Photo Tile Coasters


January 6, 2013 by another1bitesthecrust

One of the first things I pinned on Pinterest and one of the things that will always stand out in my mind as just so creative and inspirational are these photos transferred onto tiles.

While I’m a big fan of shiny new gifts for holidays and birthdays, there is nothing like giving someone a thoughtful, meaningful and touching gift, especially one that you spent the time and effort making yourself.

As the holiday season rolled around this year, these just kept popping into my mind every time I thought about gifts. I decided that for my mom, grandma, mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, I would make these each a set of coasters. My husband has lost both of his maternal grandparents in the past few years so I thought it would be a nice tribute to them to find photos from when they were first married. My mother and grandmother were really close with my great grandmother, who passed away when my sister and I were pretty young so any photos we all had together with her were a no brainer.

I went through a ton of old family albums and pulled out a bunch of photos that would fit nicely onto a 4×4 tile. One thing that the original pinner’s blog post said that I am so grateful for is that you need to print these in reverse imaging. Makes sense when you think about how to create these but I wouldn’t have thought about it until I was done and saw the final image!

Another thing that the original pinner discussed was that the ink needs to be toner ink, not laser or jet ink. When I took my photos to Kinko’s and mentioned it to them, they had no idea what I was talking about so I risked it and went with what their standard printers are. Luckily there were no issues when I actually transferred the images so I was really relieved. If you photocopy the pictures yourself, there is a setting on the photocopier where you can choose to print/copy in reverse. Or, if you have a digital file, you can flip the image in the Paint program (on a PC, not sure how to do it on a Mac…sorry). DO NOT have Kinko’s reverse the image for you. They claim it needs to be sent to their designer to be done in Photoshop for $15 an image! What a rip off…Just print/copy the images onto regular printer paper, nothing special like photo paper. I recommend that you print two copies of each photo, I’ll explain why later.

Once you’ve got all your pics printed out, you will need: nail polish remover (warning: do not use the purple colored removers, they do not work. Get the standard, basic pinkish/white remover. I just got the generic CVS brand and depending on how many tiles you’re planning to do, get at least two bottles); something rigid but not sharp like a bone folder (about $5 at Michaels in the scrapbooking section), an old credit card, etc; cork board; rubber cement or other glue; tile sealer and some clear acetate sheet protectors. They had them at Kinko’s and I recommend getting a few because they can rip a bit after some vigorous use. Also, if you get the kind that you slide a piece of paper in between, I recommend that you cut it so that you only have a single layer of plastic, otherwise they shift around as you’re trying to transfer the image and it gets annoying. Make sure that you work in a well ventilated area, the nail polish remover can get really obnoxious after a while.

Before you start, get everything organized and ready to go, including cutting the photos down to just less than 4×4. I worked in the garage with an old towel under the tiles, just to keep the garage floor as clean as possible.

Most important part of this whole process: warm up the tiles!!! A giant thank you to the original blogger who inspired this project, as she discovered this trick through (probably frustrating) trial and error! I would put 3-4 in the microwave at a time for 1 minute. They get pretty warm so be careful when you take them out.

Place the first image down onto the warm tile, ink-side down, and make sure that it’s all centered exactly how you want it. NOTE: now it was my turn to learn the hard way. I first started using some tumbled travertine tiles which have a gorgeous color and are uncoated so that the ink will transfer well. However, I was so excited to start the project that I didn’t pay that close attention to the natural pores/divets in the tiles. Obviously the ink won’t transfer into the “holes”, and while a few little spots on the tiles give the coasters a wonderful grainy/old look, which matches the old photos perfectly, too many or too big of a hole will just leave massive white spots on the tile. No bueno. I had to redo a few at first then I started sorting the tiles into use-able and un-use-able tiles. The ones that are use-able may still have some holes, you just need to make sure that you orient the picture the correct way on the tile so that you’re not making a big white spot on someone’s face 🙂 This is why you want at least two copies of the image, just for dumb mistakes like these.

Once you’ve placed the image onto the warm tile, generously dump some nail polish remover over the entire thing, don’t skimp. If the liquid doesn’t make it to an edge, you can either use a foam brush to gently spread the nail polish remove or once you put the acetate sheet over top, it should spread out and cover the entire tile.

Photo Coasters Step 2

Next, quickly cover the tile with the single-layer acetate sheet, and, while holding the acetate in place, start rubbing the image onto the tile with the credit card/bone folder. I pinned down the acetate firmly on two sides of the tile to ensure that my rubbing wasn’t shifting the plastic around over top of the tile. Rub in all directions, getting every millimeter of the tile. You can lift the plastic, pour a bit more nail polish remove over it and repeat the process if you see that it’s evaporating. I, of course, lost the bone folder that I had purchased and decided to try using a chisel. It worked well except it ripped the acetate pretty easily.

Photo Coasters Step 3

Take your time and be thorough with this part, it’s the only opportunity you have to transfer the ink. Once you’re done, remove the acetate and peel back the corner of the nail polish remover soaked paper, You’ll get a good idea of how well the ink transferred when you lift back the corner. Slowly peel away the paper, and don’t worry if it rips. It won’t affect the transferred ink if you have to remove it in pieces.

Photo Coaster

Photo Coasters

Let the tile dry and cool down, allowing all the nail polish remover to evaporate and the inky photo top to dry out. Get to the other warm tiles quickly, before they cool off too much. This part is actually really quick, especially once you get the hang of it. It’s the prep that is time consuming!

After the tiles are dry, follow the directions on the tile sealer bottle. Sealing them will not only protect the image but allow them to be hand-washable. Once the tile sealer is dry, cut out either pieces of cork board, or even some sticky felt pieces, and glue or stick them to the underside of the tile to protect whatever table or piece of furniture they’ll be sitting on.

Finished Photo Coasters

Overall, I was beyond pleased with these tiles. I stacked them and wrapped them up with twine and Christmas ribbon, and put them in a gift box. I was so excited to give them to my family, and love seeing them around the house when I visit. Everyone was surprised that I actually made them myself…they’re not difficult, just a bit time consuming in the prep. Not every single tile will turn out – either the ink just didn’t transfer that well, the paper shifted a bit after I put the acetate down and the image got blurry, the pores were too bad on a tile that I thought would be ok, etc. I eventually went to Lowe’s and found non-porous tiles to use for a different set of coasters. The ink transferred a bit lighter on those tiles but they still had the same effect 🙂

I tried making a single 16×16 photo collage tile for my sister but it turned out pretty badly. I had to lay down two separate sheets of paper because the photocopiers can’t print bigger than 11×17, I had to use four acetate sheets and just couldn’t rub down the images fast enough before the nail polish remover evaporated. So you can see the lines where the acetate sheets overlapped, the paper didn’t peel off very well and it hardened and dried before I could scrape it off, and the photos on the bottom half of the tile barely transferred.

16x16 Photo Tile Collage

Photo Tile Collage

I have been finding other ways to transfer photos, so I’m going to re-do my sister’s project using ModPodge – stay tuned for a blog post dedicated to that!!


15 thoughts on “Photo Tile Coasters

  1. You did such an amazing job with these. What a heartfelt and treasured gift Vivi!

  2. Deborah Stevens says:

    Love these. Going to make them for my family Christmas gifts.

  3. Nikki says:

    The nail varnish remover is just making the photo bleed….any ideas?

    • Hmm…are you using a remover that’s pure acetone? Or, it could be the type of ink on the paper. If you printed the photo from your printer, try photocopying it (this may use different ink that’s more suitable for this), or try a different nail polish remover. Let me know if you’re able to find the right combo! Good luck!

  4. bethan says:

    Hi can you help me i have tried this exact process and the images were printed at my printers on machines using dry ink but the images keep leaving a pink stain all over the holes in the tiles and on the edges as if the red in the ink is bleeding? i am using a green colour nail polish but i applied the polish straight to the tile without an image on and it did not leave a pink stain so i think it is the print that is the problem. any ideas? help please

    • Hi! Sorry to hear it’s giving you trouble. The green polish could be reacting with the red ink, but it sounds more like a problem with the ink or type of paper. The challenge I had is that the local Kinko’s didn’t know what I meant when I said it needed to be the right kind of ink, they only had 1 option for ink so I was stuck, but I got lucky that it worked. Perhaps try photocopying the paper image to see if the photocopy machine has different ink or toner than the printer does. Let me know if that works! 🙂

      • bethan says:

        Thanks so much for getting back to me because i could not get an email anywhere for the origional pinner for this process i think we looked at the same one. i am from the UK so we do not have Kinkos but the print process used is with dry ink the same as what is used on a photocopy machine. i will try clear remover and failing that photocopy the image if no luck cant imagine what it is but i will also try the technique using tissue paper. Thankyou so much. have you ever transferred an image onto wood?

      • bethan says:

        Hi, sorry to keep contacting you, i discover the problem with my photo coasters is the colour ink as the black and white images do not bleed red. i used clear nail polish remover aswell so it is the colour ink but it went through the photocopier. So strange, apparently toner ink can have different levels of wax in them maybe that could be a problem but i have no idea what process Kinkos use. Did you have them print your images and then run them through a photocopier? i so wanted to get this right but this is my last attempt apart from maybe trying another print company.

      • bethan says:

        so sorry me again, do you know any contact detail for the origional pinner for the coasters have now tried everything even acid free paper and i still have pink stain all over them when i make my transfer so now i guess i try another printer and presume it is the toner ink my printers are using but to get into type of toner and why mine is turning pink i have no idea. think i need someone who may understand the science of this? i think maybe the origional pinner may understand what is happening if she came up with the idea?

  5. No, I haven’t actually, but there are lots of resources out there! Maybe it’s something I should try! 🙂

  6. Hi There, I don’t have any contact info, but if you click through this link and then click on the pinterest link, it will take you to her blog: Hopefully she can help!! Good luck 🙂

  7. Mary says:

    Could you advise me on how to get all paper off the tiles. They are white and cloudy when dry. I have used water multiple times to rub the paper off. When wet they are clearer. What do you recommend? I would love to finish the project.

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m so sorry to hear that the paper is getting in the way of the final product. Are you using photo paper or regular printer paper? The only variables I can think that would cause it to get cloudy and white are photo paper and not using the right kind of nail polish remover…can you let me know what you’re using? Thanks!

      • Mary says:

        Color copy paper 28# and nail polish remover is yellow in color equate brand. Ingredients acetone, ect. Thanks for replying

      • Hi Mary,

        It sounds like you’re using the right elements, so I’m not sure what to suggest 😦 I’m so sorry that I can’t help you, but I wonder if anyone else who has tried these can comment on their experiences? I’ll keep thinking of any other solutions for you, Mary!

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