Pick the right transparency film for your needs and how to print on the film for best results.
Transparency paper is a versatile type of acetate film that has uses from craft tool, screen printing necessity, to a classroom enhancer. But what is it really made from and how can you start to create with it yourself?
This article is extensive! So we’ve split it up into key sections with a table of contents for you to find the information you need quickly.
Table of Contents
What Is Transparency Paper?
Before you dive into making anything out of transparency paper, it helps to know what it actually is.
Simply put, transparency paper, or transparency film, is a flexible sheet of clear, smooth material, usually cellulose acetate. It feels like thin plastic, and it’s as transparent as a sheet of glass. These acetate sheets can have a printable coating applied so that they work with inkjet or laser printers.
Perhaps you remember transparency sheets from your schooling. A lot of these types of sheets have been used as clear projector sheets in classroom settings.
Of course, these can be used for these purposes, but creatives have found some really amazing uses to get out of them since then!
What Types of Transparent Film Are There?
Transparent paper comes in a couple of different types, although they all come back to the same basic form: clear, thin sheets full of possibilities.
Write-On Transparency Film
The most commonly used type of transparent film for projectors and presentations is write-on film. Write-on film can be purchased in either sheets or bulk-sized rolls that can be cut into an individual’s preferred size. It is designed to work well with markers – and these are the ones you might be most familiar with from those school years.
Write-on film can be cleaned of dry erase marker easily which makes it amazing for reuse. If you use permanent markers, you can actually keep your design or writing for later (and it won’t smudge once dry).
Again, this type of transparent film works well in educational or presentation settings, but it’s not designed to be printed on. If you try printing on it, the ink has nowhere to absorb and will leave a smudged mess of wet ink!
These are typically the least expensive type of transparency film if you don’t need to print anything on them.
Plain Paper Copier Film
Probably one of the oldest types of printable transparency, these only work with those copier machines. Keep in mind that paper copiers are the bulky, industrial-sized printers usually only used in offices and large workplaces, so this type of transparency film doesn’t work with home printers.
However, if an industry wants to create a high volume of printed transparency films, this form works great. It comes in US Letter Sizes paper, but often only works with black toner from the laser copier machines.
The companies that make these films tend to be older companies with old business relationships with companies and schools. As a result, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation or competition in this space, making them often the most expensive.
You may also notice that they have lower reviews online than other transparency types.
Laser Transparency Film
This type of transparent paper has the same sheet size as plain copy paper (8.5×11″ US Letter size), but it is designed for use with all laser printers – and only laser printers.
These printers can be found both at home and at the office, and they always use toner in order to print page after page. Since they use toner instead of ink, laser film is designed to specifically react with the toner to get the best results.
Many laser transparency films only come in black and white printing options as well. So if you need color, make sure you read the fine print!
A good note on laser transparencies is that they tend to be a lot more economical than plain copier film.
Inkjet transparency film
Similar to laser film, there is a special coating added to one side of the plastic film. The coating ensures the inkjet printer’s inks actually absorb and dry. Inkjet printers use ink cartridges rather than toner, so inkjet transparency paper works by soaking in the ink as it is printed rather than creating a chemical reaction with toner.
Because of the nature of ink, these transparencies can sometimes take time to dry depending on the air’s humidity and print settings (we’ll get into that more below).
The best things about inkjet transparency paper are that they print in full color and will work with most home printers! That’s because most of us use inkjet printers for their ease of use compared to laser printers and their toner.
When it comes to pricing, these tend to be more economical as well since they’re focused on the consumer market. However, you can get what you pay for, depending on how well the company applies the absorbant coating and if it is truly clear or milky-translucent.
More on that below.
Transparency Film Printing Guide
What Type of Transparent Paper Works with Your Printer?
Needless to say, every printer is different and so is every type of transparent paper. How do you know which type you can use with your own printer?
For the best quality of transparent prints, write-on film should generally be avoided with any printer. Its surface is fitted for use with simple markers, not toner or ink. If you try to put a sheet of write-on film through your printer, you’ll more likely get a smudgy mess with smearing and an ink-covered print head.
What Kind of Printer do You Have?
So, to figure out which type of transparency film sheets you need, you should first identify the type of printer you plan on working with. If it’s a small, at-home printer, is it a laser printer or inkjet printer?
“I don’t talk printers”, you say. “I just want an answer!”
We’ll try to make it easy on you! If you change your toner or ink – there’s your first indication. Toner means it’s a laser printer, whereas inks and ink cartridges mean it’s an inkjet printer.
But if you really aren’t sure, check the manual you received with the printer. It will identify the printer type on the first or second page. If you threw the manual away years ago (oops), don’t fret—check the model number on your printer – usually right on the front face. From there, just do a quick search of the model online to find out whether it’s a laser or inkjet printer.
As mentioned above, laser films work best with laser printers, and inkjet films work best with inkjet printers. By using the correct film with the correct printer type, a cleaner image will be printed with little to no smudging.
However, if you still aren’t sure which type of printer your copier falls under, or you are unable to get your hands on the correct type you need, you can always try out plain paper copier films with any printer. Plain paper copier film sheets are designed to work best with large paper copiers, but they are the same size as both laser and inkjet film sheets, so they may be used interchangeably as needed—just be on the lookout for possible smudges popping up every once in a while.
One Last Thing – Is Your Printer Compatible!?
All right, you know your printer type. You know which transparency type to buy… but there’s one last important thing!
Is your printer model compatible with transparencies?
It’s the last step. You’ll need to check your printer manual for this one. Still don’t magically have it?
Type in your search engine, “YOUR PRINTER MODEL manual”. This should pull up the printer’s manual online, often a PDF file. When you open the page or file, use the find function to make your life 1000x easier.
Control+F on a PC and Command+F on a Mac (or “search on page” on your phone browser). In there, type “transparencies” or “transparency”. You will often find a note saying it is “Not compatible with transparencies” or instructions on how to print on transparent film.
What if nothing comes up? Unfortunately, your printer is likely not compatible with transparency film.
If your printer isn’t compatible, you can still try and print. We’ve seen success and failure both ways, but we don’t recommend it. It can often get the plastic film “stuck” in the feeder, cause smudging, or not absorb the inks properly.
What Is the Best Inkjet Transparency Film?
The best transparency sheets come in 2 types: clear and waterproof.
Clear Inkjet Transparency Film
Clear transparencies work the best for all types of projects, but perhaps they are the best for certain types of crafts, overhead projector use, and screen printing.
There can be really big differences between the types of clear transparency films on the market. Many of them are not as “clear” as they claim to be. This could mean they have a hazy coating, bumpy or grainy texture. Some can even have such a light coating that prints don’t print vibrant or clear enough.
The most clear transparency paper on the market, that also produces the best results, is our own 100% Clear Inkjet Transparency Film. It comes in 30 sheets per pack and has proven itself to provide the perfect balance between clarity and print quality.
We’re proud to say it’s the best, most-rated inkjet transparency film on the market today! You can find our Octago 100% Clear Inkjet Transparency Film here.
Waterproof Transparency Film
Waterproof transparencies are also great for tons of projects, and often screen printers use them. The reason for this is to keep excess liquid created in the screen printing process from damaging the original design.
Those who want to make transparent paper copies that are used in classrooms and offices may like waterproof options, too, because it will protect pages from everyday spills.
The trade-off is, the waterproof coating makes these transparencies a milky-opaque color. This makes them not quite as good for overhead projector use or things you absolutely need clear transparencies.
Octago also has one of the best Waterproof Inkjet Transparency Papers on the market. Since there was already a trade-off in opacity, we enhanced the coating to absorb more ink! We couldn’t do this on our clear transparencies to keep them crystal clear.
Because of this, you can get the most stunning prints with our waterproof film. That means darker blacks and richer colors. We also were able to add an instant-dry coating! That’s right – no more waiting around for your transparency to finish drying.
Take a look at our Octago Waterproof Transparency Film here.
Which transparencies should you buy for inkjet printers?
It depends on your end use.
Do you need clarity more than anything? This can apply to certain crafts, like floating ornaments. Some screen printers also don’t use super strong UV lights for their stencils. In these cases – get the 100% Clear Transparencies.
Do you need the best print results? If you’re printing and you need darker blacks, more vibrant colors, and the printed image to pop off the page a bit more – get the Waterproof Transparency Film.
Still unsure? Contact us directly and we’re happy to help you figure it out!
Getting the Best Print Results with Inkjet Printers
Of course, life would be so easy if we could just put transparent films in our printers and hit the print on our devices. Unfortunately, though, this is not the case, though we do have some tips to get the best print quality possible when printing on transparent paper.
Generally, if your printer is compatible, it will have a “transparency” print setting. Sometimes, devices may alternatively show a “specialty paper” setting, and this can often work well, too.
If you can’t find these settings, your best option is to use “photo glossy paper” as a setting. Doing this will make sure your printer outputs more inks from an inkjet printer but can sometimes increase the drying time.
Next, before even printing on transparent paper, you may consider checking your page or design to be printed for thick lines or light colors. Thick lines or wide fonts can sometimes to drown out the appearance of thinner ones on transparent paper, and light colors made be too faded compared to darker ones.
After starting the print job of your printer, be sure to place only your clear transparency sheets in the top print tray with the printed side up, and remove any other papers to keep the paper entrance clear. Then, as each transparent film comes out, remove them one by one, carefully by the unprinted corners or edges, and lay them out on a dry surface for drying.
This rule really only applies to transparency film for inkjet printers because laser printers have little to no dry time involved, but many transparent films printed with ink need at least some drying time.
Transparency film isn’t drying?
First and foremost – double or triple-check you’re putting the transparency in the right way! This happens to the best of us. Like photo paper, only one side is printable, and transparencies can be so clear that it’s hard to discern the printable side.
Can’t tell which side is the printable one anymore? Try using your breath to fog up the film. The side that does NOT fog up is the printable side.
Once you know which side is printable, check your printer loading tray – should the printable side be face-up or face-down? Double-check it’s going the right way. And try the other side (just in case!). This has solved a lot of challenges people face.
One other big factor could be your printer brand – is it an Epson printer?
Epson printers can produce beautiful results. But one thing, from experience, is they output more ink than other inkjet printers. Sometimes using the “glossy photo paper” setting results in too much ink being released. Since the transparency paper’s coating can only absorb a set amount of ink, this can oversaturate the print, leaving your result wet and smearing.
Live somewhere humid? Something that can also increase drying time is if you’re in a more humid climate. That’s because the microporous coating on inkjet transparency film can absorb some of the air humidity.
So if the photo paper setting isn’t an option, we recommend trying some others – try the “plain paper” or “matte paper” setting since these tend to output less ink. If your printer uses less ink, this reduces drying time but can lead to less saturated print results.
If you’ve already purchased printable transparency film, check your packaging to see if there are instructions included. Many brands don’t provide those – but we do at Octago. We also have a post specifically for how to get the best results for your transparency prints here.
How Can Transparency Paper Be Used?
Classrooms & Board Rooms
As we all likely know from experience, transparency film can be used both in classrooms and board rooms. How you want to use it to enhance your speaking and engagement is up to you!
Printable transparencies can provide beautiful visuals, while write-on film gives you engagement.
What if you want to print an image and write on the transparency?
A great trick is that most printable transparencies only have one printable side. The non-coated side, is just like write-on film. So all you need to do is “mirror” your print!
That way when you present it, the image appears normal. The printable side is face-down, which means you can use your dry erase markers on top and it’s wipeable!
Did we say cake and eat it? Yeah, we did.
The DIY and crafting possibilities for printable transparency paper are endless. Click here for 5 DIY projects you can do with transparency film.
Here we’ll just look at the top 3 best transparent paper projects.
1. DIY Transparent Paper Stained Glass
Crafting amateurs and masters alike can easily create beautiful stained “glass” with transparent paper sheets.
To complete this project, you will need to use inkjet transparency film with an inkjet printer because the stained designs will be embossed with powder while the ink is still wet. You can also try the project without the embossing with a laser printer, though, and just get a slightly different result. To do the embossing, though, you will also need embossing powder and a heat gun.
To start, create or find your own designs to print on your inkjet transparency film. These designs can be anything you want in your stained glass craft window, from simple triangles of color to sunset and landscape scenes. Then, print these designs out on the rough side of the transparency paper, and then, while the ink is still wet, coat the designs with the embossing powder. After that, use the heat gun to completely melt the embossing powder, and be sure to move quickly so you do not warp the transparency sheet.
After your embossing is complete and dry to the touch, cut out your designs in the shape of a window, and consider creating or using a purchased frame to put the design inside of. Then, when your design is held to the light, your embossing effect will show through with all of the bright colors you printed!
2. DIY Transparent Window Cards
Even more simple to make are transparent “window” cards which can be made with any type of transparent film and printer.
To create this design, you will need some form of cardstock and transparent film while extra card decorations, such as stickers, stamps and ribbon, are optional.
To start, create or find a design you would like to appear in the clear window on the front of your card. This could include a short greeting or maybe an illustrated design, like a sketch of a bouquet. Then, print your design in whatever size you will be making your card, for example, 4 inches by 6 inches.
Next, allow your printed page to dry, if needed, and take the time to cut out your card. Fold the cardstock of your choosing in half, and cut it in your card’s chosen size. Then, using a crafting knife or cutter, cut out a rectangular opening on the front side of the card; this will serve as your card’s “window”.
Lastly, cut out your printed design to a size that will fit your card’s window, and then use glue or tape to adhere it to the window opening. Finish off your card with decorations or add a personal message inside.
3. DIY Floating Ornaments
For a holiday-themed craft, try creating a floating ornament made with transparency film. You can put the photo of a loved one inside, or perhaps create your own text-based design wishing everyone a happy holiday.
For this project, you will only need transparent paper and a clear, plain ornament, either in disk form or rounded form.
Before starting, make sure you measure the width of your chosen ornament and then resize the image you would like to put inside to match the width. So, for example, if your ornament is 3 inches wide, make sure the image you will print is 3 inches wide maximum.
Next, print and cut out your design in a shape to match your ornament; you don’t want a square photo inside of a round bulb. Then, roll your design into a tight scroll, pop off the top of your ornament’s bulb, and slide the scroll inside. It will take some maneuvering to get the scroll open and your design facing forward inside, but once you have it, you can add some glitter inside the ornament, too, before closing up the top and hanging it wherever you’d like.
How Are Transparency Papers Used in Screen Printing?
A lot of DIYers like to make their own t-shirts, tote bags and more with unique designs they created and print onto transparent papers themselves. But how, exactly, do they do this?
This is the realm of professional-quality t-shirt production and printing. But trust us, screen printing is a lot easier than it sounds!
What you need to start silk screen printing
You can do it yourself with just transparency paper (also named screen printing film in this case), a silk screen printing frame (which you can also make yourself), photo emulsion, ink, a squeegee, a bright light and a lot of patience.
If you’d like to make the silk screen frame yourself, you can do so by building a wooden frame out of 2 by 2 wood planks and stapling a sheet of thin polyester meshing (not real silk) onto it very tightly. Different mesh densities will allow different amounts of ink through. It can be fun to try, but if you want, they can be purchased quite inexpensively to start!
Step 1: Print Your Design
Once you have a design that you’d like to use, print it onto a transparency paper in black and white (our Waterproof Transparencies produce the darkest blacks).
Step 2: Add Photo Emulsion to Your Frame
Next, using your squeegee, coat your silk screen with photo emulsion in a dark room, and try to get the most even, thinnest coat possible. Do this to both sides of the silk screen, and then let it air dry horizontally, again, completely in the dark.
Step 3: “Burn” The Image
Once your photo emulsion is dry in about 1 to 3 hours, you’ll want to lay your silk screen down, flat, on a surface just below a very bright light. Some people have even used sunlight to complete this stage, but an electric light of at least 150 watts will work the quickest. Now, be sure to lay your printed transparency paper down with your design in reverse, and you can lay a sheet of glass or plastic overtop it to keep it tight against the silk screen.
Step 4: Wash the Screen
Refer to your photo emulsion’s instructions for the exposure time before removing the glass or plastic and your transparent film. Now, wash your silk screen with lukewarm water, being sure to remove the photo emulsion without damaging your transferred design. Some people use their shower head to spray the emulsion out.
Step 5: Ink Time!
Then, when you’re ready to transfer your design to the material of your choice (such as that tote bag), lay your material flat and place the silk screen on top of it with the design facing the correct way (no longer reversed).
Pour your ink over the design, then run your squeegee over it one time from top to bottom. Then, after carefully removing the screen, you can hang your material to dry, and be sure to run it through the dryer once to lock in your design, and the screen printing is complete.
Step 6: You did it!
That’s it! You just made a professional-quality print. This is the same technique used at custom t-shirt shops.
Feel a new profession starting?
Where to Buy Transparency Film
Now you’re a transparency paper guru. The last question is – where can you buy the best transparencies?
You can find all types of transparent film here on our website or on Amazon, Walmart.com, and other online office supply retailers.
We offer both clear and waterproof transparencies, which are bestsellers on Amazon. We’d love your support for our family-run business by buying from us directly!
And as always, feel free to reach out with any questions at all.