Thoughts on Paper for Paper Mache

paper mache lionToday we have a guest post by one of our readers, D. Smith, who has worked as a paper mache artist for over 20 years.

©2016 D. Smith

What is the best kind of paper to use for paper mache?

Rigid papers make good armatures when rolled. I know artists who have used rolled newspaper armatures exclusively. Sadey Card, a Chico California artist, used rolled paper for all her armatures. She wove it together to make large pieces. Newspaper is good for this. If you are working smaller deli paper is good, even more rigid and less absorbent. Of course cardboard and wire are quite good but we are discussing paper.

Thoughts on Paper for Paper MacheNote: If you’re looking for paper mache recipes, you can download Jonni’s free PDF guide, The Five Best Recipes for Paper Mache, here. And if you’re looking for easy project to use with paper and paste (using any recipe and your own favorite paper or paper mache clay) check out my animal sculpture patterns.

Jonni and other artists use toilet paper for paper mache clay because it breaks down easily. Regular paper towels have a high disintegration rate as well. I use them damp under other papers to add bulk where I don’t want so much breakdown but some moldablity.

I often make wads or lumps of other materials to build up bulk and then use paper towels and Blue janitorial paper towels over them like a skin over muscle because of its very high stretch-ability rate. The Blue towels will perform muct like cloth without pulling apart, bursting or tearing. I make eyeballs with a filler covered with them and rolled up into ovals.

papers for paper mache

These are just a few examples of paper properties:

Paper is wet cellulose (plant fibers) that are pressed together and dried into sheets. Some characteristics of paper that affect paper mache work are as follows…

  • moisture retention (absorbency)
  • strength
  • how much can you pull it before it separates (tensile strength)
  • how easy is it to tear with or against the grain
  • stretch-ability (extensibility)
  • disintegration rates (how easily does it break down in water?)
  • fold-ability, (usually refers to how easy it will fold) but with paper what is its ability to keep and hold a fold
  • rigidity

paper for paper mache

Lets look at some papers used in paper mache and some qualities that effect their use. To do this we’ll place some papers on a continuum. This is not based on scientific, chemical properties dealing with molecules and fiber length etc., but on direct observation.

Blue janitorial paper towels:

  • High rate of absorbency
  • High rate of resistance to bursting
  • High rate of stretch-ability
  • Very low rigidity, flops, even when dry
  • Doesn’t tear straight easily with or against the grain

Newspaper, copy paper

  • Middle range absorbency
  • Middle range resistance to bursting
  • Low rate of stretch-ability
  • Medium rigidity, especially when dry
  • Tears easily, straight with the grain
  • Medium disintegration rate
  • Medium tensile strength

Deli paper

  • Low absorbency
  • High rate of resistance to bursting
  • Very low rate of stretchability
  • High rigidity, especially when dry
  • Tears easily, tears straight with the grain
  • Very low disintegration rate
  •  Very high tensile strength, does not pull apart easily

Toilet Paper

  • Very high disintegration rate
  • Very low tensile strength, pulls apart easily


27 thoughts on “Thoughts on Paper for Paper Mache”

      • HI, I have a query I hope you would answer before I start working on a project. Am trying to make jharokas plz google it as i cant place images here) using ur clay recipe. i want to make a basic cardboard structure and then use ur clay for the embelishments, carving shapes and other stuff. i want to know how much does the clay shrink considering i go through ur recipe gram by gram. If I apply the paste in shapes and stick them over the cardboard, will it shrink too much? or should i make the embelishments curves, arches etc separately with ur clay, dry and then stick on the cardboard? your enlightenment on this is very much appreciated. thanks and regards

        • Hi Pram. The clay will shrink slightly, but it will be barely noticeable. The real challenge for your project is that wet paper mache of any kind, including the pm clay, can cause flat cardboard to warp as it dries. If possible, do an experimental piece first, before spending hours on your final project. That way, you’ll be able to see how the material works, and if it’s the right material for this particular project.

          • thanks for your time! like you said, I am not sure about the wet clay’s effect on cardboard, so i would have to make the embelishments separately and allow to dry and then fix it on the base cardboard frame. where can i get moulds to make pillars and decorative poles or repetitive patterns? any ideas on how to make them if not available?

            • I’m not sure where to get molds. For small repetitive pieces, a cake decorator or candy supply house might have silicone molds you could use.

            • To help keep the cardboard from warping you can glue layers together, the thicker the more rigid.

  1. Loving your cozy mystery The Owl Thief , have already ordered second one . ( and of course I own your craft books ). I have learned so much from you . As a mache artist this site is ever inspirational. Thanks for being a blessing .

  2. Hi I enjoy reading the posts. I have a question that is off topic somewhat. I enjoy working with paper mache but after I add acrylic paint and a clear gloss sealant to a finished project, I later see fine cracks. This does not happen each time. Have you or any of your readers experienced that and if so what is the cause and solution?

  3. I’ve just started following you on YouTube and I really appreciate your easy to understand directions for Papier Mache and Clay. I am an avid crafter, but I mostly do ceramics and surface art, but this is definitely something I want to get into more, thank you so much for sharing your years of knowledge.

    • Gosh, you’re welcome, Raynell. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the videos and posts. Do you have a facebook page or website where we could see some of your work?

      • I lost all of my photos when my computer crashed about 6 months ago, Geek Squad fixed the problem, but they said it would cost thousands of dollars to get back what I lost, (not worth it). I don’t have a website, but I am on facebook, just personal stuff. Also I mixed up the clay and it came out to bulky, not creamy like yours, do you know maybe what I did wrong? Thank you Jonni!!

        • Hi Raynell. I’m so sorry about your computer. That can be frustrating. I think your pm clay problem could be caused by using too much paper. It’s not easy to measure, but you can correct it by adding more of the other ingredients and mixing again.

          One other possibility would be DAP brand joint compound. It combines in a weird way with the PVA (Elmers) glue, and makes the mixture too thick or rubbery to use. Check the label on your joint compound tub, and see it that’s the problem.

          And the last possibility would be if you used dry joint compound instead of the pre-mixed. But I suspect it’s just a matter of too much paper, and that’s easily fixed.

    • Hi Debbie. Your figure sculptures are amazing! And congratulations for being featured in the Arkadia Magazine. I don’t suppose you would feel inclined to write up a tutorial for us, showing how you make your figure sculptures? It’s a nice way to get a link back to your site, and to any gallery or online store that sells your work. If you have any interest in doing it, just let me know.

      • Yes, of course. Next relief with figures will be fully photographed, I’ve got to get my husband, also an artist, involved with the photos, you know why, sticky fingers can’t use a cameras.

      • Hi Jonni…..I’ve only just seen your reply!!….and you sent it in 2016! I’m so sorry not to have replied sooner! I would LOVE to write a tutorial for you about my figure sculptures! You were the one who started me sculpting in papier mache and I credit you with that in everything I do! If you’d still like me to do something for you, just tell me what to do! You can see my more recent work at http://www.debbiecourt.com …I hope I’ve improved since 2016!!

        • Your website is beautiful, Debbie, and so are the paper mache sculptures on it. Excellent work! I’m so glad you’d like to do a guest post. We do get a lot of questions about making paper mache figures, and it isn’t my area of expertise. (Two legs, you know, instead of four. 🙂 )

          I’ll send you an email right away to let you know what I’ll need for your tutorial. Thanks for offering to do it. I know it will be a huge success!

  4. Actually, deli paper is too flaccid for armatures. I got confused here. Newspaper is not good for small things I’ve tried so far. It’s hard form me to work very small because of my arthritis. Yesterday I tried wire and newspaper and wire was much better for little people I am going to add to a future work. But, if working larger, lets say a figure 10 inches, paper armatures are much more changeable. With wire you can’t disassemble as easily and put back to together again. Really small things that stick out are better supported underneath with wire for strength.

    • Hi D. Smith..I really appreciated your post and information..and love the colours and shapes in the examples of your work shown. But I couldn’t find your website! Would you let me know it please? Many thanks ?


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