Matte Medium, Modge Podge, or Glue?

experiment collage

Have you ever wanted to know the real difference?

I mean, Matte Medium, Mod Podge and basic Elmer's glue ALL stick down collage papers (and other stuff). Why not go with the least expensive one? I was wondering the same thing, so I decided to conduct a little experiment for us.

Like a good science experiment, I started with the question: which one is best?* I decided the answer would come down to several factors: what I call the pleasure factor (that is, how much fun it is to apply), wet quality  and dry quality.

*Both Liquitex and Mod Podge (and other companies such as Golden) have other similar products that come in Gloss finish instead of Matte.  Plaid also offers many other decoupage mediums including a "Paper", archival version..  I cannot say how the other products perform, of course.

For my test, I chose four different papers of different weights commonly used in collage: tissue paper, glossy color magazine, vintage book text, and textured  scrapbook paper almost as heavy as cardstock.

Here they are sitting a  pre-painted double page spread in my my art journal:

four papers to stick


The actual experiment was quite simple. First I poured out my three adhesive mediums. Since they're all white I had to make sure each cup sat in front of each medium throughout the experiment.

Pour collage3 adhesives line up

Next, I tore up my papers into small scraps and I began adhering them to my journal spread, in order.  I spread adhesive on the substrate (my journal), on the back of the collage piece and then on top of the collage piece to seal it in. First tissue paper and then text paper:

tissue&text page

And then the same for magazine paper and finally the scrapbook paper scraps:

magazine and scrapbook


It was interesting to actually compare the three mediums side by side. They are all white and look almost identical sitting in their containers:

all 3 in cups

However, as  you know, they are not the same at all!  My little experiment shows us why:

Pleasure factor

First, I liked using Liquitex Matte Medium the most. It was SO much smoother.  When I tipped the container, it flowed easily into the cup and then it was almost like brushing the papers with oil.  It didn't smell and I could easily control it. If I pushed too medium much from the brush onto the paper, I easily swiped excess back up onto the brush.

Mod Podge, by comparison was highly unpleasurable. It SMELLED terrible, to begin with. But also, it was much thicker than the Matte Medium. It globbed more and it was more difficult to control excess.

Elmer's glue was even worse, even thicker and less controllable. However, the smell was much better than Mod Podge. We all grew up with Elmer's so part of the pleasure of the smell is wrapped up in childhood memories, so I guess you can't beat that—except with no smell, as is the case with the Liquitex.

all 3 wet see matte

Wet Quality

As you can see in these close-ups, the matte medium is thinnest. While still wet, we see fewer brush strokes than with the other two. Again, Mod Podge is better than the Elmers White Glue while wet. Elmer's is so much thicker!

Matte Medium dries the fastest. My process was to collage one kind of paper at a time with each of the three mediums before moving on to the next paper material. I began with Matte Medium, then Mod Podge and then Glue. With each pass, the Matte Medium was pretty much dry by the time I had spread the other two and prepared to go on to the next set of papers.

Mod Podge dried a little slower than that, about five minutes.

Elmer's Glue on the other hand took a very long time.  Over 10 minutes!

all 3 wet see modge podge

At the last minute I also decided to add a fourth comparison to the mix and added water to the Elmer's Glue to see if there were any differences between straight and watered down Elmer's. Not as thick and clumpy going on, it was still hard to control in a different way—the water spread too easily and pooled—and it took even longer to dry. Over 15 minutes.

glue&water closeDry Quality

Process being what it may, is there a difference in the final outcome of the collages?

Well, I have to say that, first, there is little difference by sight.  All three adhesives lock down the collage pieces and are pretty much invisible.

I would say that the Elmer's does show around the edges of the scrapbook paper if you look close, but not so much on the thinner papers.  Also, the matte medium is slightly more adhered tight around the edges of the tissue paper, the thinnest paper. In other words, the tissue feels almost like there is no difference between it and the substrate. On the other, thicker papers, I don't see much difference around the edges of any of the mediums. Finally, for the record, I see no difference between Elmer's with and without water.

By touch, however, there is some difference between the three adhesives. When I run my fingers over the collage pieces, regardless of which kind of paper, the matte medium feels more like you're still touching paper even though a layer of medium was applied on top. The medium seems more integrated into the fibers of the collage paper. The other two adhesives feel like the papers are beneath a film of plastic. With the exception of  textured scrapbook paper, where I can still feel the raised glitter lines of that paper no matter which adhesive was used.

Finally, I would say that the watered down Elmer's is less glossy-feeling than Elmer's with no water added.

Final Conclusions

Clearly, Matte Medium is far superior in process—while collaging. It's smoother, doesn't smell and dries fastest. When dry, however, there's not such a big difference between the three. All three adhesive mediums dry invisibly and all collage pieces are firmly adhered in place.

As for how well each holds up over time, this experiment cannot answer that. I can tell you, though, that a little research shows that matte medium is an acrylic paint extender and fixative, so it binds like acrylic paint. The other two are basically PVA-with-additives-added glue products (thus the glossy top coats) that we can expect will break down over time. However, as I said earlier, Plaid's Paper Mod Podge is made to be archival.

I think what you ultimately choose as "best" comes down to what you value most. I collage often and I love the whole wet medium collage process. So smooth, odorless Matte Medium is well worth the cost (it is more than double the other two adhesives).  However, if price is a big factor and you care more about the final product than process, either of the other two products really give you similar results—at least for a few decades!

So what do you think about this experiment? Did I miss anything? Do you have questions? Do you have ideas for other product experiments you'd like me to conduct? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time...