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How to Decoupage: 7 Steps to Perfect Mod Podging

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

Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of the post to get a video that will show you the basics of applying paper to wood. It will help you start your decoupage journey on the right foot.

How to decoupage - the 7 steps to perfect Mod Podging

Do you want to be a perfect Mod Podger? Who doesn’t want to learn how decoupage and be great at it, I ask! I’ve been decoupaging for a long time, and I’ve got a tried-and-true method that I wanted to share with you.

Here are the seven steps I always take to get perfect Mod Podging, every time. If you want to learn how to decoupage correctly, keep reading . . . and scroll to the bottom for a great video!

What is Decoupage?

Before you start, you might be wondering – what is decoupage? I use the word in two ways. I use it as a noun with the Wikipedia definition: “is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and so on.” Mod Podge is a glue that you can decoupage with!

And I also use “decoupage” as a verb . . . such as, “to decoupage paper onto a surface.” With the Podge, of course!

How to Decoupage

Sanding a small wood tray with a piece of sandpaper

STEP ONE: Prepare Your Surface

Before you get started, you want to make sure your project surface is ready. Clean your items or sand them with a damp cloth.

Almost any surface can be used to create a decoupage project. Suitable surfaces include wood, papier mache, terra cotta, tin, cardboard, and glass.

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.

Painting a small wooden tray with FolkArt acrylic paint in orange using a paintbrush

Optional: Basecoat your surface with acrylic paint. Many items need to be basecoated before decoupaging if your surface is unfinished. I recommend FolkArt, Apple Barrel, or Martha Stewart acrylic paints.

Mod Podge Matte formula bottle

STEP TWO: Pick Your Mod Podge Formula

If you aren’t sure what to pick, that’s totally understandable  – that’s why I’ve written this Mod Podge formula guide that you should visit. It explains everything.

Spreading Fabric Mod Podge on a piece of fabric using a paint brush

STEP THREE: Prepare Project Surfaces

Here a few tips you should know before beginning:

  • Fabric – Wash and dry the fabric (do not use fabric softener). Iron (if necessary) and then lay out on a covered work surface. Wax paper is preferable for covering your table. Using a brush, paint a light coat of Fabric Mod Podge onto your fabric. Allow to dry. This will allow you to cut the fabric like paper without frayed edges.
  • Paper – Most items, especially thicker papers and scrapbook papers, are ready to use with Mod Podge as is. If you are working with thinner sheets of scrapbook paper or inkjet printouts, it may help to spray your paper with a clear acrylic sealer before Mod Podging. Spray both sides and allow to dry before using.
  • Tissue Paper – There is nothing that you need to do to prepare tissue paper, but just know that because tissue is so thin, it is very difficult to Mod Podge without wrinkles. The good news is that wrinkles are typically part of the charm of using tissue paper and add a little character to your surface. Mod Podge tissue paper carefully so that it doesn’t tear.

Cut out your paper or whatever it is that you are planning to decoupage. Experiment with design elements to determine the layout of your piece.

Add interest to your design by using large and small pieces, layering and overlapping elements and coordinating colors.

Cutting a piece of fabric or paper with scissors

STEP FOUR: Cut Items to Fit Your Surface

Measure as necessary, with a ruler and a pencil, and trim your items to fit. You’ll be much happier if you cut everything to fit before Mod Podging instead of after.

Painting Mod Podge Gloss inside of a painted wood tray with a green handled paint brush

STEP FIVE: Adhere Each Element With Decoupage Medium

Always start with the underlying design elements and work your way upward (when layering). Apply a thin to medium layer of decoupage medium to the surface.

Mod Podge dries

Too little Mod Podge and you will get wrinkles – and you can always wipe away excess Mod Podge. Place your item(s) to decoupage on top of the Mod Podge and move onto step six.

Smooth paper down with a hand

STEP SIX: Smooth, Smooth, Smooth

Keep smoothing until all of the bubbles are gone. Then, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, let your project dry for 15 – 20 minutes. Don’t put a top coat on right away.

Mod Podge squeegee and brayer

Tip for working with large pieces: smooth from the center outward. Air bubbles can be removed with the Mod Podge Tool Set. Use the squeegee with smaller items such as trays – it was developed specifically for getting into corners. Use a brayer for larger items such as furniture.

Painting a top coat of Mod Podge on the inside of a tray

STEP SEVEN: Add a Protective Coat to the Project Using a Flat or Foam Brush

Allow to dry and then repeat. The number of coats you finish with is up to you, but we recommend at least two.

When you finish, if you experience any tackiness or just want to add durability, add a clear spray or brush-on sealer to the top. Let dry and you’re done!

Sanding a decoupage stool with a sanding block

EXTRA FINISHING TIP: For a very smooth finish, wet a piece of #400 grit sandpaper with water and sand lightly between coats. Wipe dry and polish with #0000 steel wool on the final coat.


For more information on how to decoupage and an FAQ, go here! And if you need over 400 decoupage projects to try, you can find my project gallery here.

Yield: 1 project

How to Decoupage

Painting Mod Podge Gloss inside of a painted wood tray with a green handled paint brush

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

Materials

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

Tools

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

Instructions

  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.

Notes

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 a visual on how to decoupage? Here are the basic steps of applying paper to wood using Mod Podge. Check it out! Just press “PLAY” in the center of the video.

Becca

Tuesday 2nd of August 2022

Can I use deco podge on plastic planters I bought at Walmart??

Amy

Wednesday 31st of August 2022

Maybe. Every plastic is different, so you'll have to test it!

Maureen

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

I thought I saw somewhere that you vould transfer a napkin design using mod podge and lifting the wax paper and design stays on fabric. Is this something that can work. Ty

Amy

Friday 10th of June 2022

Hi Maureen! Not sure about the wax paper or transferring to fabric. Here are Mod Podge with napkins ideas: https://modpodgerocksblog.com/how-to-decoupage-napkins/ Wondering if this process will help you!

Lynley Zeitz

Thursday 19th of May 2022

I want to use laser print pictures to decoupage with. Do I need to seal the pages first before I use the mod podge.

Amy

Friday 20th of May 2022

Hi Lynley! Nope - you don't. Just inkjet!

Tom Staab

Thursday 14th of April 2022

How do you clean up,

Amy

Thursday 14th of April 2022

Mild soap and water, wash your brushes out and let air dry!

Karen Ainsworth

Sunday 27th of March 2022

I would like to know how to make a cubicle case of my daughter's for treasures. It's made of pressboard but very sturdy. I want it to be smooth. I am putting vinyl stickers on it and decorating them should I apply a coat to the wood before I put on the stickers? Gonna paint it first also. Thanks Karen

Amy

Friday 1st of April 2022

Hi Karen! If you are using permanent vinyl you shouldn't need Mod Podge. Vinyl is the one thing that acrylic sealers don't seal well. And no Mod Podge before stickers. Just wood and then use permanent vinyl and the stickers should stay just fine.

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