Altering Photos with Transparent Digital Skins

If you’ve ever looked for a way of altering photos by adding color without ruining the photo or obliterating the details, this digital photo art technique is for you.

altering photos with skins brady original photo
One way of altering photos like this one is to
create and paint a transparent skin.

In the January/February 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Patti Brady described two digital art tutorials for making a transparent skin with acrylic paint or medium.

Once complete, you can paint the back of the skin selectively, adding skin tones or clothing colors. The color will show through to the front without obscuring the photo’s details.

(Yes, you can add color just by altering photos with digital software, but this method gives more texture and a painterly quality to the results.)

These are the directions for Patti’s technique using a laser printer. The laser technique uses a digital print transferred onto a clear skin.

Creating Transparent Digital Skins
By Patti Brady


  • Image, printed with a laser printer or carbon-based copier
  • Protected work surface (I recommend a clipboard or a sheet of glass.)
  • Artist’s tape, low-tack, ¾”-1″
  • Gel medium (gloss)
  • Paintbrushes, 2″ (I use foam brushes, acrylic, and chip brushes.)
  • Spatula or pastry knife
  • Glass Bead Gel (or Tar gel, clear; Soft gel gloss or semi-gloss)
  • Mister bottle with water
  • Sponge with scrubber side
  • Hair dryer
  • Fluid acrylics
  • Scissors, old
  • Bucket of water
  • Optional: Archival Spray Varnish (satin) with UVLS (I use Golden Artist Colors® varnish.)


altering photos with skins brady step 1
altering photos with skins brady step 2
altering photos with skins brady step 3
altering photos with skins brady step 4
altering photos with skins brady step 5
From top to bottom, figures 1-5 for this
method of altering photographs.

Note: the final photo is the back of the skin.

1. Tape all the edges of the printed paper to the clipboard with artist’s tape to help prevent buckling when applying the gels.

2. Apply a thin coat of gel medium with the paintbrush (Figure 1) and allow to dry.

3. Add a thin layer of Glass Bead Gel over the image with the spatula, spreading the layer as thin as possible. (Figure 2) Try to get the glass beads into a single layer. If the gel is applied too thickly, the final skin is somewhat cloudy and it will distort the image. Allow the gel to dry completely, typically overnight.

Note: I like to use Glass Bead Gel for this technique, but you can also use Tar Gel (clear), Soft Gel (gloss), both are clear as glass, or Soft Gel (semi-gloss), which would be slightly frosty.

4. Carefully remove the tape and turn the paper over so the unprinted side is facing up. Spray the paper with water to dampen the surface. Alternatively, you can quickly submerge the entire sheet in a bucket of water, removing it promptly.

5. Use the scrubber side of the sponge to rub the paper off the back of the gel skin. Be gentle; do not scrub aggressively. The process of removing the paper backing may take several attempts. (Figure 3)

6. Use a low setting on the hair dryer to dry the sheet and reveal the places where paper may still be adhered. Dampen the sheet again as needed and rub some more until all the paper is removed, revealing a transparent skin.

7. Working on the back side of the skin, add color with paint as desired. (Figure 4)

Note: The paint will not obliterate the fine details; the details are on the front of the skin.

8. Cut out the black background surrounding the image with the scissors, if desired, and add the image to a piece of art. (Figure 5)

Experiment and see how you can add color and texture to your photographs using digital art image transfers like these.

Transfers make great additions to all kinds of mixed-media art, from collages to encaustic art. Learn more about these techniques through the expert resources we have available to you in the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop.

P.S. How do you alter your photos to add color? Leave your comment below.




Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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