We mixed media junkies really love our glue. We can spend a lifetime collaging papers into masterpieces and often we'll throw in textiles or objects or even metal.
The problem of course is that there are a lot of adhesives out there. Truck on down to the the art supplies store and you'll find shelves full of different kinds of glue. Then head over to the hardware store and you'll find a whole lot more.
So the question is natural: which glue should we use for which of our media?
I finally sorted out the many kinds of adhesives after doing a little research. It turns out that there are generally just three main types of glues for mixed media—and an additional set of what I'll call specialized glue products. As you'll see below, once you sort out the types and what they're good for, it will be pretty easy to figure out what glue to use.
Three Main Types of Mixed Media Glues
1. PVA Glues
PVA glues are the white glues such as Elmer's craft glues, wood glues, Tacky glues and as I’ve just learned, classic Mod Podge. PVA stands for PolyVinyl Acetate, a synthetic Polymer.
- Are designed for porous materials such as paper, wood and fabric (but work well enough with nonporous surface.).
- Do not emit harmful fumes or cause skin reactions.
- Are not acrylic so they do not mix with acrylic paint when wet; they don’t seal paper.
- Are not waterproof.
- Won't yellow with age.
I like Aleene's Tacky Glue for adhering light weight objects from foam to ribbon buttons and beads. PVAs seem to set faster than acrylic mediums (see below) and while Gel Medium is just as strong when dry, PVA glue is much less expensive for the same purpose. I never use Mod Podge for collage because it smells and it dries too sticky—and it’s not an acrylic adhesive.
2. Acrylic Adhesives
Acrylic adhesives are acrylic mediums which are products that are made to mix with acrylic paint for different purposes—to slow dry time or add texture, for example. Several of these mediums are also fantastic adhesives for collage: Matte Medium, Glossy Medium and Gel Medium.
- Dry clear and waterproof.
- Mix with acrylic paint.
- Are archival.
- Do not emit fumes or cause skin reactions.
I use Golden or Liquitex Matte Medium for paper collage and lightweight fabric. It’s waterproof and dries matte and clear. It seals the paper so I’m free to apply other layers on top. Gel Medium is a bit heavier so works well with heavier papers and fabrics.
3. Epoxy Glues
Epoxy Adhesives are polymer or resin mixed with a hardening agent.
Industrial strength, Epoxy adhesives:
Are designed for nonporous surfaces.
Form a very strong bond and are therefore good for heavier weight materials.
Do emit fumes and can cause skin reactions – to be used in ventilated areas.
Can darken with age so should be hidden behind the item being adhered.
I love E6000 for heavy or nonporous objects like glass or metal that need to be adhered without fear of later breaking loose. It works! Other epoxies work too like Gorilla, J.B. Weld, Liquid Nails—they’re all super strong stuff, if not a bit toxic, so I only use epoxies (or any toxic substance) when nothing else will do.
So that's the three main types: PVAs, Acrylics and Epoxies. There are many different brands for each of these types of glue--and each formulation may perform slightly differently—but basically, you got your PVAs for lightweight, porous objects, your acrylics for papers and fabrics and your epoxies for heavy and/or non-porous materials.
Now for the other glue products:
Specialized Glue Products
This is a wide range of specific use adhesives intended for specific purposes. Some are archival and some are not; some emit fumes/can cause rashes and some do not, so check each product to be sure.
Glue sticks, adhesive tape runners or glue dots
All of these generally adhere papers. They vary in strength and longevity, but they are each useful and more efficient than liquid glue in certain circumstances.
I like to use glue sticks or adhesive tape runners as a quicker and less messy way to collage papers together, when traveling particularly. Papers aren’t sealed, but sometimes that’s okay—or I can run some matte medium on top later. Quality varies between brands. I like the UHU glue stick best and the Tombow tape runner.
Double sided tape is pretty strong and really sticks two edges of two pieces of paper together, such as for pockets or book pages.
Yes Paste (or Nori Paste)
Yes Paste is a starch-based adhesive that is stiff to apply, so needs a rigid tool to spread, and it adheres paper together beautifully. It is stronger than a glue stick (and longer lasting) and it is less wet than a PVA or Acrylic so paper doesn’t buckle or wrinkle. Yes Paste is great for bookbinding techniques, which requires a strong paper bond. Yes Paste is not a sealer so like a glue stick, Yes Paste does not get applied on top of paper. It is not appropriate for collage.
Hot Glue Guns
I never knew until now that glue sticks are made out of thermoplastic material. Glue guns melt thermoplastic glue sticks onto any (non-wet) material and forms a pretty strong bond when dry. It is not an epoxy strength, though, so it won’t hold as strong, and I’m not sure about longevity or archival quality. Glue guns are primarily used for crafts that may not to hold up over time.
Spray Adhesives vary by brand and I believe formulation. Emitted through aerosol, spray adhesives emit fumes so again use sparingly and in ventilated areas (with masks). Spray adhesives and are great for delicate papers—or large areas that would require much more liquid glue otherwise.
Super glues are made of cryanoacrylates and are used to strongly bond nonporous materials such as ceramics, glass, and body tissue. Superglue bonds quickly and is not good for paper or fabrics. Fumes are also toxic so also use in ventilated areas only.
Rubber Cement is a latex polymer mixed with different kinds of solvents depending on the brand (avoid Benzene, particularly). Rubber cement is removable so can be rubbed away later, so it works well as a mask. It will discolor or deteriorate papers/photos over time and also must be used in a ventilated area.
I hope I've helped you sort out kinds of adhesives. For more information on the topic of glues, here are a few good links, some of which I used to research this post:
Until next time!