Basic Craft Techniques – How to Decoupage Like a Pro

Decoupage is an easy, creative, and satisfying craft medium. With minimal materials, you can decorate nearly any surface or object easily and with professional results.

Simply defined, decoupage is the art of cutting out designs from paper or other flat material, then applying in a decorative pattern to a surface and coating with lacquer or glue.

Dating from 12th century Asia, decoupage gained tremendous popularity in Victorian England where fashionable floral, cherub, and heart motifs were applied to furniture, screens, and lamps. The word decoupage came into use in the 20th century and is based on the French word decouper, or “to cut”.

Modern-day decoupage crafters have successfully applied designs to paper, wood, metal, glass, terra cotta, plastic, wax candles, ceramic, cardboard, egg shells, stone materials, and more. Virtually any surface, with correct preparation, can be decoupaged.

Basic Decoupage Supplies

  • A clean and dust-free surface or object to decorate
  • Decorative images
  • Scissors or craft knife
  • Collage glue or medium such as Mod Podge OR watered-down white glue
  • Foam brush
  • Tweezers
  • Brayer (optional)
  • Fine grit sandpaper (for certain surfaces)
  • Varnish (optional)

Surface Preparation

  • Painted wood surfaces – Lightly sand surface with a fine grit sandpaper. Wipe completely clean before decoupaging.
  • Unfinished wood surfaces – Decoupage materials can be applied directly to clean and dust free unfinished wood surfaces. If color is desired, paint the wood first and let dry for at least 24 hours. If paint is tacky at all, do not decoupage. Paint must be completely dry for this technique to work.
  • Slick plastic surfaces – Materials will not adhere well to slick plastic, so provide some “tooth” by sanding with fine grit sandpaper and wiping completely clean. If in doubt, test first.
  • Stone or rock – Thoroughly clean surface of dirt or dust and cry completely. The flatter and smoother the surface, the easier it will be to decoupage, especially for beginners.

Sources for decorative images

Most flat materials can work for decoupage. Consider these sources: wrapping paper, tissue paper, scrapbooking paper, seed packets, menus, ticket stubs, napkins, wallpaper, old book pages, magazines, pressed flowers, ribbon, photographs, greeting cards, fabric, stickers, posters, calendars, maps, doilies and more.

Basic Decoupage Instructions

  1. Prepare the surface if needed. See prep tips above.
  2. Cut out images. Traditional decoupage included finely detailed and precise cutting, but modern designs often include torn images and patterns.
  3. Lay out design prior to decoupaging. The most appealing design may need overlapping cutouts.
  4. Coat surface with decoupage medium using foam brush.
  5. Coat back of cut out image with medium.
  6. Carefully apply to surface, pressing from middle of piece out to edges to minimize bubbles and wrinkles.
  7. Use a brayer to flatten image as much as possible. Fingers can be just as effective for this step.
  8. If bubbles form, carefully pop them with a pin and smooth out.
  9. Let piece dry. Apply a coat of decoupage medium to entire surface and let dry. Repeat until surface has several coats. The most professional finish has no, or minimal, raised edges from cutouts.
  10. If desired, varnish finished piece following instructions on bottle. This seals the design and provides a more finished look. It also protects objects that will receive a lot of use.
  11. For the most professional finished project, lightly sand and wipe clean in between varnishings until completely smooth.

Decoupage Tips

  • Let all substances dry thoroughly in between applications: paint, decoupage medium, and varnish.
  • Do not use ink jet printed images as the ink will smear. Make color photocopies instead.
  • Do not use original photographs so that they can be preserved. Make color photocopies.
  • Some materials such as napkins and very thin tissue paper are delicate and require a light touch to prevent tearing.
  • Decoupage medium comes in matte and glossy finish. Consider this for the final design.
  • Rinse sponge brushes immediately.

Decoupage is fun and easy. Try these basic decoupage techniques and create professional results.