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What is Decoupage: Its History and Project Ideas

We’ve all seen works of art that were made with decoupage, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time. So, what is decoupage, anyway?

Decoupage is a crafting technique used to modify wood, metal, glass, and other surfaces with glue and decorative paper. Glue is used to adhere to paper that has been either cut to fit or into shapes. You’ll want to spend some time learning decoupage if you like crafts that improve the look of your home. 

Let’s talk a little bit about the history of decoupage before moving into the specifics of how you can learn to master this craft.

A brief history of decoupage

We know decoupage was big in the Victorian era since the word we use today comes from the French word for “cut”. Modern techniques closely resemble decoupage art in 17th century France, but of course, like many things, it didn’t start in Europe. 

Decoupage came to Europeans through trade routes, which brought other crafting techniques like macrame knotting for lace, oils for scents, and all-important spices. Many believe it began in China, where paper crafts commonly took center stage on festival lanterns and other colorful decorations. 

Brittanica also gives special note to Siberia’s felt applique techniques and Poland’s folk art as influences on decoupage. 

Decoupage hit its modern stride with the art deco style, which was popular in the 1920s and 1960s. People in the United States took a particular liking to decoupage and used it to decorate everything from lampshades to serving trays and even privacy screens in their homes. 

What is decoupage used for?

Decoupage is a great craft because it’s an accessible and cheap way to improve the look of your household furniture. Since it’s just glue on paper, decoupage can be used on pretty much anything. 

Decoupage is used to customize and alter the look of furniture, storage, and decorative items. Jars are a popular choice for decoupage projects, as are wooden boxes and furniture. Decoupage is particularly effective when used to customize “negative space” on furniture and household items. 

Difference between decoupage and paper mache?

Decoupage may sound similar to paper mache at first, but the two are very different. 

Decoupage is a decorative crafting technique. Paper mache is a sculpting technique. The two are different, though they use the same ingredients. Paper mache uses soaked strips of paper to create items like bowls and masks. Decoupage uses cut shapes from patterned paper to create a design.

When a paper mache project is dry, you can use decoupage to enhance its look. See? Same ingredients, different uses. 

Supplies for decoupage 

At its simplest, you really only need your item, paper, and glue. This is a full list of items you may want to think about when trying decoupage. 

  • Decoupage surface 
  • Paper 
  • Cutting mat 
  • Scissors 
  • Cutting knife
  • Glue
  • Brushes 
  • Brayer 
  • Wet sponge 
  • Sealer spray

Not all of these are self-explanatory for a beginner. A brayer, for example, is a tool used to smooth out wrinkles on your paper. Also, you may want to use a wet sponge to smooth larger globs of glue from your project. 

Decoupage tips for beginners 

Here are some helpful hints to set you up for success. 

Beginners should use thinner paper for decoupage. Thick paper can be tricky and frustrating to glue and wrinkles will be harder to smooth. A thinner paper will become more saturated with adhesive and stick to surfaces much better. Practice smoothing out wrinkles by keeping the paper nice and wet. 

Naturally, beginners should go with a surface that will take glue better, so save plastic decoupage projects for later. Start with wood or glass and move to plastic projects once you have a handle on the techniques. Getting frustrated early will absolutely kill your motivation to craft decoupage. 

Here’s a great video on how to get started doing decoupage. 

Best glue for decoupage

As crafters, we know that not all glue is created equal. So, what is the best glue for decoupage? 

The best glue for decoupage will depend on your project, but a good, general rule is to stay away from white glue or homemade pastes. Purchase a glue that is explicitly for decoupage. It will hold much better than craft glue. If you cut this corner, your paper will be peeling and flaking in no time.

Stores sell glue that is formulated for decoupage. Look out for those when you go to buy.

Mod Podge is a great choice for decoupage projects. Since Mod Podge and craft glue have different ingredients, they are not interchangeable. Mod Podge is stronger and more durable than white glue. It comes in many different finishes, so you can have matte, glossy, or even sparkly decoupage. 

PVA glue is also a great choice. It may be tempting to save your money, but you’ll regret it when your project ends up ruined the moment it gets a little wet. 

Protecting decoupage projects

On that note, it’s always a good idea to purchase a finishing spray or topcoat to protect your project so your artwork can last for years to come.  

Often, we find ourselves using decoupage on furniture and other items we’d rather not ruin. Our paper, too, can be sentimental to us. 

Many decoupage projects need to be protected because they are made from treasured images or photographs and placed onto expensive furniture. It’s essential to use quality glue and a strong sealing spray to finish when you’re working with an item you can’t replace if something happens to it. 

Best paper for decoupage 

We’re firm believers in using what’s already in your crafting supply at home, and that’s easier than ever when creating decoupage projects. 

Napkins for decoupage

Napkins are seen on crafting blogs everywhere decoupage is mentioned. New ones, of course, not used!

Paper napkins are a creative and popular choice for decoupage. We all have spare napkins leftover from parties and holidays sitting in our cabinets. Crafters love how the thin material takes to the glue. Napkins come in a wide variety of designs and can look gorgeous when used for decoupage. 

Check out this creative video on using paper napkins to make Easter eggs. 

Wallpaper for decoupage

Leftover wallpaper, shelf paper, or drawer lining paper can be a great asset to your crafting supply bin. We love taking our scraps and making something new.

Wallpaper is a great choice for decoupage projects. You likely have some leftover wallpaper if you recently redid a room in your house. You can use wallpaper to add designs to furniture or other items in the room for a coordinating look by either applying as-is or cutting it into shapes. 

Some wallpaper is already sticky. Notice which kind you have, but always finish with a seal for the longevity of your project.

Scrapbooking paper for decoupage

This is a favorite of ours. Who doesn’t have paper scraps from a scrapbooking project lying around? Instead of feeling guilty for throwing away your beautiful but seemingly-useless scraps, use them in decoupage. 

Scrapbooking paper is a wonderful choice for decoupage. If you’re upcycling old scraps from a previous project, the scraps will already be cut into interesting shapes. Don’t let your scrapbooking paper get into the garbage can once it’s been cut. Use it in decoupage to give new life to your waste.

Easy Decoupage Ideas for Beginners

There are lots of easy, fun projects beginners will love to try. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Picture frame 

A great decoupage project for beginners is a picture frame. You can cut your paper and arrange it mosaic-style, or you can follow our instructions for a flat look. 

To make a decoupage picture frame, trace the outline of the frame on the back of the paper. Remove the frame’s glass. Cut the shape out, then spread glue and place it onto the frame. Using an edge like a credit card, smooth any wrinkles from the paper. Sand the edge and finish with a topcoat. 

Jewelry box 

A jewelry box is a great decoupage project for beginners to try. Experiment with patterned paper for a unique look.

To make a decoupage jewelry box, first, make sure your box is clean and prepped. Then, apply your glue and your paper. You can glue the paper flat or apply it in cut strips and shapes for a bold pattern. Use a special brayer or a plastic credit card to smooth wrinkles, then finish with a topcoat. 

Think about using velvet to decorate the inside of your jewelry box. If you’re into baubles on the outside, don’t hold back! Decoupage paper is only the first step in creating a unique piece you’ll love for years to come.

Serving tray 

A serving tray is a great beginner decoupage project to focus on using the “negative space” we talked about earlier. 

To make a serving tray with decoupage, first, prep your tray, clean it, and wipe for any dust. Then, cut and apply your paper to the inside of the tray, leaving a plain ring of the original wood around the outside. Seal the entire project to create a smooth, even surface with food-grade sealer. 

LED flameless candles 

This is a fun one. We love the versatility of a flameless candle, but they tend to come in boring, flat colors, don’t they?

To spice up your LED candle using decoupage, first, use fine-grit sandpaper to break up the smooth surface. Wipe away dust, then apply your decoupage paper how you like. Smooth out any wrinkles, and finish with a top coat to seal. Glossy Mod Podge glue is a great choice for a candle. 

Reed diffuser base

Reed diffusers are great because you already get to enjoy blending a custom scent, but the glass base deserves some DIY love, too.

To use decoupage on glass, wash and dry the glass thoroughly. Spread a thin layer of glue onto the glass, then apply your paper, smoothing as you go. Whether you allow some glass to peek through or cover the entire thing, use a sealant at the very end, as glass can crack and leak.

We have so much fun making different essential oil blends for our reed diffusers – read up on our best tips. 


Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about decoupage. 

Is decoupage waterproof

Your decoupage glue will determine whether or not your project is waterproof. You’re working with paper, so if you think it’ll get wet, take care to choose a strong, waterproof glue. 

Is decoupage the same as Mod Podge

You use Mod Podge to craft decoupage. One is glue, the other is a technique.

How long does it take decoupage to dry

Decoupage glue typically takes 30-60 minutes to dry completely, but most recommend you leave the project overnight before using it. Read the label and follow its instructions. 

Does decoupage dry clear

Most, if not all, decoupage glues will dry clear. Read the glue label carefully in the store when choosing a product. 

What is decoupage – final thoughts

Decoupage is an awesome skill to have in your technical toolkit. It’s one of the best ways to enhance an item you already own, which is a cornerstone of creating upcycled crafts. If you love making upcycled crafts, definitely check out our article on recycled crafting. 

The trickiest part of learning decoupage will be smoothing out those pesky wrinkles, but don’t worry if your project ends up with a few bumps here and there. 

Let us know in the comments how you use decoupage! 

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