How to Update Kitchen Countertops with Self-Adhesive Paper

Refresh your countertops without the high cost and stress by using self-adhesive paper. Here's how, including the essential materials, upkeep, and expert tips.

When you walk into a kitchen, countertops are one of the first features to catch your eye. They influence the entire look of the space, adding a modern flair or natural texture. However, updating or replacing countertops can be a consuming and costly task. Enter, self-adhesive paper.

This affordable material is sold in rolls and features one decorative side and one highly adhesive side (much like an oversize sticker.) And if you're renting or trying to renovate on a budget, self-adhesive paper makes an ideal option.

Anika Gandhi, founder of the blog Anika's DIY Life, has taken on the project multiple times and says it cost her less than $50 to do her entire kitchen. (She purchased about three to four rolls.) Compared to installing new countertops, which can range anywhere from around $50 to $150 per square foot for installation alone (not including the cost of materials), self-adhesive paper is decidedly cost-effective. Plus, it takes much less time to apply. Anika says it took her about an afternoon from start to finish; working around the sink was the most tedious part.

Ready to flip your kitchen surfaces? Here's everything you need to know about changing up your countertops with self-adhesive paper, including styles to consider, upkeep must-knows, and the low-down on durability.

Countertops with terrazzo patterned adhesive paper
Courtesy of Samantha Santana

How to Choose the Right Self-Adhesive Paper Style

You can find nearly any style of countertop material in self-adhesive paper form, including natural stone patterns, like marble, as well as wood looks. If you're going for a contemporary kitchen, try out one of the latest interior trends, such as neutral colors, biophilic designs, or vintage patterns. Or keep it classic with a pattern that resembles quartz or cork.

Terrazzo, reminiscent of a Parisian café, is a great option for adding color and detail. It's also a favorite on Etsy. "It picked up maybe two or three years ago," says Samantha Santana, owner of shopSAMANTHASANTANA where she sells wallpaper and self-adhesive paper. "Checker prints have also been bubbling for a while, and I feel like they finally exploded in 2022."

To make your countertop a focal point, try Moroccan or geometric patterns for visual interest. Using a busier style also allows you to apply it less precisely, as you don't have to match up the sections of the paper exactly.

Another plus of using self-adhesive paper on your countertop is that you can easily keep up with trends in your kitchen since it's removable and affordable. In addition to Etsy, you can find the paper at any major retailer, including Target, Walmart, The Home Depot, and Amazon.

What to Know Before Applying Self-Adhesive Paper

You'll want to start by measuring the sections of countertop where the paper fits without extra cutting. Don't worry if there are any small areas that won't be covered or if the paper doesn't line up perfectly everywhere—you can always cut a strip down to whatever measurement you need and use decor to cover any imperfections.

For unforeseen slip-ups or dilemmas, it's a good idea to buy an extra roll or two. "Just in case you mess up something or miscalculate, especially with the cutouts," Anika advises. "You have to take into account the fact that you might need to cut some extra strips and things like that. So you definitely want to have at least one roll more than what you think you need."

Samantha says she always tells customers to be cautious when cutting as the material is slippery. As a general rule, take it slow. Also, note that paper can appear darker if you have a darker countertop. Keep this in mind as you choose the color and style.

Close up of terrazzo self adhesive paper on counter
Courtesy of Samantha Santana

How to Apply Self-Adhesive Paper to Your Countertops

One of the best parts about working with self-adhesive paper is that it doesn't require many materials, and you probably already have most of them.

What You Need

  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)
  • Utility knife (like an X-Acto knife)
  • Scissors
  • Carpenter square, credit card, or silicone spatula
  • Soap and sponge or cleaning wipes

Step 1: Measure your countertops so you know how much self-adhesive paper to purchase. Make sure to check the dimensions of the roll you're buying.

Step 2: Clean your countertops with soap and water or cleaning wipes. Dry them with a paper towel or cloth. This is the most important step, Anika says. If there's a speck of dirt or dust, it could show under the paper, and any oils from kitchen ingredients or your skin could cause it to not stick as well. After cleaning, consider wiping the counter down with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol.

Step 3: Unroll the paper on your counter. Line them up so that they lay seamlessly, the pattern matches up (if applicable), and you can't see any of your real counters peeking through. Ignore any smaller sections that the paper doesn't cover for now.

Step 4: Peel and stick. Samantha and Anika suggest only peeling off an inch or so from a corner as a starting point. As you work, use one hand to peel and the other to get out the air bubbles. Use a credit card, carpenters square, or silicone spatula (a tip from one of Samantha's customers) to remove air bubbles, scraping from top to bottom. If you encounter any stubborn bubbles, use your knife or a pin to poke a tiny hole and move the air toward it so it can escape.

Step 5: Cut the paper and fold it under the edge of your counter. Because you won't see it, you don't have to worry about cutting in a straight line. Remember to take your time.

Step 6: When going around curves, such as your kitchen sink, apply the paper over the edges and roughly cut with scissors. Trim the excess with your knife along the edge to get a seamless line.

Step 7: With any leftover sections, measure and use a ruler to cut your paper in a straight line. If you can, measure and line up the rolls so that these sections are in a concealed area, like a back corner that won't be as noticeable, or an area easily hidden with decor like cookbooks or pantry staples.

Cleaning Tips and Maintenance

Self-adhesive paper is generally water-resistant, and it does well with regular wear and tear. Clean it with soap and water, avoiding any harsh chemicals or bleach. If you see any fraying or edges coming up, Samantha advises using a spray adhesive to keep it in place. However, most self-adhesive paper isn't heat-resistant, so avoid placing any hot pots or pans on the surface.

Anika used self-adhesive paper for one of her bathroom countertops, and when she removed it a year and a half later, it was still clean underneath. And it was a kid's bathroom, so "it got lots of splashing and residue and all that stuff on it."

"If you're really concerned, you can use clear silicone caulking around the sink," she says. "But it holds up really, really well."

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