Tips for how to use decoupage in your how to and art journal projects. This is NOT your Mom's decoupage from the 1970's… lots of fun, modern projects for inspiration and ideas!
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What Is Decoupage?
Decoupage is made by glueing pieces of paper, tissue or other materials to glass, plastic or wood. It is generally thought of to be a “dimensional” art form… done on something tangible rather than just a piece of paper like artwork.
My History With Decoupage
When I was younger, my Mom did decoupage. It was the 1970s and sticking pictures to boards was all the rage! This is not her work, but I remember something like this hanging on the wall in my childhood home.
These kinds of pieces were dark, rustic and the resin used to do them yellowed pretty quickly!
Fast forward a few years to my mid 30's and I thought I would do a decoupage bottle project. I collected napkins and scrapbook paper (this doesn't work at all!), beads, yarn and all kinds of different things to make decoupage bottles… whoo whoo!
What I had in mind was making a beautiful one like this one from Etsy…
What I actually made was a hot mess. I spent about 10 minutes sticking random pieces of paper on a glass bottle (it did not look cute) and gave up!
Fast forward again to my 50s and I finally figured it out! I did huge decoupage boxes project and LOVED how it turned out!
I also decoupage different envelopes and other fun things for my art journals! (that cat is one of my favorite designs… can you tell?!?!)
So today I am going to give you all my best “real world” decoupage tips so that you can have success with your projects to!
Decoupage Tips and Ideas
I LOVE decoupage now, I think the difference is I know how to do it and use the proper products to make it work!
Okay, this is going to be the biggest thing that will make your project a success or failure!
You HAVE to use thin paper! You can use tissue paper, napkins, rice paper…. think super thin, almost translucent paper.
I am sharing all my favorite products and places because when I started I SWEAR, I had no idea how to find cute stuff to use… I saw all the gals on YouTube using cute napkins or heard about rice paper and couldn't find it anywhere!
I make designs and order tissue paper from Zazzle, they have all kinds of great unique designs you can use for your projects!
If you like these designs, you can download them for free on the tissue paper page!
I also do gel prints on tissue paper that I use in my decoupage projects. This is my decorative mini boxes project, using gel press plate tissue paper for going around the handle!
Paper napkins are another super easy way to find designs for decoupage. I think that Amazon has the best selection for super cute designs like these!
The one thing to remember is that napkins have layers so you have to “peel” them apart until you get to the ONE layer that has the design on it!
There is this cool stuff called “rice paper” which is much like tissue paper or napkins when used for decoupage! Etsy has a great selection of this!
Okay, here is where you get a little tricky! Some magazines are printed on very cheap, thin paper. These can be used for decoupage (especially on a flat surface).
Some of the older or high quality magazines use really nice, thick paper for printing, these are not great for decoupage.
This was super confusing to me before I understood how decoupage glue works. Functionally it works by sticking your paper to the surface AND then you brush it over the top to aid in sticking and provide a protective coating.
So you brush some glue on the item you are decoupaging, stick the tissue paper or napkins down and then go over it again with the decoupage glue!
Decoupage glue comes in a couple of different varieties… matte decoupage medium or glossy medium. Matte is plain jane and glossy gives your project a shiny coating!
One thing to know about Matte or Glossy Medium is that it is water based. This means that if you use too much your project will have wrinkles and bubbles.
Don't glop it on, use a paint brush or a foam brush and use just what you need!
What You Can Decoupage
I have decoupaged all different kinds of things, some more successfully than others (I am NOT good at doing weird shaped objects, I am more of a flat decoupager!)
Decoupage Boxes – One of my favorite things to decoupage is boxes. Big boxes, little boxes, etc. Some I get from the thrift store and some I get from Michaels when they have a sale!
Decoupage Envelopes – I like to make different projects for my art journals, so doing envelopes is a fun and quick project!
Decoupage Furniture – If you like doing BIG projects, there are some great examples on Pinterest of gals who have done huge dressers and other pieces of furniture with decoupage.
Decoupage Bottles – Okay, I admit it, I really do like those decoupage bottles, I have just found that personally I like to decoupage flat surfaces rather than weird shapes!
Preparing Your Surface
Matte or glossy medium like Mod Podge or Ranger sticks to almost everything. That said, doing a little preparation is never a bad idea!
Wood – I do a lot of decoupage on raw or old wood and I generally will use either clear gesso or white gesso as a primer. The white gesso works great if you are decoupaging onto something dark, because then your design will pop better!
Glass – I don't tend to prime glass, I just make sure to clean it SUPER well with Dawn dishwashing soap (it takes off grease the best) and then I am careful not to touch it again because the oils in your hands can resist the glue and make your project come up.
Rough Surfaces – Rough surfaces like paper mache or stone are a bit tricky. If they are super rough, you might want to prime them to make a little smoother surface for the glue to hold onto.
Paper – You do not need to prime paper, just know that the more medium you use, the more chance it has to warp or wrinkle.
When I started decoupaging the third time, I had so many questions since the first two times didn't work out so great! Here are some of the things that came up for me!
Can you use plain white (Elmers) glue for decoupage?
If you are super impatient or just don't have the money to buy matte medium, you can mix 3 parts white glue with 1 part water. I don't like doing this because it is very messy and more likely to wrinkle the paper!
How careful do you have to cut out the pictures?
I used to be super careful when I cut out my pictures, but now I just get a little close and then let the glue make the edges “transparent”. This works best when you are using white tissue paper or napkins with a white background.
Can you wipe off the excess glue?
If you have a huge clumpy of excess glue, for sure wipe it off, but if there is just a sheen, it will dry clear and I ignore it. I have messed up my papers before by trying to be to particular!
Can you get painting effects on your decoupage?
YES! You can use paint over decoupage. I have found that acrylic paint works best (watercolors can sometimes bleed or react when you go over them with the glue medium).
Can you use wrapping paper for decoupage?
I have found tissue paper or napkins to be much better for decoupage than wrapping paper. BUT if you are using wrapping paper, use super thin, cheaply made paper. This will work (and stick) better than high quality, thick wrapping paper!