How To Transfer Patterns To Wood via Stamp, Iron, or Trace wood burning

In this blog I’m going to discuss three main methods of transferring a pattern to wood; stamping, ironing, and tracing.  The methods can be applied to almost any surface that accepts graphite; things like leather, paper, gourds, and, of course, wood.   Like all things, each method has its good and bad points, so allow me to provide some details on each method.


Method 1 – Stamping

Will need:  light-colored ink and stamp.

The ink used in this demo was Brown by Colorbox.  I felt it was actually a little dark, but my only other ink pad is black and I wasn’t going to buy a lighter colored ink pad just for this demo.

Also, understand that when you’re using a liquid on wood it will have a tendency to want to bleed.  To minimize this make sure you have prepared your wood, use a minimally grained piece of wood, and don’t over ink your stamp.   The less ink you can get away with, the less likely it will bleed, and use a light-colored ink in case it does bleed as it won’t be as noticeable.   Lastly, make sure the surface you are stamping on is flat and even.  Any bowed, dipped, depressed, raised, or bumpy areas won’t impress well.  Given the popularity of scrapbooking and card making there are thousands of stamps out there to be found.  Craft stores, scrapbook stores, and online stores would be the primary places to search.

Steps Involved:

  • Prep Wood
  • Select Stamp
  • Ink with light color  (in my example I used Brown by Colorbox)
  • Lightly stamp a piece of paper to remove excess ink (helps keep from bleeding)
  • Stamp wood – hold firmly and press evenly
  • Wood burn

With stamps you can use several to create pictures or accents on a wood frame.   For example you can take a flower or seashell stamp and use it to create a border around a cutting board, picture frame, etc.

Pros / Cons


  • Fast to do
  • Can erase with a sanding pen
  • Using a light ink makes it easy to tell where you’ve burned
  • Can stamp on paper and to use with the tracing method


  • Limited to what can find in a stamp
  • Ink Can bleed
  • Can’t edit the image
  • Can’t erase with a pencil eraser
  • Can be difficult to get a crisp or complete image if the board is warped or uneven pressure is used
  • If a spot didn’t stamp well, you will have to pencil in the missing detail as it would be near impossible to re-stamp in the exact same position.


Method 2 – Ironing

Will need: iron and pattern produced on a printer/copier that uses toner.  Inkjet printers will not work for this method.

Any iron for clothing will work.  Turn the iron to the cotton setting and make sure the steam is off.   Place your image with the pattern side to the wood where you want it, tape it down in one or two places making sure that the iron won’t touch the tape, and then slowly iron over the surface of the paper.   Heavy pressure is not needed to transfer the pattern to the wood, just steady pressure and heat.  Iron evenly and slowly over the paper for 30 seconds, then start checking the image by slowly peeling the paper back.   If a section didn’t transfer well, put the paper back down and iron again.   Note that if your iron is hot enough to turn the paper brown, you are most likely turning the wood brown too.

Steps Involved:

  • Prep Wood
  • Select Image – used a toner style copier vs ink jet
  • Place image face down (image facing wood) and tape in place
  • Put Iron on Cotton setting with steam turned off
  • Rub hot iron gently over the image surface
  • Let cool a couple of seconds
  • Slowly peel back paper
  • If image didn’t transfer, replace paper and iron again
  • Repeat until image has transferred properly



  • Very Easy to transfer
  • Fast
  • Can erase with a sanding pen, but it tends to smear


  • Can’t edit the image
  • Can’t erase with a pencil eraser
  • It has a tendency to smear when erasing with a sanding pen
  • If copy image is real dark, can be harder to tell where you’ve burned
  • Must use an image made on a copier/printer that uses heat set toner – not ink jet
  • Get a reverse of the image (problematic if pattern has lettering)
  • If wood is thin the heat can buckle the wood
  • Some items (like gourds) would be difficult to iron on


Method 3 – Tracing

Will need:  pattern on thin paper, transfer paper or medium (like graphite), and a fine point pen or sharp pencil.

There are several options here for tracing: carbon paper, graphite paper, charcoal and graphite pencils.  All you do is position the pattern on the wood, tape it down to hold it in place, and then use a pen or pencil to trace the outline of the pattern.  Just like with ironing method, slowly peel up the paper and check the pattern as you go.  If you missed a spot, replace the paper and trace over the missing spot.

This is the my preferred method as it gives me complete control as to what is transferred and how dark the trace lines are. 



Steps Involved:

  • Prep Wood
  • Put pattern on thin paper like standard 20 lb copier paper
  • Evenly coat back of the pattern with a graphite or charcoal pencil (or use carbon paper or graphite paper).
  • Position pattern on the wood
  • Tape into place in several spots
  • Trace over the pattern with firm pressuring using a fine tip pen or sharp pencil
  • Slowly peel back paper
  • If an area didn’t transfer, replace paper and trace over the spot again
  • After burning the pattern, erase any remaining pencil lines

As for the transfer paper or medium, there are a couple of options like carbon paper, graphite paper, using a charcoal pen, or using graphite pencils.

  • Graphite – This is the method that I use.  Coat the back of the paper with the image on it and then position the pattern on the board and start tracing.
    • Can control how dark – use HB or any B range pencil. (I use 3B or 4B.  With B range pencils, the higher the number the darker the results)
    • Can Press harder when tracing to also get darker lines.  
    • Erases with any eraser
    • Isn’t prone to smearing like charcoal is
    • Very inexpensive
    • More time-consuming than ironing or stamping
  • Graphite paper – is similar to carbon paper, but it doesn’t have the wax binder in it like carbon paper does. Again you would place the graphite paper between the pattern and the wood making sure to put the dull (less dark) away from the wood, and then trace your pattern.
    • Not very dark – mine is artist graphite paper, so it’s not supposed to be
    • Erases with any eraser
    • Easy to omit an area or alter
    • It’s semi-expensive
    • More time-consuming than ironing or stamping
  • Carbon paper – this is a paper that has a layer of ground pigment applied to thin paper with a waxy substance. It’s very easy to use, just place the carbon paper between the pattern and the wood making with the shiny side facing the wood, and start tracing your pattern.
    • Easy to omit an item don’t want (just don’t trace it)
    • Produces dark image
    • Doesn’t erase with a pencil eraser
    • Can erase with a sanding pen
    • The waxy binder can cause spots on the wood when you burn over it – the wax melts and spreads
    • More time-consuming than ironing or stamping
  • Charcoal – is used to rub over the back of the paper with the pattern on it. This turns the paper into homemade “carbon” paper without the waxy binder.
    • Produces very, very dark lines
    • Erases with any eraser
    • Smears very easily – any sort of contact will smear it
    • When I applied polyurethane, it smeared
    • The coating easily transfers to other items, so if you want to use the pattern again you’d need to store it where it can’t transfer charcoal to other items
    • More time-consuming than ironing or stamping


Three basic methods before wood burning them


Three basic methods after wood burning.  Left side of the line has not been burned and the right side of the lined has been wood burned

The wood I was using for this demo was very thin (1/8 inch), so the heat of the iron used in the ironing transfer method buckled the wood.  You can also tell from the picture that the iron method can  produce an image that is hard to tell the burned section from the non-burned.

Bottom line is that I have shown there are several options for transferring patterns to the wood.  I personally use the graphite tracing method.  This method of pattern transferring will work on any item that accepts graphite including paper, leather, wood, etc.    I like the tracing method because it’s cheap, erases easily, I can control what I choose to transfer, and I can control how dark the transferred image is.  Plus, if I want, I can easily edit the transferred pattern on the wood by erasing spots, penciling new lines, etc.   It is a little more time-consuming than some of the other methods, but for the type of art I prefer to do it is the best method.  I say this because it allows me to control how dark the transfer will be and what parts of the pattern I want to transfer.


Dec 30, 2015

6 thoughts on “How To Transfer Patterns To Wood via Stamp, Iron, or Trace wood burning

  1. Hi, I am trying to make simple gifts for people using wood we already have on hand and a burning tool from MIchaels and I want to thank you for taking the time to document so much helpful info on your blog. I am jumping right in and so far every time I’ve had a question, I’ve found an answer or information about multiple options that’s allowed me to move ahead. I have three beautifully prepped pieces of wood to work with now, thanks to you! Today I’ll try transferring my design onto a test piece and see how it goes 🙂

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