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Three years ago I moved to Oregon, just weeks before Christmas. Mark and I had to come up with an idea for family gifts in a hurry with a limited budget. I had seen a set of four decorative coaster tiles selling for forty dollars in a local boutique and thought I could do the same,but much cheaper. I did some research online and only found expensive kits to make photo tiles. Having majored in photography, I recalled an alternative image transfer process using acetone and a xerox color copy and transferring it onto paper so I decided to experiment with it on tile.
The coasters were a hit and pretty much everyone who received a set called to let us know what a great gift it was. We used images of family members from the past and present which included those still alive and those who had passed. Many were brought to tears because of the memories the coasters has elicited and because some of the photos they had never seen. It was nice to know that such a simple and practical gift could be meaningful as well. After many, many,(many) mistakes and hours of frustration my husband and I finally perfected the technique and I’ll share with you how to make the coasters.
The materials are relatively inexpensive, but they do take some time to make.
Here’s what you’ll need to begin :

* 4″ Tile (uncoated). I picked mine up at Home Depot. The package says “Botticino” by Jeffery Court Inc.,(it might be called Giallo Sienna now) and it’s travertine tumbled stone. They come in a pack of nine and I figured for every two or three that come out great, I should have an extra one in case the ink doesn’t transfer well, which does happen (you can always sand the image off and try again). Also note that some packs come with one or two tiles that are too porous to use.
* Inexpensive fingernail polish remover (contains acetone and works better than straight acetone which we’ve tried). The generic one I get from Safeway works great..avoid any that say 100% acetone. The ink will transfer but mine came out looking flat and lacking in detail. Use a well ventilated room or better yet outside. The acetone from the nail polish remover is obnoxious as is the tile sealer. A mask helps too!
* a Bone folder (that thing in between the brush and polish remover). If you don’t have one the back of a spoon, the blunt edge of a butter knife or anything like that works just fine. A bone folder is great if you ever make your own cards and need to create a fold down the middle without the paper getting creased. It has many uses and is worth buying. Michael’s and most craft store carry them. You will be using the blunt end of the bone folder for this project.
* a foam brush (get 2 or three if you’re doing a lot).
* colored copies from Kinkos**. I’ve tried ink jet prints from my computer and it doesn’t work. Don’t waste your time and money trying it. If you have a laser printer I don’t know if it works or not. I’d make at least 3 copies of the same image as you may mess up and the last thing you’ll want to do is make another trip to the print shop this time of the year! Also if your image is faint,up the contrast and saturation on the copier. Make sure you push the reverse or mirror image button on the copier. This way you won’t have images or words showing up reversed on your coasters.
**10/2011~ Ink must be toner ink (ink jet or laser printer ink will not work). 
**6/2012~I had a person mention that their local Kinko’s just switched to laser color copies, so be sure to ask/callbefore printing your images.
*** Someone asked if you use regular or photo paper and all I can say is if you go to Kinkos use their color copier and use the paper they have in there. I never specify a paper but I think its their photo paper that is light like regular paper but smoother.
* a sheet of clear acetate (not pictured). You can pick one up at the print shop while you’re making your copies. This is one of those items you really need as it protects the color copy from being rubbed off before the ink has had time to transfer.
* Cheap latex gloves. Protects your hands from acetone and tile sealer.

Now you can begin~
A. Take two or three coasters and heat them in the microwave for a minute. Heating up coasters helps the ink stick to the tile. (This is one of those tricks we learned after many frustrating attempts).
B. After cutting your images down to fit a 4″ x 4″ tile place image face down on warm tile.


C. Pour some nail polish remover onto the brush and/or the color copy and coat the entire back of the image. Hold image in place while applying the polish remover.
D. Put the sheet of acetate over that and take the blunt end of the bone folder or back of a spoon and rub the entire image. This is the hard part as it takes patience and some elbow grease. You will have to take off the acetate and add some more nail polish remover as it evaporates rather quickly. Every so often stop and slowly lift the corners of the color copy to see if the ink is transferring.
Don’t worry if paper sticks, it can be washed off and rubbed off later. Once your image has transferred you can remove the leftover paper from the color copy and wash it off with water. Use a tile sealer (available at any hardware store) and apply a coat or two to the tile. When it dries you will not even see it and it allows the tiles to be hand or machine washed.
The bottom of this tile is pretty smooth but if you want you can add felt stoppers. I bought a sheet of sticky back felt at Michaels (most craft stores carry these now for about a dollar) and used a hole puncher to punch out tiny stoppers for the bottom of the tiles. Works great!
And that’s it. I made sets of five coasters and wrapped them with a raffia cord or ribbon with a little tag attached. They really do look nice in a set and for all of you artists I know they’d look great with your artwork on there! Also my favorite images are old B&W photos and polaroids from the 60’s. Have fun experimenting with all sorts of images.
Here are some I’m working on for Mark’s cousin to give to her family and friends. In my next life when I have more time I’d love to make a table out of these tiles..how cool would that be. Let me know what you come up with!