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).
- Special DIY Paste for Shop Towel Mache.
- 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.
If you’re looking for a fast start on your next paper mache project, any of the recipes on this page will work with my new downloadable patterns for sculptures and masks.
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.
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 Art Paste:
A 2 oz carton of Elmer’s Art Paste mixes up into a full gallon of gluten-free paste that doesn’t attract mold.
Elmer’s Art Paste is made with methyl-cellulose, the product often considered the ‘gold standard’ for professional paper mache artists who want their work to last a lifetime.
It’s non-toxic, safe for kids, and it’s a great paste for people who live in hot, humid climates where mold and insects are a big problem.
If you need a paste that doesn’t use flour, I can’t think of a better option. Watch the video below to see how easy it is to mix.
Tips: If you need to mix up a large batch of paper mache paste in advance for a class or workshop, this is a great choice. You can make this paste weeks ahead of time if you want, and it won’t spoil.
Elmer’s Art Paste won’t go moldy, no matter how long it takes to dry.
And you don’t have to worry about gluten allergies.
More Gluten-Free Options
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 don’t personally like using glue with my paper mache sculptures because I don’t like the way it feels when it dries on my hands. However, many people really like it, and never use anything else. It is quite a lot more expensive than Elmer’s Art Paste.
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 use any acrylic gel medium, but the one I now use exclusively is the Acrylic Gel Medium by Rock Paint. It isn’t ‘better’ than other gels on the market, but it seems to be the least expensive product of it’s type, and it works just fine.
You can see how the gel medium worked with tissue paper on a bullfrog sculpture here.
Paste for Shop Towel Mache
I use one of these recipes whenever I make a mask or sculpture with blue shop towels. The paste is too heavy to use with newspaper, but it’s perfect with the thick absorbent shop towels. In fact, this is how I made all of the masks in my book How to Make Masks!
Just two or three layers of the heavy shop towel paper, held together with one of these paste recipes, will make a strong, hard skin for a sculpture or mask. The towels need to be completely saturated with the paste, so they’ll dry hard and strong. If you don’t use enough paste with the towels, they will never get hard.
To make the paste with glue and joint compound, create a mixture of:
After you’ve mixed it thoroughly, add:
- Just enough water to make it thin enough to brush over your armature.
Watch this video to see how I made a Halloween portrait mask with this recipe and blue shop towels over a clay form.
Use any joint compound except Dap brand, which doesn’t work. I buy my joint compound at Walmart.
I also use this recipe as gesso, to create a nice white ground for the final paint on my sculptures.
Note: Drywall joint compound is produced for the construction industry. It’s important to wear a mask if you sand your paper mache after it dries, because the calcium carbonate in the joint compound is mined in areas that also contain silica, and fine silica dust is not good for your lungs.
Glue and Plaster of Paris Paste: This is the paste I used with shop towels before I found out that the joint compound version dries just as strong. You won’t have as much working time with the plaster version, because it hardens quickly. That’s good if you need a mask in a hurry, but not if you want time to add details.
You can see a three-video series of a Commedia del Arte Mask mask made with the blue shop towels and the glue and plaster paste here.
To make the fast-setting paper mache paste, mix together:
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) white glue (Elmer’s Glue-All® or any PVA glue)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cold water
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vinegar (it slows down the plaster to give you more time to work)
Then mix in:
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) plaster of Paris
This paste will harden quickly, and may even begin to harden right in the bowl. If you’re working on a large project, use the previous recipe for paste made with drywall joint compound and glue instead. Both recipes dry very hard when used with the blue shop towels or a one-ply kitchen paper towel that doesn’t have bumps, like these Viva towels.
In my experience, neither recipe will work well with other types of paper.