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How to use a Transparency Overhead Projector in Art Projects

Updated on October 18, 2016

When we hear about overhead projectors, we tend to remember the old transparency projectors used in schools and business meetings back in the days.

With the new and improved designs in projectors, some people have come to regard overhead projectors as obsolete. This is because the new projectors are smaller, compact, portable, and can digitally project any document or image by connecting it to a computer, laptop, or TV. However, unless you are buying used, these nifty gadgets can get quite expensive.

Nevertheless, contrary to what some people may think about transparency overhead projectors, they are still around and have many uses. Overhead projectors are not only still being used in education and the business world, but in the art world as well.

When looking for a projector to use in art, there are several options for the artist that are less expensive than the modern digital projectors. These art projectors range from the simplest, such as the Artograph EZ Tracer Projector, to the more advanced Artograph Super Prism Art Projector, and with prices ranging from the mid $20’s to $270 dollars.

However, if you are a struggling artist, and are looking for a decent and inexpensive way to reproduce or transfer your artwork or photo to a canvas, wall, fabric, or other painting surface, a transparency overhead projector is the best way to go.

With a transparency overhead projector, you can say goodbye to grid and freehand drawings and come out looking like a professional artist, even if you’re not. They are very easy to use, and can save you a lot of time.

To get started with your project you will need:

  • An overhead projector

You can find new and used overhead projectors in e-Bay, Amazon, Craigslist, the classifieds, or office and school supply stores. Office supply stores may also have them for rent.

  • An image

You will need an image. It can be either a photograph, scanned image, internet picture, or a drawing.

  • Transparencies

3M and Apollo makes transparencies that are made exclusively for copiers, inkjet printers, and laser printers. If you have access to a copy machine or a printer that prints in either black & white or color, you can copy or print out your image on to the transparency film. You can also draw or trace your artwork directly onto the transparency as long as the image fits within the transparency’s size of 8 ½ x 11. If it doesn’t, you may have to reduce the image size before printing or copying it to the transparency.

  • Painting surface

A canvas, wall, or any paintable surface to project your image on to.

  • Pencil or charcoal

To trace and outline your projected image on to your paintable surface.



  • It is better to have the room dimly lit, and the overhead projector sitting on a small table or chair. That way you can easily move the projector forward or back as you adjust the size of your image.

  • If you have to store away your projector before you have completed tracing your image, you can mark the area on the floor where the table or chair legs stood with painters tape or a marker. This will enable you to place the projector back in the exact spot as before.

  • Do not turn on and off the overhead projector simultaneously or you risk blowing the small lamp in your projector. It's a good idea to keep a spare lamp, as the lamp is the first thing to go.

  • If you printed the transparency in color and you are done tracing your image onto your surface, you can use the transparency as a color guide by placing a white sheet behind the transparency film. The colors will become vivid and will help you in your painting.

  • Keep your transparencies in a protective sleeve as in a file folder. They can be used over many times.

  • Cover your overhead projector when not in use because it can collect dust easily and affect the focus of your images, as well as clog the cooling fan.

On to the project:

Getting your image copied to the transparency is the key, as you cannot use paper on your overhead projector. If you use anything other than a transparency, the image will come out like a dark blotch on your canvas or wall. The light of the projector has to pass through the image in order to project it onto your painting surface.

Once you have your image copied or printed onto the transparency, you are set to go.

1. Place the overhead projector on a table or chair directly in front of your blank canvas, fabric, wall or object you want to draw on. To hold your fabric or canvas up against a flat vertical surface, you can use tape for fabrics or thumb tacks for canvases.

2. Turn the projector on and place your transparency with the image on the glass. The image will project on to your work area.

3. Move the projector forward if you would like your image smaller or back if you would like the image larger.

4. Focus the image on the projector until you see the image clearly, and begin to trace it on to your fabric, canvas, wall or other surface.

5. Now you are ready to paint your masterpiece on your surface.

© Faithful Daughter

All rights reserved. Any redistribution, reproduction, republishing, rebroadcasting or rewriting of part or all of the contents in any form or manner is prohibited without the express written consent of the author and owner, Faithful Daughter.
All rights reserved. Any redistribution, reproduction, republishing, rebroadcasting or rewriting of part or all of the contents in any form or manner is prohibited without the express written consent of the author and owner, Faithful Daughter. | Source



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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I love this idea - my friend did her own drawnig once and traced it on the wall and it came out so cool!! I've always wanted to try it out. This would be a great way for me to do it...I would need the paint by numbers :)!!

    • Faithful Daughter profile imageAUTHOR

      Evie Lopez 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Thanks b.Malin. Overhead projectors are very useful to artists.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      8 years ago

      My sister is an Artist and I think she still has one around. Enjoyable Hub Faithful Daughter, very Interesting... I will Bookmark this one for my sister to read.

    • Faithful Daughter profile imageAUTHOR

      Evie Lopez 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Lifegate,

      Yes they are still around. I use it for my paintings because it saves me a lot of time transferring my drawings or photos on to stretched canvases. The new ones are too costly but they are nice.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      8 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA


      I didn't realize they still had the old dinosaurs around. I occasionally use one for some of my church work, but one of these days I'm going to get it updated--well, maybe!


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