Adhesives Used in Collage

Today I thought I would talk about adhesive choices when creating collage work.

Glue Sticks
Glue sticks work well for gluing paper onto other paper surfaces. The glue is lightweight, so it helps to prevent the paper underneath from curling and warping.
Glue sticks however, have a tendency to cause your paper images to become unglued from the surface. So it's really important that you completely and evenly cover the area to be glued and press the image firmly onto your base paper.
I like to use the handle part of my scissors or a bone folder to press my image firmly onto surface.

Bone Folder

Glue sticks in my opinion are really only good for gluing paper to paper and should be avoided when gluing paper to canvas, wood or objects.
There are other glues that are much more durable for those surfaces.

Moge Podge and Matte Medium


Mod Podge and Matte Medium are very similar. They both come in either matte or gloss finishes, they dry clear and they are both excellent for gluing images to canvas, wood or objects.

To use simply brush on a layer of the glue of your choice to the back of your image. Place your image on your canvas and then brush another layer of glue over the image to seal it in place. Make sure to press firmly to remove any air bubbles underneath your image.

Both glues dry pretty quickly, but you will have a few seconds to move your image around. Just note that your paper will become weak and more likely to tear if you move it around too much after gluing.

*Tip* For those of you who don't mind getting messy, try applying your glue with your fingers instead of a brush. I find that using my fingers to apply the glue gives me great control on the amount of glue applied to my paper and it allows for better control on removing air bubble under my images. I just simply press the glue covered images firmly down onto my canvas with my fingers (I press quite hard). Just make sure that your fingers are well coated in glue or you will tear your paper. Lubrication makes everything better! :)

Pros and Cons of Mod Podge and Matte Medium
Mod Podge is thicker than Matte Medium and can be thinned out slightly with a little water. It is also less expensive than Matte Medium.  I tend to prefer Matte Medium over Mod Podge just because I find Mod Podge to be too thick for my taste and find using water to thin it out to be a pain. The use of water can also make my paper images too weak and cause them to tear. Mod Podge is definitely not for delicate papers!
You can find Mod Podge in the craft section at Walmart or in the adhesive section at the craft store.

Matte Medium is what I always use. Yes, it is a little more pricey, but the ease of use has me sold. I have not yet found a surface that I couldn't use Matte Medium on. It works great for papers (even some delicate papers) as well as for gluing objects to my canvas or board.

Matte Medium is basically liquid plastic so it works really well for protecting vintage text and images, which have acids in them and can destroy your collage over time.
 Just simply add a layer of Matte Medium to the back side and front side of the vintage image to coat it and add to your collage. That's it. Your image has now is protected by a layer of plastic!

You can find Matte Medium in the painting section at the craft store.

This is by no means a definitive list of the glues available to use in collage, but they are what have worked best for me. Try out different glues and see which one you like best.


  1. Hey Sarah (I'm a Sarah too!) I saw your work on hearty and was totally in love! Also completely crushed when the item I wanted sold before I could get a voucher!

    I've started a little 'I Love This' feature on my blog about etsy artists that I love and the amazing things they sell and I wanted to feature you, if that's ok. It's not a big blog and I don't have a million readers, but I do have readers. I'm positive they'd love to know about your art!


  2. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words!
    I would be thrilled if you featured me on your blog. Thank you!

  3. This is great, thanks for posting this! I do have a question. I have used Mod Podge for collages and projects and have found that the layer I put on top can be sticky with time, so if I am using to to cover a box or book or something, things will stick to it later and sometimes the print from the other object will rub off on the Mod Podged surface. Do you have any tips on this issue? Does Matte Medium have this same quality?

  4. Krissy,
    I have never had that happed with Matte Medium. Matte Medium has always dried completely smooth and unsticky.

    Do you varnish your work? A way to help prevent the stickiness and the rub off with Mod Podge would be to varnish your finished piece.

    Mod Podge actually makes a spray varnish that I really like. You can find it at Walmart in the craft section. Their varnish dries completely and should get rid of the stickiness of the Mod Podge glue. The varnish works on paper, metal and a variety of surfaces too.

  5. When I use acrylic mediums I always wear nitrile gloves--the close-fitting medical ones (latex gloves would probably work too, I just happen to use nitrile). You can push and flatten your collage pieces to your heart's content, and not get that awful acrylic feeling on your fingers. And with medical-type gloves of this sort, you can still have a lot of control and feel your paper pieces. It makes cleanup so much easier! The medium will tend to build up on the gloves after you've been working for a while. I find that you can sometimes actually just peel it off. Or change gloves.

    As for the sticky problem mentioned earlier, that's the nature of gloss mediums. The matte mediums don't have that problem, as you noted. I just wanted to second that.

  6. Good tip on the gloves! I may have to try that.
    I usually go bare handed. The glue does get to be a bit much on the fingers sometimes....the extra glue-skin can be a pain to get off.
    I have found that after I wash my hands with warm water (there still will be glue on your hands), I take a old terry cloth towel and rub the remaining glue. Then I rub on some hand lotion and use the towel again, and that seems to do the trick.
    The gloves sound so much easier though.

  7. I'll remember the terry cloth towel and hand lotion! Personally, I figure it can't be healthy to be absorbing that into your skin, especially if it's something you're doing on a regular basis.

  8. Hi, I know that I am over a year late to the party on this post, but I find this fascinating! I am new to the art of mixed media and I had not heard of matte mediums. I am wanting to do a metal table top and am wondering if matte medium is waterproof and if it would work on metal? I would really appreciate your opinion on this, I am so impressed by your work!,


  9. Hi K,
    Thanks for stopping by. Welcome! I have cllaged over metal so it is possible. I would recommend sanding the metal surface a bit to give the surface a little tooth. I would then follow-up with several coats polyurethane since you are collaging a piece of furniture.
    Matte medium is somewhat waterproof when dry. I have gotten pieces wet before and they were fine. I wouldn't submerege a piece in water or use it on a piece of furniture that was outside though.

  10. Hi Sarah, sorry to be late to this party! A question to you: I don't want to cut up old photos for collage, what is the best copy process you recommend and "glue" to add them to canvas so they don't curl up? I find with I use acrylic medium on ink jet photo copies the ink smears. TIA!

  11. Hi Cara,
    I use ink jet printers all the time without a problem. It could be the ink in your printer or maybe the paper you are using? There's not much you can do about the ink your printer. But maybe try a different paper? Not sure what type of paper you are using, but I have found that Epson Premium papers work well. I use Epson Premium Presentation Matte for all of my images.
    Another thing you could try, is to lightly spray your images with some Mod Podge varnish first. Not sure if that would wrinkle the image too much, but might be worth a try.
    As for a glue alternative, the only glue I am aware of that would work in your situation would be a glue stick. If you are gluing images to another piece of paper and not to a canvas or board, glue sticks I have found work the best. Just make sure to use a bone folder or something similar to press the images firmly onto the paper.
    I hope that helps a bit. Let us know what worked or didn't work for you.

  12. Hi Sarah, I'm working on a mixed medium project and was wondering if you could suggest a glue that I could use. I have a canvas that I have painted with acrylic paint and now I want to glue some tile pieces and beads on it, do you have a recommendation for this?

    1. Hi Victoria,
      I'd try E6000 glue or any other industrial strength adhesive.

    2. Thank you so much! I will look into that!

  13. What is your advice on avoiding wrinkles and bubbles, especially with large prints

    1. Unfortunately the larger the paper the more difficult it is to prevent air bubbles and wrinkles, but is possible. There are two methods I have used.

      1. Is to put a layer of matte medium on my surface and then another thin layer on the back of my paper. Be very careful not to get any glue on the front of your paper. Also be careful not to use too much glue. Thin yet fully covered is good. I'd then position the glued paper onto my surface and use a piece of waxed paper and a brayer, and with firm pressure, roll over the paper to be glued. If the paper is really large, you could try using this method a little at a time. Starting at the top and working your way down, until the paper is fully glued to your surface.
      *if you use this method, make sure to check it every few minutes to make sure no air bubbles have formed....they will if it's a large piece of paper due to the glue drying at a different rate or from a missed spot. Just repeat the waxed paper and brayer technique and that is usually sufficient as it does take the glue awhile to fully dry and you can sometimes move a little extra glue from another area into that spot.

      2. The second option would be to add matte medium to your surface and the back of your paper. Position the paper onto the surface and then add more matte medium to the top of the paper. I found using my bare hands, with lots of glue on them, works best for this. With plenty of glue on my hands, I firmly rub the paper onto my surface and work out any air bubbles that way. If your fingers aren't gliding over your paper, use more glue! You really don't want any friction as this will tear your paper (Matte medium is non-toxic).
      Then take a foam brush and remove any excess glue.
      Cons to this method include possible smearing of the ink depending on the type of ink used, and streak marks from the matte medium. Sometimes these streak marks make things look more painterly though.
      Hope that helps Julie.

    2. Oh, and you haven't already, check out my Fixing Mistakes tutorial here.

  14. Wow, a very helpful and detailed answer. Thanks so very much!

    1. Julie, I just started using Scotch brand Photo mounting spray for mounting my prints and it's awesome! Much easier than the method that I mentioned above. This probably comes too late, but for any future projects I highly recommend. All you do is spray your surface and then the back of your image and press. Easy as can be!

  15. I use matte medium or gloss medium a lot in my collage stuff for class but I have a big project coming up and I need to be able to glue paper down on a canvas. The problem I run into a LOT with using the medium in my collage is that it retards just about everything you try to put on top, including a lot of my acrylic paints. Is there a glue that will work to glue thicker and thin paper to a stretched canvas and still be able to work on top of it?

    1. Hmmm. I have never had that problem. Maybe try sanding the surface a bit before applying a new layer?
      Good luck with the project!

  16. i have about 60 finished collages, all used with cut up magazines and glued on to anything from collage board to oak tag to the actual back of a picture frame. the thing is i use glue sticks bc i have tried literally every adhesive from mediums to polymer to sprays. i sell them in frames so nothing falls off. i love the glue sticks but i need to start sealing so the collages can be sold with out a frame. thing is im terrified because ive destroyed so many pieces while trying to seal .... i need to move forward as this is now my full time career - but i lack confidence bc of all the messy attemps to seal. can s someone give me the answer to end this question that keeps on asking?

    1. Hi Lauren,
      I really like Mod Podge Clear Acrylic Spray. Or you could try Golden's Regular Gel (Matte). The gel medium is applied to the surface with a foam brush and gives the work a slight encaustic look.
      I'd suggest making a few test pieces first; glue some scrap paper onto a board and try the sealer on the test piece to see if you like the way it looks.
      Epoxy resin is another option , but I myself haven't used it much. It would definitely seal everything up nicely though!

  17. Hello Sarah.
    I have an old metal locker unit my husband and I use by our front door.
    We want to paint the unit black but use magazine clippings to make unique collages on our doors.
    Could you recommend a product gor gluing things together?
    Judging by your article I am guessing matte medium to protect the images. I figured I would use a spray enamel over everything to give it a nice gloss and protect it from scratching.

    1. You can use matte medium as a glue as well!
      Hope the locker is protected somewhat as I'm not sure how well something created with collage will last outside.

    2. Thanks!
      The locker is indoors. It is from an old high school rummage sale.

  18. After gluing your mag pics onto an area,is there a spray sealer tgat is light & wont distort colors,but seal from destructive outside elements?

    1. A piece that has collage work on it won't hold-up to outside elements for long and I'm not aware of a sealer that would protect it for outside use. Not only are you dealing with rain, but also drastic changes in temperature that will weaken the bond of your adhesive on the paper.


If you enjoyed this blog, please sign-up for my email newsletter!

Linkie ♥