Altering 101: Foil Peel Tutorial

By Kris Nash

Hello and welcome to our second Altering 101 series. For this installment, we well we looking at the materials and process required to make a professional-looking foil peel. Be advised that foil peels require much practice and even the most seasoned traditional artist is likely to struggle with making clean, seamless foil-peels. But, as with most forms of art, patience and practice is required to make this very unique and appealing style of alters work. Let's begin. 


For my tutorial, I choose to make an Atraxa, Praetors' Voice foil peel. I chose this alter because I had already made an Atraxa foil peel and enjoyed it very much and I wanted to try my hand at another shot. Atraxa is a popular commander at this time and it's not hard to see why. She's a 4/4 for four with Flying, vigilance, deathtouch, lifelink and a proliferate kicker. The art itself is stunning. Victor Adame Minguez, the artist of the card, was very authentic to the Phyrexian style we've come to admire in works like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Chancellor of the Annex. 

To make any foil peel, there are several materials that are a must-have. These include, but are not limited to, an X-Acto knife, replacement blades, spray adhesive, and a cutting mat. A key note for safety is to ensure that your X-Acto knife is sharp. When the blade starts to rust, chip, or dull, be sure to either sharpen it or just throw it out and replace it. A dull knife will mean you require more pressure to create precision cuts and when more pressure is added, mistakes are made and fingers can be cut. Other materials you can use are cuticle clippers and acetone to remove paint off the card. For the actual 'peeling' of the card, you will need a bowl (a large bowl for the over-sized cards), hot water, and some dish soap. The dish soap is optional, but I find that it helps take the glue and backing off the card much cleaner. 

I like to run the water in the sink until it's hot, and squeeze a tablespoon of soap into the bowl. Once the water is hot enough, I use the spray nozzle to ensure that the water is bubbly. Then, I drop the card to be peeled into the water. If you lack any sort of patience (like I do), do this just before you go to sleep so you're not tempted to mess with the card until it's fully peeled. Having to peel off excess cardboard takes forever and you run the risk of creasing the card. In the morning, you can gently pull back a corner and peel the entire foil layer off in one slow peeling motion. Using your nails to get under the layer helps, that way the soaked cardboard doesn't wrinkle under your fingers and damage the card. 



As you can see in the video, there is still some blue cardboard stuck to the card. To remove this, just gently and slowly peel the cardboard off with your finger. Move in one direction, so you won't damage the card or create creases. Another dip into the water when you finish will help to get the remaining bits off. 

The next step is 'mapping' out the card. To do this, I take a Top Loader and put a card in it, then color in the text box to see where I would could out the over-sized card.


With Atraxa, because the top of her head was so close to the border, I couldn't cut out the title box and paste it on the small Atraxa because it would have cut her head off. Instead, I decided to use the whole of the art and just paste it directly under the small card's text box. 


After that, I mapped out where the textbox of the smaller card would begin, so I could make a semicircular design on the bottom of the oversized card, as well as cutting the outline of Atraxa's feet and tails. All the while, I was working very slowly to ensure my cuts were not jagged and I kept putting the oversized peel back over the original card to make sure I was not cutting too much away. 

Once I was satisfied with the cutting I had done, I brought out my spray adhesive. Following the directions on the can, I vigorously shook it for two minutes. Then, I set up an area where I could spray my foil peel. I just used a plain cardboard box that I could throw away afterward. I would also recommend doing this inside, especially if you live in an area that has a lot of pollen or dust in the air; you don't want any outside elements like dirt sticking to the card. Even the tiniest spec of dirt or grit will create bubbles and eventually, tears. It is impertinent that you spray the foil PEEL and not the smaller card. This is because the spray adhesive will leave a tacky layer that makes sleeving impossible. Again, it is important that you follow the directions on the spray can. The brand I use states that you need to wait a minute after spraying before adhering. So, I flip the peel over so I'm looking at the white side, hold the can about 8-12 inches away and give it a light mist. One or two sprays ought to do the trick. After waiting about a minute or two comes the fun part! The mounting of the foil peel onto the smaller card.

This is undoubtedly the hardest part of the process. For starters, you will usually only get one try. Even though most sprays advertise themselves as being 'adjustable', that doesn't mean much when it comes to altering. This is because even if you do somehow manage to lift the peel off to reposition it, there will usually be a layer of adhesive stuck to both the peel and the card and create unsightly creases and bubbles, rendering the foil peel useless. Additionally, you run the risk of actually tearing the peel, especially when you have precise and small cuts made. In order to ensure I get the foil peel mounted perfectly, I always check to see exactly where I'm going to place it BEFORE I spray the adhesive. and then I practice exactly how I'm going to mount it before spraying, that way when the time comes, it's a matter of muscle memory and not luck.

Starting from the top of the peel and working toward the bottom to avoid bubbles, I gently line up the borders and in a rolling motion mount the foil peel to the card. Once the peel is where I want it, I gently smooth it out with my fingers, tapping any bubbles or pockets I can see. If your fingers are sweaty or sticky from glue, use a small piece of parchment paper to help rub the peel onto the card.

Skip ahead to :20

Afterwards, the rest is cake! I wait a few minutes to the glue to finish drying, tapping it on the semi-exposed areas (like the tail and feet) to make sure it's not tacky. Then, I cut off any excess trim left from the card. Here is the finished result of the foil peel: 


Now, some people might have been satisfied at this point, after all, the card was mounted well, the lines are matched up perfectly, etc. But I thought the card lacked a certain flair. To make the card really stand out, I decided to add some silver leaf to make the card more rugged. Adding silver/gold leaf is another fun way to alter cards that is a little bit deceptively difficult to do, and I will be covering that in a future installment of Altering 101. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with the final result. My custom Atraxa foil peel and silver leaf is available for sale in our store

Thank you all so much for reading. I hope you found the tutorial helpful and I hope to see many more foil peel cards in the community in the future! Happy altering! 

about the author

Kris Nash is the art relations director and Main Phase MTG's in-house card artist. She has always fostered a love for art and painting and was able to incorporate her skills into altering Magic cards over two years ago after she discovered the community of MTG card artists. Her page Main Phase Alters can be found on Facebook and Instagram. When she's not painting magic cards, she is paroozing FB and IG admiring the art of other alterers, writing content for Main Phase MTG, or playing with her dogs. Her favorite format is EDH, and she typically plays with a Dimir Zombie Lord deck.  

Kyle Nash