Valentine Photo Transfer with Photoshop Elements

with 17 Comments

Valentine Photo Transfer with Photoshop Elements

by Linda Sattgast

Learn how to transfer a photo onto an acrylic tray using Photoshop Elements.

Finished photo transfer


When Adobe asked me if I’d be interested in trying out a photo transfer DIY project and writing a blog post about it, I said, “Sure!” I knew I was a little handicapped in the DIY (Do It Yourself) department, but Photoshop Elements? Heck, yeah! That’s where I shine!

The package came, and inside were all the fun pieces I would use—an acrylic tray, a Martha Stewart brush pack, a sponge and mini squeegee, matte medium and glossy varnish, photo paper, a cute pink thumb drive, and even a pair of scissors in case I didn’t have any.

craft supplies

How did Adobe know I often have trouble finding scissors at my house? And I’m always looking for a thumb drive, too.

scissors and thumb drive

Fast Windshield Tour Of the Project

To know what you’re getting into, here’s a condensed version of the instructions. (Be sure to read the more precise instructions below.)

You turn an acrylic tray upside down, paint some matte medium on the bottom, then paint matte medium on the front side of your photo and let both dry. After another coat of matte medium on the bottom of the tray, you place the photo face down on the back of the tray. Once everything dries, you can look through the tray from the front and see the photo on the tray bottom.

Next you remove the paper from the back of the photo using a soft sponge and water. And finally, you paint over the photo transfer image with gloss varnish to keep it from being scratched.

This is how the tray looks after the photo transfer is complete:

Finished photo transfer


Fun, isn’t it?! I say “supposed to look” because I cheated on the above photo and used the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop Elements to remove the couple of small mistakes I made. (Don’t worry, I’ll show you what I did wrong later and tell you how to avoid it.)

The image has a sort of vintage semi-transparent look as you can see by how the light behind it shows through.

Acrylic Tray

My acrylic tray is from The Container Store. I enjoyed the project so much I decided to do another one using a slightly smaller size.

The 14 inch long tray I got from Adobe had a sticker on it for $21.99. I found a smaller 9 x 5 inch size for $12.99 at The Container Store in Portland, and their website also lists an intermediate 11.5 x 4.5 inch size.

Tray sizes

The Container Store has other clear plastic trays that are great sizes for photos, but they’re made from thin plastic and aren’t has heavy duty or reflective as the ones with thick acrylic sides. The two trays pictured here have really thick sides that act like a prism.

What You Do Depends On Your Viewpoint

When I started the project, I thought I was making a tray to serve cookies. This tray would have a cute photo on the bottom that would make a great seasonal tray. I had some nagging doubts about covering the cute photo with cookies and tried to think of other ways I could use the tray.

When I got the package from Adobe, saw the acrylic tray, and realized it was an organizational tray from The Container Store, I thought of other ideas. Perhaps I could put my stationary in it, or, since I was interested in a Valentine’s Day theme, maybe I could put my intimates in the tray in my dresser, and then I would see more and more of the pretty picture as it came time to do laundry.

Sadly, this is a stock photo and not my actual dresser.

Underwear drawer


My Epiphany

So back to how you can use the tray. It wasn’t until I had finished attaching the photo to the bottom of the tray that I realized how I would most prefer to use the tray—as a photo frame sitting on a desk or bookshelf! The tray is heavy and has flat sides, so it stands on its side beautifully. In this scenario you don’t remove the paper backing.

Whether you complete all the steps and use the tray for a photo transfer or stop at Step 7 and use the tray for a photo frame, you’ll still enjoy wonderful reflections of the image and ambient light on the sides of the tray and on the thick ends. In the frame version, though, since you don’t remove the paper backing, the image is fully opaque and thus retains more brilliance.

I was delighted with it! I could see myself putting a sea shell or piece of memorabilia on the bottom edge (the side of the tray).



When Charlie saw the tray with the photo he said, “That looks great! Why don’t you just leave the paper on the back?”

I should have listened to him. BUT…this was supposed to be a photo transfer, by golly, and I was determined to do the whole thing from beginning to end.

That’s when a small disaster struck.

Remember, I’m DIY challenged.

But, I’m ahead of myself.

How To Make A Photo Transfer Using Photoshop Elements

Choose A Theme

One of the biggest issues for me was choosing the right photo. While I was still in the mindset that I would use the tray for trinkets or as a dresser tray, I chose a photo of Charlie and me at the beach on Maui. The photo had lots of space where I could put trinkets without covering up the two of us.

iPhone cords in tray

Here are some other options:

Use seasonal photos. You can add your own favorite elements to spice it up.

Snowy image

Pet photos are fun, too!


Family photos would be terrific and make a great gift.

Family photo

Prepare Your Photo

Photoshop Elements is great for editing your photo, because, of course, you want your photo to look its best. Here’s what I did to mine:


My photo had a slightly crooked horizon. To quickly straighten the horizon in Photoshop Elements:

  • Click on Guided Edit near the top of Photoshop Elements. Choose the Basics category and click on Rotate and Straighten.
  • Click on the Straighten Tool button and choose the option you want below the button.
  • Click and drag a line along the horizon. When you let go of the mouse, Photoshop Elements will rotate the photo so the horizon is straight.
  • Click the Next arrow.
  • Instead of saving, under “Continue Editing” click on “In Expert.”

Straighten photo in Photoshop Elements


  • Get the Crop tool.
  • In Tool Options enter the dimensions you want for the photo. This particular tray needed dimensions of 14 x 6.5 inches.
  • Also enter the resolution you want. I chose 300 ppi.
  • Click and drag over your photo to select the area you want for the photo. Click on the check mark to commit the change.

Crop your photo in Photoshop Elements

Add A Title

  • Get the Type tool. Choose a font, size, color, and Alignment. On your document click and type the title you want. I used the font Amigirl for the word “Hawaii.” Click on the check mark to commit the change.
  • I made another line of type for the date using the font Myriad Pro Regular.
  • I also added two red hearts and a white dotted swirl from scrapbook kits to complete the word art. (The heart is from Weekend at Home by Kate Hadfield, and the swirl is from Boys And Toys by Digital Scrapper Designs). I left the middle area of my photo free, expecting it to be covered with something most of the time.

Add a title in Photoshop Elements

Save Your Photo

  • If you use the larger two sizes of frames you’ll need to print your photo at a print shop—unless you have access to a large format printer. Find out what your print shop prefers for a file format. They may want a JPEG or PDF depending on whether they’re online or local.
  • In the Menu Bar choose File > Save As.
  • When the dialog box comes up, change the Format menu to the file format you intend to use. If you’re using Photoshop PDF there’s no need to check Layers, but do check Embed Color Profile. Navigate to the folder on your computer where you want to save this file and click Save.
  • Upload your photo online or put it on a flash drive and take it to a local print shop. Have them print it on good photo paper. It costs about $1 to have a photo like this printed.

Photo Transfer Instructions (Including My Tips)

If you want to try a photo transfer yourself, here are the step-by-step instructions with my comments added:

Step 1: Cut out the printed photo using scissors or a paper cutter.

Cut out the photo

Step 2: Use a paint brush to apply a thin, even coat of matte medium all over the entire front side of the image.

Paint matte media over photo

Both the matte medium, which I applied to my photo, and gloss varnish, which you’ll need for the very last step, can be purchased at a craft store.

Matte media and gloss varnish containers

Step 3: Turn the acrylic tray upside down and apply a thin coat of matte medium all over the bottom of the tray. Allow both the tray and photo to dry completely, about 30 minutes. Note: I found it hard to keep the coat of matte medium perfectly even on the tray, so I ended up with some streaks that were thicker and took longer to dry.

Painting matte media on the acrylic tray bottom

Step 4: Once the photo front and the tray bottom are dry, cover the bottom of the tray with another coat of matte medium. The instructions say this second application of matte medium should be “generous but even.”

Step 5: Immediately after applying the matte medium to the tray, place the photo with the image side down onto the wet tray bottom, lining up the sides. (No need to apply matte medium to the photo again before doing this.)

Step 6: Use a squeegee to smooth out any bubbles.

 Use squeegee to remove bubbles

Note: The matte medium will seep out around the edges as you do this so be prepared with some paper towels and water to clean up the sides of your tray. It’s not as easy as it sounds to get the bubbles out. After trying for awhile I decided it was good enough!

Matte media will seep out around tray edges

Step 7: Allow the paper to dry completely; at least 2 hours or overnight. It’s best to let it dry overnight.

Step 8: Once dry, wet a soft sponge with water and rub it all over the back of the printed page. Use a circular motion to remove the paper, rewetting the sponge as needed.

Use a sponge and water to remove paper back.

Note: This was the trickiest part for me and where I made my fatal error. I wasn’t patient enough and rubbed too hard. I also didn’t remember that the instructions said to use circular motions, which probably contributed to me ending up with a couple of small holes. There was also one small section of paper that would not come off no matter how much I rubbed, so I just left it because I was afraid of creating another hole.

I also wasn’t sure when to stop. I expected all the paper to come off, but a fair amount stuck to the image. I later realized that this amount of paper wouldn’t hurt anything. It would just make the image slightly less transparent.

Back of tray after removing paper

Step 9: Once you’ve removed the paper backing, allow the tray to dry completely and then paint with gloss varnish over the entire bottom of the tray, sealing the image to prevent it from getting scratched.

The instructions on the varnish bottle said to paint two or three times, letting it dry in between coats, so I did that. When the tray is dry, after the final coat, it’s ready to be used!

Painting with glossy varnish


It’s very likely you’ll make some mistakes on your first try, but that’s part of the homemade look of this technique! Here are the “mistakes” I made:

Numbers 1 and 2 in the image below show the holes I accidentally made. Trying to cover the first hole with a blue magic marker only made it worse. The second hole is hard to see because it’s at the top of the wave. The light brown color, though, gives it away.

Number 3 is an imperfection because of a protruding round bit of acrylic in the center of the tray on the bottom, so you’ll never get a perfectly smooth finish there.

Number 4 is likely due to a bubble, but for this photo that bit of white could be seen as simply part of the ocean waves, so I lucked out.

Number 5 is the piece of paper I couldn’t remove. This made that part of the tray more opaque.

5 Mistakes

My advice? Don’t worry about slight imperfections. It’s totally worth doing a photo transfer for the fun and beauty of it!

And if you prefer fewer ways to mess up, stop at Step 7 and end up with a lovely framed photo!

Framed Photo

A frame like this makes a great gift. Here’s the image I created for a Valentine’s Day gift for a dear friend.

Valentine's Day gift

This time I used the smallest size acrylic tray and wrapped it in a pretty ribbon to give as a gift.

Valentine's Day gift with ribbons and tag

What Photo Frame or Photo Transfer ideas come to mind for you to create?


Linda SattgastAuthor: Linda Sattgast | Contact Us
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17 Responses

  1. Lenore
    | Reply

    Gotta give this a go! Lovely idea thanks Linda.

  2. Laurie Bodo
    | Reply

    oh……I want to do this!!

  3. Terri
    | Reply

    What a fun idea and really fun post. I love how you described the troubles that you encountered and being DIY challenged. It is always helpful to learn what the challenges someone else encountered. Your results were awesome!!

    I did a transfer many years ago, and I remember needing to use more than one coat before wetting the paper and rubbing it off. Inspired me to give this a try again. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • Linda Sattgast
      | Reply

      It really is a fun project! Next time I’ll try more than one coat on the paper. 😀

  4. Jenifer Juris
    | Reply

    What a FUN idea! Love it!! 🙂

    • Linda Sattgast
      | Reply

      I definitely think Bilbo deserves his own acrylic frame and transfer image!

  5. Grandmasfine9
    | Reply

    Such an fun project! I’m alway looking for DYI projects to do with my grandkids for make for their parents.
    You have such a good eye when crating your photo’s. Love this!

    • Linda Sattgast
      | Reply

      Great idea! I think this would be super fun to do with grandkids!

  6. Priss
    | Reply

    Enjoyed reading this way to do the transfer. What great results you got. Thanks, Linda

  7. Kellie Linn
    | Reply

    I think this is such a fun idea, I can’t wait to try it!

  8. dorisedgar
    | Reply

    Years ago I did this with Pictures out of magazines. The secret
    is to put several coats of transfer on top of the picture.
    After it is completely dry then you gently rub the paper off the
    back. I put mine on t-shirts and sold them.

    • Linda Sattgast
      | Reply

      The instructions I had were to put two coats of the medium on the back of the acrylic tray and only one on the front of the photo. So are you saying that you only put the transfer on the photo? And you put several coats? It would make sense if you were putting it on a T-shirt. You probably put the last coat on and then put it face down on the T-shirt. right? I bet that was really pretty!

  9. Bonnie Duke
    | Reply

    Linda…this is simply gorgeous! I could not take my eyes off of it. The lovely, tranquil scene of the sand and the ‘Blues’ of the water surrounded by the acrylic gave a unique dimensional look! The cute couple standing to the side (instead of in the center) draws your eye but captures expanse of the ocean! In short, you did a great job!
    Thanks, Bonnie

  10. Linda Sattgast
    | Reply

    If anyone has more experience with photo transfers than me, I welcome any and all constructive advice!

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