cityscape collage
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Making a paper collage can be a lot of fun so today’s post is going to share everything you need to know on how to make collages!

I’ve been making collages since I was in high school – in fact my bedroom walls were COVERED from floor to ceiling with collages my friend and I worked on making together one summer.

We used sheets of poster board and spent hours cutting up images from all kinds of magazines. It was so much fun and anytime friends would come over they’d usually just look at all the stuff on the walls + get lost reading + noticing things. It was a very cool space!

The love for paper collage has still never left me, and I still use a lot of the basic collaging techniques in my art a LOT.

If you’re new to the world of collage, this post will cover everything you need to know to get started – consider it a crash course in Collages for Beginners 101!

Types of Collages You Can Make

There are a lot of different collages you can make – and like all kinds of art – there really are NO rules!

That being said, there are different kinds of collages that you might want to explore to use as inspiration and help you find your style.

For example, my cityscape collage looks like a city. (Well, it’s supposed to anyways lol – it’s a little wrinkly but I actually like that effect on it!)

cityscape collage
Cityscape Collage

Whether you want your collage to be pictorial or mosaic style, surrealist, a photo montage, decoupage, surrealist or something else entirely, there are tons of options to explore!

Here’s an example of a collage that is just an assemblage style of collage:

Flamingo Red Collage
Flamingo Red Collage

This collage shown above is one I made using all sorts of things, including a wrapper from some packaging and even a tag from something.

It’s not a fine work of art or anything like that, but it sure is fun to make collages like this – and also a great way to use things you would ordinarily just throw away.

Supplies & Materials for Collage

Before we get into making collages, you need to first gather up all your supplies and materials. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of supplies, and most likely you already have what you need right on hand.


I could write an entire blog post just about glue, but there are basically two glues I use in making collages: my trusty old glue stick and Liquitex matte gel medium.

Generally, I use the glue stick to put things down on the page and I use the Liquitex matte gel medium anytime I want to get rid of the high gloss/shine on cut out images or if I want things to really be attached well.

Make sure you use a reputable brand like Liquitex or Golden – I made the mistake of using a cheap off brand of matte medium and it was a disaster, all of my images were cloudy!

So that’s glue: A good archival glue stick {I love Uhu glue stics and Elmer’s Craft Bond archival safe glue sticks} and Liquitex matte GEL medium. {Don’t get the fluid medium unless you want lots of bubbling or wrinkles + a lot of discipline to use very little + spread thinly – that can be a creativity killer if it’s not the effect you want!}

Papers for Collage

The next thing you need are papers for collage. There are all sorts of things you can use:

  • Junk Mail
  • Magazines
  • Old Book Pages
  • Painted Papers
  • Receipts
  • Tissue Paper

Honestly, the possibilities are endless – if it’s flat and you can glue it, you can probably use it! You can see all sorts of more ideas for things that are flat and glueable in my post The Ultimate Junk Journal Scavenger Hunt – it also serves as a huge list of things you can collect and use for collage!

An Important Note on Images You Use in Collages

I love using magazine and book pages for making collages, but something you should consider is whether or not you plan on ever selling collages you create on how and where you source your images.

There’s a lot of intricacies and debate on whether something falls under fair use, the first sale doctrine, or is considered to be copyright and trademark infringement, so if you have ANY plans to ever reproduce a collage or sell it or and not use it for just your own personal use, always be sure you are using images that are okay for this!

While there are many free stock photo sites and royalty free stock photo sites to explore, your best bet for photos that are 100% absolutely safe to use are either images you took yourself. Free stock photos aren’t always a safe bet on whether or not they can be used.

A Substrate: Something to Collage On

The last thing you need is a base to use for your collage, which in the art world is known as a substrate. {You can sound like a very fancy professional artist when you use this word!}

Here are some of the things you can use as a substrate:

  • Cardboard – easy to find!
  • Cardstock – great for small collages + will help reduce wrinkling
  • Posterboard – inexpensive and easy to find
  • Foam Board – sturdier than posterboard but prone to denting
  • Hardboard – sold at home improvement stores, very heavy so best for small projects
  • Any Kind of Wood – sold at art stores and home improvement stores – pine will typically be a good budget friendly and light weight option
  • Canvas Panels – Sold at art stores everywhere. I recommend the panels over stretched canvases because they will be a sturdier surface.

If this is your first collage, don’t worry too much about what you use at first as a substrate, the important thing is you have something to glue your images and collage papers down to!

You could even make collages in a three-ring binder or a composition notebook like I do for my many gluebooks!

Scissors & Other Cutting Tools

What can I say about scissors? They are useful to have, but you can always rip the paper instead.

There are tons of different types of scissors you can use and really at the end of the day it just comes down to your own personal preference and what feels good in your hands. I like 6″ scissors for cutting paper the best, but will sometimes use smaller scissors too if I’m fussy cutting stuff out.

If you want to fussy cut out different images from magazines or photos, you can also use an X-acto knife and cutting mat for more precision, but be careful – those knives are sharp! Always turn the paper and not the knife when cutting!

Generally, I only use scissors or rip the paper, because X-acto knives are dangerous (at least for someone clumsy like me!) – and also because that would mean having to be somewhere I could cut it. I like the freedom to be super portable + make a collage anywhere anytime – even if its my kitchen table while I wait for dinner to cook!

Now that we have all of our supplies figured out, we’re ready to make a collage!

How to Make a Collage Step by Step

Step 1: Choose What Kind of Collage You Want to Make

There are so many different ideas for collages, you could use our list of drawing ideas for inspiration or even pick a theme from our list of planner theme ideas.

You could also just opt to make a collage based on colors, like all yellow or all blue, or even make a rainbow collage.

If you want to make a collage to look like an image {I call it painting with paper} – you’ll want to sketch out your idea on your substrate to make sure you get the right colors in the right place.

Of course, there’s no rule that a collage has to be planned – you can simply sit down with some magazines, scissors, papers, and glue and go to town!

Step 2: Cut Out Your Images

Cutting out your images can be a fun project all in itself. I usually keep a shallow basket nearby for all of my collage cut-outs, but of course you can choose whatever organizational system that works for you.

If you’re making an image where it makes sense to sort out papers by different colors, you may want to use small bins or baskets to keep the colors separated.

Of course, you don’t have to be organized, you can always cut/tear/rip out whatever images you want to use as you go along. This is what I typically do for collages where I need certain colors, because I’d probably go crazy with little baskets of scraps for every color + shade.

Step 3: Arrange Your Papers on the Substrate

You should always arrange the biggest parts of the collage first. This might be the background of the collage, or it might mean using the largest images.

Before you glue anything down, it’s a good idea to make sure everything will fit where you want it to. This gives you a chance to see how everything looks without worrying about it permanently being stuck in place too soon.

Of course, again, there are no rules – so if you enjoy the process of just slapping things down and seeing how it ends up {which even I will admit is a lot of fun sometimes!} – then skip this step and go to step 4.

Step 4: Glue Everything Down

Once you have a good idea of where everything is going, you’re ready to start gluing. Gluing things down with a glue stick is easy enough, but if you’re using Liquitex matte gel medium to glue down, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overdo it with the medium – a little goes a really long way.

I usually use a foam brush for my Liquitex matte gel medium, it can also sometimes be useful to use a credit card or a brayer to get out any possible bubbles. You only have to apply the Liquitex matte gel medium to the bottom of the paper you are gluing down, you do not want to use too much and risk bubbles!

Sometimes I will go over the items I glue down with matte gel medium, but only if I want to be able to see brush strokes or get rid of high gloss and glare on the images I am using.

Step 5: Optional: Seal Your Collage

The last and final step is to seal your collage if you wish. I usually use Liquitex varnish, Liquitex Matte Medium or Krylon spray varnish for this if I’m planning to hang it on a wall (although lots of my collages live in a journal and in that case I never do that!)

Be sure if you are using varnish that you only applying a VERY thin coat. You don’t need a lot and too much will cause bubbling, especially if the papers were thin.

Again, use a foam brush unless you like the look of painted brush strokes because the strokes will show as a texture on your collage. {And the look of painted brush strokes can be a nice thing, but not everybody wants that effect!}

You could alternatively use a matte spray varnish to seal your work. I’ve used both Mod Podge and Krylon brand, and anything Liquitex or Golden brand will never disappoint.

It’s really up to you and your own preferences, along with what is readily available to you. I’ve experimented with a few different options and the spray varnish or the matte gel medium are just what I prefer…though again, I must admit for smaller just-for-my-own-fun-and-experimentation mixed media art collage pieces I’m not hanging on a wall or selling or giving to other people I often don’t varnish them at all.

The basics of collage are something we usually learn at a pretty young age, as I’m sure we can all recall some sort of collage projects we did in school – but now that we are grown-ups we can use better supplies + make cooler things with them!

I hope you enjoy making collages as much as I do – and of course they are a great way to use up your stash and make a lot of fun things! It’s also an awesome option to explore for journaling if writing or drawing + painting aren’t something you like to do that much.

I am working on adding more collages + the techniques I use to our site here at Artjournalist – and of course have lots more collage ideas + techniques I can’t wait to share, so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel yet or joined our Facebook group please do so you won’t miss any of it!

One of things I really want to talk about in-depth soon is composition for collage – because again, there are so many options and sometimes it can be overwhelming, so hopefully some of my tricks + tips for that will help!

Have any tips for making a collage? Share them in the comments below!

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