How to make a découpage tray

Ros Badger / 13 July 2016

Find out how to give a battered old tray new life with our easy guide to découpage.



If, like me, you find it difficult to throw away beautiful wrapping paper découpage is the perfect craft for you. The name comes from the French word découper, meaning to cut out, and all the process requires is that you stick cut out paper onto a flat surface and finish it off with varnish.

You can apply this method to virtually anything, from a tray to a chest of drawers, a chair or a lamp base. Once covered and varnished a few times, the applied images blend into the surface creating a veneer that looks more like it has been painted on than stuck down with glue.

In the 18th century découpage was a popular pastime and special papers of classical images were printed just for this purpose. Then as now, the images were applied to a multitude of surfaces from table tops to fans and boxes. Done well, the finished pieces would resemble the oriental lacquer-work that was the original inspiration for this art form. The Victorians did much the same thing, replacing the art motifs and chinoiserie with florals and portraits.

I chose to make a more abstract arrangement of my cut outs, updating the method by not overlapping my images and leaving only one or two creeping over the edge of the tray, as though the little creatures were scurrying away.

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You will need

  • Tray
  • Paper source for your images
  • Craft knife and scissors
  • Cutting board
  • PVA (slightly watered down to single cream thickness)
  • Paint brush to apply the PVA
  • Clear (non yellowing) varnish, I used water based
  • Paint brush
  • Emulsion paint for the tray (optional)

How to make

Step 1

If you are painting the tray do it first. I painted the tray a shade of off-white which matched the background colour of the wrapping paper to camouflage around the more fiddly bits of the cut outs and allowed me not to have to cut away every bit of background – very useful when a slip of the knife could cut away an antenna or a leg.

Step 2

Using a combination of paper scissors and a craft knife, and working on a cutting mat or board where necessary, cut out as many images as you will need, plus a few extra. Place them onto the tray.

Step 3

When you are happy with your layout use a paint brush to apply the PVA glue liberally to both sides of the images and then stick it in place using the brush to carefully flatten it out.

Step 4

When all the pieces are stuck down, cover the whole surface with a wash of PVA and allow it to dry, preferably overnight. The next day apply a layer of varnish all over the tray. Allow to dry before adding two more coats to make sure that your tray is sealed.

Découpage tips

You can use all sorts of materials for découpage, old birthday cards, wallpaper samples, carrier bags, tissue paper, magazines, comics, newspapers and even thin fabric like cotton lawn or pieces of lace.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.