Decoupage 101

As a “stuff maker” one of the questions I get most often is how do I adhere paper to the items I make.  Generally I do one of two things, either use an adhesive sheet (Therm O Web’s Mounting Adhesive Sheets) or a decoupage medium (Claudine Hellmuth Studio Matte Multi Medium).

For someone who has never decoupaged, it might seem intimidating.  It is actually very simple.  As I was working on a project for the blog tomorrow, I thought I would snap a few photos to share how I decoupage paper onto items to alter.

tammytutterow decoupage 101

If you are using an item that already has paper or decoration on it, remove it if possible.  The smoother your base surface, the smoother your paper will adhere.

tammytutterow decoupage 101

Spread a generous smooth layer of decoupage medium onto the surface.  You want a thick enough layer that you see it on the surface, but not so thick that it is a goopy and puddled.  If you get too much you will have to clean up the edges of your project if it oozes out.  If you use too little, you run the risk of air pockets and dry spots, which both will mean your paper isn’t adhered well.

If my project has a lot of shape that I will need my paper to conform to (for instance around a corner or over an edge) I will also apply a thin coat to the back side of my paper as well to make it a little more moist and pliable.  I don’t do this often as generally I find that an application on the base item is enough.

You will need a brush to apply your medium to the surface.  I like to use inexpensive foam brushes that I can throw away.  I often use the brushes from Hobby Lobby that come in a 50 pack for about $3.00.  If you buy them with a coupon, you are paying such a small amount per brush that you won’t mind just throwing them away when done if you don’t want to clean them.  If you don’t mind cleaning them, you can use a regular paint brush.

There are several differnt mediums that you can use for decoupage.  I prefer Claudine Hellmuth’s Studio Matte Multi Medium.  I feel like I get the best result from it.  It is less watery than some other products so my paper adheres well without soaking up a bunch of moisture and get soggy.  Soggy paper can be difficult to work with, it wrinkles and tears easily.  In the past, I have used a cheaper brand that has been around forever.  I have had problems with it discoloring the printing on my paper and yellowing over time.  I haven’t had this problem with Multi Medium.  It is more expensive than some other decoupage mediums, but in my opinion is a higher quality product.

tammytutterow decoupage 101

Once I have my decoupage medium on my surface, I lay my paper in place and smooth over it with a clean dry cloth.  I use cloth diapers in my studio as studio rags for all of my messy clean ups, they are super absorbant and clean up nicely in the laundry, but any type of cloth or wad of paper towels will do.  I rub the cloth over the surface to smooth out any uneven spots of medium and any wrinkles.  The contact also helps with the adhession.  Your paper will absorb some adhesive so the surface of it, especially depending on the weight of the paper, can become fragile.  Because of that, I don’t recomend using a sharp edged tool like a scraper or bone folder for smoothing.  Both can easily damage the paper surface.  Once damaged, you can’t fix it, you can only hide it.

tammytutterow decoupage 101

Once the decoupage medium is set, you can trim if needed.  I alway sand my pieces to help smooth the edge of the paper and make it blend right in to the surface of the item.  Never try to trim or sand paper that is still moist, it will tear.  Depending on how wet your paper got, you should be able to move ahead in about 20-30 minutes.

For sanding, I like to use black nail files.  I buy them in bulk at my local beauty supply store.  I like these heavy duty files because they hold up well when filing against wood and metal.  Standard brown sandpaper will work but will wear out quickly against wood and metal.  The black files will last several months, maybe even more like a year depending on how much sanding on wood you do.  I do a lot and haven’t bought new files in more than a year.

After sanding, I follow up with Distress Ink on the edges of the paper.  Distress Ink helps with the appearance of the blending of the edge of the paper to surface and helps disguise any rough spots or scuffed paint that sanding might have created.

tammytutterow decoupage 101

After inking, it is time to have some fun with embellishing!  Some people prefer to apply a top coat over their paper to protect it.  Unless I am using the medium to adhere another layer over the first, I don’t top coat.  A top coat won’t prevent fading or repell dust so, to me, there is really no need to apply one as a “protective” coat.  I personally really like the look of the paper as it is rather than with a coating over it.  I suppose it is a personal choice for finished appearance.  I would suggest applying a top coat on a scrap of paper and letting it dry to decide if you like that finished look.  If you ink your paper, be aware that a top coat of medium can streak and change your ink.  You might actually like the look, so again, try that on a scrap first and see what you think.

If you are curious about how I use the Mounting Adhesive Sheets as an alternative to decoupaging, you can see a video tutorial I made HERE.

I will be sharing details about the project above tomorrow.  I hope you will stop back in and find out more about it!

Check out my teaching calendar and join me for a class at a store near you!

My next event: August 21-23, 2015 The Doodlebug, Inc | Jasper, IN


  1. says

    In total agreement – I have found Claudine’s Multi-Medium to be the best…I just orderd 3 more bottles of which 1 is almost gone. Need to order more 😉

  2. Elaine Allen says

    Tammy –
    Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I really appreciate it. And I love the project you used for your example.
    Elaine Allen

  3. Chelsea says

    Thank you so much for sharing your technique. I admit I was some what intimidated by the process of decoupage because of the mess to the paper, but your technique sounds like a winner. I may have to give it a try! Thank you for the inspiration. The two hearts you showed are just beautiful!!!

  4. says

    Thanks so much for sharing this Tammy…I haven’t tried Claudine’s medium yet.
    Love this project and all the hints.
    You are the best girl!

  5. Sherry says

    Great Tutorial! I have done a bunch of decopage but never thought of using Claudine’s medium…thanks so much for the idea!

  6. says

    Brilliant tutorial thank you. I shall be sending people your way from my blog ( I love chatting about crafting but have nowhere near the skill or patience to offer anything as useful as you! X