Inkjet vs Laser Image Transfers for Polymer Clay

Image transfers allow you to print an image and transfer it to polymer clay. There are hundreds of ways to do it, both using specialized products and using just the image itself. But before you research which is the best image transfer method, you need to know if you’ll be doing an inkjet image transfer or a laser image transfer. They’re different, and that fact isn’t always explained clearly in online groups and forums. Here’s some info to help.

Polymer clay mandala ornament colored with image transfer and colored chalk.
Polymer clay ornament created with image transfer and colored chalk.

Laser Image Transfers

In a nutshell, laser (toner-based) machines use a plastic powder and heat to create the printed image on paper. Yes, the “ink” in a laser printer is really plastic. And wouldn’t you know, that plastic is softened by the plasticizer in raw polymer clay, allowing for it to stick to the clay. There are various methods, but they all basically involve placing the laser toner image against the clay so that it can soften and stick to the clay. You then remove the paper, typically by wetting it, and either lifting the paper off or rubbing it off. This leaves the plastic image behind, adhered to the clay. You then use the clay in your work and bake it to make the image permanent.

I was able to use laser printed images to create image transfers on Sculpey Souffle polymer clay.

Inkjet Image Transfers

Inkjet printers create their printed images in a totally different way. They use water-soluble ink that is sprayed onto the paper. Even if you could transfer the ink from the paper onto the polymer clay, it wouldn’t be permanent. It would run just in the same way your inkjet printed pages run when you spill water on them. So to use an inkjet printer for an image transfer, you need to use something to bind or hold the ink, and then that is what is transferred to the clay. There are several ways to go about doing this. One is to use photo printer paper (some brands), but that’s a pretty iffy method. You can use t-shirt transfer paper, which has a special coating that absorbs the ink and can be transferred to clay.

There are also special transfer papers that can be used. There are also water-slide transfer papers, that work like the old-fashioned decals and children’s tattoos. Lots of ways to go there, but you always need to use an additional product. You can’t just use the inkjet image directly printed onto regular printer paper. Do a google search for “inkjet image transfer” to get a whole slew of links for various ways to do this process.

You can also create a decal from inkjet ink by using liquid polymer clay over the ink printout. You essentially bake the liquid clay onto the image, then remove the paper from the back, similar to the way it’s done with a laser toner ink transfer. You would then apply that decal onto your project. Here’s Sculpey’s tutorial for that technique.

Have fun!

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7 thoughts on “Inkjet vs Laser Image Transfers for Polymer Clay”

  1. Hello,
    I enjoy using the air dry Sculpey clay. Is there a good way to transfer either ink-jet or laser images to wet or dried air dry clay objects?
    Also, if yes, is there a coating I can apply to protect image?

  2. Hello Ginger,

    I have an inkjet printer and am not clear on whether or not I have to bake the clay before I transfer the image (I’d be using some sort of transfer paper)? I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for such a great and informative site – I just found your site recently.
    Thank you,

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