Washi tape is a Japanese stationery product that cleverly combines the properties of origami paper with a low-tack adhesive. The colorful paper tape can be used for many craft projects such as bullet journals.
Why would you want to create your own Washi tape? One reason is you have complete control over the design. Maybe your favorite pattern isn’t available on the market, even among the countless selections. Another reason is it’s more economical. Why buy a whole tape roll for just one BuJo spread? Even the shops that let you design your own custom Washi tape patterns require a hefty minimum order.
This post will show you how to make DIY Washi tape. Well, the faux kind, that is (hence, the quotations in the title). It’s a bummer you can’t replicate the real deal at home. But at least following this detailed guide will yield you a decent knockoff – and save you some moola.
Get the kids involved because this will be fun!
Make the Material for Your Custom Washi Tape
Authentic Washi tape is often translucent and usually has a slight sheen. To imitate the unique traits of this specialized paper tape, you’re going to immerse a printed illustration covered with ordinary cellophane tape in water.
Like a sticker tattoo, the image from the print will “transfer” onto the tape’s adhesive. This new imprint will take on an ethereal quality that’s less boring than simply sticking the original paper onto a strip of double-sided tape.
What You’ll Need
The design. Inkjet images will NOT work. Make sure your design is photocopied or laser printed. Cool patterns can be found everywhere, from tissue paper to gift wrap, from art prints to old newsprint. Plenty of digital illustrations could also be freely used or licensed.
Single-sided tape. Any relatively durable cellophane tape, such as the Scotch brands by 3M, will do. Feel free to experiment with both glossy and matte finishes to see how they affect the look.
Double-sided tape. We recommend that your double-sided tape is WIDER THAN your single-sided tape. For example, if your single-sided tape has a width of 1/2″, you should find a double-sided tape with a width of at least 3/4″ to 1″.
Wax paper. Also known as parchment, baking, or deli paper. You’ll be drying the wet tape strips on this. It can also be used as backing for the double-sided tape if need be.
A container of cool tap water. The tape strips have to fully submerge in the water, so make sure your container is large enough for the task. A casserole dish would be perfect.
Cardboard roll/tube. For turning your creation into a professional-looking tape roll. Use the slightly stiffer tubes from paper towels rather than toilet paper rolls.
A cutting tool. X-Acto knives and paper trimmers are more efficient and produce straighter edges than scissors. But any paper-cutting tool will work fine.
A ruler & masking or painter’s tape.
Step 1. Cover the Printed Design With Single-sided Tape
Take your time to ensure that the creative pattern or illustration of your print is neatly taped over. (We’ll go over some tips on how to prepare the design and print later.)
To avoid bumps and folds, start by firmly taping down one end of the strip. Then, manage one segment at a time by carefully aligning it while gently rubbing over it towards the opposite end.
Once the tape is set in place, burnish (firmly rub) it to flatten out and remove air bubbles.
Step 2. If Necessary, Cut Out the Taped Portions
If the source of your design is too big to fit into the container of water (i.e. large gift wrap, card stock, poster, newsprint, etc.), then you’ll need to cut out the taped portions. Don’t worry about meticulously cutting along the edges of the tape at this stage.
If the whole page/sheet fits into the container, then just dunk it intact. You’ll be able to cleanly separate both materials from each other in Step 4.
Step 3. Immerse the Strips in Cool Water for 10 to 20 Minutes
We’ve found about 10 to 20 minutes is all that’s needed for most laser prints to fully transfer onto the tape. If your design isn’t transferring after an hour, it’s likely an inkjet image. To prevent ruining the only copy of an inkjet design you like, scan a digital file of it before putting it in water.
Step 4. Remove the Residual Paper From the Tape
Depending on the length of time the paper was soaked, you’ll need to rub off the leftover bits from the adhesive tape. Don’t worry about being too delicate; the ink should now be imbued to the cellophane.
A quick tip. Take care to remove ALL the residual paper from the tape. Otherwise, any remaining fragments will get sandwiched between the two layers of tape during Step 7, causing unpleasant bumps.
Step 5. Dry the New Decorative Tape Strips on Wax Paper
For best results, let them completely air dry. If you’re in a bit of a rush, you can pat them down or blow on them using a hairdryer set to cool-air mode.
Step 6. If Necessary, Prepare a Wax Paper Backing for the Double-sided Tape
If your double-sided tape doesn’t come with a non-stick backing on one side, or if the backing somehow gets damaged, then this is the step to make one.
First, lay another sheet of wax paper on the working area. Then, prepare segments of double-sided tape similar in length to the dried single-sided strips and neatly stick these down onto the new sheet.
Step 7. Stick the Single-sided Tape Strips Onto the Double-sided Ones
If your double-sided tape already has a backing, you can prevent it from curling or shifting by securing both ends down with masking tape or painters tape.
Now, carefully stick the single-sided strips – with the adhesive surface facing down – onto the double-sided ones. Take care to merge both pieces as flatly and flush as possible.
A quick tip. If your double-sided tape is wider than your single-sided strips, it will be easier to ensure your design has the adhesive coverage it needs.
Step 8. Trim Off the Excess Edges
To give your new customized tape a pristine look, it’s important to trim each strip down to size. Now that the three layers (two tape strips + backing) are combined, trimming them should be easy.
We prefer using a paper trimmer since it creates straighter, more uniform edges with relative ease. However, if you’re opting to use an X-Acto knife or scissors, just use a ruler and your edges should turn out fine.
Step 9. Roll That Awesome Tape Up!
Totally optional, but this step certainly gives your homemade Washi tape that “product packaging” feel.
Cut the cardboard tube down to the width of your tape strips. There are a couple of ways to wrap and secure them around the tube. One is by simply bundling them up using twist ties – this works great for longer strips that can overlap themselves. The other is by connecting them into one piece using small pieces of tape on the backing.
Tips for Picking & Prepping Your Washi Tape Design
Picking and preparing a good design for your self-made Washi tape is the key to making it look pro. Here are a few tips we’ve learned that might help you.
Pick the Right Elements
Seamless. Japanese Washi tape is renowned for its many interesting colors and patterns. But one thing they all have in common is their seamlessness. A seamless design has repeating elements which are not obvious. It doesn’t look gaudy or garish.
Bold, rich colors. The process used in this tutorial tends to wash out the intensity of the original laser print. We’ve found that purposefully selecting elements with bold, rich colors counteracts this.
Matte for vintage. Try using matte tape for vintage elements such as old ephemera or newsprint. A matte surface gives off a somewhat textured, rustic charm.
Prepare the Digital Print Properly
You’ll have far more control over the quality of your design if it’s a digital file. Just keep in mind the following pointers to ensure the best print quality.
Beware of copyright. If your design is sourced from the web, ensure that it’s either free for use or you’ve acquired the licenses. Otherwise, there might be distracting watermarks or pixelations due to low resolution. Also, artists work hard for their daily bread, so please don’t steal!
Check the resolution. Before printing a file, confirm that the DESIGN ITSELF is of a high enough resolution. To do this, set the file to 300 dpi in your design software. At 300 dpi, your design’s dimension that corresponds to the tape’s width should be at least
- 1″ tape = 300 px (pixels)
- 3/4″ = 225 px
- 1/2″ = 150 px
- 1/4″ = 75 px
Resize to match the tape. You’ll likely have to resize your design so that it fits the width of your tape. This is more important if you’re using a non-repeating illustration.
Be efficient. The following layout not only saves paper, but it’s also convenient to tape, soak, and trim. Once the width of your design matches the width of the tape, copy & paste the design repeatedly to form a long banner. Then, copy & paste this whole banner to make rows.
Casey’s FREE Washi Tape Illustration
This pattern of Monarch butterflies was originally illustrated by my wife, Casey – fully prepared as rows of custom Washi tape strips in one printable template. Feel absolutely free to use this design non-commercially!
We kept the resolution of the file larger than necessary. This way, you won’t have to worry about pixelated print quality when resizing it to your tape’s width.
Also, we saved it as a PNG file with transparency. This means you can add a background layer in apps like Photoshop, GIMP, and Procreate, and change its color to whatever you wish, as shown above.