Printing on wood is fun and easy with most direct to garment printers. As long as you have the ability to adequately adjust the z-axis height (the relative distance between the print head and the substrate), the process is relatively simple!
WHAT YOU NEED
- Blank wood panels (the ones we used are available from Hobby Lobby and other craft stores)
- Masking tape or painters tape
- White gesso or water based primer
- Paint brush
- Acrylic finishing spray to protect the printed image
STEP ONE: Wipe down each piece of wood to remove residual sawdust and other debris.
STEP TWO: Mask the outside edges of the wood with tape.
Using a low-tack masking tape, tear off small pieces and work your way around the border of the wood. This allows you to preserve the outer bark layer, which enhances the final appearance of the printed wood. If you are using pieces of wood without bark, you can simply tape around the outside edges to prevent runoff from the primer layer or overspray from the printing process.
STEP THREE: Coat the wood in some sort of water based primer or white gesso.
The gesso (or primer) allows the inks to adhere properly to the wood, creating a beautiful print. You can use any sort of white water based primer, white gesso (a common painting product artists use to coat their canvas prior to painting), or even a clear gesso if you want more of the wood grain to show through. For this example, we used a Bob Ross brand white gesso, available from Hobby Lobby and other craft supply stores. Allow the primer coat to fully dry, prior to moving on to the next step.
STEP FOUR: Measure the wood (we’re gonna gloss right over the myriad of joke opportunities) and set the general size of the artwork in the RIP.
Measure the width and height of each piece of wood, prior to attempting to print. Set the width / height to ensure the printed image will cover the entire piece of wood. This step can take some practice, as you want to ensure all critical parts of the image are printed within the boundaries of the odd-shaped wood – make sure you select each piece based on its general compatibility with the desired artwork.
STEP FIVE: Print a test image for alignment.
Tape a piece of paper (or paper towel, in our case) to the platen, lower the ink volume significantly to reduce potential bleeding, then print a test print directly on the paper. Once the image is printed, tape the wood in the desired location, directly on top of the test print – make sure you adjust the z-axis at this point, to accommodate the thickness of the wood (once again, glossing right past that).
STEP SIX: Print your image!
SOME NOTES FOR ADJUSTING YOUR PRINT SETTINGS: We used Kothari RIP on a Katana PRO printer, so we made a series of specific adjustments to get the best results on each piece of wood:
Printed in high resolution, 1440 x 1440 mode
Changed to uni-directional printing rather than bi-directional, allowing for more flexibility on the print head height
Lowered the color volume to 35% to prevent bleeding
Added a 300 ms delay between each scan line pass, allowing more time for ink to dry
Once your image has been printed, you can remove the masking tape from around the edges of the wood – your incredible wood print is nearly done, at this point!
FINAL STEP: Apply a clear acrylic top coat to protect the printed image.
You can use almost any type of clear acrylic spray coat for this step – the point is to seal in the image, since we don’t actually heat set the ink at any point. You can purchase various types of sealants at any art or craft store, or swing by your local hardware store and purchase a can of clear acrylic spray.