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What is Decoupage? Learn from an Expert!

Are you wondering what it means to “decoupage?” I run a Mod Podge blog and I’m here to explain everything. Click through to learn more!

What is decoupage

As the purveyor of a Mod Podge blog, you can imagine I get asked one very important question ALL the time:

What is Decoupage?

I’ll admit that decoupage seems like a more complicated concept than it really is because the word sounds fancy. “Decoupage” actually comes from the French word “decouper,” which means to cut out or cut from something else.

If you are a decoupager, that means that you engage in the artistic pursuit of gluing items to a surface. Which – although it might sound like something kids do in kindergarten – is absolutely NOT THAT AT ALL.

Decoupage is an Art Form

Decoupage truly is an art form. Sure, you can make it more basic if you like (and I do), but many a fine artist has used a decoupage medium to create a unique piece.

Projects are enhanced not only with papers and fabric, but with painting effects, gold leaf, ink, embellishments, and even other mediums.

I’m constantly amazed at what people are doing with Mod Podge in my Facebook group, and generally impressed with the level of talent. It’s not just a craft.

Mod Podge Gloss and Matte with a foam brush in front

Getting Started

As for me, I typically use the word in two ways. I use it as a noun with the Wikipedia definition: “the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it.” I also use it as a verb . . . such as, “to decoupage paper onto a surface.”

(And I do this all with Mod Podge! Learn more about that below).

The Basics of Decoupage

If you want to engage in the art of decoupage, it’s very easy to get begin. You’ll pick a surface, prepare it, and then decorate with paint or other effects (you can also leave it bare if you like that look). Here are common surfaces:

  • Wood
  • Tin
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Metal
  • Fabric (including clothing and shoes)
  • Terra Cotta

Once you decide on a surface, you’ll pick something you want to adhere to the surface. Here are a few ideas. This isn’t everything, but these are the most common:

THEN you’ll choose your medium to bring it all together. Many believe that a decoupage medium is simply school glue or a vinegar/water/corn starch, but that is not the case (learn more here).

Collection of Mod Podge bottles

Picking a Medium

As you can imagine, my decoupage medium of choice is Mod Podge.

What is Mod Podge? it is a glue, sealer, and finish all in one. Mod Podge has ingredients and properties that a regular school/craft glue doesn’t have, and that is why Mod Podge projects that were created 40+ years ago are still around.

I’ve seen projects made by the original inventor of Mod Podge, Jan Wetstone, with my own eyes – and they are in perfect condition. That is what a good decoupage medium does for you!

If you are wondering which Mod Podge to use (there are quite a few), I’ve written a formula guide to help you select the appropriate type.

What are my essential decoupage supplies? Learn all about them in this information post! Get my first and second-tier recommended tools for Mod Podging.

Tools You’ll Need

Definitely check out my list of decoupage supplies. You’re going to want to have the following at minimum:

  • Brushes – I’ve spent enough time with bad brushes in my life that I’m now an advocate of good brushes. Invest in some good quality brushes like these or these and then take care of them.
  • Silicone Mat – my first mat was a gift to try. Then I bought four more. I’m not even kidding! It’s a completely non-stick surface that can be washed/reused and will protect your table top.
  • Brayer and Squeegee – I use my brayer and squeegee all the time. Like daily. Smoothing paper with my little sausages doesn’t work as well as putting even pressure on a brayer . . . and the squeegee gets into corners.
  • Scissors – I cut a LOT of paper and fabric, as you can imagine. I like having a nice pair of Fiskars scissors. I’ve used this brand since I was little so I’m partial to it. I have one pair for fabric and one pair for paper.
  • Brush Basin – You think you’ll be fine with a tupperware container or regular bowl until you try a basin. It’s got some awesome features like grooves at the bottom of one part that let you rake your brush along them for cleaning.

My supplies post has the rest of the items I use, but these are my essential tools.

Mod Podge bottles

The Basic Steps

Decoupaging isn’t hard, but it does take practice. What I LOVE about it is that you won’t need to make a huge investment to get started, and you don’t have to be an expert crafter to try it.

I’ll never forget when I started knitting at 15 years old; there was a huge learning curve. This is nothing like that!

Before trying it, you should know the basic steps of decoupage. You’ll want to read the post for more info, but here are the seven:

Prepare the Surface – sand or clean the item you’re going to decoupage
Pick a Mod Podge Formula
Prepare the Items to Be Decoupaged – cut your fabric, paper, etc.
Cut the Items to Fit the Surface
Decoupage the Elements with Mod Podge
Smooth Everything Down
Add a Protective Coat to the Project

If you can master these steps – and I have no doubt you can – you’ll will have mastered decoupage. You’re going to love this process!

Craft ideas for beginners square

Your First Project

My #1 piece of advice when starting just about anything, but particularly this new hobby, is to dive in. Start with something easy (I have 20 Mod Podge crafts for beginners here) and expect to fail a few times. You WILL learn it in the long run. I promise.

Go to the dollar store to purchase surfaces or buy a few $1 plaques at the craft store, and practice, practice, practice!

My first project was a tray loaded with bubbles and wrinkles and ended up in the garbage. Before long, I was decoupaging with ease, and now there’s nothing I can’t do!

Yield: 1 project


Scraps of lace can make a cool effect on the surface of these easy decoupage DIY coasters. Learn how to make them in a few easy steps.

Do you want to learn how to decoupage the right way? This tutorial shows you the seven most important steps to Mod Podging correctly!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost $5


  • Surface
  • Mod Podge
  • Scrapbook paper or fabric
  • Acrylic paint (optional)


  • Paintbrush
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Craft knife and mat (optional)


  1. Prepare your surface. Almost any surface can be used to create a decoupage project. Suitable surfaces include wood, papier mache, terra cotta, tin, cardboard and glass. Optional: basecoat your surface with acrylic paint.
  2. Pick your Mod Podge formula.
  3. Prepare Items to be Mod Podged. Cut out the paper or whatever it is that you are planning to decoupage. Experiment with design elements to determine the layout of the piece.
  4. Cut items to fit the surface. Measure as necessary, with a ruler and a pencil, and trim items to fit.
  5. Adhere each element with your Mod Podge. Always start with the underlying design elements and work upward (when layering). Apply a medium coat of Mod Podge to the surface.
  6. Smooth, Smooth, Smooth. Keep smoothing until all of the bubbles are removed. Then, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, let the project dry for 15 – 20 minutes. Don't put a top coat on right away.
  7. Add a protective coat of Mod Podge to the project using a sponge or flat brush. Allow to dry and then repeat. Let dry before using.


Only SOME plastics are okay for decoupage – I recommend testing a small area before completing your entire project to make sure that the Mod Podge will adhere.

Did You Make This Project?

Please leave a rating or share a photo on Pinterest!

Are you ready to get started? Let me know what your first project is and how it went in the comments, or share with my Facebook group here. Happy decoupaging!

Carolyn Washell

Tuesday 21st of March 2023

I have used mod podge for years with acrylic paints, no problems. Now I've got a good printer ENVY PHOTO 7155. here's the problem... When I put my top coat on project, usually cardboard, the mod podge smears the ink on pictures, even magazines. I have started spraying picture with acrylic sealer, hoping for better results. Still smears ink and spray dulls colors. CAN YOU HELP?

Deborah Wiley

Wednesday 8th of February 2023

Hello. I have been using Mod Podge for a while now. I am looking for a non-toxic varnish to use on my decoupaged wooden boxes, but not sure what to use. After curing, I would like to seal them. I want to use a non yellowing, UV protected varnish. I tried the Mod Podge spray, but it was very toxic and it had a very strong order. Do you have any other suggestions?


Tuesday 28th of February 2023

Hi Deborah! Hmmm. None of the sprays are toxic. They're all non-toxic. They do have odors though and some people are sensitive! I would say use a brush on sealer like Minwax polycrylic. It's great and a lot of people use it. Use the waterbased.

Carla Tanner

Saturday 14th of January 2023

I want to start an activity using a paper notebook to do a decoupage journal. I don't want it to curl up too. I'm not sure how to do that. I'll be using lots of printed pictures and words and of course other things like material, scrapbook paper. Can I use stickers? Am I going to fail? I hope not.

Thank you. Love your videos!



Tuesday 31st of January 2023

Hi Carla! I'm not quite sure what you're wanting to do. Yes, you can use stickers with Mod Podge!


Wednesday 26th of October 2022

I am considering decoupaging a wooden tray using cutouts from Christmas cards I have received over the years. The cards are not necessarily the same thickness and some have embossed texture or glitter. Is this something that can work or would thinner, lighter weight papers be a better choice? Also, how functional can a decoupaged tray be as a tray? Can it be cleaned with a damp cloth? Which Mod Podge product is best suited for this purpose? Thanks!


Saturday 29th of October 2022


Thank you so much! I'm going to get started and will let you know if I am successful. (:


Wednesday 26th of October 2022

Hi Sally! If they are different thicknesses it's totally fine. You can Mod Podge them down, with Gloss. Let dry really really well. Then apply epoxy resin like in this post: It's food safe and you'll be able to wipe it down!

Cora Flispart

Saturday 17th of September 2022

Cab you Mod Podge Lace Butterflies (machine embroidered) to a bathroom wall?


Tuesday 20th of September 2022

It depends on how thin they are! I don't know how thin a machine embroidered butterfly would be. If they are pretty thin and lightweight, yes. If they aren't, I would use something else to glue them to the wall that is quick dry and dries clear (like a craft glue, and you might need to hold them in place with painter's tape).

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