Paper mache (or Papier-mâché) is a technique where pieces of paper are bound and layered on top of each other wich an adhesive. By repeating this process several times you achieve a hardened shell of paper. You can form paper mache into many different forms and the material is easy and fun to use. In this article, I will tell you everything, that you need to know about the layers and how to dry them properly.
So do you let Paper Mache dry between layers? The short answer is yes, Paper mache should dry in between layers but you don´t have to let it dry in between each individual layer. It is enough if you let it dry after every third or fourth layer before adding more layers.
Why Should You Let Paper Mache Dry Between Layers?
There are several reasons for letting it dry between every third or fourth layer.
One reason is the structure of your project. If you are doing too many layers in one go your project may deform because your first layers will still be formable while you apply more layers on top of them. The added weight, even if it doesn´t seem much weight to you, can deform your paper mache base form.
So if you let the layers, that you apply, dry in between the paper mache has time to harden. The hardened layers are a perfect base for more layers and the more layers you apply the stronger your paper mache gets.
The other reason is the time it takes to dry. This one may sound weird but if you let your layers dry in between every third layer then your project will dry well and fast but if you add twenty layers and then leave it to dry then it can take days until it is dried completely to the core.
So by letting it dry regularly your paper mache project will be stronger and you can be sure it is dried completely to the core.
One last reason is that your paper mache may actually get some bubbles or indents if you are adding too many layers at once. This is because the different layers are drying at different speeds and not at the same time. So the layers are pushing and pulling each other and so indents and bubbles can appear on the surface of your paper mache.
Is it Bad If I Don´t Let It Dry In Between Layers?
You can be lucky and nothing bad happens if you don´t let your paper mache dry every few layers.
But you will get a better and safer result if you let it dry every few layers. There are pro paper mache artists ut there, that know exactly how to mix their glue and how much glue to apply at every point. These pros can sometimes work continuously on their piece without letting it dry for longer periods.
Buty they can only do so because they know the medium and every aspect of it very well. So they know exactly what the medium can take and where to be careful.
So if you are not one of these artists and if you don´t know one of these artists then I would suggest and take the safer route, which is letting the paper mache dry every 3 to 4 layers.
How Can I Tell If a Layer Is Dry?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a layer is dried completely or if it is still wet under the surface.
So how can you tell if your paper mache is completely dry to the core? If you see, that your top layer is dry to the touch but just a few layers deeper the paper mache could still be damp. So how can you tell if it is completely dry?
A really easy trick to tell if your paper mache is dry to its core is to see how cold it is. This may sound weird at first but let me explain. Paper mache is normally made with water-based glue and that glue dries by evaporation. So when water evaporates it cools the paper mache down.
So if your paper mache is very cold, then it may still be drying but if it has room temperature or is only slightly below the room temperature then it is dried completely.
How Long Does Paper Mache Take to Dry?
The short answer is, it depends heavily on the surrounding temperature and the type of paper and type of glue used. Generally, I would suggest letting your paper mache dry for 12 hours and then check if it still has wet spots. If you want to make sure then wait for 24 hours. After 24 hours it will most defiantly be dry.
It completely depends on how much glue you used and how warm the surrounding temperature is.
If you used a lot of glue or a very liquid glue it can take up to 24 hours before your paper mache is dried completely.
If you are living in a warmer area, then your paper mache may be drying quicker and you can check if it is dry after 12 hours.
When your paper is very absorbant like fabric paper for example, then your paper mache could be drying faster too.
And if you are leaving your paper mache dry after every few layers, then it will obviously dry faster too.
Can I Speed Up the Dying Process?
Yes, you can speed up the drying process of your paper mache in several ways. You can use a hairdryer to heat up your paper mache. The heat will speed up the drying of most waterbased glues. You can also put your paper mache near a heater and open a window to have heat and some ventilation nearby.
All of these methods can speed up the drying process of your paper mache project by a lot.
Instead of a hairdryer, you could also use a heat gun.
But be careful not to heat up your paper mache irregular. If you only heat one spot until it is dry and then move on then your paper mache could deform. So heat your paper mache up evenly, so that it drys evenly as well.
If you want to be safe though, I would suggest either letting it dry near a small heat source or just as it is in a room.
I would also recommend letting it dry completely on its own after you applied the final layer. This will ensure a good and robust final paper mache project.
Do I have to Wait Until A Layer is Completely Dry Until I can Apply Another One?
The good news is, you don´t have to wait 12 hours between every few layers until you can apply another round of layers.
I would suggest waiting for the first 3 layers you apply to dry completely, just because it is important to have a stable base. But after that, it should be fine if you let it dry to the touch, so about 3 to 4 hours and then apply another round of layers.
Don´t overdo it though. if you add 20 + layers like that then you still might get some undesired results. So I would recommend adding 3 to 4 rounds of 3 layers after the base layer and then let it dry completely to the core until adding another 3 to 4 rounds of 3 layers each.
If you work this way your paper mache will be strong, well-formed and smooth.