How to Cover Ugly Ring Binders With Pretty Paper: DIY Notebooks

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Do you ever get so absorbed with other things in your life that you can’t figure out how to tap back into your creative juices?

That’s what happened to me over the past month.

I just stopped creating.

I spent so much time working on all those things that bloggers never get to (…the business plan, marketing plan–you know–all those things that should be done once bloggers switch from hobby bloggers to a real business), that I got used to just…..sitting…..and the thought of getting my butt up to work on something creative made me cringe.

Every time I would try to talk myself into starting a new project, I would get overwhelmed by how much crap I’d have to pull out just to do it. And then I’d say, “Meh. Maybe tomorrow.”

NOT a good thing when you’re a DIY creative blogger, eh?? 😉

That’s why I decided to ease back into “creative mode” with these fun little DIY notebooks that I could do from my dining room table in under 30 minutes.

And boy did it feel good!

I missed creating!

And what’s even better is that now I’ve got a pretty place to print out and store all those important documents that I busted my butt to complete over the past month! Win-win!


I had found this $0.99 quality binder at the thrift store ages ago. It’s one of those things that you buy but aren’t sure why. You just know you have to have it, and you’ll figure it out later.


How to glue pretty paper to an old thrifted 3 ring binger - ThriftDiving.com



I figured covering it with pretty paper (along with a couple other binders I had lying around the house) would be a nice collection to my basement office. Now I had no excuse not to be organized!


How to glue pretty paper to a thrifted binder - AFTER - ThriftDiving.com


How to cover binders with pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


How to Cover Ugly Binders with Pretty Paper: DIY Notebooks

It’s funny how what is supposed to be an easy project actually gave me a little bit of trouble, which I’ll explain in a bit.

But in about 30 minutes, you can do one binder, and it should look pretty good when you’re done!

Here’s what you need:


  • Pretty paper – I get all my pretty papers from Pretty paper
  • Old or plain 3-ring binders (check the thrift store)
  • Spray adhesive
  • Scissors or paper cutter
  • Labels – I like these vintage ones. But I got mine from Target’s Dollar section.


A Word About Buying Paper

Here’s a tip when buying paper from Paper Source: if you find a paper you love, buy as much as your budget allows! 

From my experience, they don’t always stock the same papers. I’m kicking myself for not buying more of this paper below that I used to make over an ugly thrifted lamp. They don’t carry it anymore. **SOB SOB**!


Thrift Diving Lamp Makeover AFTER


And when I went back to check to see if they had a couple of the fine paper that I used for these DIY notebooks, they didn’t have them!


Paper Source pretty yellow paper - ThriftDiving.com


Paper Source pretty orange paper - ThriftDiving.com


Thankfully they had the White Lace on Cement paper in case I want to buy more of that for more DIY notebooks!

Don’t you love it?!


White Lace on Cement paper on a plastic 3-ring binder - ThriftDiving.com


STEP 1: Find a sturdy 3-ring binder.

I wasn’t even sure what the CRE is until I googled it. Looks like some old engineering exam or something. As I mentioned, I had found this one at the thrift store. I’m kicking myself for not buying more!!



Buy a sturdy 3-ring binder at the thrift store and then cover it in pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


I also used a couple basic plastic-covered ones.


Cover cheap 3-ring binders in pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com
Since my son covered the back in his “artwork,” this one was good for papering, too. LOL


Cover old cheap 3-ring binders in pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


STEP 2: Cut out seams all around the binder.

Remember back in the ’90s when brown paper bag bookcovers were the hotness? LOL. Well, this is essentially the same thing, except you’ll be gluing the paper to the binder.

But first, lay the binder down and measure about 1″ around and trim away the excess.

Fold up your seams so that you know where the binder will go once you’re ready to glue on the paper.


Cut out seams all around the binder - ThriftDiving.com

The only “iffy” spots will be where the middle 3-ring binders are attached. Just paper around them, or see if you can shove the paper up underneath them.

Make sure you fold your corners like this, then unfold it and snip off this triangle part so that the paper folded inside will make a mitered corner. Plus, this cuts down on the “corner bulk.”


Folder your corners in when covering binders in paper - ThriftDiving.com


How to cut mitered corners when covering binders with paper - ThriftDiving.com


Sorry, I missed getting a picture of what the miter corner looks like. But just know that after you snip off that corner and fold the bottom and sides in, they should make something that looks clean and not so bulky. 🙂

STEP 3: Spray your binder.

I’m such a newbie at using spray adhesive. I’m not going to lie. I just don’t use it that much. So stupid me sprayed the PAPER instead of the BINDER, which left some dark spots on the paper where it was too wet. Ummmmm…..don’t you love learning from me what not to do??? 😉

You’ll be all the wiser, won’t you?

Just make sure you spray the binder if you can.

Use a flat surface, like your dining room table (just be careful you don’t spray the spray adhesive on it! Use newspaper or something to cover it up). Push the binder onto the paper

This is the one I used.


Elmer's Spray Adhesive


But honestly, I actually really liked using the HDX spray adhesive from Home Depot, which I had on-hand, too. It seemed like it stuck more immediately and seemed more “hearty.”

HDX spray adhesive


STEP 4: Fold in your edges.

Now that my edges were less bulky, I could fold them all in.

I did add some additional paper to try to cover the edges. I’m not sure if I like this or if I would have preferred to just leave the mitered edges.

I didn’t have enough paper to cover the insides; plus, I didn’t want to cover up the pockets.


Cover binders with papers and add a sliver of paper to hide the corners


Put down the Mod Podge!!

You know how I do here at Thrift Diving….I have to share the “fails” with you! LOL

Okay, so you know how I love Mod Podge for gluing fabric to wood and for gluing paper to stuff, right?

But you can also use it as a sealer.

So imagine this pretty binder getting water spilled on it, or some other horrible marks.

Why not Mod Podge it, right???


Looks what happened!


Mod Podge gone wrong when trying to seal a binder covered in paper - ThriftDiving.com


I should have freakin’ known.

But I didn’t.

Totally ruined……ALMOST.

While the paper did wrinkle up, it evened out a little after drying. A little.

But it was still wrinkly.

So I had just enough paper left to add more paper on top, with a center panel, trying to make it look like I designed it this way. HA! Just totally trying to cover my screw-up!

I don’t even know if lace and yellow flowers match.

I guess it’s gonna have to.


AFTER - Binders covered in pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


My Other Boo-Boo

Open up the inside of the yellow one and you’ll see where I got a little tooooo happy with the spray adhesive. I had a lot of crazy stuff going on inside, so this one doesn’t look the best.


Got a little too happy with spray adhesive


I love showing you the “fails” so that you know, we all make mistakes.

So don’t do this project thinking it has to look perfect! 🙂 It probably won’t. LOL. But at least you’ll know mine had its moments, too! LOL


Spray adhesive gone wrong


STEP 5: Add pretty labels and documents.

I had picked up these labels eons ago from Target, from their Dollar section. I had never really used them until now.


Cheap labels from Target


But they worked out perfectly!


Inexpesive labels on paper covered binders - Thriftdiving.com


I’m going to be doing a lot more behind-the-scenes work on this blog, and I’ll document those things and put them inside these binders. You know–so I can operate like a real business. LOL


How to cover binders in pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


My master grocery list - ThriftDiving.com


Let’s have another look at the before.


BEFORE - How to cover binders with pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com




AFTER - How to cover binders with pretty paper - ThriftDiving.com


Other Projects You Might Like

If you like these DIY-covered notebooks, you might also like to make your own DIY wooden journals, too!

How to Make a DIY Journal - Great DIY gift idea - ThriftDiving.com


DIY Snowman Pencil Holders from a Wooden Dowel - Thrift Diving


Like these DIY notebooks? Go ahead and PIN them for later.


How to Cover Ugly Binders with Pretty Paper - ThriftDiving.com Blog


How to Cover Old Binders with Pretty Paper - Makeover old binders from thrift thrift store and glue or Mod Podge pretty paper to them. - Thrift Diving

So do you struggle with getting projects started, too? Have you ever made a DIY notebook like this, with decoupage and pretty paper? Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!



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  1. Yes, this question! Does anyone have suggestions? And was this particular to this paper? Would thinner paper do this?

  2. Question regarding the spine: Do you have to make any allowances for the spine? I was thinking if I closed the book, the paper would not fit properly.

    1. Hi Leassia, I don’t think I made any allowanced and it fit okay, but it’s been awhile since I made them, so perhaps I am just forgetting! LOL.

  3. Brenda woodruff says:

    What did you seal the notebook with if you don’t recommend mod podge?

  4. Monica Yost says:

    Beautiful! I was thinking about using cotton duck fabric to achieve something similar. I have some beautiful fabric to cover my DIY planner.

  5. C. Sutton says:

    What type of pretty paper did you use?

    1. These pretty papers can be found at Paper Source. They have a bunch of nice papers that are thicker than scrapbook paper, and in bigger pieces, too. 🙂

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