Transferring With A Grid

Transferring With A Grid

This is my favorite transfer method for drawing and painting with traditional media. You can use this method to transfer a photograph or your finished sketch onto your drawing/painting surface before coloring or painting. 


  • paper or drawing surface
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • eraser
  • reference image (what you want to transfer)

Step 1

You can create the grid over your image in Photoshop or by hand on a print of your image. I like using Photoshop to save paper. 

To create the grid in Photoshop, make sure your rulers are visible (command+R for Mac, ctrl+R for PC). Create guides by clicking over the top and side rulers and dragging down to the center point of your image (mine was the 5" mark), then repeat and align the new guides to the 1/4 and 3/4 mark (mine were 2.5" and 7.5").

The size of your grid will depend on the size and complexity of your image. You will be using the information contained within each square to guide you, so it makes sense to use a larger grid if your image has a lot of intricate detail but not if your image is fairly simple (like mine, which is mostly made up of large shapes). 

Step 2

Recreate your grid on the paper or drawing surface you'll be transferring onto. The process is the same as before. Use your ruler to find the center point, then the 1/4 and 3/4 marks. 

Step 3

Transfer the image one square at a time. Remember to reference the shapes as they appear within each square (i.e. is this shape centered in the square or barely showing in a corner?). You should also "zoom out" every now and then to make sure the image is looking right as a whole.

Once I have the basic sketch down I stop focusing so much on the grid itself and give myself the freedom to make adjustments that bring the image together as a whole. 


Here's the side-by-side comparison

The results are never 100% accurate, which gives the finished piece a more organic and unique look. I like using a grid transfer (instead of projecting or tracing a reference onto a surface) when I paint or draw to help me stay close to the reference without making myself feel like I have to perfectly recreate it. 

More Examples

Here are some examples of pieces I've done using a grid transfer. 

From left to right: The first three are oil on wood panel, the last is oil on gessoed paper. 

Archetypes Series: The Queen

Archetypes Series: The Queen

Draw What You Want To See (Step 3)

Draw What You Want To See (Step 3)