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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

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 Items to Mod Podge

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 Mod Podge

Always start with the underlying design elements and work your way upward (when layering). Apply a medium coat of Mod Podge to the surface.

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 of Mod Podge to the Project Using a Sponge or Flat 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.

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

How to Decoupage

Yield: 1 project
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5

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

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.

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Elizabeth McPherson

Monday 22nd of February 2021

Thank you....

.....looking forward to experimenting with more than just paper on wood!

Lindsay Barrett

Sunday 21st of February 2021

This is a silly question, but in the 20 minutes to an hour between coats of Modge Podge, I assume I must wash my brush. But then it is not truly dry again when it’s time for the next coat. Does it matter if the brush is a bit damp? Thank you!

Amy

Sunday 21st of February 2021

Hi Lindsay! I use a water basin and just stick it in there during the time. Then when I am ready, I pull it out and squeeze it on the side or a paper towel. So yes mine is always still damp when I use it!

sue

Friday 29th of January 2021

Can I decoupage over old decoupage or do I have to take the old decoupage off first?

Amy

Friday 29th of January 2021

Hi Sue! This is a "maybe." If the paper or fabric you are using are thin, you're going to be able to see the decoupage underneath it. There may also be a texture. Ideally you can take the old off.

Lori Roedler

Sunday 17th of January 2021

Any tips or recommendations for mod podge onto rocks? Thank you!

Amy

Sunday 17th of January 2021

Hi Lori! I've got lots of articles about rocks with tips: https://modpodgerocksblog.com/?s=rocks Check it out!

Nancy Deppe

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

if it gets wet does it come undone.after it is dry.

Amy

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

Hi Nancy! A little bit of water isn't going to make Mod Podge come undone. You can wipe it away (might make things get a little milky but it will clear as it re-dries). Having said that, soaking Mod Podge in water or rain over and over again on a surface could potentially cause issues. There are a few formulas specifically for wet conditions like Outdoor and Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge!