Thursday, January 15, 2015

Engraving: Image Transfer Solution that works & Coin Die Making.

(For how to transfer images, jump down to second half of the post)

   When it comes to engraving, by hand or use of Pneumatic engravers one of the biggest questions is how to get your artwork onto the metal you are working with. Some simply draw it free hand directly onto the metal, some use programs such as photoshop to put together their artwork and print it out and transfer it using a number of techniques that either work or don't work. Which ever way you do it. Chances are you will need to be able to make an exact copy of that artwork whether its a back up, duplicate or repeating image that will reappear on something like the barrel of a nickel plated Colt Single Action Army cylinder.

     When I first started engraving, I did everything by free hand and engraved with knives to make hobo nickels to using hammer and chisel tools to make dies for various jewelry stamp projects including letter stamps, designs, coin and token dies and even complex chasing tools. I drew my designs onto the metal's surface with a fine point sharpie pen. I then engraved an outline that I would then fill in with gun blue to keep the image lines present while working - ink rubs off and metals are not made to hold it.
    However when it came to fine details, I needed a much better solution. Especially something that would stay on the metal and not rub off.  I looked around all over the internet for a method that would work. I tired many of the methods listed in the engraving forums but nothing worked for me. I kept hearing of one magic solution by Tom White that would work with ink jet printers using transparency papers. And so, I coughed up the cash and I tried Tom Whites transfer solution.
Tom Whites Transfer Magic  
Once the solution arrived in the mail. I was very exited to finally give it a try as the listing claimed it would work with the type of ink jet printer I had. However, when I opened the box I was expecting a sample sheet of the transparency films he said was included. But instead, I got a small strip of that transparency paper with images already printed on them. While those images did transfer extremely well.  They were not mine. And I had no use for them. After all. This entire thing was about my images. So I wrote and asked to buy some of the films as he mentioned he sold the film the solution was made for. However his listing failed to mention that, that type of transparency film was no longer being produced. So it was a bust. No film! Still determined I set out to find an alternative that worked with his transfer magic.
   I tried every kind of transparency film under the sun. I even went so far as to hit every second hand shop in both cites to hopefully find that specific film. I found loads of transparency films. But I never found that specific brand or one that worked. And my late hour internet searches yielded nothing either. Without that brand of film. Or the outdated 61 Epson ink. The solution was basically useless. But I was still optimistic. It HAD to work on something right?
  So I ended up trying different printers mentioned on his transfer magic page. I even had back and forth emails with him about finding a solution to make this all work. He recommended this and that. And mistakenly wrote printer model numbers wrong. Which. Cost me around 80$. It was a wild goose chase and nothing worked. Nothing. I was really quite bummed. The idea of being able to use a transparency film to line up your art work on a piece is ideal. Its actually extremely important in some work. But as it turns out. The original # 61 epson ink is no longer made either. Just refurbished knock offs. And that was when I realized this solution had no solution.
   I had spent a great deal of time buying films, printers and gas in search of the right materials for this one bottle of transfer solution. And the best results I ever got, where a ghostly image on my test pieces that could only be seen in the right lighting. Nothing you could work with. So. Unfortunately. I had to bin that bottle and move on. While the solution once worked with the proper set up and films. Those films are no longer made. Yet the solution is still being sold for just under 40$ a bottle. Unless you have the proper outdated printer, original ink and films. It is useless. However if you have it. You are one of the very lucky. Cherish that ink and film as its rare stuff.
    Hopefully. One of these days, he will invent an updated solution that will work with ink jet printers and transparency film. But right now. It doesn't. And the time it takes to hunt down the proper bits isn't worth it. So it was back to the drawing board, literally.

Once again, I was using a fine point sharpie pen. I was drawing my images onto my pieces and slowly engraving them all while trying never to skid or touch the ink. While the sharpie ink did set well enough to last a while. Heat, moisture and movement caused it to fade and dissipate. So there was a lot of redrawing and a lot of frustration involved. Its not the pens fault. I love my long trusted fine point sharpie pens. It is just simply the fact that metal is not meant to hold onto ink. They do not bond. So. I thought. What will......

I began my searches once again for an alternative. And I came across several methods on the Lindsey engraving school forum for laser printers. All of which were extremely complex. Some involving removing the thermal unit that dries the toner to the paper. I saw methods where people used wax paper taped to paper, printed onto that and then were able to transfer their images. But no demonstrations anywhere of any of these methods. And I learn much better by seeing it done. And already being heavily worn out on the Transfer Magic mess. I just didn't have the energy to go buy a laser printer to dismantle it.

My trusty Brother TN-450 Laser Printer

       However as fate would have it. I stumbled upon my own method by accident. One day, while out shopping. I saw a used laser printer for 40$. A Brother model TN-450. A very common laser printer. I thought to myself, "It's toner, not ink. So all it needs is to bond to something applied to the metal and acetone will remove the toner". So I stopped in at Jo-Annes, then I stopped at Michaels. I was looking for Artist Varnish, a Damar Varnish to be exact. Luckily. Michaels carried two brands of it while Jo-Annes did not.  Each bottle was 12.99. A quick log into my Michaels app I got a 50% off coupon with my smart phone. Half price.
 Next was the dollar store. I picked up a nice sized bottle of nail polish remover for a buck. There is the acetone I needed. Cheap as could be. And a bottle that would last a good long while. The only thing left was some high proof alcohol to clean the surface of the metal I was to work with. Fortunately. I had that covered.

    My very first test run. I cleaned my piece of steel. Applied some varnish. Printed my image cut it out and put it in place and soaked the paper with nail polish remover. As I peeled the paper away. I noticed immediately it had left a beautiful transfer. But I had peeled most of it away. By my third attempt. I nailed it. The trick, was not to peel the paper away. But, run it under the tap with hot water and let the paper get so saturated with water it peeled itself away - leaving a perfect image transfer. In this video. You can see exactly how it is done. And those of you who are engravers, or wanting to learn to engrave on metal. Give this a try. And you will see results that are so simple and effortless. It will blow your mind.


First thing is first. Draw or create your image that you want to transfer for engraving. In this example, I am doing another reproduction coin die for stamping out jewelry pieces. So I first drew out my design with a pencil. Then traced over it with my fine tip sharpie pen. Once I have my artwork ready. I scan it into my computer and make duplicates on one sheet of paper.
With a die, it takes some test printing to get the size correct upon printing. So make sure you keep notes if scaling your images. If you don't need to rescale just simply copy the design if needed. Otherwise print using your laser printer.

  Clean the Surface of your practice plate, or your piece to be engraved with some high proof Alcohol. Ever clear works as does a high proof cheap moonshine. However. With a little scrubbing the nail polish remover will also help clean off any grease or oils. A little scotch tape after that will really clean it up. Just lay it on, and pull it off until the surface is clean.

180 Proof Moonshine for cleaning oils and gunk from your surface. It only takes a small dab.

Apply a thin coating of Damar Varnish to the piece with your finger or a fiber free tool. 

This will hold the piece of paper in place once applied and help transfer the image. I let it sit as I print out my image. So have your artwork ready. 

Print your image with your laser printer and cut out your design.
(I use the Brother TN 450. Its a fantastic printer and is very cheap)


   Lay your image on the piece for transfer and use the nail polish remover with a Q-Tip and Roll on the nail polish. You can use a cotton ball if you want. It doesn't really matter. I find that I have better results though using a Q-Tip and rolling it while applying pressure. 

The key here is to get the paper saturated to the point you can see your image through the paper.
Do this for about 60 seconds. Then let it sit for another 60 seconds. Apply more Nail Polish Remover if needed. 

Rinse and remove
  Place your piece under running water. Hot water works best in my opinion as it helps peel away the paper quickly and helps set the toner.
  Once you see the paper start to come loose, you can help it along by gently rubbing / peeling away the paper. Leaving behind only the image transfer. In some cases, little bits of paper fibers will remain. Simply run under water again while repeating the rubbing motion with your finger tip. And it will come off. 
Now that the image is transferred. You are ready to engrave.
That is really all there is to it. 
The die being engraved using the transfer method shown here. 
About 50% of the way done. Just needs touch ups and tests stamps for depth, detail and overall print.

 First test strike with the test die. You can see where it needs some touching up and some work. But. Its coming along. The actual die set will be engraved next. As this was only a test run of this design type of this year and assayer. And we will get into that next time as I share all the new dies I have made over the past months in preparation for a new presentation.
  There was loads of study and drawing that went into this. Enough to fill a book. But. I think what you will all see down the road will be exciting. At least I hope so. In staying with the tradition of hand making my pieces. Rather than casting them. I prefer to make dies, or punches for my own designs on silver or gold. And as a long time Numistatist and Spanish Colonial collector. This project has always been educational and fun. I am glad I finally have time to get back into it again after such a long hiatus making just coin rings.
   Figuring out exactly HOW these coins were produced has been a challenge. Each mint official was different in their work. And as time passed, you can clearly see how each type of coin die was made differently from the same tools. And that has come from study of the coins as well as the practice of making the coin dies.
1733 Fleet, Atocha, and Consolacion shipwreck cobs, cobs and some reproductions all mixed together. Can you tell what is what?

The Gryphon Coin Rings and O'Shea Coin Rings Collaboration piece.
First of its kind. Ever. 100% Artisan Made Coin Ring from start to finish. 
 There is a WHOLE LOT MORE of this stuff on the way! So. Check back! And be sure to log onto to see what pieces are up for sale. Each piece is made right here at the Mint House.

Special thanks to my pals in the club! True master artisans.

Authentic Spanish Shipwreck Treasures, Coins, and Jewelry. Coin Rings, Cut Coins and more!

Artisan Reproduction Spanish Coins! Only 15$!! 
Potosi Heart Reproductions.
It all started with a simple heart....
2 Reale Sale
Only 45$ for a Potosi Heart 2 Reale in .999 Silver. 
Hand Struck, Hand Made.
Email: For Catalogue of designs.

I gotta shamelessly plug my work. That is how I make part of my living as an artisan.
Has to be done. 

I strike with Genuine Atocha Bar silver upon request!