Handmade fishing lures - How to get the most out of your printer

Painting lures is easier if you don't know how.

I don't, so I'm already well on my way.

I started by owning a printer. That bit was easy. Actually all of this is easy.

Basically I'm describing how to get the most out of your printer by asking it to make handmade fishing lures, like the one pictured on the left, instead of whatever it is you do with your printer at the moment.

I nabbed a copy of "Gimp". Gimp or GNU Image Manipulation Program is a free graphics program that some very nice people make so people like us don't have to buy the offerings of other people. They do it because it makes them feel good. Giving stuff away is kind of a cure for everything that's wrong in the world.

You can get the Gimp here http://www.gimp.org/. I happen to use Linux (also free) but there is a download for everyone regardless of what operating system you use.

I'll be doing a rather plain example here so you can see how good it will look, even though it wont be too flashy. I'll also keep it plain so as not to distract from the method. I'll not be too fussed about any minor errors. Seeing some errors and seeing just how little they matter on the finished lure gave me a stack of confidence the first time I tried this.


My first step was to give myself some kind of guide line, so I started with a black smudge. What I'm doing here is only going to be one side, the left. When I'm happy with the left side I'll copy it to the right, then flip it so it lines up. This line just gives me a general indication of the thickening of the lure from tha tail at the bottom, to the head at the top.

Add some background colour with the airbrush tool. The good thing about painting on the screen rather than on a lure is the undo feature. hold Ctrl and hit Z to undo what you just did if it isn't right.

Generally speaking, if you want something to look a little organic, you are best off adding something like a stripe in a few layers of slightly different colour.

I started with a large circle as my airbrush tool, and set it so it painted at about half thickness so you could still see through it a bit.

By keeping it see through and a bit vague, you can go over it a few times with different sized and or different coloured strokes that can be blurred into each other later to give some natural looking gradients.

My next step was to add the beginnings of my top coat. Things that fly tend to have darker tops and lighter undersides so that if they are being attacked from underneath they are light against the light sky, and from above, darker against the darker bottom. Fish fly but they do it under water.

I added a little blur to blend it all in a bit. (Ignore the smudges on the right hand side because they will be cut away. The final cut will be straight up from the "0" in the label "120 things in 20 years" at the bottom of the pic. The smudges are just me testing my brush settings)

Within Gimp and other similar programs, there are filters you can apply. I used a filter to blur the work a few steps back. Other filters do all kinds of things from making your work look like a chalk drawing , to making it look like a mosaic. I used this one that just gave it a bit of texture that reminded me a bit of scales. On others I've done, I've used a tiling filter that added hexagons all over to again give the impression of scales.

I added some random speckle (another filter) and some more green.

I also added the eye which is an adaption of  the "Livered" eyes from my previous post on eyes.

This seems like a lot of steps but its quick, and you can reuse your design to make as many lures as you want. All of them exactly the same, or with whatever variation you might want.

Now to add the dark top I mentioned. This time in very dark green. Unlike life, remember you can use Ctrl + Z to undo if you don't like anything you have done.

Having settled on an outline you are happy with, fill in the rest. Don't be too worried about how unnatural it looks, any wobbly lines or whatever. I promise it will look amazing when its finished.

I blurred just the very dark green section allowing the colour to bleed into the lighter surrounds.

Added some arrows because, in a while, we will be cutting this image into strips and we will want to know which way is up.

At this stage its a good idea to place a dot or a thin line at the corners of what will be your left hand side of your lure. This will make it easier to line up your halves when you combine them.

Almost there.  I copied the left half and paste it to a new image, then flipped the original image horizontally, then copy and past it to the new image.

The result is both halves perfectly lined up.

If you look closely at the top you will see the white line I added to aid in lining up the two halves.

The only final step is to add your name, a model number or date if you care. Or you could name your lure, or do nothing. I did this. Feel free to save this image (right click - save as (even if you cant see all the image it should be there.), print, and try it out. [ Afterthought from the future - If you add a name it's a good idea to add it a bit higher up the stripe than I have here. Make it so the bottom of the name is slightly above the center of the stripe. (for reasons, see the future) ]

The next step is to take your 2D lure and make it 3D.


Start with a hand carved wooden lure with a slot cut for a bib, and holes drilled for the rear and belly hook hang points.

At this stage its best to seal your lure with a wood sealing product to make it water proof in case the lacquer coats get cracked or chipped. To seal you can simply dip your lure by putting a toothpick into the hole drilled for the rear tow point eyelet.

Draw a center line across the back and belly to aid in keeping everything inline.

Take your printout and make sure you have some points that are the same on each side so you can fold it and be certain the image will line up on both sides. I'll use the top and bottom arrows on each side. The next image might explain better.

Cut away some image so you will be able to fold the image exactly in half. In hindsight a better way might have been to draw a box around my entire design.

Now fold it in half along the lure design's spine and crease it firmly.

Measure your lure, and make sure you have around one third more lure design than lure.

I'm using around 120 mm of lure design for my 90mm lure.

Trim any excess. (In my case I cut at the end of the ruler). If you were making a lot of this one design you can edit your image so its cut to the correct size to save ink.

I tend to cut my strip around 15mm wide but it will vary depending on the size and design of your lure.

The strips will be glued on around the lure until it 's covered.

It's worth noting at this stage that there will be some overlap with each new strip being glued over the edge of the last. This means that if there is a pattern on your lure, you may need to take it into account when deciding where to cut each strip. With a striped design like this one, I found its best to cut so that your cut goes through the tip of each stripe. The main thing is to cut at the same place relative to the stripe so that as each one is laid down, the overlapping makes for a desirable design.

Apply some PVA wood glue to the back of the strip.

Take note of the arrows to be sure front is to the front.

Starting at the tail end, lay the strip over the back of the lure so that it can wrap around to the underside. Use the crease in the center of the design to line up with the line you drew on the back of the lure. Bring it around to pinch together at the underside, aligning the meeting of the two ends of the strip with the line you drew on the belly.

Bend the joined strips to one side and crease the paper.

Then bend the other way and crease again.

Cut the excess off at this stage, so that it is as closely cropped to the belly of the lure as you can.

Small adjustment can be made when you press down the ragged bits from the cutting away of the excess. By pushing the seam down and to a side, you can adjust a bit for any error.

Don't worry if it looks a big rough. You will be amazed at the final result I promise.

To check against any secret lure making super powers I might have accidentally picked up, I got my mum to make one and it was perfect the first time with only these instructions to follow. She had never made a lure before, or anything like it.

This is a bit difficult to see, but I found the best way to apply the glue to each strip is to lay some paper over the edge of a table and stick it down with a weight or some tape.

Add a drop of glue to the side right on the edge and then run your strip over the glued bit a few times. This gives an even coat, no excess, and keeps your fingers clean. The glue only needs to be applied to about half the length of the strip.

Add another strip. Remember to cut through the tip of any stripe on your design.

The amount of overlap will depend on the shape of your lure. The reason we are doing this in strips rather than all in one piece is because the strips, and their overlap, adjust for the shape and prevent creases. It also adds a lot to the finished product to have the strips turn into stripes.

It's now possible to see this thing taking shape.

Most of the things you might think are going to be flaws or compromises will in fact turn out to be features.

Things like the overlaps, the seams, and even fingerprints of glue, will be seen in a very different light as soon as we add some gloss coats to this beastie.

If you have added a name or are using my design and don't want to hide the name, make sure you remember the overlap.

Cut the strip before the name strip so that the name is on the bottom of it's strip otherwise the one after it will overlap the name and cover it.

This is the strip before the one with the name on it.

Note the stripe pattern, even though its cut, is still repeating nicely.

I should have put the name a little further toward the front so that it fell higher up the stripe. The strip isn't quite cut at the correct spot here, but this gives an indication of why I wanted to cut them where I did.

It wont matter.

It will work perfectly and will look amazing. I promise.

The same stage but from the top.

The next one gets a bit tricky because of the curve of the lure, and because it's the strip with the eyes.

I leave the eye one and skip to the one after the eyes.

This is a view of the lure looking straight at the front. Adding a flat piece of paper to a surface curved in two directions is difficult, so I cut a V out of the center to allow for the excess paper and prevent wrinkles.

Don't be too fussed if there is a gap or some bare wood visible. Don't worry if there are creases you cant get out, tears in the paper or anything else. If something goes wrong here you can cut out a scrap of paper and add it, you can colour it in with a marker, or do nothing.

For one thing, fish don't look at this end so much, because they tend to be chasing it from behind.

But more importantly, it's going to look amazing in the end. Trust me.

I promise.

There are a few different ways to progress here. In the past I've treated the eyes as just another strip, or as with this time, I've glued them on as  eyes. But always I found it best to add eyes, or the eye strip, last.

In this case I cut them out after measuring where they needed to sit to keep out of the way of the bib.

I decided to leave a bright band of green between them.

Then decided I didn't like the bright band, which was lucky because now I get to show just how much it doesn't matter.

No matter what you do it will look great. I promise.

I decided to colour the green bit between the eyes with a blue biro.

I also used the biro on the tip of the tail where the first bit of paper didn't reach.

This is one of those features I promised. On the finished product it will add some nice natural qualities to the look of this lure.

I think it already looks organic. It reminds me of a moth or shrimp.

The eyes are a little rough, and are upside down I think, but it wont matter.

I promise.

One option for eyes might be stick on craft eyes. The kind of things kids might glue to pet rocks. Another might be to forget this handmade fishing lure making caper, and just sit down with some kids and make some pet rocks.

Clear coat

To make handling easier, and to keep your new lure clean and dust free whilst you paint it, jam a stick into the hole in its tail that will one day be for the rear hook eyelet.

The stick will also allow you to keep the lure off the ground when you dry it, or even mount it in some kind of rotating thing to make the coat dry more evenly.

My next move was to dip the lure into a pot of varnish. I bought "marine grade timber varnish" by a company called Bondall.

I have no idea if this is suitable but it seems to work. From what I've read, two part epoxies are the strongest finish for a lure but I think this product I'm using is a good place to start. Ask for some advice at your hardware store, or use whatever you have at hand.

The secret is to get as thin a coat as you can, and do multiple coats.

Mine looked like this the next day when it was nearly dry.

A lot of people use spray guns, spray cans of paint, or air brushes. I don't have any of those, and don't have the skills to use them.

One important thing to do when dipping is to lift the work out very slowly. I take 30 seconds or more to lift the lure out of the varnish. This makes for a much thinner coat, and a smoother coat. Any air bubbles in the varnish follow the slow, outgoing tide and stay in the varnish rather than being left behind on the lure.

Another thing that will get you a quality finish is rotating your lure as it dries. At first I would roll the stick between my fingers to stop drips forming, but later made a device to rotate them for me.

I'm told the motors and gearboxes in microwaves that operate the turntable work well. As do BBQ rotissery motors. This was once a photocopier fan geared motor. It was also once an experimental automatic fish feeder. Now its a lure drier. [you can also just buy a 12 volt electric motor and gearbox for around $20 from hobby shops or electronics shops - look for a shaft speed of around 30 RPM]

A light sanding, with a fine sandpaper between coats, will get rid of air bubbles, dust, and any insects that may have tried living on your wet lure as it dried.

Any imperfections at this stage will be amplified as you add coats of clear, and will lessen the quality of your finish, so the sanding is a good idea.

I'm rushing the time between coats a bit for the sake of getting this post out. You should really make sure the lure is absolutely dry before adding your next coat to ensure a great finish, and good strength. If you rush, or apply too thick a coat, you get ripples in your varnish, and it will take weeks to dry.

The second coat looks like this...

And the finished product looks like this.

I would guess each lure would take around 25 minutes to glue on the printed design, and if you were dipping five at a time, the dipping might take 10 minutes each all up for four coats.

In spite of the number of times I may have mentioned you needn't worry about being fussy, the final finish largely depends on how careful you are. If I tried to make a perfect lure, I wouldn't want to risk actually using it, so some compromise is required. I think fingerprints and seams add to the final appeal of the finished lure, but I can see why some might want to take a little more pride in the finish.

If I made 10 of these at a time, and if I made some jigs to cut bib slots etc, I think I could make a ready to fish version of the lure pictured here in an hour and a half per lure. That would include
  • carving the lure body from a dowel 
  • shaping the bib (3 or 4 at a time on the grinder)
  • making wire eyelets and gluing them in place
  • gluing on the printed design
  • applying four coats of clear by dipping
  • and 15 minutes for things I haven't thought of
That hour and a half would be spent in sections over two weeks or more depending on the temperature because of drying times for the clear coats.

There are probably a stack of tips I've forgotten to pass on in this post, and I think I'll edit this to try to overcome any shortfall. One tip I can add is that I had some good results printing on coloured paper. It saves printer ink, and its possible to buy pads of different colour of very thin paper. The thinner the paper the smaller the segment ridges where each strip overlaps are. Personally, I prefer the segment ridges and have had some good results with highlighting them with a red marker pen, but is an option worth exploring.

whew. big post. but now I have some more room in my head

[ edit from the future - This post on my tiny super lightweight lures  might interest anyone who found this useful ]


  1. Wicked lure. Great post.

  2. freaking amazing!! you really are a legend of innovation.

  3. Great! Will try it myself at home. Tks!

  4. exelent for DIY without top of the line equipment

  5. What a amazing post with great details. I really appreciate your work.
    Metal business cards

  6. Nice work and very impressive, I'm still trying to find the time to finish a desgin to print out following your innovation

    Bus kid

    1. Are you Bus kid from that fishing site with the lure making section I was on? Probably as Bullwinkle II or 120ThingsIn20Years. If so, did you ever try this method, or did you just get on with what you were already doing? feel free to post a link if you have gone pro now or whatever :) or to post a link to that hand made lure thread. I cant remember where it was, but there was some awesome work going on there.

  7. Thanks everyone. This must have all been all said before I said thanks to people or something. I used to be shy :)


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