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I am having trouble getting a gluing process that I like for large surfaces. I need to attach wrapping paper to 4'x8' sheets of plywood. For small paper-to-wood gluing, wood glue works great. For slightly larger regions, up to about 11x17, 3M 77 works great. But at the multiple square feet scale, I find myself getting gaps in my coverage -- it's quite hard to see when the whole surface is covered by the spray -- so when I later cut the wood on a laser cutter, parts of the paper peel away from the wood.

Another problem with the 3M 77 at that scale is the fumes -- just about killed myself with that much spray all at once, even outdoors with good breeze!

I tried using wood glue over an entire sheet-- that experiment ended poorly. An entire bottle of glue barely covered the top quarter of the plywood! So while it seems like I would like some sort of spreadable, visible glue that I could lay down on, I think most of those options are out.

In my dream world, there's some sort of magic, odorless, 3M 77 blended with spray paint so I can tell when I've got even coverage because the wood changes color when sprayed. I don't think anything like that exists. So... how close can I get to that dream?

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This sounds like quite a similar situation to applying wallpaper. Wallpaper is normally hung with wallpaper adhesive, a thickish paste with a relatively long drying time.

The advantage of this is that you can apply it to the paper and let it soak in for a few minutes before attaching the paper to the plywood, which should help ensure you don't miss any bits.

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    I hadn’t thought of that approach! Yes! I think that might work! – SRM Jan 31 '18 at 14:24
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A product that comes to mind when reading your post is that you may benefit from using contact adhesives, also known as contact cement. Typical solvent based contact cement can be overpowering in non-ventilated areas and more recently water based contact cements have been appearing.

Contact cement works in a manner somewhat reversed to using glue. One applies the adhesive to both surfaces to be bonded and left to dry. This seems counter-intuitive, but I've used it and it works great. It's important to keep the two surfaces separated when joining them, unless you can be assured of perfect alignment (or alignment isn't critical). It's common to spread wax paper between the two surfaces, then align and carefully slide out the wax paper. In some circumstances, with more rigid material such as veneer, wooden dowels (or plastic ones!) are used as separators. For sheets of paper, wax paper remains a better choice.

http://www.woodweb.com/knowledge_base/Using_WaterBased_Contact_Cements.html contains some other users' experiences with the water based stuff. I had poor results in the past with water based contact adhesives, but after reading the link, I realized that I did not allow sufficient drying time.

What I've read in my research for this answer is that many of these products change color when dry, making it fit one of your requirements. Also, you may have to invest in a simple sprayer to use the adhesive. Another quick search for "refillable spray can" provides multiple sources, including Amazon and Home Depot.

Amazon refillable

Home Depot refillable

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Using a heavier paper stock and using the procedures for gluing laminate might work well. Which is contact cement ad a foam paint roller. Spray adhesives, which have to be liquid) are made clear so they do not discolor the paper as they soak into it. For museum mounting I have found it all comes down to lighting and practice t get a even complete coating of normal spray adhesive.

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Have you thought about using gelatin? It was pretty common to bind gold-leaf with gelatin. You might also consider using rabbit-skin glue. If you like I can outline the process for you.

  • Seriously people, this answer should not have been downvoted, because it would really work. – Nothingismagick Jan 31 '18 at 23:17

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