The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Today Rhonda asks how to transfer a drawing to black paper. Here’s her question:

What is the best way to transfer an image onto black or other dark colored paper?

Thank you for your question, Rhonda.

Most of us prefer not to make a line drawing on the paper on which we want to put our final artwork. It’s easier to develop a line drawing on other, less expensive paper until it’s the way we want it. Then the finished line drawing can be transferred to more expensive paper without worry.

The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Using black paper with colored pencils is both fun and frustrating from the very start. What works so well with white or light-colored papers works poorly or not at all with black paper.

Transferring a drawing is one of those things that’s more frustration than fun. But there are ways to transfer line drawings.

4 Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

I’d like to share four ways to transfer line drawings to black paper, but I need to start by saying I’ve only used two of them. The other two are intriguing ideas suggested by artists who work with colored pencils and pastels. I believe they are reliable, but have no first-hand experience with them.

So let me begin with the two methods I have used.

Personally Proven Transfer Methods

#1: Light-Colored Greaseless Transfer Paper

The best transfer method for almost any paper is greaseless transfer paper.

Transfer paper (in the art-sense) is paper made with a coating on one side that can be moved from the transfer paper to another piece of paper with very little pressure. Saral is probably the most recognizable name in transfer papers, but there are others.

Saral makes four different colors. Basic graphite gray is great for white paper and most light colored papers. Cream is ideal for darker papers. They also make yellow and red. I haven’t found much need for red or yellow transfer paper, but that may be exactly what you need.

To use transfer paper, mount your drawing to the drawing paper, then slip a piece of transfer paper in between. The transferring surface must face down, and be against the paper onto which you want to transfer your drawing.

This is my favorite transfer method because it’s the easiest, fastest, and cleanest. Transfer paper doesn’t usually leave smudges even if you rest your hand on it while transferring your drawing.

It also makes a clear, crisp line that doesn’t smudge, and it’s archival.

Transfer paper can be used several times. It’s also less expensive than a projector, although you will eventually have to buy more paper.

#2: Carboning the Back of the Drawing

Carboning a drawing is shading the back of the drawing with graphite. The name comes from the graphite, which is really a form of carbon ground into powder, then bound together to form lead. Carboning works extremely well with white papers, and most light- and medium-dark papers.

When you want to transfer a drawing to black paper, however, carboning with graphite isn’t quite as useful unless you’re able to see the shine of the graphite against the black of the paper. You will have to be extremely careful in handling the paper after the drawing has been transferred, however, or you risk losing the lines.

But you can still carbon the back of your drawing a light-colored colored pencil, white charcoal or a dry pastel in a light color. You have to be careful with the charcoal and pastel because they do not stick as well as graphite or colored pencil, and may smudge your drawing paper. However, a little mounting putty easily removes most of the smudges.

Image by VISLOQ from Pixabay

I recently read the comments of someone who lightly sprayed their carboned drawing with workable fixative to stabilize the graphite somewhat. That may also work with white charcoal or dry pastel.

Carboning the back of the drawing is one of my go-to transfer methods and I use it whenever I work on a drawing paper that’s too opaque to use on a light box. I always use graphite as the transfer method.

But I have no personal experience using white charcoal or dry pastel with this method, so experiment before using it on a good drawing. Do a test transfer or two and see if it works for you before you carbon the back of your drawing.

I do have limited experience using colored pencils as the transfer medium. The results were adequate, but not such that I’ve used the method a lot. The transferred lines weren’t always very clear, and sometimes the colored pencil with which I shaded the back of the paper left crumbs sticking to the good drawing paper. Being colored pencil, they were often difficult to remove and sometimes difficult to draw over, as well.

The transfer lines won’t smudge, but you won’t be able to remove them, either, so use a color that blends into your drawing as you finish it.

If you choose to use a colored pencil, a soft pencil will be the best transfer medium. Prismacolor Soft Core would be a good choice, but any soft pencil will also work. And once again, it’s important to experiment first. If colored pencil as a transfer medium doesn’t work for you, it’s far better to find that out on scrap paper!

Transfer Methods I Haven’t Used

#3: Projector and a Light Colored Pencil

Projectors are one of the more popular methods of transferring line drawings. The projector projects your line drawing onto paper and all you have to do is trace the drawing. You’ll have to use a light colored pencil for tracing on dark or black papers, and you also have to make absolutely certain the paper and projector are parallel. Otherwise, you could end up with a distorted drawing.

Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper with a projector.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I’ve never used a project for this particular task, so cannot offer a personal recommendation. However, several artists whose YouTube channels I follow use projectors, and they swear by the process. Some of them have published videos on the process. If you’re interested, a quick search will produce dozens of results.

If you have a projector, or you have the money to buy one, this might be your best long-term option. But don’t buy the first projector you find. Do a little research to find the best projector for your needs. Personally, I would begin with some of the on-line art supplies like Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Even if you don’t buy from them, you can get a good idea about the projectors considered to be “art projectors.” Then you can look for those elsewhere.

Perhaps you don’t have the money for a projector though, or you don’t have the time to do the research, wait for delivery, then learn how to use one. You’re looking for quick and not necessarily pretty. Consider this idea.

#4: Impressed Lines

I heard someone somewhere say they transfer their drawings by impressed lines. I wish I could remember where I heard it, but I think the artist was using Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ve never used this method to transfer a drawing, but in a pinch, I think transferring a line drawing by impressing is workable. Here’s how I would do it.

First, put your line drawing on tracing paper, then mount it to the drawing paper and lightly trace it again. Use a sharp pencil or stylus and medium-light pressure or lighter. Lines need to be clear enough to see, but you don’t want them so deep, you can’t fill them in.

Next, I’d go over the drawing again and outline those shapes with a colored pencil. Use a color that fits each part of the drawing whenever possible. That way, you won’t have so much difficulty concealing the impressed lines.

I have a piece of black paper that needs the drawing transferred and I’m giving serious thought to trying this method to see what happens. If it works, I’ll let you know.

Actually, if it doesn’t work, I’ll let you know that too!

There are Four Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

Two personally proven, two unproven (so far as I’m concerned.)

They aren’t the only ways to transfer a line drawing to black paper, but they will get you started. I hope you find one of them helpful.

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7 Replies to “The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper”

  1. I use “TraceDown” transfer paper. White or yellow works well on a dark paper but I did use a graphite coloured sheet on a dark navy Pastelmat paper and could just see the outline.

    Thanks for the information, Carrie.

  2. Thank you Carrie, I use the white Saral transfer paper and then go over the lines again with a light colored, colored pencil. My only frustration is that you can only buy the Saral white colored paper in a multipack of other colors. I wish they would just sell that color by itself.

    1. Gail,

      Dick Blick has Saral by the roll, and you can get only the color you want. The last time I checked, it was about $11 a roll, and I’ve had a roll last a couple of years.

      Where did you find the assorted colors?

      1. Hi Carrie, thank you for that info. I had searched before on the internet for the white and could only find it at Joanne’s in the quilting dept. in the multipack. I will look it up on Blick’s website.

        1. Gail,

          You know, when I first thought about doing a portrait on black, the first place I thought of was the local quilt shop. Now that you mention Joann’s I’m reminded about that. We have a Joann’s or two in Wichita, but the quilt shop is just a few blocks away.

          So thank you for the additional information, too!

  3. You are welcome. I hadn’t heard of the brand you mention. It might not be available here.

    I hadn’t thought of going over the transferred outlines with a paler colour. That is a good tip.

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