How to Stretch Water colour Paper

Author: Tom  Date Posted:28 April 2017 

We show you how to stretch and prepare watercolour paper

You will need:

- Gummed Tape

- 300gsm (or heavier) watercolour paper

- A clean dry drawing board, or piece of MDF or Masonite

- A tray to contain water.

- Clean sheets of cartridge paper


Many people have been known to find the process of properly preparing watercolour paper a bit daunting, myself included! It just seems like dunking a lovely expensive sheet of heavy paper under water would ruin it! Once you see this process demonstrated however, it really isn't as tricky as you would think.


This process that we will run through is the most common way to stretch paper. Your selection of board can be any clean dry surface that won't warp or absorb the water. Masonite is a good option, as is MDF - however for best results you should seal MDF first with a clear primer or even watered down PVA glue, this will stop the water from penetrating the board.



First fill a large container (big enough to fit your paper in flat) with cold water and submerge the paper. For best results you should always try to opt for 300gsm Paper or heavier, as lighter weight paper is a bit trickier to work with as it can still tend to buckle once stretched.

Leave 300gsm paper in the water for about 10 minutes. Lighter weight paper only needs 4-5 minutes.

While the paper is soaking you can cut your gummed tape into four pieces to fit each side of the paper, allow one inch of excess tape around all sides so it has enough to adhere to the board successfully.

Once the paper has been soaked carefully remove it from the water and press it between some sheets of clean cartridge paper to soak up the excess water. You don't want the paper to be sopping wet. Remember, it has been soaking for 10 minutes and should be thoroughly soaked through anyway, excess surface moisture can be sopped up.

Now place your paper on your board, wet the gummed tape and apply to all four sides of the sheet. 

Leave the paper and tape to dry for 12 hours or so, in this time as the moisture evaporates the paper should stretch tightly against the board, so that when you apply your watercolour paint, you won't have the paper warping and buckling!



Sometimes the paper might fail to stretch. But don't worry! You can reuse your paper and re-stretch it, simply cut it from the board and try the process again. The main reasons for a failed stretch are the following.




-The paper did not soak for long enough. It may look flat against the board but still cockles/ buckles when painted on.

-You may have decided to use masking tape instead of gummed tape, this will not work unfortunately.

-The gummed tape was not tacky enough and did not stick.

-The board was stood upright to dry and the paper did not dry evenly.

Comments (1)

Stretching watercolour paper on frame

Thank you for the tips and videos. Do you have one on stretching watercolour paper on a frame. I can’t find how to or who in Brisbane can do it

Hi, thank you for your feedback in regards to our videos and tips! To stretch watercolour paper on a frame, you will need an empty canvas frame or stretcher bars that are smaller than the paper. You will then soak and dry the watercolour paper, as described in our YouTube video. Once this has been done, you will lay the watercolour paper flat, place the canvas or stretcher bars in the middle of the paper and wrap the paper around the back edge of the frame. You will need a good quality stapler for the next step, which will be to staple the paper to the frame. The final step is to leave flat to dry. Hope this helps and feel free to contact our team if you have any further questions!

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