Paper mache (or papier-mâché, if you prefer) can be made with many different paste recipes.
To go straight to your favorite recipe, click on one of the links below.
- Fast and Easy Raw Flour and Water Paste
- Cooked Flour and Water Paste
- Elmer’s Art Paste (Gluten-free).
- How to use Wood Glue for a Fast-Drying and Strong Mask or Sculpture.
- More Gluten-Free Alternatives.
The recipes listed on this page are for use with paper strips and paste. You’ll find my paper mache clay recipe on a separate page.
Fast and Easy Raw Flour and Water Paste
This has been my favorite paper mache paste for years. It’s also the paste our friend Dan Reeder uses to make his wonderful dragons and monsters. However, keep reading to see when it might not be the best option for your next project.
Paper mache paste is easy to make, and it doesn’t really need a recipe. The most important tip is to use hot water (from the tap, not boiling) to make a nice smooth paste.
Ingredients for easy paper mache paste:
- Hot Water from the Tap
To make the paste, just pour some white flour in a bowl. Add hot water gradually until you have a consistency that will work well. Mix with a spoon or whisk. If you have one, an immersion blender works great).
How thick should you make your paste? You want it thin enough so it looks more like white glue than pancake batter – although thicker paste will work OK, too, if that’s the way you like it. You really can’t make it wrong.
What kind of flour will work? You’ll need to use all-purpose white flour. Whole-wheat flour makes healthier bread, but it isn’t sticky enough to make good paste.
Make up just enough for one sculpting session. This is good advice for any paste made with wheat flour. Wild yeast is attracted to flour (that’s how sourdough bread is made.)
If the paste is kept over from one session to the next, the yeast will break down the flour and make the paste less sticky (and slightly stinky). It’s best to whip up as much as you need today, throw out any paste that’s left over, and make a new batch tomorrow – or whenever you need some more. (If you need a paste that can be kept for longer periods of time, see the Elmer’s Art Paste, below.)
Be sure to clean the bowl and utensils before the paste has time to dry – it will dry very hard. That’s good for paper mache, but not so good for the person washing the dishes.
Tips: This paste is easy and strong, but it will leave a floury residue on the outside of your sculpture. If you want the last layer of paper to be seen on the finished sculpture, you’ll need one of the clear paste alternatives below.
And if you have a gluten allergy, you’ll want to use one of the gluten-free alternatives.
See my patterns for paper mache wall sculptures and masks:
Cooked Flour and Water Paste:
Cooked paper mache paste will dry almost clear, unlike the raw paste, and the surface of your paper mache sculpture will be slightly smoother.
- 2 Tablespoons of white flour
- 1 cup of cold water
Mix the white flour and water in a small saucepan. Stir until there are no lumps. A whisk works really well for this.
Put the pan on the stove at medium heat and slowly bring it to a boil, stirring constantly.
When it begins to thicken, be sure to watch carefully and keep stirring, to make sure it doesn’t burn. Stir with a silicone spatula if you have one. As soon as it starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and allow the paste to cool.
The paste will be somewhat runny when it’s hot, but it will gel slightly as it cools. You’ll obviously want to keep your hands out of it while it’s still hot enough to burn.
Tips: This is an excellent choice if you need a paste that dries clear. However, if you have a gluten allergy, you’ll need one of the options below.
Elmer’s Glue-All (Methylcellulose)
Methylcellulose paste – In the past I often recommend Elmer’s Art Paste for school classes, because you can make up a gallon of the paste in advance, and it never gets moldy. It’s also gluten-free, so you don’t have to worry about your students’ allergies.
Unfortunately, they don’t sell it anymore. However, you can easily make your own with food-grade methylcellulose. It’s really the same thing as the Elmer’s product, and you can easily buy it online. Watch this video to see how to make it.
Looking for an easy way to make headdress-style masks for your school’s production of The Lion King Jr? I have patterns for all the major characters – the patterns create the shapes, and you bring them to life with acrylic paint. See the Lion King Jr mask patterns here.
If you need a paste that dries perfectly clear, you can use Elmer’s Glue-All (or any white PVA glue) mixed with just enough water to make the glue thinner and easier to spread.
I often use Titebond III wood glue with masks that need to be light and strong. You can see a video about that here.
Acrylic Gel can be used as paste. This is the product that I use when I add colored tissue paper as a final layer over a paper mache sculpture. You do need to make sure the paper mache underneath is completely dry, because the acrylic medium could dry first and seal moisture inside.
I use the gel medium with tissue paper for two reasons: It dries perfectly clear, and it doesn’t cause the fragile tissue paper to fall apart quite as fast as water-based paste does.
You do still need to handle the paper carefully, of course. You can see how the gel medium worked with tissue paper on a bullfrog sculpture here.
Wood Glue for Paper Mache
I use Titebond II wood glue for all of my Lion King masks, because it’s strong enough that you can use just one layer over the cardboard patterns. (Click here to see a video that shows how I use it.) It’s also what I use when I use paper mache inside a silicone mold.
You can find the wood glue online or in any hardware store or Walmart. It isn’t cheap, but you don’t need many layers and it dries much faster than any water-based paste.