Arts and Crafts : Using Glues and Adhesives in Altered Books

OR How do I Make it Stick?

Glues and adhesives are favorite topics among altered book artists. And no wonder. No other technique has as many pitfalls as the seemingly simple action of sticking one element to another.

Some glues have an acid content and will damage your photos and papers over time. Some cause your pages to warp and wrinkle after they dry. Some smell bad and will make your book stink for months. Some attract bugs and insects. Some lack the strength to attach heavier elements. Some will deteriorate after a few years, causing your book to come apart. Some are hazardous unless handled with care. Some take forever to dry, especially in humid climates. Some are repositional and some bond immediately. Some are intended for special projects, such as stickers, buttons, labels for barcode scanners, pictures, etc. And the list goes on.

Selecting the correct adhesive is both an art and a science. All glues have their pros and cons. You look for the one that works best with your specific project.

For complete information, I suggest you track down a copy of Nancy's Ward's book, The Complete Guide to Glues and Adhesives . Until you get the book, the information below is a good starting point.

Beginner's List

altered book tipTip: If you're a beginner, here's a simplified list. This is what I use: Golden Gel Medium (Soft Gel Matte) for gluing pages together, Pioneer Photo Safe Glue Stick for attaching smaller papers, and Mini Glue Dots for attaching small embellishments.

You can add specialty adhesives later.


Liquid glues come in two categories: water-based or solvent-based. Within those categories, there are sub-categories of natural vs chemical.

The following list is not all-inclusive. However, it covers many of the adhesives that altered book artists favor. I'm including a brief description, and purchasing information wherever possible. Some of these products are acid-free and suitable for archival quality work. Others are not. Check the manufacturer's label to be sure.

PVA (polyvinyl acetate)
PVA is an acronym for adhesives that are water-based synthetics. The water content in many of the PVA products will cause warping and buckling in the pages after the glue has dried. However, some products in this category have a low water content, and are suitable for gluing in altered books.

PVA adhesives are often referred to simply as white glue. The well-known Elmer's Glue-All belongs in this category. Although some swear by the Elmer's product, there is concern that it is not acid free, and that it has a tendency to warp the paper more than PVA bookbinder's glue, for example. carries a range of Elmer's products.

A better, albeit more costly choice in this category would be PVA bookbinder's glue. This product is pH-neutral and is used for book binding, collages and for gluing blocks of pages together. You can purchase it at Light Impressions - The Leading Resource for Archival Supplies.

Yes! Paste
Yes! is a controversial product. People either love it or hate it. However, archivists have used this product for decades and many swear by it. A water-based paste made from a natural vegetable product, Yes! is acid free, archival, and does not cause the paper warping that is common with most water-based solvents. However, since YES! paste is water based and water soluble, exposure to high humidity can cause it to break down over time. Because of its starch content, it will also attract insects.

Yes! is best applied with a spatula or disposable gadget like an old-credit card or popsicle stick. It requires only water cleanup. You can purchase Yes Paste from

Acrylic-Based Adhesives
Acrylic-based adhesives contain a water-soluble polymer (plastic). Almost all are acid free.

PPA (Perfect Paper Adhesive) is the brand name of an acrylic-based adhesive made by USArtQuest. PPA is archival, non-toxic and comes in both gloss and matte finish. It is considered a museum-quality adhesive. In addition to being an adhesive, PPA can be used as a medium, a sealer and a finish.

Another acrylic-based adhesive is Rollataq by Daige Corporation. It is a safe, cold adhesive system and is non-toxic, acid-free and odor-free.

Altered book artists report that the Rollataq adhesive is excellent, but the applicator tool must be used daily or the adhesive dries out.

Both PPA and Rollataq are available at

Acrylic Mediums and Gels
Acrylic mediums and gels are dual purpose. You can use use them as a medium to mix with acrylic paints, or you can use them as an adhesive.

Acrylic mediums and gels contain polymer (plastic). The difference between a gel and a medium is viscosity: the mediums are thin enough to pour; the gels are not pourable. Gels come in strengths like soft, regular and heavy.

Acrylic mediums and gels are available in sheens -- usually glossy, semi-gloss, or matte finish. If you are using the product as an adhesive, it makes no difference which sheen you use. If you are using it as a medium to mix with paint, your choice will be guided by the look you are going for.

Mediums and gels are flexible when dry. This quality makes them good choices when gluing blocks of pages together in your altered books. Your blocks will not pop open when bent.

One problem noted is that pages and collages fastened with acrylics may stick together unless preventative measures are taken (Refer to the tips page. The link is at the bottom of this page).

Brand names, all of which are good, include Liquidex, Golden, Grumbacher, Createx, and Windsor & Newton. All products are available at

Note! Acrylic Gels and Mediums are not typically used as a substitue for acrylic Gesso (although they can be in some circumstances). Gesso is an primer that altered book artists use to add tooth to a page before adding paint. Gel and mediums add very little tooth. Gesso also adds strength, and lends itself to various painterly effects.

Mod Podge by Plaid
Mod Podge by Plaid, is a water-based formula. Available in gloss, matte or sparkle, it can be used as a sealer, glue, or finish. It is water-based and non-toxic. You will find that when using this product to stick things together, it buckles your paper somewhat more than the acrylic gels and mediums do. On the other hand, the drying time is slower (approximately 10 minutes) so you have more time to tinker.

When using Mod Podge to seal a page, many altered book artists recommend spraying a sealer over the Mod Podge to eliminate lingering tackiness. carries it.

Specialty Adhesives
Dimensional Adhesives
These products add dimension, or a 3-D effect to a project. 3-D Glue Dots, for example, are huge, and dreadfully sticky dots. Use them to attach elements that you want to jump out of the page.

Glazes such as Judikin's Diamond Glaze or Aleene's® Paper Glaze are thick liquid substances which dry clear. You can incorporate glitter, small beads or pigment powders in these products for special effects. Check the label to be sure, as there are brand variations. Many rubber stampers like to stamp a flower image for example, then cover the petals with adhesive glaze.

You can also purchase glues with glitter and color already included. carries both products.

Glue Sticks
This product is economical, handy, convenient and easy to use. Pioneer Photo Glue Stick and uHU Photo Glue Stick are both acid free. The sticks are great for gluing smaller items or photographs. They are not your best bet for attaching heavy items. Some altered book artists have expressed concerns that items attached with these sticks might come undone after several years. carries both products.

Heavy Duty Adhesives for Heavier Objects
Gluing heavier objects requires a heavy duty adhesive. Some of the brands that are popular with altered book artists are E-6000 (has a bad smell), Weldbond, Gorilla Glue and Glue Dots (mini, regular and 3-D). Note that not all of these are acid free. All are available at

Mono Multi Liquid Glue by Tombo is a good choice for adhering quilling and other elements that are sometimes difficult to hold.

Repositional Glues
These adhesives allow you to reposition items if the spacing isn't just right. They will become permanent in time. Repositional adhesives are available in a variety of forms -- glue pens, tape dispensers, lamination sheets, sprays and more. Brand names include HermaFix, Xyron, 2 in 1 Repositional Adhesive, Zig, and others.

I use Hermafix repositional tape to adhere vellum or scraps of paper to ordinary printer paper temporarily. This allows me to print text or images onto the vellum or the scrap. I then remove the printed piece from the printer paper.

Hermafix and other repositional glues are available at

Spray Adhesives and Glues
There is a difference between the two: Spray glue sprays on wet and dries clear. Spray adhesive sprays on tacky and the dried finish is a little murky.

Xyron is the brand name for a product that allows you to turn any papr into a one or two-sided sticker. Xyron machines come in various sizes. The refills are available in regular, repositional or laminate. You can purchse Xyron products at

Incidentally, are you wondering if there is a difference between glue and adhesive? Me too. To the best of my knowledge, adhesive is a term used to describe something that adheres. The other refers to a particular type of adhesive. Therefore, not all adhesives are glue.

Tips and Troubleshooting with Adhesives

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