How to give your old placemats a funky facelift


 How to upcycle your old placemats banner image

I'd hazard a guess a lot of us have probably got a set of old cork-backed placemats knocking about at home that no longer quite cut the mustard style-wise!  This how to guide will give you the steps to upcycle your old placemats instead of binning them and give them a full on facelift with funky geometric designs.

It's also a really neat make that won't cost too much to do and will give you something completely unique instead of buying new.  What you create is totally up to you so you can choose your colours and your design and make something totally unique.  t works just as well for coasters too, of course!

I first started upcycling placemats when I came across bundles of placemats and coasters for just £1 for a whole set in a charity shop - everything from pictures of cathedrals, chintzy flowers and 90s abstract designs - great raw materials but seriously crying out for an update!  

Gold and black geometric placemats

If you haven't got a set at home in need of a makeover it's worth having a look through your local charity shops too.  Compared to the price of buying new cork-backed placemats they're an absolute steal and if you read on I'll also be explaining how to freshen them up so they are like new as well as create new designs on them. 

It took a bit of trial and error to work out the best way to it to make sure the paint held up and was durable and could withstand the heat and moisture of being used. Once I started using Fusion Mineral Paint products in conjunction with the right prep it all got a lot easier! Of course you can absolutely experiment with other paints and top coats using my methods but I'd suggest try it out on one mat, do a scratch test and remove the tape and see how you get on before spending a long time on a full set to be sure!

Fusion is particularly known for being a very grippy paint and very durable. Because it has an in-built top coat I don't need to worry about the colours bleeding into each other when I top coat over later too - though you might get around that with a spray lacquer if you're using regular wall emulsion for your designs. I'm all for using up what you have if you can so have a play! 

Metallic cube effect placemats

*Some of the links below are affiliate links so I might make a little bit from them but it won't cost you any more. It all helps towards creating my How to articles and I only share the products I use myself and love!  

You can find your local Fusion Mineral Paint retailer here

If you are local to Leeds you can buy Fusion from Chirpy! Find out more here

The materials I use:
Fusion TSP degreaser
Microfibre sponge scrubber
Electric sander or sandpaper/sanding block (60-80 grit and 180 grit)
Plastic scraper
Frogtape Delicate Surfaces Painters Tape
Fusion Mineral Paint 
Fusion Mineral Paint Tough Coat
Fusion Micro Fibre rollers and paint tray
Soft flat synthetic paint brush 
Snappy Applicator

My method:

1. Cleaning

Clean your mats well with a degreaser on both sides to remove surface dirt. Don't scrub the cork side too hard as it could crumble off - I'll explain how you can fix any issues cleaning doesn't sort out later on.  

I use Fusion Mineral Paint's TSP (a natural version of the real thing - TSP is actually pretty toxic stuff!) as it degreases efficiently and doesn't need a whole lot of rinsing. I just dilute a couple of capfuls in a spray bottle of water, spray and scrub with my trusty microfibre sponge scrubber 

(They're fab as they can go in the wash and be re-used so a lot less guilt than throwing away plastic-topped washing up scrubbers! I probably will get coconut scrubbers and give them a try one day as the real eco option though)


2. Sanding

There are two types of mats that I've come across - the older type are a solid formica type of surface on top of the board and cork. Think of those you'd see in a pub or restaurant back in the day! These are dead easy to prep by simply giving them a good 'scuff sand' to rough up the smooth surface so the paint sticks. A 180 grit sandpaper all over should do it. 

Most mats (and coasters) we have these days are a paper backed design with a plastic film on top of the board. Even using the best primers this is a tricky to get a good grip on especially doing a taped design over the top.  And if you start to sand this surface to give better grip then the plastic film starts tearing up so it has to all come off really to get a good long-lasting finish. 

The simplest method is to use a coarse sandpaper and sanding block to give it a good sand which will remove most of the plastic and the coloured design. The rest of the paper can be removed by dampening it with a wet cloth and leaving it for about 10 minutes til the surface has absorbed it all (not too much or the board may warp) and then use a plastic scraping tool to get it all off. It comes off pretty easily if soaked enough. 

Sanding the placemats          Soaking the paper backing   Scraping the paper off

If you have an electric sander you can get it right back in about the same length of time as the above steps using a 60 grit sandpaper right through the various layers. 

Electric sanding right back

Whichever way, make sure to finish up with a finer sandpaper - like 180 grit - to smooth the surface ready to paint. 

Yours might go right back to the board as some of mine have done before - in the pics these ones have a bit of the base layer of paint over the board still showing.  That's fine to go over as long as all the paper is gone as the paper gets soggy when the paint goes on and then it can bubble up, which isn't much fun!

3. Priming

To create my multicoloured design I first prime with a mid toned grey as it means less coats are needed of the individual colours to get full coverage.  

Priming with grey paint
Priming with grey paint

If I'm doing one of my two-toned geometric designs this is where the base colour goes on instead.   

I add 3 coats using a mini microfibre roller.  Fusion grips really well to build up a really good strong base over the board but also sets up with a tough finish ready for the design to go on.

The last coat I go over lightly with a dry soft flat wide brush if there is any texture from the roller visible (see below where I'm painting on the gold design colour). 

4. Creating the designs

I always use Frogtape Delicate surfaces for my designs as it's best for painted or newly stripped unfinished surfaces too because it's less sticky.  It's not the cheapest but you'll get the sharpest, cleanest results with it.  

To create the 3-D cube effect I mask off and paint each triangle separately as the tape overlaps the other triangles so trying to do more than one at the time would involve some delicate cutting and some fiddly painting! To get a nice flat finish over each section it's best to do each one individually I think. 

Taping the first triangle ready to paint    Taping the next triangle
Taping the first triangle                            Taping the next triangle

To create the very first triangle I take the tape all the way from corner to corner to make sure the angles are right (see how in the pics above). The bottom triangle is the one that will be painted at this point. 

Then when I'm doing the final three triangles I can just tape off a triangle itself as I can follow the shape of the first one - I don't need to do the full corner to corner thing each time.


To create the optical illusion it works best to have your black and white triangles top and bottom but as long as they're opposite each other it will still pop up visually.  The other two colours need to be variations of a shade to complete the illusion of shadow for that 3-D effect.

I start with the black, then the next darkest shade, the lightest shade and then end with the white purely because the white/lighter colours are easier to mark and so I leave them til last.   

For other designs you can simply start laying out the tape over the base colour however you like. Simple stripes, chevrons, zigzags or have fun creating something asymmetric! 

5. Painting


Painting the first triangle  
Painting the first triangle

Some of the mid-toned colours can cover easily in two coats, some need three for full coverage so I usually put 3 coats of each on just to make it simpler. 

If I want to speed up the wait between coats I'll use a hairdryer as Fusion is touch dry in a matter of minutes and then you can re-coat always straight away!

If I'm doing a two-colour geometric design like the ones below I will lay out my pattern over the base colour and paint over the whole thing with the accent colour in one go.  It's so quick compared to doing the cube which has to be done in four separate sets of taping. 

6. Protecting

I give each placemat three coats of Fusion Tough Coat which has a lovely soft matte finish for these and makes them really durable. If I'm using a metallic paint I'll use a Satin finish top coat instead so it still sparkles! 

I love using Snappy Applicators for getting really good thin even coats.  It's so easy to use and you can cut them to size too!

Using a snappy applicator to top coat
Applying the top coat

I decant the top coat into a takeaway type of container as it's just the right size to dip a Snappy Applicator into. Don't put too much on at once - it's best to do thin coats and build up - and also don't put it on too quickly as you might get bubbles in it. 

7. Finishing touches

If your cork backing has any unsightly blemishes that cleaning didn't get rid off you can remove them and refresh them by gently sanding the cork with a 180 grit sandpaper to remove the top surface. Cork can crumble though so make sure not to rub too hard.   

To neaten up the edges of the mats use the same grit of sandpaper held flat against the edge to sand off any excess paint there might be or any flaking old finish.  Depending on the look of the wooden edge you might like to get a black or gold chisel tipped marker pen to draw around the edge and make it look smarter. 

Touching up the edges of the placemat
Tidying up the edges

It's a good idea to give them a few days to cure before putting hot or wet items on them and to use mild detergent only and no abrasives or polishes to keep them looking their best.  

And Ta da!!

Finished colour cube placemats


Happy Painting & Happy Entertaining! :)

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