How to decoupage – the easy way and the right way

Here are two decoupage techniques with tips on the process and products. The easy way to get started and the right way to make it look really good.

Decoupage, or adding paper to furniture, opens up a whole new world (name that tune) to furniture refinishing. Imagine all of the beautiful wallpaper, posters and napkins out there for you to use to create jaw-dropping, unique pieces. 

Once you’ve found your amazing paper, there are a few steps to not end up with a wrinkly-bubbly-frustrating-throw-a-pile-of-gluey-paper-half-stuck-to-a-chest-of-drawers in the bin. This is a guide to decoupage – the easy way and the right way.

This post may include affiliate links so you can easily find the products I love and use myself. If you purchase these products, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Before and after of decoupaged wotnot

I’m sharing two recent projects using different techniques. One is quick, simple and not for a perfectionist. The other is probably the method you should actually use. If you just want to dabble though, go for the simple way and try it out.

Finished decoupaged apple crate

You can decoupage almost any surface – wood, slate, glass – but you need the proper materials to make sure it sticks well, and lasts.

I painted both of these projects white before I started. Paper goes see-through when wet (or glued) and will show the colour of the object beneath it. So, if you don’t paint the surface white then the napkin will only be as vibrant as the colour of the object it’s on.

Apple crate with white painted surface
Wotnot shelves with painted white surface

Materials for the easy way

Paper. This can be wallpaper, napkins, wrapping paper, posters…

PVA glue (AKA white glue or Elmer’s glue). Remember those great days at school where you glued your hands and spent the day peeling it off?

The easy way

Both methods here are actually easy. But this one is really easy. For the poppy crate I:

  1. Painted the surface so the napkin would be as vibrant as possible
  2. Tore the napkins into the rough layout where I wanted poppies
  3. Added a layer of PVA glue
  4. Laid the napkins down and smoothed them out
  5. When it was dry, added another layer of PVA glue
Poppy decoupaged crate in progress

I was happy with this rustic-edged look to the piece because it suited the apple crate. You can use cling film on top of the napkin when smoothing it out for fewer wrinkles as it’s easier to control the paper.

Easy enough? Paper, glue and an object and voila, decoupage done.


Napkins have two or three layers of paper. Remove all but the layer with the pattern on it.

It’s also better to gently tear around the edge of the pattern. If you leave it as a square with solid edges, it doesn’t blend as nicely and is more noticeable that it’s stuck on.

Materials for the right way

Paper, PVA glue, an iron, greaseproof/parchment paper, sandpaper, and spray lacquer.

The spray lacquer is a sealant to protect the paper. As PVA glue is water-based, it will bubble if you spill something on the paper without sealing it

The right way

Or at least a better way for a cleaner look.

So, we need an iron. Not just for Monopoly boards, also for decoupage. And potentially something else, I’m not sure.

Start by doing two layers of PVA glue, and let it dry in between coats.

Then lay the paper down, and put the greaseproof paper on top. With the iron on a medium-high heat, run over the paper from the middle outwards.

Iron on top of parchment paper

If you get bubbles, iron that area again.

Before and after photo of ironing again to remove bubbles

If the paper goes to the edge of your piece, use sandpaper to sand straight down for a neat tear. Be careful not to touch the paint or surface to avoid scratches.

Sanding straight down

The paper will be hot after ironing. Use a cloth to rub over the surface to make sure it attaches well.

When the paper is attached and trimmed, it needs sealing to protect it. I use Rust-oleum Crystal Clear spray lacquer for this step. This sealer doesn’t turn the paper yellow, which can happen with some products.

Close up of finished wotnot

And there you have it. Two easy methods to get started in decoupage with two different looks. Which is your favourite look? Let me know if you try out either of them and share what you created below.

Find the materials

I painted the wot not in Grace Mary Portland Stone and Fusion French Eggshell. Then I sealed with Polyvine Wax Finish Varnish.

The leaf wrapping paper is from Hema and is still available in tissue paper. It was glued with Mod Podge and sealed with Rust-oleum Crystal Clear.

I also painted the apple crate with Grace Mary Portland Stone.

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