Sketching Tip: Solvent Transfers

Reproducing or presenting an image in an artistic way can help you catch the attention of a wider or different-from-usual audience.

One such method is the packing tape sticker I mentioned in my October 2016 newsletter. If you want to create something more permanent, though, you might try solvent transfers.

Wintergreen transfer + watercolor pencils; Bethann Garramon Merkle/public domain clip art

I learned about this printmaking technique just last week, when my writing students, co-instructor, and I took a field trip to the University of Wyoming Art Museum’s studio classroom. Our field trip was part of an on-going multidisciplinary approach to “Communicating Across Topics in Energy” (the name of the course). See the Artful Classrooms section of the March 2017 newsletter for more information about how students are exploring the connection and communication potential of artworks and energy issues.

Most of the images you’ll see throughout my April 2017 newsletter were created using this technique.

Solvent transfers are fairly straight-forward, judging by the process we learned at the museum:

Wintergreen transfer, image courtesy of UW Art Museum /public domain clip art

1. Smear a very little bit of wintergreen oil on the back of a photocopy.

2. Place the photocopy toner-side down on another piece of paper.

3. Rub the back side of the oiled paper with something firm like a wooden spoon (a brayer, in printmaking parlance).

4. Note that while wintergreen oil smells amazing (like old-fashioned “Canada mints”), the oil is really strong-smelling, so you want to use the least amount possible. Try to do this in a well-ventilated area.*

5. Leave the prints in that ventilated area until the smell dissipates (which could take days or even longer, depending on how much oil you used).

In less than a minute, you can create a print of an original image (ideally one you’ve created), and in just a few minutes, you could create an edition of prints!


20170409_graphite fly
Wintergreen monotype, image courtesy of Conor S. Mullen / UW Art Museum

If you want a hand-drawn effect, you can oil the paper, scribble over the back of the image with graphite (pencil), flip the paper, and then draw along the lines of your image.

The combination of the oil, pressure, and extra scribbled graphite will enable you to produce line drawings on the receiving paper. This type of print, because it won’t be the same every time, is called a monotype (see image at bottom right).If you want to work with color and mixed media, once you have the transfer print, you can color it with watercolors, watercolor pencils, oil pastels, or numerous other color media.

In the example above (top), the fly was created using a wintergreen transfer, which was then colored over with watercolor pencils and watercolor.

Want to try this yourself?

There are a few considerations to keep in mind.

1. *Click here for details I found online describing how to do this type of transfer using eucalyptus oil (less intense smell and lower potential toxicity than wintergreen oil).

2. Note that you need to work with photocopies created with plastic-based copier toner. Therefore older copy machines produce better images for transferring, because they use plastic-based toner, not newer epoxy-based toner.

3. Be sure to use images you have permission to reproduce. Ideally, you’ll use your own! If you have questions about what kinds of images you can legally (and ethically) reproduce, see this guide to reproducing images online and in print.

20170409_blue deer_warm background.jpg
Wintergreen transfer + watercolor pencils + oil pastels; Bethann Garramon Merkle / public domain clip art from UW Art Museum (source: “mrs josephine alvarez,


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