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How to Use and Apply Transfers

If you’re familiar with my work already, you will have noticed that I use a lot of transfers from redesign with prima. I have the great honor of being one of their brand ambassadors so I get to play with their vast array of transfer designs regularly. Transfers are images that you can rub onto another surface so it transfers the image from one surface to another.

Why do I love redesign with prima transfers? I have many reasons as to why I love transfers and one is that they allow the user to add a beautiful design onto a project without having to be an artist like Matisse, Renoir, or Klimt. You can still enhance your piece with a design that you love and customize it according to your style. Won’t all projects look the same since they have the same transfer? Absolutely not. You will see pieces that are similar but not all are exactly the same just like snowflakes, there are differences depending on a variety of details.

Transfers are a material like any other with which you can be creative and manipulate to make your own. I have had people mention that they feel transfers do not add as much value as hand-painted work because it’s not authentic. Well, that is up to you to decide the value of the beauty they add.

It still takes a lot of time, skill, design planning and technique to correctly apply a transfer and depending on the surface you choose it can vary in difficulty. Don’t let the unfamiliarity deter you from giving them a try because I’m sure you will fall in love with the practical convenience and creative options they offer once you use one.

Imperial Garden transfer

There are a few ins and outs when it comes to transfers which I will be discussing so that you can have as much of a smooth experience as possible. If you use them correctly the results will be amazing. It’s easy to blame a product when user error does not give you the results you were expecting and while it is true that all things run the risk of being defective, making sure you know how to utilize something correctly greatly improves your chance of having a positive experience. I will be discussing redesign with prima transfers specifically as they are the ones I am most familiar with but general rules are applicable to all transfer types.

When you receive the transfer it will most likely come in a tube and rolled. For storage purposes always keep your transfer rolled and in the packaging tube if possible. Keep it at room temperature as extreme temps will affect the adhesive of the transfer. When you are ready to use it, you can remove it from the tube and gently unroll it. It will have a white, waxy backing and a clear sheet with the image on it.

In order to rub the image onto a new surface, you must remove the white, waxy sheet. This may seem obvious but if you have never used one before it can be confusing. When you remove the white backing make sure the clear sheet does not touch a surface until it is placed exactly where you want it. The image will stick to the surface so if you accidentally have it positioned incorrectly, you may experience the heartache of having bits of your transfer tear off and stuck where you did not intend.

If you are wanting to cut up the image and only use select areas or to reconfigure the transfer in a different manner than how it is arranged on the sheet make sure you cut with the white backing attached. It is easier this way and will prevent the transfer from tearing or coming off. Large transfers usually come in separate sheets for ease of application purposes so you will have to line up the correct pieces together onto the surface you are applying it on to.

Prep surface prior to applying transfer:

  1. Make sure surface has been cleaned with tsp or tsp substitute to get off any residual residue. You can also lightly sand/buff the surface as well.
  2. Apply a deglosser or something like fusion ultra grip if you question the slickness of the surface and how it will affect adhesion of the transfer.
  3. If applying on a freshly painted surface wait until the paint has dried completely which times can vary depending on your climate. It can range from 6-24hrs. You don’t have to wait for the paint to cure. If the transfer peels off the paint then the surface was not prepped properly prior to painting or the paint did not dry long enough. The paint must be unsealed and not have a top coat applied. The more porous the paint surface, the more easily the transfer will adhere like chalk-based paints and milk paints. Enamel and glossy latex surfaces will be more difficult for transfer adhesion.
  4. If you have already applied a top coat or are wanting to use the transfer on a sealed surface, make sure that the top coat is fully cured or you will want to strip it off as much as possible with mineral spirits before adding the transfer. Clean the surface properly to make sure no residue is on it that will prevent the transfer from adhering.
  5. If applying onto a glass or metal surface make sure the area is cleaned properly. Transfers stick easily onto glass, plastic and metal surfaces.
  6. Transfers will stick onto unpainted wood surfaces. Lightly sanding the surface beforehand will help with adhesion.

My transfer tips and tricks:

  1. For large transfers, line up the transfer beforehand in the correct position on the floor with the white backing still attached before applying it onto the new surface unless you are taping it onto the surface first with the white backing still attached. I don’t recommend taping every sheet onto the surface with the backing still attached because the positioning often changes incrementally enough that it will be noticeable that the edges of the design don’t flow seamlessly when you piece them together. If you want to do this just to get a preview of what it might look like on the surface then that is fine but I find for the large images especially, this can cause issues later. Lining up the transfer on the floor prevents mixing up the sheets by mistake so that you don’t accidentally have the middle on the top or the bottom in the middle, etc.
  2. Customize and make all measurements beforehand. If you know you need to cut it into a precise shape do all of your measuring first. I use a sharpie to make lines on the top with a ruler and then cut. For example, if you want a sheet to fit the size of a drawer, measure the drawer first and cut the transfer to fit it. How you measure and fit the transfer together will depend entirely on the specific size of your surface.
  3. Use painters tape to position the transfer onto a painted surface. I take off the white backing and tape the clear sheet in place being careful not to apply pressure on the transfer image so that it sticks until I am ready to smooth down. The tape helps the transfer stay in place while you rub it onto the new surface so it doesn’t stick crooked which can happen when you rub vigorously. It has happened to me before and I instantly regretted not taping it down firmly.
  4. Smooth the clear transfer sheet using the long edge of the stick that comes with the transfer packaging. You don’t want it to wrinkle or have air pockets as you are rubbing it on firmly with the shorter end of the flat stick.
  5. Peel the clear backing slowly. Easy does it. Don’t peel it off quickly, it’s not like ripping off a bandage. Do it slowly and gently. It helps to peel it off carefully inch by inch that way you can see it part of the transfer are still stuck onto the clear sheet and you can press it back down and rub.
  6. Use your fingertips or nails to rub especially difficult bits that won’t come off.
  7. Try not to break the stick by snapping it in half while rubbing too hard. It happens but by holding it towards the tip you can prevent accidental breaking.
  8. After you have peeled off the clear sheet completely and the transfer is on the new surface, make sure it is completely stuck by firmly rubbing a soft cloth over the transfer especially on the edges. I like using a small nail buffer because it helps with adhesion and does not distress the transfer if you don’t press too hard. Any air trapped underneath no matter how incremental or surface area not stuck will cause adhesion issues later. Your transfer may peel and curl up around the edges. I’m often surprised to hear air bubbles popping as I burnish the surface even when I think I have rubbed every inch. Looks can be deceiving so never trust that just because the transfer has come off, it is properly adhered. I use a brayer for large transfer images where it is more like a whole sheet image to get rid of air bubbles and remove all wrinkles. Wrinkling is more likely to happen with the whole images rather than the ones where it’s just small designs.
Full sheet image transfer

9. It is better to overlap the connecting edges of the transfer slightly than to have a small gap. You can lightly distress over where it overlaps to get rid of darkened color lines.

10. A sharp exacto blade or box cutting knife is perfect for making incisions where you need a clean line separating a transfer. For example the space between drawers and the body of a dresser, you can stick the blade into the separation and make a clean cut rather than risk uneven tearing of the transfer after you rub it off the clear sheet.

How to seal a transfer:

  1. Always seal a transfer if it will be at risk of contact. The material of the transfer is very thin and can easily tear or rub off if it isn’t protected. High-risk areas are tabletops and edges.
  2. Do not use an oil-based sealant.
  3. Foolproof sealants for me have been: miniwax polyacrylic, general finishes high performance top coat, varathane polyurethane, miniwax water-based polyurethane and modern masters dead flat varnish.
  4. It’s best to use a sponge or foam brush to apply the sealer onto the transfer. Apply at least 3 thin layers.
  5. Allow the top coat to cure before having anything touch the transfer.

Transfers are wonderful to use and can really enhance your project. They come in all sizes, shapes, designs, and colors. They really make a statement and can define the style of whatever you are creating. Redesign with prima sells their transfers through retailers so you can find a retailer on Etsy or the redesign with prima website. I have a few videos demonstrating transfer application so please take a look for more insight into using transfers.

Forest Leaves Cabinet
Fuchsia Sunset Kitchen Island
Seaweed Driftwood TV Console

14 thoughts on “How to Use and Apply Transfers

  1. Great info… thank you!

    1. Thank you for reading.

      1. Thankyou so much for all your clear and helpful instructions. I feel much more confident in giving transfers a go now!

      2. thank you for reading

  2. Thank you for such a clear and descriptive instructional post. This has been very informative and helpful.

    1. Thank you for reading and I’m very glad it’s helpful.

  3. Thank you, new to furniture transfers can’t wait to play

  4. I’m a little confused about transfers on dark surfaces. I have been told that they do not show up on dark surfaces, however lve seen several lately that were very visible on dark paint. Is there a way to determine when ordering them which colored ones will work on dark paint and which ones get lost in the dark paint?

    1. Some transfers look amazing on dark colors. Unfortunately, until you can see transfer in person it is difficult to tell if it is one that would work well on a dark color. Usually transfers that are white, have metallic accents, or are vivid colors will work well on a dark background. Some details may blend in with the background so what I do is highlight those areas with metallics or other colors. Some transfers are more sheer than others and a dark background will effect the color of the transfer. The best way to see if the transfer you are curious about will work on a dark color is to look for examples on pinterest or other social media platforms. Do not be afraid of using transfers against dark colors, it can work beautifully.

  5. Have you ever had transfer split apart at seams after sealing with sealer?

    1. Yes when I did not burnish well enough it did curl up a bit. I resealed and it pressed it back down.

  6. Can you apply the transfers on the front doors? Does the weather condition, sun, rain affect the transfers? Thank you

    1. You can apply to the front of your doors but weather does effect the transfers such as fading from direct sunlight, possibility of bubbling from high heat, harsh weather damaging it. Make sure you seal with an exterior top coat such as water based spar urethane.

  7. Thanks for the detials. My son got me prima transfers from Vancouver and can’t wait to redo my wooden dresser. Want to scrape it and place over yellow.. what paint can I use over wood before applying transfer? Also in india sealants are so very costly. Can you advise the type I should put for base and on top after transfer please. Thnks

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