Decoupage is when you apply an image onto the surface with various mediums so that it adheres. The most common decoupage product is tissue paper as it is thin and easier to apply to the surface without worries of peeling and seeing the edge of the paper if it doesn’t span across the entire area. Other choices are posters, napkins, and other paper like products with a design. When decoupaging, the desired look is one that is smooth, without wrinkles, flat upon the surface, and subtle so that it looks like it is part of the surface. Depending on the thickness and texture of the paper, techniques will vary.
I prefer to use heavier ply tissue papers as there is less likelihood of tearing and wrinkling. If you order tissue papers from sites like Zazzle, you have the option to pick the size and thickness. Ordering the thicker option will make it easier to decoupage and seal. My preferred product is spray adhesives like 3M’s 45 spray adhesive as it is strong but allows you to readjust if needed while remaining sticky. I spray the back of the paper, let the adhesive set a bit, usually a minute and then apply it to the surface and smooth it out with a brayer or wallpaper smoothing tool. I start at the center and smooth towards the edges. I then seal using a spray topcoat like Rustoleum’s spray polyurethanes. Usually, a few coats are sufficient. If the edges lift a little, I put some glue underneath and press it back down. The same applies to napkins or any other lightweight paper.
If you are decoupaging something thicker like a poster, you need a thicker paste like adhesive such as wallpaper or modge podge so that it will not peel. Spread a thin layer onto the surface and press the poster down doing from center to the edges with a smoothing tool. Let it dry and you can seal with a polyacrylic or polyurethane but make sure you do not apply it too thick as the paper will bubble up and distort. If this happens, do not panic. You can iron it smooth with an iron and piece of parchment paper on top of the poster. The iron on method will help smooth any bubbling or wrinkling with any type of paper. You can also use a heat gun and smooth with your tool.
I love the Redesign with Prima decoupage papers because they are intended for decoupage and the textures and paper fibers were chosen to make decoupage easy and durable. They have a few different types of papers made of mulberry fibers. The thicker decoupage paper with a dryer sheet like texture is the easiest as it will not wrinkle no matter the products you use if you smooth it on correctly. You can use any sort of adhesives like modge podge, gesso, and a spray adhesive. You can also use a wet medium like polyurethane or polyacrylic to adhere it just make sure it dries. When you topcoat, the topcoat permeates the paper and further adheres it on the surface.
The rice papers are a thinner consistency but more durable than tissue papers. I prefer a spray adhesive for these as it eliminates the issue of wrinkling. However, the texture of the paper camouflages any wrinkling fairly well. I like to tear the edges before applying so that I can blend around the paper with paint to make it look like the design spans across the whole surface. If you do need to smooth it, you can use the iron on method as well.
The new large decoupage rice papers are thicker than the rice papers and you can see the mulberry fibers on the back. Again, I prefer spray adhesives with a higher strength like 3M’s 90 spray adhesive to adhere them. I spray the back of the paper and apply it going from top to bottom slowly. I apply a bit of gesso or modge podge to the edges to make sure they stay nice and flat. If you use a spray adhesive it should not wrinkle. If you use a paste like gesso or modge podge, make sure you spread it in thin across the surface before applying the paper or as you apply the paper. The papers can be sealed with polyurethane or polyacrylic once you let the paper adhesive dry completely. Use the iron on method if it does wrinkle and you need to eliminate any creases.