For a dynamic DIY décor makeover, look no further than decoupage!
Decorating your home is a process that’s never
really finished. Tastes change, trends come and go… We grow tired of some
things but interested in others. Most of us don’t redecorate
on a regular basis, but who doesn’t get the itch for change every once in a
while? Out with the old and in with the new, right?
Before giving outdated décor or furniture the
old heave-ho, why not try a simple but stunning makeover? In less time than it
takes to shop for something new, you can learn how to decoupage on wood and
most other rigid materials. Transform your has-beens from blah to beautiful
with a modern take on this traditional craft in five easy steps.
What Is Decoupage?
Decoupage is the art of gluing decorative
paper to hard surfaces. During the Victorian era, many a footstool and jewelry
box were decoupaged with fancy paper, using multiple layers of slow drying
varnish as a sealant. Today’s process is much easier, thanks to modern
crafting’s most wonderful invention: Mod Podge, a water-based adhesive, and
Most decoupage is done on wood — furniture,
frames, ornaments, trinket boxes, you name it. The process can easily be
transferred to other rigid surfaces as well. You can decoupage on glass, metal,
most plastics, and even cardboard. Use whatever paper strikes your fancy —
scrapbook paper, photographs, magazine
cutouts, or your own drawings. My favorite decoupage projects usually
involve old calendars, used wrapping paper, or some other disposable paper
that’s just too wonderful to get rid of. It’s an extra bonus if I’m able to
epicycle scrap wood or an old, neglected item for a base
For this project, I used fairly basic supplies:
- Scrapbook paper and pictures
- Scrap wood (color sample blocks from a furniture store)
- Sandpaper/sanding block (medium and fine grit)
- Mod Podge (Classic matte formula)
- Paint brushes
- Acylic craft paint and finish (optional)
Make sure you have a basic end vision of what
you want to achieve before starting. Your pictures and/or patterned papers need
to be a good fit for your base. A 2-inch picture isn’t going to cut it on a
12-inch footstool without some background and trimming. Decide whether you want
a painted background and if so, choose colors that complement your paper
selections. You can buy scrapbook paper, Mod Podge, and all your decoupage
supplies at Michael’s, A. C. Moore, or another craft store.
If you’ve never used Mod Podge before,
selecting your formula may seem overwhelming, as there are over a dozen
different kinds. For most projects, classic matte (flat finish) or gloss (shiny
finish) will be fine. For decoupage on furniture, use either furniture or hard
coat formula, and there’s a special outdoor formula for, yup, outdoor items. No
matter the formula you choose, the process can get a little sticky, so work on
a protected surface. I used one my favorite upcycled yoga mat ideas for a nonslip
Step 1: Sand the Base
The success of decoupage depends on the
smoothness of your base surface. Bumps, scratches, and roughness will show
through the paper you apply and make it appear uneven, so it needs to be
Quick Tip: If you’re unsure how to pick the right sandpaper, start with medium
(80 grit) sandpaper to smooth the surface of the bare wood, then finish it off
with fine sandpaper(100-120 grit). If your wood has been finished previously,
you can go right to the fine grit. Be sure to sand all surfaces, sides included
If your base is extremely rough, you may need
to use a power palm sander. If you do use a power sander, or even if you’re
hand sanding a base piece that’s likely to give rise to a lot of dust, it’s
best to wear a dust mask.
When you have finished sanding, wipe your base
with a damp cloth to remove all residue. Don’t use a paper towel because that
may pill and leave residue of its own. Remember: Smooth is the key.
Step 2: Paint the Base
Painting the base can provide a frame or
colorful background for your images and patterns. If you plan to completely
cover every surface of your base with paper or prefer to leave unpainted edges
for a rustic look, you can skip this step and move on to step 3.
Acrylic craft paint is fine to use on wood,
although it may not adhere to some plastics. Decoupage is also one of many
great projects for leftover paint. You know… Those cans sitting in your basement
since you redid the living room? I would recommend using exterior paint if your
project will be finished with Outdoor Mod Podge and kept outside, but for most
indoor pieces, anything goes.
Apply two to four coats of paint to your base,
allowing complete drying between coats. If you’re starting with unfinished
wood, you may want to apply a primer first. Your end result should be a base
with uniform color and no streaks. You can use the drying time to work on the
next step of the project.
Step 3: Prepare Papers
Whatever decorative papers you use will have
to be cut to fit your project. Measure the area you want to cover, then measure
and mark your paper accordingly to prepare it for cutting. Remember, measure
twice before you cut. In this project, I worked with pictures from an old desk
calendar, so I cut them out in their entirety, then measured and trimmed to
If you’re using more than one layer of paper,
measure and cut all layers for your project before moving on to the next step.
Place your cut papers on your base to get a preview of what your finished
product will look like.
Check for any areas that need to be trimmed,
and make sure you’re happy with the overall effect. It’s best to make changes
now, as it can get tricky after you affix your paper to the wooden base. I
realized that I wanted a greater contrast between the two shades of green in my
turtle picture and the background paper, so I added a simple black frame to the
picture with a felt-tipped pen.
Step 3: Glue Papers
Apply a moderate layer of Mod Podge to your
base with a brush. It should be thick enough that it appears whitish, but thin
enough that there’s some transparency. Next, carefully lay your first layer of
paper in place. If you’re decoupaging multiple surfaces of your base piece. For
example, the top and the sides, apply Mod Podge and then paper to only one
surface at a time.
Once your paper is in place, smooth it out
gently with your fingers, starting at the center. The goal is to make the paper
completely flat with no air bubbles under it.
Quick Tip: Use a roller to smooth out your paper. I used the
cylindrical handle of a dry paintbrush, but a dowel or pen will work just as
well (no hex pens or click pens. It has to be completely cylindrical.) For
large pieces and furniture, you can use a rolling pin. Flatten your hand and
apply uniform pressure as you roll the rolling pin from the center toward the
edges. Once air bubbles are eliminated, roll firmly and quickly over the whole
Allow your first layer of paper to dry in
place for 15 minutes. This is very important! Applying more Mod Podge, or any
glue or sealant, while underlying layers are still wet will cause the paper to
rise and bubble. Once your first layer is dry, repeat the paper application and
smoothing process for each additional layer.
Step 5: Seal and Finish
After all paper layers are placed and dried,
apply a moderate layer of Mod Podge to all surfaces as a sealant. Don’t worry
about the whitishness. It will dry clear. Give it a full 15-20 minutes. Repeat
this process for at least three coats on most projects, and at least five coats
on furniture. The more layers you apply, the more the appearance of the paper
edges will recede, making the image or pattern appear to be painted on.
If you apply five coats or more, wet sand with
super fine sandpaper (400-600 grit) after the fifth coat to maintain a smooth
finish, then wipe with a damp cloth. The makers of Mod Podge also recommend
applying a coat of clear acrylic finish over your last coat of Mod Podge to
eliminate tackiness. Personally, I never had a problem with tackiness at the
end of the application, and I consider Mod Podge both a decoupage glue and
sealant. However, since I usually have an acrylic finish on hand, I use it for
the end coat as recommended. Don’t overbrush when using acrylic finish, as it
will become cloudy.
Once your finish has dried, your project is
ready for display. Find a place to show it off and enjoy it for years to come.
Simply dust with a dry microfiber cloth or wipe with a damp one to keep your
creation looking good. Congratulations on your decoupage success! You see, all
that waiting for the Mod Podge to dry really does pay off!
Guest Author: Natalia Hook
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