How to Decoupage

Decoupage Basics Along With Some Tips and 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 mans 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 papercuts tight.

Supplies You Need

decoupage supplies
Rita Shehan

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 have used a wooden tray for our example photo, 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!
    We were given a gift in the cutest paper gift bag and decided to repurpose it for our example project. We loved the design and also felt good about recycling the bag rather than throwing it into the trash.
    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.

    The items above are the essential supplies you need. 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: This is used 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: Used 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 you glued papers. A damp rag also helps to keep your hands clean while working with glue.

    Now it is time for the fun to begin.

    Getting Started With Your Project

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

    painted wooden tray
    Rita Shehan

    Start out by making sure the item you will decoupage is clean and dry. If you are going to paint your item first, make sure the paint is totally dry before you start decoupaging. As you can see in the photo above we used spray paint that has a primer to paint our wooden tray, but you can use any paint that is suitable for wood. Make sure the paint you use is appropriate for the object you intend to decoupage.

    cut pictures for decoupage 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.

    placement of cut decoupage images
    Rita Shehan

    Arrange the pictures onto the item you are decoupaging before you add glue until you like the way they look. The pictures can be in any placement you like and can also overlap. It helps to take a picture with your digital phone camera to remember the placement of the cut paper pieces. It's easy to forget once you remove them and start decoupaging.

    applying decoupage medium
     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.

    finger pressing down decoupage image
    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.

    decoupage rose on tray
    Rita Shehan

    Continue with the last 2 steps until all your pictures are glued on. Let the decoupage medium dry.

    modpodge spread on tray
    Rita Shehan

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

    modpodge spread on tray
    Rita Shehan

    Now, you can continue to add coats of the medium until you get the desired results. You will, however, want to keep adding layers until the edges of the pictures are all smooth.

    tray with wine glasses
    Rita Shehan

    Let your project dry completely and then it is ready to use, display, or be given away as a gift.

    You may want to read these additional tips and tricks before starting your first project.

    Decoupage Tips and Hints

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

    • Tried-and-true tipIf 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 is 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 and wine bottles to start.