How Do You Stretch Watercolor Paper?

October 4, 2014

By Alina Bradford

stretching watercolor paperLearning how to stretch watercolor paper is an important skill for any aspiring watercolorist to learn. Watercolor paper under 250 lbs is always stretched before it is painted on to keep the paper from warping. Warped paper is almost impossible to re-flatten and is difficult to frame. Stretching watercolor paper may take a little extra time, but it’s easy to learn and doesn’t take any special skills.

Choosing a Support for Stretching Watercolor Paper

The process of stretching watercolor paper usually relies on attaching the paper to a hard support. Most artists will find that a piece of plywood cut a little bigger than the watercolor paper works fine for this purpose. Some artists will simply use a desk or utility table for a support. This works fine if the artist is using a way to attach the paper such as masking tape that doesn’t damage the paper.

Attachment Supplies for Stretching Watercolor Paper

Holding down watercolor paper with bulldog clipsThere are several ways to attach watercolor paper to a support for stretching. Some artists use tacks, masking tape or bulldog clips, like in the image to the right.

Tacks, of course, leave small holes in the paper and may tear the paper while stretching. On the other hand, tacks offer the most secure hold out of the three. Masking tape often becomes wet during the stretching process and allows the paper to buckle, but it is easy to apply. Bulldog clips are the easiest to use and cause the least amount of damage to the paper.

It is important to note that Scotch tape or duct tape should not be used for stretching watercolor paper. These types of tape may tear or ruin the tooth of the paper and may leave a sticky film.

No matter which method is used, the paper’s edges need to be securely attached to the support with the least amount of damage to the paper.

Watercolor Paper Stretching Process

Here is how to use the support and supplies to stretch watercolor paper, like in the picture at the top of the article:

  1. Lay the paper onto the support.
  2. Attach the edges of the paper to the support by tacking or clipping each corner down. When using masking tape, tape each edge of the paper to the support or painting area.
  3. Using a 2 inch brush, dampen the entire surface of the paper with clean water.
  4. Let the paper dry over night.
  5. After the paper has been stretched, the artist can remove it from the support or leave it attached while the paper is being painted on to ensure that there will be no paper buckling.
  6. Using this process for paper stretching before the painting process will save the artist aggravation and will result in a more professional looking painting.

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