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Adhesives for Paper

Adhesives are used for many purposes other than simply gluing one piece of paper to another. Some are good for producing glossy and/or matte surfaces. Some can help stiffen a thin decorative paper. Many adhesives can be pigmented. And some are used as sizing agents in producing effective surfaces for watercolors or inks.

Although it may seem like common sense, choosing the right adhesive for the right project can actually become quite confusing, especially when dealing with fine or decorative papers. Most paper, as we learned last week, is very easy to damage, and its various surfaces are sometimes tricky to manipulate. Whatever adhesive you end up choosing - for display boards, collage, bookbinding, sizing, etc. - the bond should be strong and last for a long time.

Rubber Cement
Rubber cement creates a strong bond between paper and hard surfaces like card or illustration board. It will also effectively bond paper to metal, glass, and wood. It is impervious to water, but not to solvent-based products, such as some inks. (As a result, rubber cement can be used as a resist in watercolor and acrylic painting, but not when using oils and turpentine.) Rubber cement dries quickly, gives a flexible bond, and usually won't cause wrinkling, curling, or shrinking. But most brands either are not acid-free, or they contain other chemicals that will discolor photos and papers over time.* Also, its bond can weaken with age. Rubber cement can be applied in a few different ways to make it more or less repositionable. The easiest way is to cover both surfaces that are being glued, and then let them dry before putting them together. To dilute or clean up rubber cement, use a thinner (i.e., Bestine).
Glue Sticks
Glue sticks come in two forms: liquid and paste. Paste is the most common, and can be used to form a permanent bond between papers. Products such as Uhu and Tombo are neat, quick drying, and won't cause paper to wrinkle or shrink - unlike some of the liquid glue sticks. Indeed, glue sticks are often the most effective adhesives for laminating very thin papers to each other or to stiffer surfaces - a common process in both collage and bookbinding. They can also be helpful in decorating glass surfaces such as windows with thin papers. Tombo is handy because it is blue when you put it on the paper; when it dries, it becomes clear.
Spray Adhesives
Spray adhesives can be used for a wide range of projects. They will attach paper to practically any surface. A spray adhesive is very strong, dries clear and quickly, and usually doesn't wrinkle, curl, or bleed through (except with thin papers). Use turpentine or alcohol to clean up. The main drawbacks to spray adhesives are that they are messy and unhealthy. When using them, be sure your work area is spacious and well ventilated. (You may use a cardboard box for spraying small projects.) 3M Photo Mount is a very strong, all-purpose adhesive. You may also try using a repositionable spray adhesive.
YES Glue
"YES" Glue is basically methylcellulose paste, although it may have some other additives. Like glue stick, it works well for projects that involve thin papers, such as lamination in bookbinding or collage. Because it is a paste, it will not cause wrinkling or shrinking. It can be diluted with warm water to increase its spread, though it shouldn't be made too thin. YES is clear when dried, and it will adhere paper to most surfaces.
White Glues
Most white glues fall under the category of PVAs (polyvinyl acetates). This includes Elmer's Glue-All, as well as some other student grade glues. Elmer's is a very low quality white glue designed to wash out with water even when dried. Its bond is not nearly as strong as other brands. Because of this you'll probably want to explore some alternatives. A stronger brand is Delta Sobo, a favorite among collage makers. The highest quality white glue carried by True Blue is Talas Jade PVA. This is the preferred brand among bookbinders, and it produces a clear and durable bond between papers. It can be diluted with warm water to create a thinner adhesive. Overall, PVA doesn't do a good job on thin paper. The liquid white glues easily discolor decorative papers and tissues. For this one should use glues with a more paste-like consistency. PVA can be added to methyl cellulose or wheat starch paste to make a much stronger bookbinding adhesive. Finally, some PVAs help in priming surfaces before painting. Adding a layer of PVA beneath a final layer of gesso can create a smooth, almost glassy finish on a canvas. (Be careful, though; it sets very quickly.)
Acrylic Mediums
Many craft manuals recommend acrylic mediums as the best adhesives for making collage. Gels, glazes, and polymer mediums are all quite versatile, and most are great for adhering paper to various surfaces as well as creating texture on top of paper. Gels can be pigmented with fluid acrylics to add tints to decorative papers. Glazing liquids are sometimes very effective in stiffening otherwise thin papers, such as Thai Unryus and Nepalese Loktas. All gels are archival, designed to last for a very long time.
There are two types of organic adhesives: animal based and plant based. Both have been used in bookbinding for centuries, and they continue to be the favorites of most book artists. While they are both considered to be archival, animal based glues such as rabbit skin glue may tend to deteriorate over a considerable amount of time (centuries) because of various substances present in the solution. Plant based glues such as wheat starch paste and methylcellulose are naturally archival. Rabbit skin glue and wheat starch paste are prepared by adding certain amounts of water to the dry powders, cooking the solution in a double boiler over medium-high heat, and then cooling the mixture in cold water. When cooled, the resulting glues may be further diluted with water. Methylcellulose doesn't require cooking; one may simply add water and let the solution settle until the lumps have completely dissolved.

Organic adhesives, especially wheat starch and methylcellulose, can also be used as sizing agents when preparing paper for watercolors. One may either soak a sheet of unsized paper in a large container or brush the solution onto the desired surface. This creates a seal that keeps the watercolor pigments on top of the paper so that they remain bright and vivid.



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