5 Easy Tips for Smooth Paper Mache

This is a reader-supported site. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for your support! 🙂

To see the video I mentioned in the video, for making paper mache smooth if it doesn’t come out the way you want it, click here.
Although that video shows a sculpture made with paper mache clay, the method works just as well for making paper strips and paste smooth without sanding.

But it’s always better to make the paper mache go on as smoothly as possible right from the start. It cuts down a lot on how much time it takes to finish your sculpture.

To make your paper mache go on as nicely as possible, follow these 5 easy tips:

1: Use newspaper, because it’s a very soft paper that molds itself to the underlying form when it’s wet. White copy paper is slightly stiffer, but you can still get it to work if you’re patient. Anything harder than that will make your job a lot more difficult.

    2: Tear the paper instead of cutting it. If you cut your paper you’ll have visible lines all through your work. Those hard edges can be sanded, if you used enough layers so the sandpaper doesn’t cut all the way through to the underlying armature – but if you tear instead of cut, the paper edges will melt into each other.

    3: If a piece doesn’t lay flat, tear it in the right spots so it doesn’t wrinkle. If you tear the paper in just the right places as you’re laying the strips onto the armature, you can overlap the small pieces. That way, your paper will follow the contours, and the final sculpture won’t have bumps of extra paper in all the wrong places.

    4: Use small pieces over complex shapes. I always use the largest piece of paper that I can for any particular spot, but some areas really need small pieces of paper. The cow’s eye in the video is a good example of that. That’s also the areas that are most likely to have details that could be lost if you don’t go slowly and carefully. A tool can help you push your pieces of paper deep into the details.

    5: And use a knife or your fingers to push the paper onto the form and remove all air bubbles and push the extra paste out from under the paper.

    What if your paper mache still isn’t as smooth as you want it to be?

    Sometimes paper strips and paste don’t come out quite as nice as you want it to, no matter how careful you  are. If that happens, don’t worry – it’s easy to fix. Watch this video here to see how to make your paper mache smooth without sanding. And yes, the method works for both paper strips and paper mache clay, and if you’re using wood glue instead of paste.

    By the way, if you haven’t downloaded “The 5 Best Recipes for Paper Mache,” which includes the raw flour and water paste that I used in this video, you can find the PDF here.

    And the patterns for the masks and wall art behind me in the video can be found here:

    Do you have any questions? Be sure to ask in the comment section below.

    58 thoughts on “5 Easy Tips for Smooth Paper Mache”

    1. Hello,
      Question: how possible will it be to cut out a face shape from a dried paper mache shape if I used the wood glue method? I see in your other post about wood glue that it is “almost indestructible”. Thanks!

      • Hi Rebecca. If your paper mache is only a few pieces of paper thick, you should be able to cut it. If it’s too stiff to cut with scissors, you might need tin snips.

    2. Hi Jonni
      I’ve joined a craft group recently and one of our projects is to create a planter pot in the shape of a head. My flour “glue” has been boiled and I want to use a balloon, taped to a plastic container for the head and neck. How many layers of paper strips and glue should make a sturdy and strong enough container to house a small pot and pot plant and how quickly should each layer dry?
      Also, I’m not even sure if this is possible. Any help, hints or tips would be greatly appreciated.
      Thanks so much, Madeleine

      • Hi Madeleine. The one issue I see with your plan is that paper mache isn’t at all waterproof. Do you think that could be a problem? And balloons are difficult to work with. I think they make kids use them with paper mache because they’re cheap, but the paper mache likes to slide around on the rubber, and the changing temperature inside the balloons make them expand, so you often get cracks or wrinkles. An upside-down bowl would be much easier to use as a form. You’ll probably need at least 7 or 8 layers of paper and paste if you need the container to support a plant when you pick up the container by the edges. If it’s just decorative, and you’ll be holding on to the plant when you move the paper mache container, you might be able to use less. It isn’t easy to say how long it will take to dry, because it depends on the humidity, how much paste you use, etc. but you can speed it up by putting it in front of a fan. I hope that helps. 🙂

        • Oh Jonni, thanks a million for your reply. It all makes so much sense!! Yes, the balloon just felt like a really bad idea. The upside-down bowl is definitely the route I’m going to follow, with at least 7 – 8 layers of paper and paste.
          Thank you for your generosity in sharing all your tips and hints so freely.
          Lots of love, Madeleine

    3. Hi Jonni – thank you for all your knowledge !!!
      I am making an owl mask. I made a clay owl face – will cover it with paste wax and Vaseline and then torn paper strips with flour and water paste. I am thinking I want to sculpt feathers after I have the basic form the way I want can I add your paper mache clay over the newspaper strips ?

    4. So, my 11 year old asked to be a Razorbacks mascot for halloween… I am in process of making my base.. probably 4 layers in (2nd FULL dry time). Being that he wanted it to be life size… I had to use a kids 18″ rubber ball (cheapie in the wire bins at Walmart). It was wrapped in saran wrap just in case… at how many layers would you feel it to be safe to let the air out and remove the ball… it seems pretty solid in most places, but I want to be sure.

      Also, what is your go to method of attaching pieces to your work? In this case snout (pipe insulation for aperture) and tusks (chicken wire or possibly simply out of mache clay).

      • Hi Aimee. If you’re using paper strips and paste, you’ll need a few more layers to make it strong enough to wear. Put it in front of a fan to make the drying go faster. There should be no sponginess at all when you press on it, because if there’s any moisture in the bottom layer, the almost-dry paper mache will collapse when you let the air out of the ball. When you add each new layer, some of the moisture from the paste will go into the previous layers, so it will take several days to dry.

        The pipe insulation for the snout is a brilliant idea! If hot glue doesn’t melt the foam, you could use that to attach it to the head. Or you can use more paper strips and paste to hold the different pieces together. I don’t like using wire in a wearable mask, because people can trip or get bumped, and those sharp points can poke right through the paper mache and possibly cause an injury to the face. A safer alternative is to crumple some aluminum foil into the tusk shapes, and cover them with the paper mache.

        We would love to see how your mask comes out. You can show it off on the Daily Sculptors page when it’s done. 🙂

        • So, I am now at the point of covering the project. I wish I were better with fabric, but I found that after adding a couple more layers, Right Stuff spray insulation was a FANTASTIC way to add support so he could wear the mask without fear of breaking.. after filling the mask with foam, I let it form a skin, then used my mixing bowl to push down and form a space for my son’s head. After it cured 24 hours, I used a knife to trim the foam for best fit, and it is nice and solid! Now on to covering with fabric…I wish I was better at this part, but since I refuse to sew, gorilla glue and snips tucks and folds will have to work! will post pics of my process in the daily sculptor page when I am done!


    Leave a Comment