How to Print Photos on Tile

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Use an inkjet printer to transfer your favorite photographs to tiles.
Use an inkjet printer to transfer your favorite photographs to tiles. (Image: Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

There are many ways to create useful custom printed tiles. For example, turn a tiled kitchen backsplash into a collage of your favorite family snapshots; develop a large tiled mural by blowing up a beautiful landscape and cutting it into tile size sections; make special trivets for Thanksgiving and family get-togethers; create wall hangings and gifts – the choices are limitless. What’s more, creating custom imprinting tiles with photographs could become a lucrative part-time flea market business. Use non-glazed rough surfaced tiles, such as tumbled marble for the best results, and be prepared to experiment until you get the technique down pat.

Things You'll Need

  • Photo editing software
  • Lazertran Waterslide decal paper
  • Inkjet printer
  • Turpentine
  • Small camel-hair paint brush
  • Rubber-tipped dark-room tongs
  • Printer’s brayer
  • Aerosol can of oil based polyurethane

Select your picture carefully, and use photo editing software to edit, trim and size your photograph to suit your chosen tile.

Print the picture onto the smooth white eggshell side of special Lazertran Waterslide decal paper. Do not use excessive ink. Adjust an Epson inkjet printer to “Plain Paper” and to the highest quality setting available. If you’re using an HP inkjet, set the printer to “draft.” Other inkjet printers require a little experimentation.

Lay the picture out on a flat surface, and allow it to dry for 30 minutes before touching the surface. Drying will render the ink waterproof and prevent it from running.

Trim the finished print to size if necessary, and soak it in water for a minute or two to allow the transparent decal to separate from the backing. The picture will curl up, but that’s normal.

Brush a thin coat of natural turpentine onto a porous tile with a small camel-hair paint brush. Coat the entire surface, and do not allow it to dry. Used correctly, the turpentine will allow the tile to absorb the image permanently into its surface. This is where a little pre-practice comes in handy.

Lift the picture carefully from the water with a pair of rubber-tipped dark room tongs, and lay it over the tile without allowing the transfer to fold over on itself. Flatten the print, and slide it into position while it’s still wet.

Roll the picture flat with a small brayer – a hard porous printer’s roller – and squeeze out any trapped air bubbles while doing so.

Lay the printed tile on one side, and leave it overnight to dry.

Finish the piece by spraying the surface lightly with good quality oil-based polyurethane; matt finish works best. Apply two to three coats, and allow the tile to dry completely between coats. This will render the decal completely transparent and enhance the finished texture to match the original tile perfectly.

Tips & Warnings

  • Turpentine is not required when imprinting a shiny glazed tile; the glue residue on the transfer is sufficient to affix the image permanently.
  • To ensure proper adhesion and to prevent curling, apply a light coat of denatured alcohol to the surface just before you lay the wet decal on the tile. The alcohol will also soften the decal and make it pliable enough to stretch into around a radius on the edge of the tile.
  • If you're imprinting a porous surface, use natural turpentine -- white spirit won't work.

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