. Applying a finish may help this to some extent, depending on how much paper was left behind.

    You could also try rubbing your baked transfer lightly under water, to see if you can remove a little more paper, before adding a finish. Be careful not to rub too hard, or you will remove some of the transfer as well.

    One finish that may work for you is the Sculpey Glossy Glaze. (Click the link by my name for more info.) You can add this before or after you bake. If you add it before baking, it may prevent the transfer for clouding up in the first place.

    You will have to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. Do come back here and let us know how it goes. Good luck!

  20. Amy R, 31 May, 2011

    Ok, thanks. I am going to try it again and also use the sculpey glaze. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  21. Fran V, 07 April, 2014

    This morning I saw one of your introductory videos about you learning from your mistakes. A few years ago I made some two-color buttons to match a robe I was making, and a month or so ago I made some handles for my crochet hooks. But other than that I am really new to polymer clay.

    Well, I am having a great time this afternoon learning about the pasta machine and the clay as I make blends from your recipe cards. I am having loads of fun making all kinds of basic mistakes (cat hair in my clay, forgetting to clean my hands between each color, forgetting to clean the rollers between colors, and on and on!). I am the proud owner of your Beginner Introductory Videos, and I was duly warned: I knew not to do all these things, but intellectual knowledge and real knowing are two different things, hmm? For me, it takes actually doing the thing to really take it in. Creating the samples has a wonderful practical result and is great way to learn about color and blending techniques, working with the clay itself, using the pasta machine, cutting blade, roller – everything.

    Which is only one of the proofs of your teaching brilliance. As I write these words, I think of the two meanings of brilliant, and they both apply! You really glow.

    Lest your head swell too much, I will stop here with the praise. ;)

    BTW, I saw online an interesting way to do a laser transfer that, if it really works, would be easier than rubbing off the paper: put the image face down on the clay, roll with the roller to ensure good contact, then saturate the paper with baby oil. Bake. While still warm, peel off the paper. (if the tile is too cool, the paper will stick). Done!

    And another technique, using liquid clay: paint liquid clay onto both the image and the clay surface it will go on; put the image face down on the clay, roll with the roller to ensure good contact, bake, peel paper.

    They both sound interesting, and I am greatly interested in transfers, so I need to get to a copy shop to get some laser copies made so I can test the techniques.

    Be well and be happy,

  22. Cindy Lietz, 18 April, 2014

    Thank you so much for your kind words and input Fran. It is wonderful to have you as part of the PcT Community.

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