Monday, May 14, 2018


Glue is a hot topic for paper crafters, collagers and mail artists. I'm a glue nerd myself, but I don't think I've ever talked in depth about it here. Seeing as I'm hosting a public collage postcard swap on Swap-bot, now seems like a good time to get into it.

I've been a loyal Elmer's CraftBond Glue Stick user for years now. It's my main glue for collages - postcards, envelopes, ATCs, artbooks, etc. I tried UHU once in the early days and didn't care for it, so it's been Elmer's all the way since. I like it for a few reasons, not just because it has good sticking power, but it has a nice consistency (goes on smooth and doesn't crumble), it's not messy and it's readily available at different stores.

I know a lot of people complain about glue sticks - they say the glue doesn't stick well. To be honest, I don't believe their problems are because of the glue, but because of application. I've received mail art myself with papers flapping off in the breeze and you can clearly see that the paper has no evidence of ever being glued. When you use glue sticks, you need to REALLY get in there and rub it everywhere, multiple times. Like this:

This is how I glue everything that is going out naked in the mail. I don't have to be quite as thorough with things like ATCs because they won't be handled nearly as much. It seems like a lot, but in a normal month of creative projects, I'll only go through 1 glue stick - 2 if it's been a busy month for postcards. I rarely have anything arrive at its destination with any significant damage so it's worth it.

My glue palette is a big office supply catalog sat in a short repurposed cardboard box so I can easily grab it and move it around when I need to.

Gluing on this provides a bit of cushion so the glue stick meets the paper more evenly without having to press so hard. When a page gets glued up too much, I rip it off and move on to the next one. The old card is my scraper/smoother.

Some more tips for collage mail art:
  • If you're using any kind of glossy materials, it's good to use sandpaper to scuff up the sides that are going to be glued. This'll give the paper some tooth to grip with. I get sanding blocks from the Dollar Tree - they're a lot easier to handle than sandpaper (sandpaper paper cuts are awful).
  • Use papers of similar thickness/weight. This helps create a uniform surface that won't snag in machinery. You can thin out thick papers by carefully peeling off layers. I do this with postcards when I rather use the images in art (or when I goof up filling out a cool postcard and still want to use the image).
  • Though if you do want to mix in thicker papers, just use a heavier glue. I use Aleene's Tacky Glue when I need to apply papers that are thicker compared to others in a collage - or for small/fiddly bits.
  • With every piece you glue down, burnish the heck out of it! I'll put the lid back on the glue stick and use the top of it to squash the papers down thoroughly or use a plastic card to smooth papers out.
  • Before you mail something out, run your hand over it and check at the edges for any papers that aren't glued all the way and touch up with more glue where needed. If you can pull it up, postal machinery can pull it up (and wreck the shit out of it). 

This is the "lay of the land" of the collage postcard I made while thinking about this post. For the most part it's a smooth layer of multiple papers. The punches are from drywall tape which has a heavy-duty glue already applied to it so I'm not all that worried about them. The thin black strips in the middle make up a quote and were applied with Aleene's.

I don't usually seal my collage postcards - at least not usually with a heavy sealer.
If it's a mixed media collage that has a lot of paint layers, then I'll seal with Mod Podge.
If I just add some pencil doodles or stencil a few dots with paint, I'll spot-seal with some sort of spray varnish. Otherwise collage postcards (and envelopes) go out as-is.

That's my glue post - as it pertains to mail art at least.
Hope it's useful in some way.


  1. Where were you like five years ago when I was tearing my hair out? :-) I have found that most of my glue fails were from under-applying and not being diligent about my edges. User error as usual! And sanding the slippery stuff! Who knew? I will try that, because usually that's what I have the most trouble getting to stick. Also love your tear-off catalog idea. thanks for such an informative post!

    1. Hey I'm glad you got something from it! I was half nervous I was wasting my time...but that's all part of the joy of blogging, eh? 💩

  2. I also love the catalog idea! I’ve even got the perfect one laying around. I like seeing your glueing process. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Joy! Uline is pretty persistent with their catalogs if you ever need a new glue mat supplier. 😉

  3. Thanks Steph- you and I are alike on this though I tend to go for the extra strength sticks. When I teach I always make folks check the edges - Your so right! For small edge lifts I use a tooth pick and tacky glue to get it under ti secure the edge. My biggest challenge is air bubbles but I’ve gotten better.

  4. I've learned so much from this post Steph. You covered all the bases, which is so helpful. I ran over to my glue caddy after reading this and caught myself frowning when all I saw in regard to glue stick were the dollar store kind. Elmers is on the list for my next trip to Walmart.

    1. Thanks, Terri! I'm happy to be able to pass on some info. Hope you like the glue! Make sure not to get the Repositionable variety. They come in nearly the exact same packaging (they should really make more distinct packaging).