The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

What is the best method of transferring drawings to drawing paper? That’s what Kathryn wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie

I’ve only started drawing and using coloured pencils in the last 6 years and often have problems transferring my sketch onto good paper.  What is the best method of transferring my sketch onto good paper?

I’ve tried:

  • transfer paper with charcoal on the back (got quite messy)
  • coloured carbon paper (but it didn’t work very well)
  • bought a lightbox which worked well sometimes but a lot of my paper is really thick and doesn’t work with the lightbox

Also I would like to say thank you for all your emails, blogs and encouragement in your articles. I felt like giving up numerous times but would read your weekly emails which would encourage me.  I have made progress over the years and enjoyed your tuition and done a number of your lessons.  I’m emailing from New Zealand so just to let you know you have fans all over the world.



Thank you to Kathryn for her question, and readership. And for her encouragement. One can never get too much encouragement!

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

It would be nice if I could share an answer that works all the time for every artist. The fact of the matter is that there is no such answer. I’ve used four or five different transfer methods over the years. Some worked a lot. Some worked once in a while, and some didn’t work at all.

There are many other transfer methods that I’ve never tried. Some artists swear by those methods, but I can’t personally recommend them.

So I’m going to talk about the three transfer methods that work best for me.

My Best Methods of Transferring Drawings

Light Box

My absolute favorite method of transferring drawings is a light box. In my case, that’s one of two or three large windows.

But Kathryn is right. Some papers are too thick or opaque for this method to work. I can transfer to Bristol and Stonehenge fine with a light box, but need other methods for colored papers, and heavier papers.

Carboning the Back of the Drawing

The easiest way to transfer a line drawing to another surface is to shade graphite directly on the back of the drawing. This process is called “carboning the drawing” and it lets you trace the line drawing onto almost any other drawing or painting surface.

Kathryn has already tried a form of this. But she used charcoal rather than graphite, and that will produce a messier line.

Instead charcoal, try a pencil that’s soft enough to make a nice, clear line, but not so soft that it smudges wherever you happen to rest your hand. A 4B is the best choice if you tend to draw with a light hand. Otherwise, a 2B is probably your best choice.

How to Carbon a Drawing

To carbon a drawing, turn the drawing upside down and shade the back of the paper along the lines. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of paper, but make sure to shade every part of the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are in shading. Notice the random patterns in the illustration below. But you MUST cover every part of the line drawing.

This is what my line drawing looked like after I carboned it.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

You can see the shading on the drawing because my line drawing is on tracing paper.

If your drawing is on drawing paper, so you may not be able to see the shading from the front of the paper. To make sure you’ve shaded behind every line, hold the drawing up to a window or lay it on a light box. Do any additional shading that might be necessary.

When you’ve shaded over every part of the line drawing, mount it to drawing paper and retrace the lines. The graphite transfer to the drawing paper. Clean up as necessary afterward.

Home-Made Graphite Paper

I don’t often carbon the backs of my line drawings because I prefer clean line drawings. In the past, I used commercial carbon paper, usually Saral greaseless. Then I started making my own transfer paper and have never looked back.

It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. And you can “recharge” the sheet whenever necessary!

Use a 2B or 4B graphite pencil to shade one side of an ordinary piece of paper. I use printer paper, but you can also use any other type of paper that’s heavy enough to stand the abuse.

Shade the paper as much or as little as you like. This sample shows two or three layers applied in one direction, with two or three additional layers applied in a different direction.

All you need is enough graphite on the paper to transfer a drawing, so two or three layers with a soft graphite pencil will probably be enough.

You can also shade all or part of the paper. I do a lot of smaller drawings, so this partial sheet is sufficient. If I need something for a larger drawing, I shade more of the sheet.

When I was oil painting, I even had a legal sheet fully carboned for those larger oil portraits.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

Some artists stabilize the graphite with a light coat of workable fixative. That also keeps the transferred lines from being too dark. I’ve never sprayed my graphite paper with anything, so can’t say from experience how it works.

Graphite transfers easily and clearly. If you used a very soft pencil (4B or softer,) it also smudges, but smudges can be easily removed with mounting putty or an eraser.

One Precaution

If you carbon the back of your drawing or make your own graphite transfer paper, make sure to use a bit of mounting putty on the transferred drawing. That lifts excess graphite from your drawing paper, and keeps it from muddying the colored pencil. This is especially important if you’ll be using a lot of lighter colors.

So What’s The Best Method of Transferring Drawings?

For me, it’s a light box, with my home-made transfer paper a close second.

Those methods may or may not work for you. If they don’t, there are other ways to transfer drawings, such as projectors and copying gadgets.

Whether you begin with my favorite methods or explore on your own, deciding on the best method of transferring drawings is really a personal choice.

And you may find as I did, that you’ll need more than one transfer method for the different types of paper you use.


  1. Kim

    Great suggestions and methods mentioned Carrie!
    I agree in that you can use what works best for your
    given situation.
    I also use a large hexagonal lumber crayon consisting
    of solid graphite in a 4B grade density which is great
    for covering large areas. It can be a bit messy but does
    save time.
    For delicate transfers, I simply create my line drawing
    on tracing paper or translucent vellum using an HB or 2B pencil
    making sure that my lines are consistent in density
    and then simply flip the image over and then draw over the
    line drawing from the reverse side. You will have a
    reversed image, but this saves time in having to cover the
    lines with graphite and pre-planning your original line
    drawing can compensate for the reversed image.
    I find that it is a cleaner method as there won’t be much in the
    way of stray graphite particles smudging your drawing surface.

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