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Sunday, April 27, 2014

What is the Alcohol Gel Image Transfer Process and how is it done?

The alcohol gel process allows you to transfer images to many different printmaking papers.  The process involves printing a reverse image onto image transfer film and then dissolving both the inkjet receptive coating and the inkjet ink on the film using the alcohol gel that has been applied to the paper. This technique produces beautifully detailed images with a unique and artistic look quite similar to the old Polaroid image transfer process. The alcohol gel process can be used on a variety of inkjet printers from desktop to wide format professional models. Image courtesy Janet Kramer (

Materials Needed:
-  A inkjet printed image, in reverse, on inkAID Transfer Film, using pigment based ink.
-  Arches 88 printmaking paper large enough for your image.  You can also use other unsized printmaking papers with a smooth surface. Always test small pieces first.
-  Purell alcohol gel hand sanitizer. Do not use a substitute brand of hand sanitizer as the process may not work properly.
-  Safety equipment: Waterproof gloves, Eye Protection, Respirator if sensitive to alcohol vapor.  
-  Plastic scraper (credit card or equivalent).
-  Brayer

        1. In a well ventilated, cool (< 80F), work area place the paper on a smooth, firm,  waterproof surface. Work quickly, but carefully, as the Purell Hand Sanitizer gel begins to evaporate as soon as it is applied.
        2. Wearing gloves, pour the Purell Hand Sanitizer gel onto the paper spreading it evenly with the plastic scraper. Add sufficient gel so that the paper is thoroughly wetted. Then flip the paper over and repeat on the other side. Don’t leave excess, unabsorbed, gel on the surface.
        3. Before handling the printed film, make sure your hands are clean of any remaining Purell Hand Sanitizer gel. 
        4. To place the printed image transfer film onto the paper, place it over the paper, without letting it touch the paper, and position it where you want the image to be. Then set one edge of the film down on the paper. Using the brayer, slowly place the film in contact with the surface of the paper. This method prevents air bubbles from being trapped under the film and causing defects in the image. 
        5. Once the film is in complete contact with the paper, you’ll need to lightly press it to complete the image transfer. Use the brayer to lightly press the film down onto the paper being sure to go over the entire surface of the image. Allow the film to remain on the paper for about a minute. 
        6. Carefully lift one corner of the film and visually check to see that the image been transferred. If the transfer is not complete, press the film down and wait several seconds more. A very small amount of coating and ink may remain on the film. This is normal. Practicing the technique several times will tell you how long the transfer process takes. Once the image transfer is complete, slowly pick up one corner of the film and continue removing it from the paper. 
        7. Allow the finished transfer to air dry for several hours or overnight. Don’t try to accelerate the drying process as this may damage the appearance of the image. Don’t move the imaged paper until it is completely dry. 

What’s the difference between ink jet inks that contain aqueous dyes versus aqueous pigments?

Aqueous Dye: The aqueous in aqueous dye and aqueous pigment refers to the fact that water is the main liquid vehicle for transporting the dyes and pigments to the printed page. With both types of aqueous inkjet inks, the water evaporates and leaves just the colorant. The difference in particle size means that dye-based inks have some benefits over pigment-based inks. The main benefit is that the small particle size allows light to bend around the dye molecules, which results in a color transparency that gives prints made from dye-based inks a larger color gamut than prints made from pigment-based inks. The small particle size also allows dye-based inks to more easily permeate porous surfaces and substrates and not simply lie on the surface, as is common with pigment-based inks. On the negative side, dye-based inks are more susceptible to moisture, impermanence, and fading. You do not want to get a dye-based inkjet print wet. The dyes will be more easily dissolved from prints and parts of the image could be removed.

Aqueous Pigment: For those of us making photographic or fine-art prints, we want our prints to last as long as possible, so we choose to use pigment-based inkjet printers and inks to give us better longevity and fade resistance. Despite the loss of color gamut with pigment-based inkjet output, the increased longevity for us as photographers is worth it. That being said, the ink manufacturers do things to help increase the color gamut from pigment-based inkjet prints. The first thing they do is to mill the inkjet particles to be an order of magnitude smaller and a more uniform size (100 times larger, not 1000 times larger than the dye molecules). This increases the ability of light to bend around the particles, the color transparency and, therefore, the color gamut. They also mill the pigment particles so that the larger pigment particles will not clog print head nozzles. In the case of Epson UltraChrome ink technology, Epson, also, encapsulates or coats the milled pigment particles with a resin, which allows even more transparency and color gamut from the resulting prints.

Tom P. Ashe. Color Management & Quality Output: Working with Color from Camera to Display to Print. Focal Press, 2014.

I would also add that it’s a good idea to stay with “name brand” inks instead of third party inks. They are of much better quality and for such a critical component of your work it’s not worth risking the archival integrity to save a few dollars. Jim Kedenburg