Using Decorative Contact Paper

Michelle Radcliff
Decorative contact paper on back of shelves

Decorating with contact paper is an affordable way to turn everyday items into eye-catching room accents. With a little creativity, a roll of contact paper can go a long way!

How to Use Decorative Contact Paper

It's easy to use contact paper. The back of the paper is printed with ruler sides and a grid. This allows you to measure and cut the paper to fit. All you have to do is use a pair of scissors and cut the desired length and width by using the self-ruler and grid layout. Once you've cut the paper, double-check the length and width before peeling off the backing.

Cutting contact paper

Many of the manufacturers include helpful tips for easy installation. Some suggest that you use a squeegee for smoothing the paper onto the surface to avoid unnecessarily pockets of air. Should a bubble of air get trapped underneath the paper, you can use a small straight pin to release it.

Contact paper is easy to work with and will last as long as you need it to, provided that you prepare surfaces correctly and apply the paper according to the instructions.

Surface Preparation

Before applying contact paper, be sure to prepare the surface. This step will help to make sure that the paper adheres to the surface that it is intended to cover.

  • Always apply contact paper to a clean, dry surface.
  • Don't apply contact paper over a bumpy surface, such as over old paint. Use sandpaper to smooth a surface before applying contact paper.
  • If you wash or wipe down a surface before applying the paper, give it enough time to dry thoroughly.

Application Tips

To keep your contact paper from peeling up, apply it correctly. Here are some tips for applying contact paper:

  • As you apply the paper, run a ruler or straight edge along the front surface to push out any air bubbles as you go along.
  • After applying the paper, wipe it down with a rag to ensure that it is attached to the surface.
  • It's always better to cut your paper too large, rather than too short. Excess paper can be cut away with a utility knife for a finished edge.

Patterns and Styles

Shelf-liner papers are coated in plastic for an easy-cleaning surface. Many of the patterns are very lifelike replications of textures such as wood, granite, marble, leather, and other surfaces. This authentic look appeals to people who want to create the illusion of marble shelves without the cost. There are many other patterns from which you can choose, such as flowers, ivy and lattice work designs.

Etsy is one of the best places to find decorative contact paper in a variety of floral designs.

Look of Metal

You can use contact paper to cover walls that have been damaged. One of the design choices is a pewter, brush copper, stainless steel, or bronze. You can even purchase individual contact paper squares that you can turn on an angle for a diamond tile effect. This faux metal shape gives a great and authentic look of metal to the backsplash of your cabinets. Avoid using near heat or open flame such as a gas range.

Granite or Marble

If you're working with an old kitchen and need a cosmetic quick fix, then one of the many granite looking papers might be the kind of help your backsplash needs.

Mirror Effect

You can purchase contact paper that has a mirror finish on one side. This paper is designed to be used in place of actual mirror at a fraction of the cost. It provides a good reflective surface that could be advantageous in a room you want to brighten. The paper's surface will reflect light in whatever area you apply it.

Design Your Wall carries a wide variety of contact paper styles, including over 20 different vinyl metallic styles, over 60 stone and marble styles and mirror effect foil.

Beyond Shelf Paper

Whenever you hear the term of decorative contact paper, you may be like most people and think about in terms of shelf and drawer liner papers. It may surprise you to learn that there are other kinds of contact paper used for purposes other than shelves and drawers.

Window Film Contact Papers

Glass contact paper is also called glass film because it gives the appearance of a film coating the glass. You may wish to add a lace pattern on a window where you desire more privacy but don't wish to block the light. This kind of solution is a good choice, especially with the many different designs available to you.

In addition, there are many stained glass looking film contact papers available. These film contact papers are so realistic, it's nearly impossible to distinguish that the glass isn't really stained glass.

Window Film World has a nice selection of stained glass film, etched glass decals and privacy glass film.

Cabinets and Counter Tops

There are some people who like the look and convenience of contact paper for refurbishing old cabinets and counter tops. While this isn't a long-term solution to a design problem, many people believe contact paper offers them an interim choice until they are able to afford to replace a bathroom cabinet and countertop.

If you have a workshop and want to refurbish your cabinets to have a wood grain appearance, then contact paper may be an option you want to consider. Some people have successfully used contact paper as a temporary solution for ugly or old countertops, citing the plastic coating is a great water barrier.

Storage Boxes

Decorative paper can be a great way to cover boxes and give them a new life as storage containers. You can use these repurposed boxes for storing paperwork, arts and crafts supplies and anything you wish to have easy access to but prefer it be tucked away and out of sight.

Interior Palace carries wood grain contact paper for refinishing cabinets or other wood furnishings, faux leather and suede paper and other designer style patterns.

Decorating Ideas

Since contact paper comes in different colors and textures, it makes it the perfect medium for decorating and covering shelves, jars, boxes, countertops and other objects. Here are a few fun decorating projects that use contact paper:

Kitchen Menu Board

One cute way of decorating with contact paper is to create a bistro style menu board out of chalkboard contact paper. To create this kitchen decor accessory you'll need:

  • Chalkboard contact paper
  • Picture frame
  • Plate stand


  1. Remove the glass from the picture frame.
  2. Remove the cardboard insert and measure its size.
  3. Cut the contact paper 1/2 inch longer and wider than the cardboard.
  4. Place the edge of the contact paper at the top edge of the cardboard.
  5. Adhere the paper to the cardboard. Be sure to smooth the surface with your hand to ensure that there are no air bubbles between the paper and the cardboard.
  6. Insert the "chalkboard" into the frame.
  7. Display the new menu board on plate stand for an authentic look.

Michaels carries self-adhesive chalkboard paper perfect for a kitchen menu board project.

Easy Decal Project

Rather than spending a fortune on designer wallpaper appliques, create your own with contact paper. This is an inexpensive project that can change the look of an entire room. Here's what you'll need:

  • Utility knife or blade
  • Novelty patterned contact paper or a solid color contact paper and shape patterns
  • A smooth wall surface that has been wiped clean


  1. Clean the wall surface.
  2. Lay out a sheet of contact paper with the backing still attached.
  3. Cut out the shapes. If you're using a printed paper, carefully trace the pattern with your blade and punch out the shape. If your paper is plain, turn it over and trace the shape on the backing. Cut from the reverse side following your outline.
  4. Mark the spots on the wall where you want to place the appliques with a pencil.
  5. Remove the contact paper's backing and adhere the decal to the wall.

Chic Shelf Paper carries high quality, designer style contact paper that mimics the look of expensive wallpaper.

Contact Paper Removal

If you decide to cover a wall or countertop with contact paper, be prepared for some heavy duty work to remove it. Contact paper leaves a sticky residue behind. The chemicals used to remove the residue can damage the surface, especially if the surface is porous, like wood.

For this reason, don't cover anything you wouldn't want covered permanently (like expensive antique wood furniture). If you don't want to remove the contact paper, you can paint over it, provided you use a primer.

Using Decorative Contact Paper