A 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.
Here’s how I created mine:
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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.
- Pencil 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.
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.Here’s the finished design:
STEP 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.The 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.You 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.
STEP 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. Now’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.STEP 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:STEP 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.The 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.
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 pictures my way! I’m at
eff at whatchaworkinon dot com
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