Foam Tattooing (Graphics Transfer)

Every gotten a tattoo. Well if you have this process might be a bit familiar. Transfer your graphics printed on a printer to foam with an old fax machine.

This is a process that I started developing in June 2022 where I needed to print a classrooms worth of Tombstone graphics and transfer them to foam for carving. The process is a near identical process to what tattoo artists sometimes do where they scan the image they plan to tattoo on a thermal copier. The copy produces a ink transfer that when your skin is moisturized it transfers the ink to your skin as a guide for the artist to tattoo. Since extruded polystyrene is pores as well, I figure might as well see if it works. With the right moisture catalyst... it is possible and works very well!

Tools and Supplies



The Potion (Moisture Transfer Catalyst)

For this process to work you will need a moisture catalyst that distributes the right amount of moisture for the transfer to be clean. Too much moisture and you will get a mess of ink and no discernable text or image to guide your carving. The Maker86 Foam Tattoo Transfer Catalyst is a specially designed moisture solution to get the best transfer results. This is a proprietary solution developed by MalaMaker.

Dispensing Container

It is recommended that you use a spray bottle to dispense the mixture with a fine mist nozzle.

The Process

This has been one of the most rewarding processes to come up with. It is really easy and when testing this with people, I explained how to do it for literally 1 minute and the entire group was able to repeat the process with zero help. I hope this helps in your prop making processes.

Printing Your Graphics

Well... Using your standard printer, print the desired graphics you want to carve in the foam. Make sure the graphics are converted to a black and white color palate for the best results when using a thermal copier with transfer paper.

Creating A Transfer

For this process you will need a Thermal Copier and Transfer Paper. Using the instructions that came with the machine and the graphics you have printed create a copy of your graphics using the transfer paper. This may need a bit of trial and error to get it right. My machines require the mirror setting on and "deepness II".

Maker86 Industries offers a service to get your own artwork made into a transfer without buying a thermal copier of your own. Found here.

Pre-Made Transfers

Maker86 Industries does offer some pre-made transfers. One notable pre-made transfer is "The Crack Pack" which is a pack of 8 unique cracks that you can apply to your foam pieces to get a realistic crack stencil.

Applying the Moisture Catalyst

  1. Shake Maker86 Transfer Catalyst well before use.

  2. Spray Maker86 Transfer Catalyst on the surface of the foam in the area where you desire to apply the stencil.

  3. Let the solution sit on the surface for 1 minute.

  4. With a paper towel wipe off the transfer catalyst.

  5. Repeat step 2 and 3 if humidity is below 30%.

  6. Spray Maker86 Transfer Catalyst on the surface of the foam in the area where you desire to apply the stencil.

  7. Using a dry foam brush, lightly smooth the Transfer Catalyst on the surface of the foam. Be careful to not remove too much catalyst. There should be a sheen of smooth Transfer Catalyst on the surface of the foam. See Tutorial Wiki page for photo examples.

Laying the Transfer

  1. Lay the stencil, ink side down.

    • Avoid dragging the stencil across the surface.

    • Avoid ripples in the stencil paper.

  2. Press the transfer paper into the moisture transfer catalyst left on the surface of the foam.

  3. For any areas of ink on the transfer sheet that is not a deep blue apply a light spray of Transfer Catalyst and lightly brush the solution into the transfer sheet.

  4. Leave the stencil applied to the foam for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

  5. Remove Stencil from the foam, See 'Reusability' section for reusing stencils.

  6. Let the foam sit to dry.

    • Do not wipe the surface until totally dry.

  7. Start carving!!!!


Even though I do not guarantee reusability of the transfer beyond 1 use, in user testing, the group unprompted just starting passing common pieces around and were able to use them 3-4 times. So do this on your own judgement, testers did prove that this was possible.

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