The art of découpage is an easy technique that crafters of all abilities can enjoy to create unique pieces of art, where no two will ever be the same. So what is découpage? Découpage is a method used to cover objects with paper, before being sealed with a layer of varnish (or similar). Paper is ripped or cut into small pieces, then methodically layered onto an object – adhered into place using PVA or découpage glue. In this article, we take you through the basics of découpage, what items you need to get started, step-by-step tutorials and all the best products to buy for découpage.
Check out our upcycling projects and papercraft projects for more creative projects. We love this easy DIY découpage tray by Suzonne Stirling! We love seeing what you make, so don’t forget to share your craft projects with us on Facebook and Twitter, too!
What items can you découpage?
You can découpage almost anything! Places like Hobbycraft and Amazon make it easy to find inspiration, and you can buy pre-made paper mache items relatively inexpensively (for a pound or two) which are great for quick makes or to practise your skills before moving onto home decor pieces like tables (scroll down for our tutorial on how to découpage a table).
Buy now: £1.20 (Amazon)
What do you need to découpage an item?
You don’t need any special tools to get started learning how to découpage, just some paper, PVA glue and something you want to découpage!
Thin paper is ideal, but you can use almost any type of paper depending on your project. You can use pictures from magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper, tissue paper or even your own photos. Personally – I love using old maps or old prints.
Here’s a top tip: to stabilise the colours and stop the background from turning yellow, spray your papers with a spray fixative first!
If you prefer, there is a special découpage paper that you can buy, similar to tissue paper but sporting all kinds of lovely designs and patterns. You can buy découpage paper for any occasion and there is a huge range available.
Buy now: £5 (Amazon)
PVA glue is a great option for how to découpage. It’s fairly inexpensive and dries hard and clear, so it also provides a good degree of protection to your finished piece. Wallpaper paste is also a very popular option as it makes the papers nice and pliable, so you can découpage around awkward shapes. If you want to take things up a notch, there are special découpage glues that you can buy, including sparkle glues, coloured glues, glues with a matte finish, glues with a satin finish and even glues for an outdoor finish. Most découpage glue has a milky, opaque look when wet – this ensures you’ll get an even coverage and not miss any spots.
Buy now: £9.65 (Amazon)
To apply découpage paper, you’ll need a slightly different type of brush. You can use ordinary paintbrushes, of course, however, you will find it easier if you opt for a brush that has stiff, quite short bristles. By using a dedicated découpage brush, you’ll find it easier to work the paper into all the nooks and crannies, as well as into corners and around edges.
Buy now: £5.50 (Amazon)
To protect your work and seal the surface of the paper, many crafters choose to varnish their items. Using a water-based varnish is ideal as it is solvent-free, and using a water-based varnish means you won’t destroy any of your brushes, and you can clean your brushes with water.
Buy now: £9.54 (Amazon)
How to découpage for beginners: the basics
Depending on the item, it may be necessary to prepare the surface first.
Removing old paint
If there is old, flaking paint on the item you want to découpage, try to remove as much of this as possible before you start. Scrape off the paint with a paint scraper, or if there is a lot of stubborn paint that needs removing, use a paint stripper in a well-ventilated area.
Buy now: £6.97 (Amazon)
If you are upcycling an old piece of furniture or any wooden object then there is a possibility that it might have woodworm. So look so tiny holes – this is a good indication that there has been woodworm in the past. Even if the woodworm are not active, it’s a good idea to treat wooden surfaces with a woodworm killer before you start. You can tell if woodworm are active, by the presence of something called frass. Frass is a fine, powdery dust that surrounds the holes, and is created by the boring action of the larvae as they burrow into the wood (woodworm are the wood-eating larvae of many beetle species).
Buy now: £8.15 (Amazon)
Dealing with rust
If you are adding découpage papers to metal, it’s a good idea to treat the metal surface for rust before you start. If there is visible rust, grab a stiff wire brush and scrub across the surface to remove what you can. Coat the item with some rust remover and allow it to dry fully before wiping down with white spirit. Remember to ventilate your workspace, or work outside when you do this! Repeat this process until all the rust is gone. If any holes appear (don’t worry!), simply add a spot of car repair filler to fill the holes (you’ll be covering them up anyway) and rub down. Instructions vary per manufacturer, so check the instructions on the product.
Buy now: £12.89 (Amazon)
Sanding down a surface
If you’re upcycling an old piece of furniture, give it a good wash to clean away any grub that has accumulated over the years. If it’s made of wood, you’ll want to sand down a surface using progressively finer-grained sandpaper for a smooth finish. Get rid of snags, splinters and general uneven-ness using coarse or medium grain sandpaper, then work down to fine-grained sandpaper to create a smooth surface that you can apply your undercoat, and découpage paper onto.
Buy now: £4.31 (Amazon)
Adding an undercoat
In order to show the colours of the papers to their best advantage, it’s a good idea to paint the surface before adding the découpage papers. You can do this with basic white acrylic paint, or if you’re working on pitted wooden surfaces, applying a layer of gesso will help to smooth down the surface and make it easier to work on.
Buy now: £4.67 (Amazon)
Try this easy découpage project
In this tutorial, you’ll learn the basic process of how to découpage, and as an added bonus, in this découpage tutorial for beginners, we also show you how to create a crackled effect using a two-step method. You’ll end up with a beautiful decoration you’ll be proud to display in your home!
Here’s a top tip: painting or blending distress ink over your finished item when it’s completely dry will enhance the vintage look.
You Will Need
- Paper mache item (to découpage)
- Découpage papers
- White acrylic paint
- Brush (stiff with short bristles)
- Glue (pva or similar)
- First Edition Deco Maché Antique Crackle Base Coat & Top Coat
Make sure your work area is clean and dust-free and begin by priming your papier-mâché shape with white acrylic paint – we’ve gone for a star! Leave to dry completely.
While the base coat is drying, gather all the materials – découpage paper, glue and brushes. Tear the papers into strips, then into small pieces approximately 2.5cm square.
Apply a thin layer of PVA glue (or Decopatch glue) over the star, then add pieces of paper with the brush one at a time, brushing with glue as you go. Repeat until covered, slightly overlapping the papers. This is the basic technique in how to découpage! You can stop here if you like, and leave to dry – or read on for how to create a crackle effect!
Now that your project is dry, make a hole in the top and thread twine through for hanging. Decorate with glitter, gems, ribbon and bells. Hang the finished star up in your home or give it to a loved one!
Watch our video tutorial!
How to découpage a table
One of the most popular home decor pieces is how to découpage a table. They look great in the home and make a great talking piece – you’ll have enormous satisfaction saying, “I made that!” You can pick up old tables for next to nothing on places like Freecycle or Facebook Marketplace, or perhaps you already have one around the house that is in need of a refresh. Let’s get started – tutorial number two is how to decoupage a table!
Remember, prep and precision are key when it comes to upcycling furniture and découpage.
You Will Need
- Découpage paper
- PVA glue
- Paintbrush (x 3: one for the paint, a stiff one for the découpage paper and one for the varnish)
- Sandpaper (medium and fine)
- Clear varnish
If there are any areas of your table that you want to protect, cover them up using masking tape – here, we’re protecting the glass top of the table.
Next, sand all wooden areas of the table using medium-grade sandpaper, followed by fine grade sandpaper to give a smoother finish.
Think about what you want your finished piece to look like. We wanted to make a feature of the tabletop, so we painted the rim around the glass top and underneath the tabletop, just to differentiate it from the découpage areas and create the gorgeous country chic look. You may need to give the table two or three coats. Remember to sand between each one for a smooth finish.
Cut your découpage paper into smaller pieces about 6cm (21⁄2in) wide. Starting at the top of the pedestal, cover a small section in PVA and smooth on the découpage paper. Work the paper into all the grooves using a stiff paintbrush and a “stippling” motion, then move onto the legs. Don’t worry – the paper is quite malleable and if it does tear, you can cover any small gaps with smaller pieces of paper later. Keep working down the pedestal leg finishing small sections at a time.
When you reach the three legs at the bottom, use a whole sheet to cover the side of one leg. Snip into any curves and push the paper over the face of the leg. Continue this method on the other side of the leg. Again you may have some gaps but these can be filled with smaller cut pieces.
Once all three legs are completed and any gaps covered give the whole découpaged pedestal area another coat of PVA glue. This will help bond the paper to the wood but also give it a protective coat before adding the varnish.
Give the whole table a coat of varnish. Leave to dry thoroughly, then remove the masking tape around any protected areas. Now find somewhere to display your stunning upcycled table!
How to découpage shoes
If you’re wanting to découpage shoes, then you might want to consider using fabric Mod Podge instead of PVA glue, or the standard découpage glue detailed above. Fabric Mod Podge is water-resistant and specially designed for bonding fabric to fabric. As shoes are likely to experience more wear and tear than for example, a table, it’s a good idea to seal your project with a clear acrylic sealer like Minwax Polycrylic. If you are anticipating your shoes will get a lot of wear, then for maximum protection applying a layer of clear engine enamel will make then completely waterproof.
Gabriela Szulman Art have created this fantastic tutorial on how to découpage shoes, including tips, tricks and expert advice.
Buy now: £12.40 (Amazon)
How to découpage a bottle
Upcycling wine bottles are a great way to create unique, table centrepieces or vases from something that would otherwise be thrown into the recycling bin.
Soak your bottle in hot, soapy water to remove the old label and gently scrub off any remaining paper using a sponge.
If you are using regular paint (ie not glass paint), prime your bottle by applying some primer and leave to dry.
Paint your bottle. If you go for a light colour like white, this will bring out the colours of your découpage papers. Alternatively – skip steps 2 and 3 to achieve a more translucent look to your project!
Apply découpage papers as before, layering up the design by glueing small pieces of paper on top of each other.
Apply a layer of varnish to seal the découpage papers in place, then leave to dry.
The Boondocks Blog has created this fantastic tutorial on how to découpage napkins onto plastic bottles, the key being to paint your bottles first! It’s a very thorough tutorial with plenty of ups and downs – but you can learn from the crafty mishaps so you need not make the same mistakes. Certainly worth a read!
Buy now: £8.50 (Amazon)
Best découpage papers & kits to get started
1. Bright & beautiful Décopatch paper pack
Buy now: £3.90 (Amazon)
2. Peacock Décopatch paper pack
Buy now: £3.99 (Amazon)
3. Rose découpage paper for furniture
Buy now: £9.45 (Amazon)
4. Unicorn kit
Buy now: £9.78 (Amazon)
5. Atlas Décopatch paper pack
Buy now: £4.50 (Amazon)
6. Deco Maché: Modern florals
Buy now: £2.50 (The Range)
7. Deco Maché: Traditional florals
Buy now: £2.50 (The Range)
8. Marble brights Décopatch paper pack
Buy now: £4 (Hobbycraft)
9. Wood crait découpage paper
Buy now: £3.75 (Zazzle)
10. Stone effect A3 découpage paper
Buy now: £7.95 (Etsy)
11. Effects A3 découpage paper
Buy now: £6.95 (Etsy)
12. Piggy Bank kit
Buy now: £13.22 (Fred Aldous)
13. Mini dinosaur Décopatch kit
£7.99 £5.99 (Cowling and Wilcox)