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Transfering images to sheet metal surface?

I’m a student and still having trouble drawing freehand. I expect to
have that problem for several more years (at least!)

I get around the problem by manipulating the drawing on paper or on
my computer, then printing it out after resizing it on the computer.
That way I can make lots of mistakes before I put any marks on the

Right now I’m using contact cement to hold the paper onto the sheet

(I work mostly in silver and bronze, occasionally copper or

I’m not really happy with the contact cement as a bond. It’s barely
workable for fine sawing work and useless for use as an engraving

I would love a better solution! Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

Hi David,

Two other options come to mind. Rubber cement or double stick tape.

I’ve used ‘Elmer’s Rubber Cement’ for several projects with no
problems. It’s available in the school supplies section of many
grocery & drug stores.


I use 5-minute epoxy initially, and super glue for the bits that
won’t stay stuck.

Paf Dvorak

Here is a simple solution if you are trying to adhere your dwgs to
metal for sawing or possibly as a guide for engraving. Print your
designs on adhesive labels. You can purchase 8-1/2 x 11 mailing label
sheets (the whole sheet is one large label) Cut & paste your designs
onto a word document (or some other format) and print them out on the
label. Then you can cut around them, & they will stick to the metal
while you saw or engrave. I found it in one of Tim McCreight’s books
& do it quite often - it’s a life saver.

Debbie Moyer, northwestern Pennsylvania Where the sun rarely shines,
the rain & snow continue to fall.Come on Spring!

I'm not really happy with the contact cement as a bond. It's
barely workable for fine sawing work and useless for use as an
engraving guideline. 

My own invention that I’ve used for, well, decades now. You can use
standard paper but it’s better to use tracing paper because it’s
thin. If you need to you can use contact cement but then you need a
solvent or you have to burn it off. Plus it’s thick. A couple of
caveats, is all.

I get my design and put Elmer’s glue - white glue - on the sheet of
metal. I thin it a bit with a drop of water. Put the paper down and
rub it out so it’s all flat and glued. You really can’t do this with
pencil, BTW, it needs ink. Let it dry for a bit but not necessarily
completely dry. Then get an X-acto knife and trace your drawing,
cutting throught the paper into the metal. You need to work quickly
and carefully because the glue doesn’t actually stick to the metal,
exactly. But it works quite well once you get the hang of it. Soak
it in water a few minutes, rub off the residue and there’s your
design on metal, with no paper, no glue, no wax, no nothing.
Obviously if it’s for engraving you will have to engrave every place
the knife touches, so there’s an art to using this for engraving.
I’ve never heard of a better way to get a precision transfer,

One method I use from time to time is to blacken the reverse of the
sketch or drawing I wish to transfer to metal, with a graphite
pencil. I then treat the metal surface with china white, either
water soluble or a SharpiePeel-Off China White pencil. I then
temporarily attach the drawing to the metal (a dab or two of your
contact cement or rubber cement at the corners works).

I then carefully trace every line of my drawing with a bit of
pressure witha pen, pencil or rounded probe, which transfers the
design to the whitened metal surface beneath. After peeling off the
paper, and examining the transfer (easy to clean off everything, and
redo if required) it is always a good idea to take a scribe and
lightly “cut” the design into the metal surface so that it is not
rubbed away.

I have always used either paper and rubber cement but I have also
seen others put masking tape on metal and free hand the image. I
have also heard the you could get sticker labels and print the image
onto that and when you are done piercing the metal burn off the
label. But when it comes to engraving I have alway found it easier
to use a sharpie and free hand it strait onto the metal. It will
always come off so don’t worry about making mistakes.

Jessica MacFarlane

Most of us in the engraving world use laser copies on plain paper.
Place the image face down on the metal. Dab it lightly with a paper
towel with a small amount of acetone on it. It’s important not to
soak the paper with acetone. Just dampen it. You will be happy with
the results. If you need the image to hold up while sawing or
engraving, then spray it lightly with fixitive.

You could print your images on sticker paper. I prefer to use an
inkjet printer because the ink holds on to the paper (just don’t get
it wet) and there’s less smearing of the fine lines that I’ve found
when using a laser printer (toner). There are different brands of
sticker papers available so you may have to try a few to find the one
you like best.

Hope this helps!
Pam Farren

Also might give spray on adhesive, spray the metal surface as per
instructions, then apply the paper. Also, “old fashioned” typewriter
carbon paper can often give good enough “copying” to metal or other
surfaces. BUT, a good spray adhesive on GOD/very high quality thin
paper is what I usually use for things like you are describing…

john dach

I use a glue stick. Sticks very well and comes off with water,
unlike rubber cement or contact cement. When I have choice, I use
the less toxic option.

Janet Kofoed

Traditionally one traces the pattern onto the metal.

You can cover the metal with a white ground, Chinese White, Titanium
White, even Wite-Out, and then transfer the pattern by tracing over
your sketch with a carbon transfer between it and the metal. You can
use carbon paper or you can rub graphite on the back of your sketch.

Machinists work in reverse. Cover the metal in Marking Blue and then
with a scribe mark out the pattern to be cut, milled, drilled, etc.
The advantage is that the scribed line is much finer than one gets
with a pencil and carbon.

You can get a more consistent line while tracing through paper if
you you use a metal point rather than a pencil. A pencil dulls while
you are tracing and the transferred line becomes thicker. A metal
point, slightly rounded and polished so as not to tear the sketch,
will always trace a thin line.

Hey Dave, after getting your computer image, use regular tracing
paper. trace the image in pencil (this will help you freehand skills)
then cut out image on trace paper and use a very thin layer of elmers
or wood glue. smooth traced image onto surface to pierce. will wash
off with hot water when done…

I would love a better solution! Any suggestions? 

I use Elmer’s Glue. A metalsmith I worked for used spray on glue
from the art supply store and then burned it off. The fumes are
not good for you, I don’t recommend that. But boy, did that paper
stay on!


If you are working on copper or stainless, I know this trick will
work. I don’t know if it will work on other metals, but it’s worth a
try. Take a photocopy of your image from a traditional large size
office copier (not ink jet for sure). Tape it image side against the
metal (your image will be reversed, so plan for this), and gently
wet the paper with acetone so it soaks right through. Remove paper.
The toner from the image will remain on the metal and should give
you a fairly clean image, enough to saw or engrave, or chase. It’s
not super sharp, but it works well.


Tom Whites magic transfer. Ink jet or laser printed on transparency
rubs on to transfer liquid coated surface and will not smudge.

Have you tried spray adhesive? There are many brands. I generally
use 3M unless I’m using it to glue wood veneer, then I use what they
sell at the woodworking shop. Works very well.

You can use vellum paper and trace your design with pencil, then
just take some clear tape like packing tape and stick it to your
sketch… pull the tape off the vellum will not stick to the tape
just the pencil lead then stick it to your metal. if you need to do
a reverse like for earrings re draw it onthe back side and repeat
the process…

Enjoy and make lots of jewelry.

David- what about scanning your design, printing it on transparent
label material, then putting the printed transparent label on your
sheet metal?


Hi David

Have you tried printing on labels and then sticking them to the