Here's the conundrum: You love the convenience of inkjet printing your collage sheets at home, but hate that your images smudge when applying a decoupage-type glaze. Happily, there's several tricks you can use to seal your collage sheets and keep them looking crisp and beautiful. These tips were developed through trial and error on literally tens of thousands of test products by myself and several amazingly brilliant piddix customers who have agreed to share their trade secrets.
The core issue that causes smearing is that the ink used in most inkjet printers is water-based. If you put a drop of water on the print, it will run or bleed. Glazes such as Mod Podge and Diamond Glaze are also water-based (do you see where I'm going with this?). Thus, when you add these water-based glazes on top of your print, it can cause the images (especially the red colors) to bleed.
Most of the solutions to this issue revolve around two techniques. You can: 1. Add a water-resistant barrier between the ink and your glaze so they can't mix and thus bleed, or 2. Make your ink and paper as dry or fixed as possible before applying the glaze. Here are some specific ways to go about it:
1. Acrylic Spray Fixatives. After printing out your collage sheet, you can seal it with a permanent, matte acrylic spray fixative. Plaid Enterprises (the company that makes Mod Podge) recommends spraying one very light coat of fixative, waiting for it to dry, then spraying one additional coat. Read the specific instructions on the cans for drying time (normally 2-3 hours) and spray distance. You'll want to find a spray that is 1. permanent, 2. non-yellowing, 3. moisture-resistant. Examples include: Krylon Spray Finish; Folkart Clearcote Acrylic Sealer; Patricia Nimocks Clear Acrylic Sealer; and Print Guard Spray.
2. Polyurethane. Ryan of Littleput Books, who has sold tens of thousands of Scrabble Tile and Lucky Penny pendants, uses this process to coat her inkjet prints and has kindly agreed to share her secret. After printing the collage sheets with an inkjet printer, she brushes on several coats of a clear polyurethane with a foam brush, allowing for time between coats to dry. One benefit I've found to this process is you don't seem to get quite as many fumes as you do from the spray fixatives.
Butterfly Lucky Penny pendant by LittleputBooks.
3. Nail polish. In a quick fix (you know, when it's 2 am and you really need to finish that necklace for your friend's birthday) I've been pretty happy with one coat clear nail polish used as a sealer. You do run the risk of the polish yellowing over time. I made some pendants as gifts this way about year ago and they're still looking good, but I'd definitely try to avoid the super-cheap Wet-n-Wild-type brands.
4. Hairspray. Another good quick fix recommend to me by Laurie's Custom Thingz is hairspray. Laurie uses VO5 Extra Hold that came from her super-crafty Mother. Rumors around art schools say to use the cheapest aerosol can you can find, but expect that the images will yellow over time.
5. Freezer. I had never heard of this tip before Molly Smith wrote this super-sweet blog post and shared her secret for preventing smudges. Molly prints out her collage sheets and then puts them in her freezer for six to twelve hours before applying Mod Podge. I am quite excited to try this one myself. See below for how beautiful her prints turned out:
6. Oven. Another DIY trick for drying your prints is to put them in the oven at 250 degrees for five minutes, then let them cool off before applying glaze. This suggestion comes from Linda and is another one I haven't tried personally, but seems promising.
7. Drying Time. Most inkjet printers (especially ones under $100 or that come free with your computer) come standard with dye-based, water-based ink. According to Annie Howes, who is probably the most knowledgeable professional I know when it comes to this type of work, dye-based inkjet prints become more stable the longer they're allowed to dry. Annie says "My HP Photosmart Inkjet printer works great after two weeks on glossy non-fast-drying paper (fast drying paper has a film that can be troublesome)." The paper drying time varies by printer and paper brand and may take some trial and error to perfect. If you're making pigment-based inkjet prints, however, Annie has found you can speed up the whole process with only a 24-hour waiting period. Especially for making glass tile pendants, this "waiting" option will cause the most professional looking results since the various spray fixatives and varnishes mentioned above can stay tacky under the glass and never fully cure, resulting in a slightly fuzzy appearance.Crisp & clear glass tile pendant by Annie Howes.
There are two more things to keep in mind. First, the type and quality of ink, printers, and paper can definitely affect how smudge-prone your print is. There's tons of information on matte vs glossy, paper weight, quality of printers, etc. that I may go into at a later point, but generally, the better the paper and printer, the better the results.
And finally, if all of this sealing just doesn't sound worth it to you, print with a laser printer. The printers at most print-shops (Office Depot, Staples, Kinkos, etc.) use toner, which essentially melts into the paper and creates a more permanent, water-resistant print that you shouldn't have to seal before adding glaze.
For any of you who've tried to fix or prevent the dreaded inkjet smudge, I've love to hear your suggestions (or horror stories). I am always so appreciative of the amazing piddix customers (like Annie, Molly, Laurie, and Ryan above) who help the rest of us by sharing their creativity and tips. Thank you!