Use a soft pencil to make easy, unique prints


“Roo Sleeping” by Kay Sluterbeck; tracing paper transfer on Bristol paper. This transfer picture is a small part of a detailed drawing in my sketchbook. When making the transfer I left out the background and concentrated on the simple lines of the cat. I made several prints of the subject using this method and colored a few of them, leaving this one plain. All prints were “fixed” with Krylon spray to prevent smudges.

    To make a unique greeting card or even small frameable gift art, try offset tracing, also known as tracing-paper transfer.   With this technique you can make one or several prints of the same design in a short time.  All you need is tracing paper, soft lead pencils (6B-8B), a soft gum eraser (if you want to change something), a smooth hard surface to work on, and paper on which to make the final print. 

     These transfers can be considered art in their own right, for framing or for greeting cards.  The process can also be used to copy your doodles or sketches to “good” paper to paint, ink or color.   (Much cheaper than buying special artist’s transfer paper.)  You can combine elements from different sources to make a print.  It’s also a way to reproduce a child’s drawing for a charming greeting card or gift.  If you are making the piece for non-profit personal use only, you can use designs from magazines or books.

     It’s best to choose a very simple drawing or design for your source.  First, put tracing paper over the source material.  Tape the corners of the tracing paper with transparent tape or masking tape to keep it from scooting around while you trace.  With a sharp pencil, outline the image you see through the tracing paper.  Be sure you’re tracing from something that won’t be hurt if the pressure of the pencil indents it a bit.

     When you’ve finished the drawing, turn the tracing paper over.  Working on the BACK of the tracing paper, use the soft lead pencil to rub graphite heavily all over the area covered by the design.    

     Turn the tracing paper over again so the heavily penciled side is down.  Put your “good” paper or cardstock underneath the tracing paper so the graphite side is in contact with the card.  Draw over the tracing once again (if you have trouble knowing what lines you’ve gone over, use a ballpoint pen so you can see your progress).  Draw quickly to make your work look spontaneous. 

     You should be able to get several copies in this way before the graphite on the tracing sheet is used up.  When you can’t get impressions from the tracing paper any more, reapply the soft graphite on the back of the tracing paper.

     This technique produces a softer line quality which is different from a straight pencil drawing.  If you wish, you can add shading as you transfer the picture by gently rubbing the tracing paper in appropriate spots with the pencil or with your fingers.  Try varying the pressure you put on the pencil or pen to make darker and lighter lines.  The graphite will often add soft, interesting smudges as you work.  You may like this effect; if you don’t, just use the soft gum eraser to lift them.

     Some people use the soft pencil to carefully trace only the lines (rather than applying it over the whole design) and then transfer the design by rubbing the tracing paper with the bowl of a spoon instead of redrawing.  I’ve tried this method but for me the results were disappointing.  It may be that a different paper or stronger pressure would have given me better results, so you might want to try the spoon method.

     When you’re finished, you can leave the picture as is or add color if you wish, using colored pencils, pastels, felt-tips, colored ink, or watercolor.  Spray the finished work lightly with clear Krylon spray or other fixative (always spray outdoors or in a well-ventilated place to avoid gunking up your lungs).  If you’re making greeting cards you might even want to tip on (paste or glue) a few sequins, fake jewels, etc., or you could paste the design onto a contrasting bit of paper (scrapbook paper is great for this) and then paste the whole unit down on card stock.

     This method is fun, and produces rewarding results that can be used in many ways.

Published by on February 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Paint Box Section, Tips&Techniques PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment for “Use a soft pencil to make easy, unique prints”

  1. Been a long time reader of your blog, and just wanted to say keep up the good work!

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