We’ve had a lot of readers ask for detailed instructions on how we paint graphics on furniture, so we decided to dedicate a whole post to just that.
First, I think we should say that we are not experts. We have no artistic training and we’ve only been painting graphics on furniture for less than 2 years. Seriously you guys, I can barely draw a stick figure. We tell you this simply to encourage you to give it a shot, even if you feel like you might not be good at it. I have a feeling you might surprise yourself.
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Overhead Projector We have an old school overhead projector similar to this one. We were fortunate that our sweet friend Karen found one at a yard sale and snagged it for us. They no longer sell the exact overhead projector we have, so the link above is just to one that’s similar to ours and not the one we actually use. A good place to look for them is ebay or sometimes you can find them used through sellers on Amazon. (If you absolutely can’t find an overhead projector, we have a secondary method for painting graphics that required no special equipment. You can read about that here.)
Transparency Paper Make sure you purchase the correct transparency paper for your specific printer. So if you have an inkjet printer, you’ll need something like this. If you have a laser printer, you’ll need something like this. It’ll tell you right on the package (usually the top right corner) which type of printer it’ll work with. Transparency paper has a smooth and a rough side. You’ll want to print your image onto the rough side.
Watercolor Pencils We use watercolor pencils to sketch out our graphics instead of a regular lead pencil for a couple reasons. First, they’re easier to wipe off with a damp cloth if you make changes to your design. Plus, when you paint over them you can’t see it through the paint as easily. If you use a lead pencil and paint your graphic with a white or light colored paint, you can sometimes see some of the pencil lines through the paint. Also, if you’re painting a graphic on a dark surface, a white watercolor pencil is so much easier to see. I have this set.
FINDING AN IMAGE
You can see all of our favorite places to find free graphics in this post here.
We also have a “free graphics” Pinterest board where we pin all our latest finds. If you’d like to follow us on Pinterest you can find us here.
LET’S GET STARTED
Okay, now that you have your equipment ready and you’ve printed your graphic onto transparency paper, let’s get started transferring your image. Lay your transparency paper on top of your projector, turn on the light and project the image onto your furniture piece. At this point you’re probably going to have to do a lot of adjusting. Move the furniture and/or your projector until the image is lined up. It’s a good idea to cut a few pieces of painters tape and stick it to the side of your projector before you start lining it up so it’ll be ready. Once you have everything perfectly lined up you’re going to want to tape it in place. There’s nothing worse than having everything lined up then bumping the paper and having to start over.
Take your time and use a measuring tape or ruler to make sure your graphic is centered and straight on your furniture. Once the graphic is exactly where you want it, tape the transparency paper to the projector.
Here’s what the image looks like projected onto the furniture piece.
Using your watercolor pencil, trace the entire image. Take your time and trace out every detail you’d like to have on your finished piece. When you’re done, it will look like this.
Now you’re ready to start painting. This part can be tedious and takes the longest amount of time. Since you’re done with the projector now, you can move your piece to a place where you can work on it comfortably over several hours or even days, depending on the size of your graphic.
We have tons and tons of paint brushes, but this is a great starter set for painting graphics.
Take your time and carefully paint over all the details you sketched out. If you’re nervous about this part, sketch something out on a piece of scrap wood and practice painting it in.
Don’t worry if your graphic doesn’t look perfect. Because once your paint is fully dry you can distress it with a sanding block. And trust me when I say this is where the magic happens. I use both a fine and extra fine sanding sponge.
Let me give you a couple examples of the magic I was talking about. Here’s a number graphic I painted onto a table. I was scraping the bottom of the paint can and the paint was thick and I was too lazy to go back inside for water to thin it out. It looks really chunky and uneven, and it’s basically a hot mess.
Going over it with a fine grit sanding block knocks down the high areas and smooths the rough edges. You can do more or less distressing as it suits you, but even just a little bit helps even out your imperfections.
To give you some more examples, here’s our French Graphic dresser before distressing.
You can see in this closeup that my lettering isn’t perfect.
Here it is after distressing with sanding block. A little sanding helped erase all those messy spots around the letters and it helps make any minor mistakes look intentional.
Here’s one more example. This is our Ship Silhouette Chest.
Here’s what it looked like up close before distressing. Not very pretty.
And after distressing. See how it cleans everything up? The sanding sponge is your best friend when painting graphics.
I hope you found this post helpful! If you have any questions we didn’t cover in this post feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to answer.
Looking for more? You may also enjoy our Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Tips.