Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 3: DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial

Part 3 in a series of 12

Pause.  Before you read on, you should check out the previous posts of this series, The Twelve Weeks of Christmas:


Week 1: Online Shopping Tips and Tricks

Week 2: How to Make a Bowl out of an Old Vinyl Record

It can’t hurt, right?

Oh boy! Oh boy!  Since I began this series three weeks ago, I’ve been more than a little excited about this particular post as it is one of my FAVORITE and most beloved gift ideas, ever!  I thought I might save this as one of the final posts, but the sun was shining today and my fire escape, i.e., my photography studio was calling my name, so I answered!  The answer was “Yes,” clearly.

(I can’t take very useful pictures inside my apartment, so I have to wait for days when it’s not raining to get shots… something we’ve been lacking here lately.   Also, my camera has been at the residence of one Maria Aparo, being used to take pictures of her $100 apartment makeover – an exciting, future post on this in the next few weeks!)

So, after a stellar fire escape photography session with my less than stellar camera, I am ready to give you this tutorial.  But before we dive in to the how-to’s (and how-not-to’s), let’s take a gander at the things we’re going to be making:

Tile Coaster

Ta da!

Tile coasters

Sassy and askew. Silly coasters.

Tile coaster cork bottom

Work it, cork contact paper.

Tile coasters

Sassy and askew, part 2

Ooh… ahhh…. These coasters are of one of my favorite gifts to give because nearly always the gift recipient says something along the lines of “Wow!  Cool!  Where’d you find these?”  To which I reply “I made them, silly!”  (Actually, that’s not true… more often than not, I initially reply with “Not telling you, but you should know they were VERY expensive and I will not be spending this much money on you next Christmas.”  Actually… that’s not true either.)

I also love these coasters because they cost nearly NOTHING to make.  In fact, a set of four coasters puts me out about $3.  No, I know.  For real.  A cost-effective, yet high quality gift like this makes me sing opera notes spontaneously.   (Ooh! -what if one of those words from that last sentence was a link of me singing an opera note?  Fun!  Sorry, you’re just going to have to imagine it for now).

So… without further ado, I give you:

The GPP’S DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial

Supplies needed:

4 X 4 Tiles (my tried, true, and tested, personal fave)

Aluminum foil

Hair dryer (optional)

Photocopied images (more on this below)


Elmer’s Glue

A foam brush or small paint brush

Varnish: Mod Podge, Minwax Polycrylic, whatever strikes your fancy, as long as it’s non-yellowing and weather-proof, i.e., WATERPROOF

Cork contact paper or felt/cork furniture pads

A rockin’ coaster making playlist (optional, but highly recommended)

tile coaster supplies

Supplies. Don't be overwhelmed -- you do not need ALL of these necessarily. Keep reading...

Step One: 

First things first – You need to decide what you want on your coasters.  With an amazing thing out there called Google Image Search, the sky’s the limit, really.  Of course, if you are making these coasters to sell them, that’s another matter entirely, as many pictures have trademarks, copyrights, or royalties attached to them.  Going forward, I’ll assume you are making these coasters as gifts, so again… sky’s the limit!

Here are some ideas for coaster images that I have done (or plan to do one day):

Family photos

Movie poster images

Fine art images

Comic books

Vintage ads

Beverage related art


Once you figure out what images you want to use, make a photocopy of these.  Typically, what I do is find four images, download them into my computer (you know: right click, “Save as,” etc.), and format them in Paintbrush and/or Microsoft Word so that they are only 3.5” X 3.5” each.  As you can tell, I am NOT particularly high-tech, BUT you absolutely do not have to be for this project.  Most everyone has Paintbrush and/or Microsoft Word, and with both of these programs you can resize or crop an image easily (let me know if you have trouble with this in the comments below, and I can put together another tutorial J ).  Since my color printer leaves much to be desired – and honestly I don’t like to waste color ink – I usually send these images electronically to a copy center website and pick them up in the store (ink jet pictures will NOT work).  After trial and error, I have found that Staples is the most cost-effective resource, and I am always pleased with the end results.

Simply go to, make a free account, and click on the “Copy and Print Services” link.  Click on “Start a Copy Project” and upload your document or images (for me, it’s always a MS Word document with four images on each page, as this minimizes paper usage).  After your image or document uploads, they will give you a series of options: the most important ones to pick are “color copying” (as opposed to black and white), and the cheapest paper option which is the “Letter Standard White (24 lb.)”  — only 59 cents a page!  Once you get your confirmation e-mail, you can pick it up in the store.  Easy.

Here are some of my pre-cut images I have in mind for future projects.

Step Two: 

(Wow, that was a long Step One, but I assure you the others will not be quite that verbose.)

Clean your tiles.  Just get a damp cloth to brush away the dust that is inherent in these types of tiles.  Let dry completely.

Agora Tiles

Step Three:

Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil and place your tiles upon it.  This is to protect your work surface from the varnish you will use in future steps.  I have found this to be the best solution because when I am done with the project, I can simply throw away the aluminum foil and nothing has been damage by dried globs of varnish (they’re almost impossible to clean up).  The aluminum foil acts a lot like wax paper does when you’re making chocolate covered pretzels or the like – when dry, you can peel things off of it without sticking.

Aluminum foil: varnish-tastic projects::wax paper:chocolate covered pretzels. There, I just used my SAT skills.

Step Four:

Attach the images to the tiles.  Cut out the images so there is no white border showing, then use Elmer’s Glue or Mod Podge (or an off brand version of either) and glue the images to the tiles. Make sure you coat the entire surface using a foam brush to spread the glue so there are no lumps later.  Then, center the image on the tile and smooth out to the best of your ability.  This is a crucial part of the waterproofing process, because if there are lumps or bubbles, especially at the edges, water, i.e., sweat from your glasses will be able to seep under these vulnerable places and ruin the seal.  I like to use a clean towel to rub the image and work it into the nooks and crannies of the stone façade (these tiles are not perfectly smooth on the top, but that will add to the character later, I promise!)  After that, I use a blow dryer on a low setting so that there is no opportunity for moisture to seep in – if you don’t have a blow dryer, place the tiles on the floor in front of your refrigerator  (this is a Teresa Foster tip and it always works if you want to dry something quickly, especially wet shoes).

Dollar Tree Represent!

Step Five:

Apply 4-5 coats of varnish.  My preference is a foam brush because they leave behind no brush strokes.  I allow at least 30 minutes in between coats, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to wait longer.  In between coats, I wrap a Ziploc bag around the foam brush and seal with a rubber band around the handle, that way I can reuse the same brush for each coat (because I promise, the foam brush will dry just as fast as the coasters).

Step Six:

Allow tiles to cure over night.  Very important because if a tile is even slightly tacky, it will not be a functional and waterproof coaster.  (If you used a glue-like varnish like Mod Podge, I recommend spraying with a sealant of some sort.)

Step Seven:

Once tiles are completely dry, attach cork contact paper or furniture pads to the bottom.  This will protect whatever surface you place your coaster on and will also prevent scratching other coasters when they are stacked on top of each other.  I am a big fan of the cork contact paper because: it can cover the entire bottom of the tile; it’s already sticky so it requires no glue; and it just has a more finished look this way… but furniture pads are okay, too (you can get a pack at Dollar Tree for… a dollar.)  But contact paper is better.  Just so you know where I stand on the issue.

Step Eight:

Sign the bottom of the coaster.   After all, it is YOUR work of art!  I like to sign my name on the edge (that isn’t covered by contact paper), and then put the occasion and the date, e.g.,” Christmas 2011,” “Happy Birthday!,” “25th Annual Dragon-Con,” whatever.  Put a note in the gift box/bag that offers cleaning instructions (by the way, ONLY wipe with a damp cloth – no soap or cleaning products, no abrasive scrubbers, no immersing in water).

And… You’re done, and it was super easy and cheap!  So cheap in fact, I felt compelled to do a price list.

After the initial purchase of varnish, which usually runs somewhere between $4-$10 a bottle, you’ll have enough varnish to make a hundred coasters (really).  Same goes for the Elmer’s glue, which is usually no more than a dollar a bottle (and if it’s more than that, go to Dollar Tree where it’s always…a dollar.)  Cork contact paper is usually $3 a roll, but it will also last you a while.  Assuming you have aluminum foil somewhere in your kitchen, the only purchases per project you’d have to make would be:

4 tiles X 33 cents/ea. = $1.32

I page of images from the Staples Copy Center = $0.59

I foam brush = $0.25

For a grand total of:   $2.16, plus tax

So, not counting staple items that will last you for MANY projects to come, each set of coasters is less than $3!  YES!!!  GPP approved — Especially considering similar coaster sets can run anywhere from $15-$30 in most gift shops.  Better still, you can personalize these to fit the taste of the gift recipient (so, you only have to give them coasters with kittens and butterflies on them if you really want to).

One more time...

Tell me what you think in the comment section below!  Does this seem like a gift you’d like to give someone (or keep for yourself)?  If so, who will be your gift recipients?  Will you give ME any presents?  (You don’t have to answer the last one.)




25 thoughts on “Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 3: DIY Tile Coaster Tutorial

  1. I’m all about crafting these days (mostly knit and crochet), but I love this idea, especially for a stocking stuffer or a gift for an acquaintance. When I make ’em, I’ll be sure to send you some pics!

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  7. FYI, we found that perhaps Lowe’s was a bit vague when they said the tiles were 4 x 4″; I think they are taking into account the gap you might have between tiles. When we printed the pix out at 3.75 x 3.75″, they were exactly the same size as the tiles; no room for a border and the necessary waterproofing buffer it provides. So we ended up doing about 3.5 x 3.5″ and it worked well.

    Eli’s having a blast!

  8. ps–We’re doing pix of the grandchildren for my dad and his wife, and for my mom! I started to use pix we had taken on various vacations of pretty stuff, but I thought they might like the grandkids pix even more. But for other friends (perfect for a housewarming present!), I think we have a pretty awesome selection of pretty stuff to choose from. :)

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  14. I stumbled across your blog tonight and I LOVE it. I hope you get this comment (I know it’s been a year since you posted it), because I have a question. You said ink jet printed images won’t work….are you sure? And how do you know that the copy center doesn’t print with ink jet? I’m just curious…the copy center concept is new to me. I’m just lazy enough that having to upload the images to some other website and then having to go to a separate store to pick them up might actually keep me from doing this project. Lol. Thanks for a fun blog! :)

  15. Hey Alli,

    I actually have tried with my ink jet printer and the ink runs. Not so pretty for your coaster images. But what’s nice about staples is that you can do everything online and then go pick it up!

    Thanks for reading! I actually last posted about two months ago (the blog has only been around for a year :) Right now I’m on vacation, but I’ll be getting back to weekly postings again very soon. Keep checking back!

    Good luck in your crafty endeavors!


  16. Thank you for all the great ideas, I love reading your blog, You have so many great ideas and projects and you always explain things so well. I wish you luck and all of your endeavours and look forward to reading your future blogs from the other side of the pond! Best wishes Jilly

  17. must share this I was told to make inkjet images so they do not run spray them with hairspray!

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