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How to Transfer a Sketch

So you are ready to start a new painting and you've drawn out your design in your sketchbook... Now, how to transfer that to your canvas or panel? There are a number of methods you can try, and we'll explain them below.

My favourite method is to scan the image and trace it out with drawing software. This is great because you can scale up or down your image to any dimension before printing it and transferring it to your canvas. You can also try out different compositions or colours before committing it to the final copy. This only works if you have access to a scanner and printer though, so first I will explain the traditional methods.


Tracing Paper and Transfer Paper

Saral Sally's Artists Graphite Transfer Paper and how to use it
Graphite Transfer Paper

People often confuse "Tracing paper" with "Transfer paper".

Tracing Paper is a thin translucent sketching paper which you lay over your drawing so you can trace the lines.

Transfer paper (or graphite paper) is a thin sheet coated on one side with graphite or carbon. You place the transfer paper in between your sketch copy and your new surface. When you trace over the sketch, the graphite is transferred to the surface below.

Whether you free-hand draw or print out your sketch, transfer paper will be helpful in copying it to the final surface.


  • Transfer paper comes in different colours. Graphite is the most common, which is totally erasable.

  • Coloured graphite is available by Saral such as yellow, non-photo blue, and red.

  • White is common for use on dark areas such as black backgrounds.

  • "Carbon paper" is similar and usually less expensive, but it is NOT erasable.


How to use Tracing Paper:

If you don't have access to a scanner and you don't want to ruin the original drawing, you will want to use Tracing Paper to make a second copy.

Tracing paper is translucent sketch paper for tracing your artwork
Tracing Paper
  • Place a sheet of tracing paper over your drawing.

  • Tape it down to the drawing so it doesn't shift as you're tracing it. Use low-tack tape that won't damage your artwork. I use Scotch brand "Magic tape" as it peels off very easily.

  • Trace out your entire drawing onto the Tracing paper.

  • Un-peel the tracing paper from your drawing.

  • Place a sheet of Transfer paper, graphite side down towards the new surface, and place the Tracing paper sketch over top.

  • Tape all three together gently.

  • Trace over your sketch again with a firm stylus, such as a ballpoint pen. You can use a contrasting colour if you find it easier to see where you've already done.

Peel off the tracing and transfer paper, and the drawing will be transferred onto your new surface below!


Make your own Transfer Paper

If you don't have transfer paper on hand, you can make your own!

  • Colour all over the back of your sketch copy(or any thin paper to put below your sketch) with a soft dark pencil. I used a Blackwing Matte pencil as the graphite is very smooth and dark. You can also use powdered graphite, powdered charcoal, or charcoal.

  • Evenly coat the back of the drawing with adequate graphite.

  • Using the same method as above, trace out your drawing copy, pressing quite firmly.

  • Once you're sure you traced every line, peel back one side of the tape and make sure it's transferred properly before taking it off completely.


How to Scale Up Your Drawing Using a Grid

how to make a drawing grid for your painting
Using a Grid as a Guide

Those methods work great if you need to copy it the same size, but what if you need to make it bigger?

If you can't digitally upscale your drawing, you may have to do it manually. Drawing it out again on your canvas without a guide can be difficult, especially on large canvases (or even something as large as a wall mural).

Traditionally, artists would use a Grid to upscale their drawings more easily. Blocking-in shapes in smaller areas at a time will help you to more accurately reproduce it without distorting the image.

For example, I often find that I draw the subject too large or too small when I don't make a solid plan before getting started.

1. Determine the "Aspect Ratio" of your Drawing

how to determine the aspect ratio of your drawing
Determine the Aspect Ratio

Before picking out your final surface, you will need to know the aspect ratio of your picture.

The aspect ratio of an image is calculated by "dividing its width by its height."


A 9"x12" drawing has the same aspect ratio as an 18"x24" or even a 36"x48" canvas, because it divides evenly within it. This aspect ratio is 3:4.

A 5"x10" or a 6"x12" drawing both have an aspect ratio of 1:2 and would work on canvases with the same aspect ratio(such as: 10"x20", 24"x48", 30"x60", etc.)

You will want to pick a surface that is the same aspect ratio as your drawing, for this method to work best.

2. Create a Grid over your Drawing

make a drawing guide
Make a Guide

Determine what size you will make each square of your grid. I find that it's easiest to use one inch, because canvases are sold in inches in North America.

My drawing is a circle, so it has a 1:1 ratio, and can be scaled up to any size circle. The same would be true of a square.

  • Tape a piece of Tracing Paper onto your sketch securely

  • Mark out the top and sides

  • Divide your drawing into even rows and columns

  • Use this grid as a guide to recreate it on your canvas

3. Recreate the Grid on your Canvas or Panel

On your chosen surface, you will also draw a grid. Instead of one inch squares, your scale will be proportionally larger to fit the new size. So if your drawing is an 8" circle and you need it to become a 16" circle, you will need to draw each square in the grid 2"x2" in size, because we are making it twice as large.

black and white value painting study
9"x12" Study

I used this method to scale up a 9"x12" value study to a 36"x48" canvas for the final painting ➣

  • The small test canvas is 9" wide, with each square being one inch on the grid.

  • On the large canvas each square will have to be 4x larger(because 9 divides evenly into 36 four times).

  • Each one inch on the small canvas will become a 4x4" square on the large canvas.

  • So on the small canvas there are 9 columns, one inch wide - and on the large canvas there are 9 columns four inches wide. The small canvas will be divided into 12 one inch rows, and the large canvas will be divided into 12 four inch rows.

4. Redraw your Picture Following the Grid

using a grid to scale up a picture on a canvas painting
36"x48" Canvas

Draw your picture again, but use the grid as a guide to help you recreate it proportionally.

You can even divide each square further to help you redraw it accurately if needed.

This makes it much easier to piece together elements in the drawing in relation to each other, especially with complicated compositions such as ones with architectural elements and so on.

It takes some time, but this is a really accurate and helpful method for complicated pieces.


Transferring from a Print-Out

If you are tech-savvy and have all the gadgets, the easiest way to reproduce your sketch is to scan or photograph it, and then print it out. If you have drawing software and a tablet or iPad, you can trace it and make any final adjustments too. This is my favourite method, because you can print it to the exact size needed without much hassle.

1. Print your Sketch to Scale

If your picture is larger than your printer, you may have to splice it together.

For very large pieces I usually draw it out using the grid method, because it's a lot of paper to print and stitch together.

2. Tape it to a sheet of Transfer paper

Make sure you keep the messy graphite side facing down towards the table

Trim the excess. Tape both down to your panel securely.

3. Trace out your Sketch

how to transfer a sketch onto canvas
Trace out your Design

Using a firm stylus, trace out your sketch.

The graphite from the transfer paper will copy it to the surface below.

This method works great for canvas, wood panels, paper, etc.

how to transfer sketch onto panel


You can reuse graphite paper many times with continued effect, because the lines will usually be in different areas. A roll should actually last you a very long time. Use low-tack tape so that you can un-peel it and reuse it again next time.


Tracing Paper and Transfer Paper Explained:

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