Friday, July 24, 2009

How to Decoupage: An Introduction

serviettage, decopatch, collage

Decoupage is a specific method of gluing paper in decorative designs on all sorts of surfaces.

It’s a versatile art, as it can be done with wood, plastic, stone, metal, glass, or even wicker. It can be used on almost anything: trays, tea sets, furniture, etc., making it a good technique to use to spruce up boring or worn-out objects.

The main idea? Gluing paper in place to decorate a surface and then varnishing it to give it a seamless finish—it will look like it’s part of the original work rather than pasted on. It’s a simple technique that doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take much practice to get professional-looking results. Even children can easily create a decoupage project.



  • Thin paper: consider tissue paper, napkins, magazine cut-outs, decoupage paper, scrapbook paper, etc. Regular paper can be used, but the thicker the paper, the more likely it is to bubble as it dries.
  • Glue: decoupage glue (like Mod Podge) or any water-based glue
  • Varnish: necessary when using a non-decoupage glue, but an additional layer of varnish may be needed even when using decoupage glue in order to protect your design from wear and water. Choose according to the type of object you're making.
    • Decoupage glue works like varnish: apply several layers
    • More powerful varnishes can be used: water-resistant ones like marine varnish or any specially-designated outdoor varnish work well. For effect, you can choose between transparent, colored, matte, glossy, or satin-finish varnishes
  • Transparent acrylic paint or Gesso primer (see the recipe for gesso) if you need a base coat


  • Paintbrush, varying in size according to the size of your work surface


Prepare the base

If needed, sand the base and/or apply a coat of Gesso primer or transparent acrylic paint. This can be used to disguise the base color so that it doesn't affect the color or pattern you're applying. If you're using very thin paper, it will have a transparent effect and you'll be able to see the base color through it. A primer of Gesso or varnish is also recommended when using terra cotta or wood that might absorb the glue.

Prepare the pattern

  • Choose from one of the following methods:
    • cut out a pattern from the paper
    • use different bits of paper to create your own pattern
    • use whole sheets of paper

  • If you use napkins: use only a single layer at a time and use only the smooth part (discard any raised edges).

Glue it together

  • Coat the surface with glue and place your pattern on top, taking care to smooth out any air bubbles.

  • Once the pattern's in place, coat it with varnish.
    • Start from the center or inside and work your way out. Remember to smooth your surface ahead of the varnish to make sure no air is trapped.
    • Be careful: don't use too much glue or add too many coats of varnish at once, because the paper could tear.

  • Let it dry and add more coats of varnish until it's as smooth and thick as you want it.

  • After applying several coats of varnish, the varnish can be sanded to give a smoother look to the surface as needed.


  • Don't worry if the glue or varnish seems to fade the colors: when dry, it will actually make them more vibrant.

  • If you haven't varnished your project, you can dampen it to re-set the glue and make small changes before varnishing.

  • You can still decoupage even if you don't have decoupage glue. Any water-based glue will work to glue and cover the patterns. Use an all-purpose varnish to add the finishing touches.

  • For flower pots and other hollow objects, make sure you add layers of varnish inside as well as outside to protect against dampness!

  • For metal, glass, or earthenware, you'll need to use a glue specific to the material. Often, you'll have to fire or cook the object once it's dry.

  • When you're working with any sort of fabric, you need to iron the pattern (don't use steam!). Use parchment paper to protect the design while you iron. Afterward, you can wash it in the washing machine at 40°C (104°F). Make sure you also follow any special washing instructions for the fabric.

Ideas for further exploration

  • Relief effects with hardened modeling clay
  • Crackled effects

Project ideas

  • A storage box made from a simple shoebox (you just need to paint it white beforehand)
  • A candle holder made from a glass yogurt or jam jar

! - The picture at the top is just an example of one of the many things you can do with decoupage. One brand's website offers a video presentation of this technique.


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