Make a Manila Folder Journal with Acrylic Painting Techniques

(This tutorial was previously published in Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media by Roxanne Padgett, copyright 2013; it is republished here courtesy of and North Light Books.)

manila folder book finalFor books like this one, I purchase heavyweight manila folders at office supply stores; the folders are quite sturdy for the cover of a book. When I’m ready to make one or several single signature books, I just cut them up and use acrylic painting techniques to paint them any color I want. You could also collect folders in a variety of colors and patterns and make your books with them. These books make great gifts, but are also perfect for small projects like holiday photos, recipes or notes.


Materials needed:

  • Manila folder
  • Drawing paper for pages
  • Painted papers
  • Crayons, permanent markers, colored pencil
  • Acrylic paint
  • Bookbinder’s wax
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embellishments
  • Foam roller
  • Glue stick
  • Stamps
  • Binder clips
  • Bone folder
  • Large paper needle
  • Scissors
  • Paper cutter or craft knife and cutting mat
  • Stencil
  • Stencil brush
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Pushpin


step 1

1. Cut a file folder in half at the fold. Fold one of the halves in half using a bone folder to crease the fold.

step 2

2. Trim to desired height with a paper cutter or a craft knife and a ruler. I trimmed my book to 10½” (27cm) tall.

step 3

3. With a small foam roller, paint the front and back of the folder with two coats of paint. Let dry in between each coat.

step 4

4. Scribble on the inside of the cover with a colored pencil.

step 5

5. Stencil polka dots on the outside cover with acrylic paint and a stencil brush. Using some of your painted and stamped paper and a glue stick, collage the front cover of the book. For my project, I used a stamped image of my handmade face stamp.

step 6

6. Add traced paint lines, crayon lines and stamping to the outside and inside of the cover.

step 7

7. Cut five sheets of heavyweight white drawing paper with a paper cutter or craft knife. Cut the pages ½” (1cm) smaller all the way around than the cover of the book.

step 8

8. Paint and stencil one of the sheets of paper front and back. Let dry. Fold all the pages and the one painted sheet in half and stack on top of each other. The painted one will be on the outside of the pages.

step 9

9. With a pencil and ruler, mark three holes on the fold: Mark one hole in the center and the other two holes 1⁄2″ (1cm) from the top and the bottom edge. Poke holes in the paper at the marked spots with a pushpin. Center the folded papers in the cover and use a pencil to mark through the holes in the paper to the cover. Poke holes in the cover at these marks. Use the following steps to create a pamphlet stitch binding. Hold in place with binder clips while you are sewing.

  • A. Measure and cut a piece of six-strand embroidery floss three times the length of the spine. Run the floss through a piece of bookbinder’s wax. Thread on a large paper needle; do not tie a knot at the end of the thread.
  • B. Begin sewing through the middle hole from the outside of the pages (or book cover, in this case). Pull through the hole leaving a 6″ to 8″ (5cm to 20cm) tail on the outside.
  • C. Turn over and sew through the top hole, from the inside to the outside, until the thread is taut.
  • D. Turn back over and sew through the bottom hole from the outside to the inside and pull until taut.
  • E. From the inside, sew back through the middle hole to the outside of the book. With the long middle thread between the two loose ends, tie a double knot.

step 10

10. Embellish with tape, collage, beads, buttons and more drawing, as desired.


More Ideas
There are so many ways to make this book! Here are some more ideas for you to consider. Cut the pages at various widths and cover the edges with painted paper strips folded in half. Paint all the pages for the book before sewing the pages into the book. Or paint black-and-white copies for the pages of the book.

(This tutorial was previously published in Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media by Roxanne Padgett, copyright 2013; it is republished here courtesy of and North Light Books.)

W8864_CM_AcrylTech_revised.inddTo get more information about Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media by Roxanne Padgett, click here.

You might also enjoy this acrylic paint layering tutorial from Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media.

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