When COVID19 started in March 2020, the idea of making a mask with my own face seemed pretty obvious to me. After all, I’ve made plenty of t-shirt prints over the years and was quite experienced. I thought it would be common, as the craft isn’t very difficult. However, since then, I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on it, and in 6 months I’ve yet to see another person with one, so I figured it’s time I share how to do it. Quite simple.
The essential process is creating an image of your face, printing it on inkjet iron-on paper, and then ironing it on a simple plain-white mask. Here’s how it’s done.
1. Order the iron-on paper. There are many brands, but I recommend this one from Amazon (PPD), as I found them both affordable, and reliable (some other brands I’ve tried can be hard to peel-off the paper backing). It’s $14 for a pack of 20, and you can also get a 10-pack for $10. Depending on your mask size, one sheet would make 2-3 masks, so for $14 you can make masks for the whole class.
2. Take a photo of your face. You’d probably wear your mask mostly indoors, so the photo should be indoors too, to match the colors and white-balance best. Take the picture from 3-4 feet away to avoid lens-distortion, but not much farther so as to not lose resolution (unless you have a very modern phone with a high-res camera).
3. Remember that the mask stretches around your face, so a front-face photo won’t do and we need to stretch it a bit. For that, you’ll need graphics software. No need for anything expensive or to be a “photoshopper”. I use the free paint.net, and it works perfectly.
4. Measure your mask dimensions, as well as your face. I recommend measuring the distance between your nose-bridge (where the mask reaches) and chin (where the print would end), as well as the distance between the ends of your mouth.
5. Open your photo in Paint.Net and crop it from the bridge of your nose (where the mask would reach) to the chin.
6. Resize the image so that the height matches what your face size is (use Ctrl-R and specify the height on the bottom, in the “print size” area). That would be about 3.5” high for most adults.
7. Assuming your photo was taken straight, the width should be good. You can confirm by cropping around the mouth, and then pressing Ctrl-R and seeing if the “width” at the bottom matches what you measured your face to be (about 2 inches for most adults)
If its not perfectly the same, don’t fret too much – you are likely to need to print several times to get a good match anyway, so just resize the image to get reasonably close and move-on.
8. Now, create a new document at the size of your mask.
9. From the other image, select the middle square, about 1/2 inch away from the mouth edge on each side. Copy, and paste it into the new document, in the middle:
10. Next, the left and right sides of the face need to be copied and pasted on the left and right of the mouth, but they need to be STRETCHED to fill that space. You need to SELECT that area, copy it into a new document, and then RESIZE it with the “maintain aspect ratio” turned off. The exact sizes change from person to person, but for an average person, that would be stretching a piece that’s about 50 pixel wide to be about 150 pixel wide.
11. Take the stretched piece and paste it onto the other image, and the same for the right-side.
12. The inkjet-transfer is done in mirror, so next, you need to FLIP the image horizontally (from the ‘Image’ menu). Once it’s ironed-on, it will look normal.
13. Finally, use the Eraser tool to erase the “background” on the sides and bottom. For a better result, make sure you set the “Hardness” slider to a low number, like 20%. That way it’s less likely to leave-behind dark markings. This is the most tedious and error-prone part of the job, so be patient. This process is known as “burning” and it’s one of the things graphics designers practice the most. Photoshop has some tools to automatically do it for us, but it’s not 100% reliable. Keep in mind that you can adjust the brush-size to make the work easier. Also, SAVE your work every few minutes, just in case you make a mistake and want to go back (you can also use UNDO if you were a bit rough). Finally, keep in mind that that part of the mask is going to be just at the edge of the face, so most people won’t notice if it’s not perfect.
14. Now, you are ready to print. I recommend copy/pasting the image into WORD, where you have easier control over the size of the print. Use that to stretch it to the right width
15. I suggest to make a test-print on regular paper, and then cut around it and put it on your face, and check in the mirror if it looks allright. If you were careful with your measurements, it might be a perfect fit right away. If not, you might need to shrink or stretch the image and try again once or twice until it matches the face perfectly (then again, you might WANT it to not match and look a little weird)
16. Once the print looks good, print it on the inket transfer paper you ordered. Note that the paper needs to be fed into the printer at a certain direction so that the print is done on the smooth side.
17. Use scissors to cut around the face area, but do leave at least ¼” margin all around, as the ironing process can sometimes melt the inkjet die and cause it to ooze.
18. Follow the transfer-paper instructions to iron the print to the mask. Usually, that entails heating the iron to the max temp, ironing it on in back-and-forth motions for about 2-3 minutes, letting it cool down for 2-3 minutes, and then peeling off the paper. With any luck, you’ll be done.
19. Remember that the inkjet transfer is a relatively thin plastic film, and not designed to withstand punishment. I advise:
a. Not washing it in the washing machine at all, but doing so by hand with luke-warm water or colder
b. If you do wash it in the machine, at least don’t tumble-dry it.
c. Not folding the mask
d. Not leaving the mask in the sun or other harsh weather