How To: Decorate Your Mortarboard (Grad Cap!)

If you’ve been following my blog, you would probably have seen that I graduated and shared my experience last week!

One thing that I wish I had before graduating was a guide on how to make my cap look amazing!  I asked a lot of questions that couldn’t really be answered by anyone around me, which is why I thought this would be a really helpful post to have. Even if you’re not in love with my cap, the steps and advice are all things I learned on my wild journey of making it!

This post contains affiliate links.  This means that if you make a purchase through one of my links I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

First: find your inspiration. Pinterest is an amazing tool to utilize when it comes to finding a cute cap!  If you search grad caps you’ll see tons of pictures with all sorts of styles. I’d suggest doing this a month in advance to give yourself plenty of time to plan decorations.  The pictures below ended up being the inspiration for my cap!

Plan ahead. I know this seems obvious, but when you’re preparing to graduate it is so easy to push off planning your cap.  Think of what you need right away so you have time to buy everything roughly two weeks in advance.  If you can’t find all of your supplies, go to another store or possibly order off of Amazon!  There are tons of options if you’re quick enough.

Now that you have your pre-planning completed, it’s time to actually start making your cap!

Making the Cap:

Step 1: Lay down your base.

This is an optional step if your design calls for it!  The really cool thing is you don’t have to paint the base if you don’t want to, either.  I actually used scrapbook paper purchased from Walmart!  It was $5 for this pack.  I had wanted a solid light pink, but couldn’t find the right shade, which sucked, but this paper would be really cool to use for its original purpose so I wasn’t too upset.

I believe caps are 10″x10″, so you can’t use regular sized letter paper, unfortunately.  However, it’s super easy to cut the square out; just flip the paper onto the back side and trace the hat with any writing utensil before cutting it out.

The hole to cut for the tassel holder is a bit tricky, but if you’re putting something over the top of your paper, you can just poke through the center with scissors and cut a rough circle a little bigger than the nub.  As you can see, mine doesn’t look so pretty right now and that’s okay!

I would suggest using this spray adhesive, which worked amazingly! So well, in fact, that I couldn’t quite align the paper because it was completely stuck as soon as it touched, so be careful when lining it up!  Spray the cap, then spray the paper, and wait for about 15 seconds. The glue will be super tacky and create a permanent bond, so you won’t have to worry about it peeling off right away!

Step 1

Step 2: Get your parts ready.

The next step after getting your base ready is to have all of your other materials ready to go.  For me, this meant cutting out all the shapes that were going on the cap.  I cut the circles using various household objects and googled a reference photo to make sure my sun rays were accurate.  This could also be considered step 1 1/2, as these shapes for me really were still part of my base.

Before gluing anything, make sure your design fits and looks how you want it to!  I had to peel up the parts of the circle I glued down because I didn’t realize how I had wanted my cap to look until after; oops!

Step 3

If you’re adding shapes around the little nub, the easiest way for me was not to cut out a circle in the center like you did for the base layer, but to actually cut a slit in the object up to the very middle.  This made it super easy for me to just slide it right over the nub and not have to worry about it looking ugly.  You’ll just have to be sure to glue down the split. Pro tip: DO NOT use liquid glue!  Those wrinkles in the paper are from that.  Glue dots are what I went with later, since they leave no mark and are easy to reposition if you don’t like the location or need to adjust it.  If you are putting anything around the nub, make sure your tassel still fits into where it’s supposed to go!

Step 2

Step 3: Get pretty with it!

After you have your base items laid out exactly how you want, it’s time to make your cap look just like you envisioned!  As you can see, I added some self-adhesive gems and fabric flowers I bought from Walmart.  What you don’t see in this picture that you will see in the end are some large clear gemstones on either tip of the hat, again from Walmart! I think there’s a theme here…

The flowers and gemstones were not self-adhesive, so I had to use a different sort of glue. Because the spray adhesive is so intense, I wouldn’t suggest using it on top of the paper; it will cause that really weird wrinkling.  I also found that the glue dots did a terrible job at keeping hold of those pretty little flowers, so I ended up using mod podge.

You can either use a paint brush, a sponge/spatula thing (what I used), or whatever else you have handy. If you do any sort of crafting, mod podge is essential!  It held everything in place so nicely; I put it on the paper and stuck the flowers on where I had wanted them.  For the gems, I swiped it onto the back (not a super thick layer) and held them down for about 10 seconds.  You’ll know right away if they stick or not!

Step 5

Step 4: Adding your words.

This is definitely the scariest part, in my opinion!  Well, it was for me at least.  If you’re using stickers, which I wish I had, it’s a lot less terrifying; just use a ruler to make sure you have straight lines!

If you’re stenciling, heed my warning!  I chose to stencil my letters onto my cap because I couldn’t quite find stickers that I really loved that would go with it.  I decided that I would use a pretty stencil that I had found at Walmart because I liked the way the letters looked and I wanted it to be consistent.

The first thing I wanted to do was use gold paint; unfortunately, there was absolutely no pigment to the color and it just looked really faint.  I then tried to use a gold metallic sharpie; again, the color was really ugly.  I think my sharpie was just dry at that point, because it usually looks so much prettier. I ended up choosing the intense bronze shade from the metallic sharpie pack, which looked amazing on both papers.

This is where the warning comes into play: DO NOT use the sharpie with the stencil directly onto your cap! I cannot repeat this enough!  When I did this, the sharpie’s ink had actually gotten under the stencil and the plastic basically caused it to travel everywhere outside the lines!  The whole reason my cap looks better in the final picture is because I had to redo the yellow circle.

If you’re using stencils, use a mechanical pencil to trace the letters of the stencil out, and then fill the lines in with your sharpie, also connecting lines that the stencil left open.  This will give you that gorgeous handwriting appearance without also making it look like your sharpie bled everywhere. (:

Apply any of those last minute touches you want that will make you say wow!, and you’re good to go!  Remember that this is for you to see and love, so make it your own.

The biggest thing to do now is get excited; you’re graduating!

Finally, Step 5: Rock graduation day with your cute cap!!Final


What tips do you have for putting together an amazing cap?

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