How to Decoupage

Learn Decoupage Basics Along With Some Tips & Tricks

decoupage tray with wine glasses

Rita Shehan

Decoupage can sometimes be deceptive. By looking at a finished project, you would think this craft technique would be complicated, but it isn't. Decoupage started in France in the 17th century as the poor man's alternative to painted furniture. It is actually quite simple. If you can cut and paste, you already know most of the techniques involved.

To get started with decoupage, you cut out pictures and glue them onto an object. The next step is to cover the object and pictures with a few coats of glue/decoupage medium to protect it. You probably have everything you need to make your project lying around your home right now. So, gather together your supplies and start crafting!

What Is Decoupage Medium?

Decoupage medium is an all-in-one sealer, glue, and finish used for creating decoupaged works of art. Use it on wood, fabric and other porous surfaces. It dries clear and holds your glued on paper cuts tight.

illustration of how to decoupage
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018 

Supplies You Need

As with any craft project you make, you should always read the instructions first. Make a list of supplies that you need to purchase, although you may already have quite a few of the supplies already in your home.

  • The first step is to decide what object you wish to decorate with decoupage. You can add pictures to almost anything: furniture, photo albums, shelving, frames, boxes, vases, mirrors, hardcover books, trays, suitcases, dishes, candles, cans, bottles, egg cartons, rocks, and much more. We used a wooden tray in this project, but you are free to use whatever objects you wish to decoupage.
  • Next, you need your picture source. The pictures can be cut out of magazines, catalogs, or books. You can photocopy clip art, photos, stories, poems, and other items printed from your computer (if you use pictures printed using an inkjet printer, see our tip below to prevent ink bleeding). The options are endless: cut out pictures, motifs, or shapes from wrapping paper, wallpaper, fabric, napkins, greeting cards, postcards, photographs, travel brochures, handbills, programs, garden seed packages, pages from old books, foil covered paper, paper doilies, ribbon, posters, dried flowers, tissue paper, and more! You can also buy paper and pictures made especially for decoupage. Get creative!
    For our project, we decided to repurpose a gift bag. We loved the design and also felt good about recycling the bag rather than throwing it away.
  • Decide on what decoupage medium to use. You can buy a product made especially for decoupaging, such as Mod Podge or Collage Pauge. You should have at least one of those in your craft cupboard, but in a pinch, slightly diluted white glue will do.
decoupage supplies
Rita Shehan

The items above are the essential supplies you need, but there are a few other items you might find handy to use in your decoupage journey.

  • Bone Folder: You can use this to help smooth out wrinkles and remove excess glue. You can also buy a tool made especially for this, called a brayer.
  • Foam Brush: Use this to spread the decoupage medium or glue onto the item you will decoupage. If you don't have a foam brush, you can use an ordinary paint brush or even a cotton swab.
  • Scissors: Use to cut out the pictures and other items you will be decoupaging. To help with cutting decorative paper with a lot of small details, you might want to use scissors with smalls blades or a utility knife.
  • Tweezers: Tweezers are sometimes a great help when it comes to positioning small pictures.
  • Damp Rag: Keep one nearby to wipe up excess glue and to help with other clean up. Make sure the rag is damp and not soaking wet when using it to remove excess decoupage medium from your glued papers. A damp rag also helps to keep your hands clean while working with glue.

Getting Started With Your Project

Once you've gathered all of your supplies, you can start on your project by following along with these easy directions. As with any craft project, you should read through and understand all of the instructions before starting.

First, make sure the item you're decoupaging is clean and dry. If you're going to paint your item first, make sure the paint is totally dry before you start decoupaging. We used spray paint with an added-in primer to paint our wooden tray. Make sure the paint you use is appropriate for the object you intend to decoupage.

painted wooden tray
Rita Shehan

Cut out the pictures you are going to use. It helps to use an X-Acto knife to cut out the paper pieces that have quite a bit of intricate detail.

cut pictures for decoupage tray
Rita Shehan

Before you add glue, arrange the pictures onto the item you are decoupaging until you like the way they look. The pictures can be in any placement you like and can also overlap.

Tip: It helps to take a picture to remember the placement of your paper pieces. It's easy to forget once you remove them and start decoupaging.

placement of cut decoupage images
Rita Shehan

Working in a small section at a time, remove the pictures and apply a generous layer of decoupage medium onto the item you are decoupaging. Make sure you completely cover any area the picture will touch. If you prefer, you can spread the medium onto the back of the picture.

applying decoupage medium
 Rita Shehan

Stick the picture on the decoupage medium. Use your finger to gently push down the picture (for a large picture, start from the center and work your way out) and push out any wrinkles and excess medium. You can also use a bone folder or brayer to do this.

finger pressing down decoupage image
Rita Shehan

Continue with the last 2 steps until all of your pictures are glued on.

Let the decoupage medium dry.

decoupage rose on tray
Rita Shehan

Once the medium is dry, coat your item thoroughly with another layer of the decoupage medium. Let this dry.

modpodge spread on tray
Rita Shehan

Continue to add coats of the medium until you get the desired results. You will want to keep adding layers until the edges of the pictures are all smooth.

modpodge spread on tray
Rita Shehan

Let your project dry completely before it's ready to use, display, or be given away as a gift.

tray with wine glasses
Rita Shehan

Decoupage Tips and Hints

Make your next project more successful using these tips and hints.

  • Tried-and-true tip: If you use Inkjet printed material on your projects, let the ink dry, then spray it with hairspray. It sets the ink and then you can use the print. Make sure both are completely dry before applying your medium.
  • Be patient and let each layer of decoupage medium dry completely before applying the next layer.
  • While decoupage is known as a "cutting craft," sometimes you might want to tear your pictures instead of cutting them. Torn edges lay a little flatter and blend a bit better.
  • Consider making photocopies of photographs and other original papers, so you can save the original.
  • If you are using pictures on thicker paper, such as photos or greeting cards, give your decoupage project plenty of time to dry.
  • Make sure the item you will be decoupaging is free of dust and dirt.
  • When it comes to decoupaging on plastic, experiment before you commit. For rougher surfaces, the pictures should adhere but will take a little longer to dry. If the surface is very smooth, consider roughing it up with a little sandpaper.
  • If you are going to decoupage on a surface that was recently painted, make sure the paint has dried completely. If you feel any tackiness or can see an imprint of your finger if you press on it, it's not dry enough.
  • Watch for bubbles as your pictures dry. If one forms, use a pin or utility knife to pop it and then use your fingers to smooth it down.

Once you've mastered decoupage, there is no end to the projects you can create! Try decoupaging a dresser, a table, a chair, and wine bottles to start.