3D Antiqued Foil Letter for the Gallery Wall

3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comA few weeks ago I mentioned that my friend Laura and I were working side-by-side on lettered wall galleries based on this pinterest pin. After the etched V tiles in that post, we were excited to try 3D antiqued foil letters.

Basically, you create a 3D design on a letter form, cover it in aluminum foil, and then give it a faux antique finish with shoe polish and Mod Podge. Yes, you read right: shoe polish and Mod Podge. It’s not as hokey as it sounds. I promise. The technique isn’t new—it’s been around for years—and although it seemed to have a lot of steps and the potential for turning into a summer camp craft mess, the materials were simple and on hand, so we pulled out a letter and went for it. They take a few days to make—to allow for the glue and mod podge to dry between steps—but the process is straightforward and easy to do.

We were thrilled with the results. Aren’t they gorgeous? The photos don’t do them justice. The texture is amazing and the metallic richness will be a classy addition to our letter galleries. Not even a hint of summer camp.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.com

Here’s how I created mine:

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The Materials…

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the materials list. There’s nothing unusual here. You may already have everything.

  • A letter for the base – You want something large enough to accommodate your design. Our letters are about 9″ tall. The B is 1/8″ heavy chipboard and the V is made of 1/2″ mdf. Both materials worked well. Something like this letter, or this letter, or this letter.
  • 3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comPencil and eraser to draw the design.
  • Aleene’s Tacky Glue to create the 3D design – This is a fairly thick white glue. Don’t use regular white glue such as Elmer’s for this part. It’s too liquid-y and spreads out instead of creating a narrow raised design.
  • Toothpicks to help apply the Tacky Glue.
  • Aluminum foil – enough to cover the letter top & sides with 1/2″ extra.
  • Scissors to cut the foil.
  • Regular white glue to attach the Aluminum foil to the letter – Elmer’s will work fine here. I used LePage Carpenter’s glue because that’s what I had.
  • Shoe polish – yup, the typical little round tin your dad used. You don’t need a lot. We used black—Kiwi brand on the B, Tana brand on the V. I preferred the way the Kiwi brand behaved on the foil.
  • Soft cloth to apply shoe polish – I used an old retired sport sock.
  • Mod Podge – glossy or matte, your choice. We went with matte.
  • Small sponge brush to apply Mod Podge.
  • Newspaper to protect the work surface.

The Design…

STEP ONE: Draw the design in pencil on the letter base. Make sure to leave room between the elements for the foil to mold around them. I tried to have everything about 1/4″ apart. Drawing is not one of my talents, but swirls is one thing I *can* do, so swirls it was. I also added some dots, which I ended up simplifying later.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comHere’s the finished design:

3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comSTEP TWO: Run a bead of Aleene’s Tacky Glue along the pencil lines. You want the glue line to stand tall and be about 1/8″ wide. The hole I’d cut in my glue bottle made a much larger bead—too big—so I used a combination of ‘from the bottle’ and a toothpick to get the right size lines. Don’t worry if your lines are a little bumpy and irregular. The foil is very forgiving and will hide most of it. Any bumpy bits that do show through will add to the metallic charm. Allow the glue to dry.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comThe glue goes on white and dries clear. In the above pic, the left side is almost dry. When the glue is dry, you can go on to the next step if you want a 3D effect on the subtle side. I wanted a more prominent design so I added another layer of Aleene’s glue over the first and allowed that to dry before going on.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.com3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comYou can see from this closeup how I simplified the dots to allow room for the foil to mold around the elements.

STEP THREE: Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the face and sides of the letter plus an extra half inch. I cut mine oversized and trimmed it once the face was glued down.

3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comSTEP FOUR: Glue the aluminum foil to the face of the letter. Shiny side or matte side showing, your choice. I chose matte. I worked top to bottom, using my finger to apply a thin layer of glue (regular white Elmer’s or carpenter’s glue) to the letter face, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. I did about a third at a time, stopping in between to mold the aluminum foil to the design, getting it in and around all the elements with no glue puddles underneath. I left the edges and the letter holes, or counters as the typography folks call them, until the the whole face was glued.

STEP FIVE: Cut the foil in each letter hole, leaving about a 1/2″ overhang from the letter edge (more if your letter is thicker…enough to wrap around and glue about 1/3-1/2″ on the back) . In each letter hole, cut a slit in the foil toward each corner and then every 1/3″ or so along the curve. 3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comNow’s the time to trim any excess foil around the outer edge, leaving enough to wrap it around the letter and secure it on the back.

STEP SIX: Apply glue to the edges of the letter holes, extending about 1/2″ onto the back. Wrap the foil around to the back and secure. Depending on your letter, the foil may not cover the edges sufficiently in some parts thanks to the slits you had to cut on the corners and curves. For those spots, cut a thin rectangle of foil the depth of your letter and glue it along the edge first, then glue the slit pieces of the top foil over top. I did this on the corners of the B holes (and Laura did it on the interior point of her V) and you can’t tell on the finished letters. Glue the outer edges the same way.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comSTEP SEVEN: At this point, the B still looks aluminum foil-y and firmly in the summer camp craft category. The shoe polish, however, will transform it. Using a soft cloth apply shoe polish to the face and then sides of the letter. The idea isn’t to get one big black letter, but rather to catch the shoe polish on the design elements. I found using small amounts at time, and a combination of dabbing and stroking worked best. The shoe polish doesn’t dry so you have lots of time to get the coverage you want. Too much? Remove it. Not enough? Add more. Be careful as you’re handling it—fingers can easily smudge and remove the shoe polish you’ve already applied.

Here’s what my B looked like after applying the shoe polish:3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comSTEP EIGHT: Using a small sponge brush, apply a thick coat of Mod Podge over the face and sides of the letter. I started with the letter flat on my work surface, but soon elevated it so the Mod Podge wouldn’t glue the letter to the newspaper. Allow to dry.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.comThe Mod Podge dries surprisingly quickly in my dry climate. In the above image, it’s already starting to dry along the right edge. When it’s completely dry, the shoe polish is sealed underneath and you won’t be able to rub it off anymore.

And, ta da! The finished 3D antiqued foil letters ready for the gallery wall.3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.com3D antiqued foil letter. So classy, you'd never guess it was made with aluminum foil, shoe polish, and Mod Podge. Super simple to do, too. Step-by-step tutorial. \ whatchaworkinon.com

I love how these letters turned out. I will definitely try this technique again in different designs and colors. Perhaps an artsy image or using brown shoe polish or another color.

Our two letters turned out very different from each other. I’d love to see the letters you create. Send picturesmy way!

effCheers!

–Eff

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29 thoughts on “3D Antiqued Foil Letter for the Gallery Wall

  1. Puffy paint works much better than tacky glue. And instead of mod podge just put a little water in Elmer’s glue. Same thing but MUCH cheaper

    1. I make my own mod podge by mixing Elmers white glue and water. I buy the white glue at about 50cents for a nice size container of “my podge”…..I store in an air tight frosting container.

  2. I went with what I had on hand. Thanks for the puffy paint suggestion. Does it give a nice narrow line that’s not too puffy and bulby? I’ve never worked with it, but I imagine the application would be easier. I’ll give it a try next time. I skipped the Elmer’s idea because I much prefer a matte finish…and I had Mod Podge in the cupboard and no Elmer’s. :^)

    1. I think so. It would hold its shape well to give a good relief with the foil. And the big plus is it wouldn’t need the drying time of the Aleene’s Tacky Glue (don’t use Elmer’s…it’s too liquidy…it flattens and flows all over the place…it changes the design and you don’t get the texture depth).

      The only problem I can think of with hot glue—at least for me—is controlling the nozzle to get a nice consistent glue bead. With the Aleene’s, if you get a blob or thin section, you’ve got time to fix it, but the hot glue would cool too fast for much repair work. I’d give it a try…maybe on a different design with fewer long line stretches.

  3. I love this idea so much!! I love creating something from nothing! I am in the midst of trying this out, but am trying to think of another “distressing”‘solution…. What else would work, besides shoe polish? Any ideas?

    1. Thanks! I LOVE how this project turned out. :^)

      What else would work instead of shoe polish? Hmm…good question. I’ve only ever used shoe polish so I don’t know firsthand, but if I were to try different things, I’d look at an oil pastel crayon (wipe it on sideways), Rub ‘n Buff, and acrylic or oil paint (wipe off the excess with a cloth like you would a stain) to start with. I’m sure there are other things, but those are the first ones that come to mind. If you have any of these or something else on hand that might do the trick, there’s no harm in trying them, but if not, I’d just buy some shoe polish (since you know it’ll work) rather than buying different things specifically for this project just to try them (which could get expensive fast). Due to hubby’s day job, I happened to have black shoe polish on hand, so I didn’t have to look any further. If you try other things, do drop back in and let me know what worked and what didn’t! :^)

    1. You can use whatever is sturdy enough to carry the weight of the glue without buckling, so it would depend on the size of letter you want to make and how sturdy your poster board is. For a large letter (say, 12″ or larger), I’d use regular box cardboard as the base, fortifying the back with cardboard cross strips as necessary to make sure the letter doesn’t fold over. Using that for a base, you could go quite large…I’m thinking appliance box, here. :^) If you do make a gigantico letter, do come back and tell me about it…would love to see a pic, too, if you’d like to send one: eff (at) whatchaworkinon dot com Have fun! :^)

  4. I use to do this as a kid. We used yarn for the design covered it with foils then used magic markers to color it. Fun project for kids.

    1. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how yarn would fit into this project…I wouldn’t imagine it would have enough substance to add much structure beyond what the glue alone could do. Once you add the foil, wouldn’t the yarn simply compress? Perhaps you’re confusing this project with that other good old camp standard: yarn art, where colored yarn is glued in maze-like patterns to create pictures? :^)

          1. Okaaaaay…I’ll take your word for it. :^) Sorry…but regardless of the thickness of foil and yarn, I’m still not seeing the purpose of adding yarn to this project.

  5. Instead of shoe polish try distress ink, what a blast and it works like a dream! As little or as much as you like.

    1. I hadn’t thought of distress ink. That’s an interesting idea. You could choose an ink color that matched your decor. That would be cool. I wonder if the thin-ness of the distress ink would be an issue. For example, what I like about the shoe polish is it adds a nice textural substance that gives it an authentic-looking aged look. Would you get that same feel with the ink, I wonder. Hmm…worth experimenting with, methinks. :^) Thanks for the idea!

  6. It looks like it would take awhile but the results are beautiful. I’m thinking about trying it on a smaller piece like a greeting card or something. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I bet this would be really pretty on a card. Be sure to use a thick cardstock that won’t buckle under the weight of the glue. When you do this, I’d love to see it…email me a pic! :^)

    1. You can use any color. The thing about black is that it makes the foil look old, almost medieval-like. A different color will have a different feel to it—it won’t seem so old—but it’ll work just fine. If you do white, I’d love to see what it looks like. :^) I’m at eff at whatchaworkinon dot com.

  7. Thanks for posting such a detailed tutorial.

    I saw these on Pinterest, and most of the posts were of the “put glue on your letter, attach the foil and voila!”. I had already started this using Elmer’s glue to make my design, but I just did dots and did several coats (letting them dry thoroughly) to get them to build up enough. Your detailed steps on getting the foil on where what saved my project. (My letter is an “S” with all those curves)

    I do remember doing something similar in camp with the yarn, and I think what the glue covered yarn adds to the project is is makes up for the lack of dexterity/control for making the shapes (especially for kids). We did these on wooden plaques (so no curves for the foil to deal with) – it was messy but fun to put the glue soaked yarn on in spirals or spider web like lines or spell out your name and then let it dry. Then you’d glue the foil down over it and paint it.

    1. LOL… I know what you mean. Those posts used to drive me nuts…not enough info to actually replicate the creation! That’s why I write such detailed tutorials. I’m so glad you found what you needed here. I was amazed at how different our two letters turned out to be. I’d love to see yours if you’d like to email me a pic (I’m at eff at whatchaworkinon dot com).

      Okay, now I get the yarn thing (thank you!). The dexterity issue makes sense…the yarn gives you “something” to place on the pattern and manipulate into the desired shape.

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