How to Prepare a Metal Surface for Decoupage

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Decoupage medium sticks to any surface that regular school glue adheres to -- including metal. Jazz up a filing cabinet, tray table or even a metal cash box with decoupage after first cleaning the metal and sanding away any imperfections with a few easy steps.

Cleaning and Preparing the Metal

Step 1

Remove hardware that may hinder the decoupage project, such as handles on a filing cabinet drawer.

Step 2

Wipe the project surface with a sponge dipped into a bucket of warm, soapy water. Rinse the sponge, wring it out and wipe the metal again.

Step 3

Remove stubborn buildup by making a paste out of baking soda and a few drops of water. Apply the paste to the buildup and scrub the area gently with a nylon scrub pad or soft-bristled brush. Wipe the area with a damp sponge or cloth afterward.

Step 4

Inspect the project area for any imperfections such as sharp metal burrs or blobs of hard paint. Sand the areas away with a fine-grit sanding block, then wipe the dust away with a soft cloth.

Decoupage Tips

  • If using only one piece of fabric or paper to decoupage a surface such as the front of a cabinet drawer or the indented area on a metal tray table, make a paper template by pressing a large piece of scrap paper into or around the surface, creasing the paper into or around corners to create an impression of the original metal piece. Trim the paper to size, then use it to cut the decoupage material to match.  
  • To wrap the decoupage material around the edges of a tabletop or drawer front, wrap your scrap paper template around the edges of the project surface as well. Cut the actual decoupage paper or fabric a little larger than the template. Cut slits in the paper or fabric around the corners once you've decoupaged the main flat part onto the metal so you can wrap the material neatly around the edges.
  • Apply decoupage medium directly to the metal using a paintbrush or foam brush. Smooth the decoupage fabric or paper on the wet decoupage medium, using your fingers to release any wrinkles or air bubbles. Once the decoupage medium dries, apply at least one coat over the top to seal the piece. Use several coats over an item such as a tabletop for extra protection.
  • Test colorful papers or fabrics for colorfastness before decoupaging them. Place a piece of white paper beneath a scrap of the decoupage material, then apply a drop of water to the material. If the color bleeds through to the paper, it should not be used for decoupage.
  • When decoupaging small pieces of paper or fabric, overlap each piece slightly, brushing more decoupage medium atop the overlapped areas to smooth them down.
  • There's no need to prime, paint or repaint metal before decoupaging. If you want to, you can paint the metal a new color beforehand using a metal spray paint. Allow the paint to dry completely before decoupaging. Paint only in a well-ventilated area. It may take several coats. 

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