I have, in my shop, a custom listing for personalized notebooks with a photo transfer on the cover. An order came in this week, so I took pictures of the process along the way. (I wrote this blog post with photo first, description second - so read what's below each picture to follow along)
I start with the lovely Moleskine brand of notebooks, which I prefer for the stitched binding, inside pocket, good quality paper, size choices, and dependable availability. I use the kraft color notebooks for photo transfers - first coating the cover with Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground. It's similar to gesso, but I like it best for photo transferring.
I paint mod podge matte medium onto the dried watercolor ground, and while the medium is wet, I carefully lay the print face down onto it. Press with your fingers or roll with a brayer to completely and smoothly adhere the paper to the notebook cover. Now the hard part: let it sit for 24 hours. This is hard - but very important. If you don't, the mod podge will still be soft and you'll have a real mess.
Let the water soak in for about a minute and begin peeling the paper back. It will peel back in neat little tubes as you roll it under your fingers. This is a layer of paper lifting off, revealing the ink which was embedded into the mod podge.
Let dry (about half an hour) and repeat this process with the water and gently rubbing with your fingers.
Repeat as often as you like - but be careful of rubbing off too much. The edges and corners will usually lose some of the image, but it adds texture and makes your picture more interesting than a straight print would be.
Once I have it where I like it, I apply a thin coat of mod podge to the damp image. The extra moisture helps the acrylic medium to soak into any remaining paper making it more transparent. When it's very dry - I give it about two more hours - I rub beeswax onto it and buff it until it has a certain depth of color that I like.
For this customer, I also made a carrying pouch for her book. It will accompany her as she travels to China in a few months. She had me make one for another trip last year and said the pouch was great for holding everything together and in one place - paper scraps and mementos from her trip - and the book had daily notes and journaling too. Doesn't it make you want to plan a trip?