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How To Use Graphite Paper To Transfer Drawings

Graphite transfer is a simple, traditional method used by illustrators, designers and artists to transfer same-sized drawings from a preliminary surface to a final working surface. This video tutorial presents two methods for transferring images using the same materials: graphite and tracing paper.



Using commercial graphite paper

Commercial graphite paper such as Saral is coated on one side with a smooth layer of graphite. It comes in a box, and you tear off the size of sheet you need, similar to rolls of waxed paper and aluminum foil.

As shown in my video, to use graphite transfer paper:

  1. Place the graphite paper coated side down on your working surface.
  2. Tape your drawing right-side-up in place on top of it.
  3. Use a hard lead pencil (H, HB, for example) to trace the drawing onto the working surface. You can be as detailed as you want to with the drawing.
  4. When you’re finished tracing, simply remove the drawing and graphite paper.

A sheet of graphite paper can be used many times over before you need to toss it away.



To make your own graphite paper

Follow these steps to make your own graphite paper:

  1. Take a sheet of Drafting Vellum (a thick type of tracing paper) and,
  2. Using a soft graphite stick (4B, 6B, or 8B), coat one side with a solid layer of graphite.
  3. Dampen a cotton ball or soft cloth with rubbing alcohol and apply the alcohol over the entire graphite layer using a circular motion. The alcohol will dissolve and redistribute the graphite, smoothing it and reducing its smudge capability.
  4. Let the alcohol dry thoroughly (really this takes just a few seconds) and then
  5. Roll up the sheet (coated side to the inside) and store it in a handy place. I keep mine inside a paper towel tube.

Use your DIY graphite paper just like the commercial variety. You can use it over and over again before it stops working well.


To transfer a drawing without using graphite paper

You can transfer your drawings without using transfer paper at all (this method is also shown in the video) if you don’t mind compromising the reverse side of the drawing. This method works best with drawings on thin ml paper, such as tracing vellum or standard drawing paper.

  1. Use a soft graphite pencil or stick to coat the reverse side of the drawing.
  2. Lay the drawing right side up on top of your working surface. Tape it in place.
  3. Trace the drawing onto the working surface.
  4. Remove the drawing and clean up unwanted smudges from the working surface with a soft eraser.


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Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.