Glue and the Xyron Machine and Other Sticky Stuff: Sticking Things into Your Journal

July 16, 2010


Above: The Xyron machine which applies a dry adhesive layer to the back of papers you run through it. (Insert paper at A, face up, and it comes out at B with adhesive on the back.) Item C is the UHU Gluestick PURPLE variety which I use. I use the largest stick, which has a top diameter of about 1-3/8 inches. (Note that the Xyron comes in many colors and sizes. I find the small “sticker” size is wasteful of the adhesive, for my needs.)

If someone writes in with a question about a post I often go on and on in the comments section. Sometimes it seems to me that information is better placed in a post by itself—because if you’re like me you don’t always read all the comments on your favorite blogs. Also I know as a teacher, if someone has a question then someone else has the same question but might simply be shy about asking.

I decided to write this post because a reader wrote in asking about what type of glue I use and wondered what the “Xyron” I referred to was.

UHU Gluestick (the Purple Variety) and the Xyron

Here’s the deal—there are a gazillion ways to stick things into your journal. You can even sew things in. Or use brads or eyelets. You can use glue dots (I always find those products too “thick” for my casebound journals, but never say never!).

I’ve written about my favorite glue before but I want to take a moment to reiterate my preferences because I think it may have been lost in passing, and there are always new readers, and I’ve created a category “Glues” to make it easier to find in the future.

My favorite glue for journaling is the UHU GLUESTICK—PURPLE variety (it goes on purple and then fades when dry). I like this because it seems to always work for me and it DOES NOT SMELL! (even their white variety smells too much for me.)

Note: Update January 2017—UHU Purple has been discontinued. White is a suitable gluestick but has too much odor for me. I’m sorry I haven’t found a suitable substitute after months of testing. I’ll keep looking.

My post on making an ephemera collage map has tips on gluing. I recommend you check it out.

You can watch  me gluing with the UHU gluestick (PURPLE variety) in my short video on how to support glue seams in a casebound book. All the tips apply to any sort of journal gluing actually.

When I use this Uhu Glue Stick (the PURPLE variety) in the way shown in the video (even application, burnishing down, weighting while drying) I find that the glue actually holds up to the moisture added when I work on the next page spread with watercolor or gouache. There may be a little buckling, but overall the glued down items on the previous page settle right back down and stay stuck.

(I’m not after perfection.)

If I’m in the studio and have a lot of things to glue and no time to allow the glue to dry—say I’m adding some photos of a work in progress and want to get right to writing the notes by the photos before I forget what I’ve been doing in the photos—I will run my photos through the Xyron machine with the permanent adhesive roll. (Note this is just one internet location for this device. Check around for the best price or sales!)

Once the items come out of the Xyron I trim the photos or collage bits, peel off the protective layer, apply them to the page, and burnish them down in place in my journal. I can start writing immediately (no need to wait for glue to dry).

As indicated above, I do have to be careful, however, when painting on the following page (i.e., a page on which the previous side has some of these Xyron mounted images), because when the moisture from my paint brush goes through the page as I paint the Xyron adhesive may actually RELEASE, and bubble up. Once it does that it doesn’t settle back down! Keep that in mind.

Maybe on the flip side of Xyron “glued” items you can get into the habit of simply writing or sketching with ink and not painting again until the next recto page. Or you let it rip. You decide your perfection level.

I’ve been using the Uhu gluestick (the PURPLE variety) probably for 12 years or so. I don’t have any problems with it losing its adherence over time. The exception is if it gets overly wet from painting on the revers side of the page, as mentioned above.

There is one other exception: really slick surfaced items such as glossy, coated cardstock or some coated photographic papers. Sometimes when I have used UHU gluestick (the PURPLE variety) the edges of those items will start to peel up. I have found that I can just stick the edge of the glue stick under the corners and recoat and press down, and it seems to readhere just fine.

When gluing glossy items with UHU gluestick (the PURPLE variety) I tend to scruff up the back of the item either by scratching it with an Xacto blade held perpendicular to the paper so you don’t cut into the paper, or with a sanding board.

If you can break up the glossy surface and then apply glue, the glue has a better chance of holding.

I have found that on thick glossy stock you can often peel the top printed layer off and glue that down easily—the added benefit is that it is also now a lot thinner and adds less bulk to the page. Don’t try this on your only original however until you get a knack for peeling.

If you have a lot of slick, glossy, coated cardstock items to glue into your journal the Xyron might be just the thing for you. I have also run fabric though this machine but the holding power varies depending on the type of fabric—probably because of the sizing and texture of the fabric.

When using a Xyron I recommend always feeding through an untrimmed piece, and trimming afterward. Otherwise you will have to clean up your edges, or try to, with a kneaded eraser or rubber cement pick-up “tool”—and all I can say is “good luck with that.” (I have friends who do it so it isn’t impossible, but I’d rather be on to the next thing already.)

I DO NOT RECOMMEND using the Xyron to create bookcloth, i.e., run Japanese paper through the Xyron and then apply that Xyron-coated paper to cloth to create paper-backed bookcloth. The problem is that when you go to glue the bookcloth for application to bookboards you end up adding moisture from the PVA onto the paper and that will cause the Xyron adhesive to release. You get the idea.

I also DO NOT RECOMMEND running fabric through the Xyron and using that as bookcloth without paper backing. You have eliminated the moisture from the PVA issue because you aren’t using PVA anywhere near the Xyron coated fabric. However, the book you get will be “looser” in construction and strength because the hinges will simply be unsupported fabric, with no paper to stiffen them. (If you are an avid visual journal artist who likes to use books bigger than 2 x 3 inches you will not be happy with the results!) Also I find that the Xyron adhesive doesn’t hold up to the stress of the constant handling the book cover so covered receives.

PMA (Positionable Mounted Adhesive)

If you want to use a dry adhesive for adding bookcloth to your bookboards I recommend that you use PMA from 3M. It comes in rolls. (Light Impressions sells it. Wet Paint sells it in St. Paul by the FOOT if you just want to try it out.) This product has a bit of a chemical smell, so I always have to allow books I make with PMA time to air out before I use them. (I allow a minimum of 3 months. Other folks are less bothered by the smell and can use their book immediately with no wait for glue drying!) I still wouldn’t use even this adhesive on cloth without a paper backing to cover book boards, because the sloppy, weak hinge issue remains. But on regular bookcloth (which has a paper backing), go to town.

PMA is relatively easy to use but I recommend that you watch your tools and keep them clean at all times. Also, work with pieces of bookcloth (or decorative paper, or whatever) that are LARGER than your finished piece needs to be, so that you can trim down to size. Otherwise you have awful edges to deal with, just like the Xyron.

The concept of PMA is that you peal off one protective sheet and apply that exposed surface to the BACKSIDE of the item you want to add adhesive to. You then burnish down. Then you trim your piece. Then you remove the protective sheet that is on the back of your piece and expose the second adhesive side. You now apply that sticky side to whatever it is you want to adhere it to. I actually offer a class in binding with this stuff, not because it’s too tricky, but because it scares people. Work slowly and keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.

PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate)

Then there are those pieces that defy the Xyron, repel the gluestick (of whatever variety), and confound the use of PMA. Then it’s time to get out the good old PVA! (Be
sure and weight those items as they dry or you’ll get a lot of buckling.)

Acrylic Mediums

You might even need to get the acrylic mediums out. If you do, I recommend gloss gel medium, applied evenly over the back of an item. If your goal is to use the acrylic medium to “encase” the item and seal it (as in the case of a newspaper photo you don’t want to yellow perhaps) then I recommend you test a corner to make sure the ink isn’t going to smear, then apply a thin coat of the gel medium over the TOP surface of the item and let it DRY COMPLETELY. Then flip the item over and coat the back of the item, position it in your journal, burnish it down (by covering with a piece of wax paper and using a bone folder, credit card, or burnishing card tool). Next apply weight (with a fresh piece of wax paper in place) until the piece is dry).

This adhesive seems to take the longest to dry in my experience, and the medium coated pieces always seem to retain some of their tackiness and can get actually rather nasty over time—just sitting closed on a shelf. I rarely use acrylic mediums in my journals. If I do, I always insert a piece of glassine paper as a “page divider/protector” to prevent the pages in a spread from sticking together.

If you do opt to use acrylic mediums, want to use more than one coat of medium, and want a matte finish on your glued in piece, remember this: use glossy, glossy, glossy, for however many coats you want, UNTIL your final layer. Then use the medium with the finish you want to end with, i.e., glossy, matte, or satin.

The reason you don’t use layers and layers of matte or satin, but only end with one layer of whichever it is you want for a surface, is that both matte and satin mediums have additives that act as opacifiers (taking the shine off the acrylic finish) in them to generate the surface (matte or satin).

If you use layers and layers of either matte or satin mediums you are going to get very cloudy results. (In some situations this might actually be a creative choice, but make it a choice, not an unfortunate accident.)

In my experience all the acrylic mediums (regardless of finish) are equally sticky over time. Some people suggest you put cornstarch on pages that have acrylic medium on them. Other people suggest talcum powder. All of this seems fussy and dusty and I only suggest you do tests and proceed with awareness. None of these options are at all appealing to me.

Wheat Pastes, Rice Pastes, Methlycellulose, etc.

These pastes which start as powders and need to be mixed up, usually on a stove, with water, are pastes I only use for making paste papers. I find that they dry too slowly and cause too much buckling and stretching to be of any use to me when sticking things in my journal. If you want to use these types of pastes I recommend you seek out books on making paste papers where great recipes can be found. Also some books on traditional bookbinding will include recipes and directions on how to use them. Some binders at MCBA mix Methlycellulose with PVA 50/50 to get a paste for binding that is somewhat more open in drying time and somewhat repositionable. I do not like to work with this mix as it seems to retain all the potential non-reversible mess of PVA with the slower drying times of Methlycellulose. But people I respect love this mix, so heck, go for it. I just can’t go with you on that adventure.

Glue Dots of All Sorts and Other Dry Adhesives on Strips

Lots of companies make glue dots. The dots come on a carrier sheet or strip and you apply them to your item to be glued. I think scrapbookers find them useful for heavier 3-dimensional items you see in scrapbooking stores. I don’t use these in journaling because I don’t use thick items in my journals so I don’t need these. Also in this category would be any of the numerous types of 2-sided tapes. I don’t use any of them for journaling because I want complete coverage of my adhesives because the pages are going to move around when I flip through them to get to the page I’m working on and if something is only held down in certain LINES of stickiness there is a greater potential that it will get creased, warped, or buckled by what happens on the next page, and by simple wear.

Good Old Scotch Tape and Its Cousins

Throughout my college years I used off the office supply shelf standard clear tape. Those journals are filled with yellowing tape that is often disengaged. I actually like the patina of those pages. As with anything non-archival like office tape or masking tape, or housepainter’s tape, you’re taking a risk that the adhesive will seep through your pages and discolor or otherwise mar your artwork on the following page. But you know what—it may be worth it to get that patina. Live it up.

Photo Corners—Commercial and Homemade

Let’s not forget that sometimes something simple like photocorners is just what you need. Yes they only attach at a few points and don’t provide complete coverage, but they do add a decorative element. Also, by taking decorative paper scraps and folding them around and behind the corner of the item you wish to stick down, you can make your own photo corners (again, an attractive design element) in sizes that work for you. Have fun with this if it appeals to you.

In Conclusion

If you’ve reached this point you’re almost as surprised as I am that I had so much to say about “glues.” You will also know that I really only like to use the two items pictured in the image that starts this post. And you’ll know the reasons why.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot more gluing options out there. Part of the fun of doing mixed media work in a visual journal is the exploration of “glues.”

Decide what is important to you: ease of use, archival qualities, economy, decorative aspects, and support of your creative choices. Then go to a local art supply store or scrapbooking store (Archivers for instance, which is a national chain) and look at the variety of adhesives they sell. DON’T BUY ANY OF THEM YET—just look at them, think about them. Ask questions about them. Then start experimenting. Some will make you want to tear your hair out. Others will quickly become old friends and become a part of the “style” that you express in your journal.

If an adhesive frustrates you (because it is too messy, not sticky enough, too sticky, too wet, not archival, whatever) and gets in the way of your creativity and the sheer joy of expressing yourself on your journal pages, then it isn’t the adhesive for you. It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many journal students I’ve seen who continue to struggle with an adhesive that clearly doesn’t work for them because someone (usually the person hawking the product) told them it was the best adhesive in the world.

There’s no such thing. There is only the adhesive that works for you within the confines of the way that you work in your journal. You can only find that adhesive through experimentation. People can guide you, but if an adhesive is making you grimace, get back to the store! Job one is to protect your journal as a haven of creative experimentation, not an obstacle course of stickiness.

    • Carolyn
    • July 16, 2010

    Roz! You are a wealth of information, generous with sharing! Admittedly, I only got halfway, and will return to soak up more knowledge, but work beckons me away at the moment.

    I am anticipating your book on journaling. It will be a sensory delight—an inspiration on so many levels. A true Roz creation: written, illustrated, designed, and paginated. I am excited just imagining it.

    Book person that you are, have you given it serious consideration?

  1. Reply

    Thanks, yeah, I’m surprised you got halfway through. I exhausted myself. I looked up from typing and couldn’t believe what time it was!

    I have always been giving serious consideration to a book on journaling. It has been my life’s work and I love to share. I’ll just have to convince a publisher!

  2. Reply

    Ejl-tbd, I’m glad the note was timely, I seemed a little driven when I was composing it so I must have been channeling YOU! So there you have it.

    And don’t just get any purple glue (because 3M also makes a gluestick that is purple and it is worthless—and that’s hard for me to say without a pinch in my stomach because I love most 3M products). Be sure you get the UHU Gluestick (the Purple Variety).

    I do not know craft glue tape. Can you give me some more details or send me a jpg of the package to my email address? I love to know what’s out there.

    I’m glad it is working for you.

    • Carole Kokinis
    • July 16, 2010

    Roz, I have a huge collection of post cards, collected and sent to me over the years. I’ve stuck them down with double sided tape ( writing the details underneath ) glue sticks, PVA and adhesive picture corners. I don’t like glue much! Then last year I bought one of those corner thingies, from a card making shop, which rounds the corners and puts in two slits. Recently, making a Byzantine book from an exhibition at the RA London, I wanted my cards to be removable. I used some black card to make my own photo corners. You can see the result here.

    Thank you for another good post.

  3. Reply

    Carole, the books in your flickr stream are lovely but I didn’t see the one you were referring to with removeable cards.

    Still I think that if you want them to be removeable the tool you have is a great idea.

    I’m not sure if it is the same sort of thing that I have. I have a punch type thing that makes slits in a page that allows you then to slide the corners of stuff into the slits. THe tool I have is specifically sized for business cards, to make slits in folders that you’re filling with presentation material.

    It sounds like the slits get made in your cards not the page?

    At anyrate, having removeable cards sometimes might be a good thing and I’m glad you found a cool way to do it.

    • Carolyn
    • July 17, 2010

    Carole, that’s a neat idea. Roz, here’s a link to an example:

    (I hope that works as a link.)

  4. Reply

    Carolyn, thanks for sending the link. YES! It works. And it’s a great way to handle things that you want to be able to remove and reinsert. The fun is endless in the choice of papers (plain or painted to match the page, or patterned like origami papers). I love it.

    Thanks for showing us this example!

    • Carole Kokinis
    • July 17, 2010

    Roz, yes it’s a punch!
    Thanks Carolyn, for sorting the link. I’m doing the Van Gogh exhibition pamphlet and post cards next.
    Roz, I’m glad you spotted I was trying to match the painted pages to the card. It was a bit hit and miss, but I’ll keep trying. You’ll have to do a book, with so many things for us to try.

    • Marina
    • July 20, 2010

    wow! excellent overview of gluing products and techniques…thanks a lot for taking the trouble to do this for us.

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