Art History Lab

Mastering the Art of Stretching Watercolor Paper for Professional Results

Stretching Watercolor Paper: The Why’s and How’s

Watercolor painting is a beautiful and expressive art form that requires patience, skills, and the right materials. Among the crucial aspects of watercolor painting is the paper on which the painting is done.

Watercolor paper comes in two types- stretched and unstretched. Stretching the paper mainly aims to prevent the paper from warping, cockling, or buckling when water is applied due to the paper’s nature of being highly absorbent.

When left unstretched, watercolor paper can create unintended patterns or blur the artwork’s details, making it challenging to achieve a desirable result. This article aims to explore the advantages and disadvantages of stretching watercolor paper, why it is important, and the challenges of using unstretched watercolor paper.

Stretching Watercolor Paper

Stretching watercolor paper involves soaking the paper in water and taping it down to a flat surface until it dries and becomes taut, creating a smooth and flat surface to work on. This process is common among watercolorists and is favored by many artists, beginners, and professionals alike.

Advantages and

Disadvantages of Stretching Watercolor paper


1. Prevents warping: Stretched watercolor paper prevents the paper from absorbing too much water, leading to warping and cockling.

2. Flat surface: Stretching watercolor paper results in a flat surface free of any lumps, bumps, or creases, providing a smooth surface to work on.

3. Good color retention- stretched paper preserves the vibrancy and brilliance of colors used in the painting and helps colors to flow smoothly with less puddling.

4. Professional finish- stretched paper gives painting a professional and polished effect that is durable and long-lasting.


1. Time-consuming: The process of stretching watercolor paper is time-consuming, and it can take up to 24 hours for the paper to dry and stretch fully.

2. Cost: Stretching watercolor paper requires additional materials such as tape and boards, which can be extra expenses.

3. Limited work size: Stretching watercolor paper is ideal for small or medium-sized paintings, and larger paintings may require using multiple sheets which may be hard to align and stretch evenly.

4. Overstretching: Stretching watercolor paper too far can cause the paper to be brittle and reduce its lifespan.

Importance of

Stretching Watercolor Paper

Stretching watercolor paper is essential for achieving a good and consistent outcome when painting. Watercolor paper is highly absorbent, and without the right support, it can distort, buckle and ruin the painting, making it challenging to control watercolor painting nuances.

By stretching the paper, it stays flat, retaining its shape, and easing the painting process. The taut surface also allows the watercolor artist to have a greater command over the paint consistency, shapes, and textures.

Challenges of Using Unstretched Watercolor Paper

Unstretched watercolor paper can pose several challenges to a watercolor artist. The paper can warp, buckle, and form puddles when water is added, creating undefined shapes that can obscure the details in a painting.

Additionally, the paper’s textured surface can cause the paint to dry unevenly, leading to an outcome that may not be the desired look for the painter.


In conclusion, stretching watercolor paper has numerous advantages that outweigh the disadvantages. It is crucial to have a firm, flat surface to work on when painting, and stretching watercolor paper achieves this objective impeccably.

If you’re just starting with watercolor painting, it may take more time and effort to learn how to stretch the watercolor paper on your own. But mastering this technique will ensure that your artworks consistently look professional and maintained to the highest standards.

In the end, the choice of whether to use stretched or unstretched watercolor paper is solely up to the artist and their preferences. Watercolor paper is a unique surface for artwork, as it has a variety of characteristics that make it ideal for watercolor paintings.

Whether stretched or unstretched, watercolor paper has specific properties that affect the painting process, final result, and even durability. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of stretched and unstretched watercolor paper, the properties of ideal watercolor paper, and the fragility of watercolor paper.

Characteristics of Stretched Watercolor Paper

Stretched watercolor paper has a distinct texture that is characteristic of high-quality watercolor paper. The paper is taut, flat, and smooth, creating an excellent surface for watercolor painting.

It is also less absorbent, allowing artists to layer colors and use wet techniques, such as lifting and blending. The brilliance and vibrancy of the colors on stretched paper are much more pronounced and have greater transparency, creating a bright and well-defined final result.

Characteristics of Unstretched Watercolor Paper

Unstretched watercolor paper is more absorbent than stretched paper, and thus more prone to warping or buckling. When wet medium such as watercolors are applied, the paper can stretch and expand unpredictably, which can make it challenging to control the texture and color of the artwork.

Painterly variations produced on an unstretched paper can communicate a raw quality with a sense of freedom, movement and evoke a spontaneous approach. However, the texture of the paper can also cause random effects such as blurring the details, reducing sharpness, and creating undesired patterns.

Properties of Ideal Watercolor Paper

The ideal watercolor paper should have specific properties to achieve better performance outcomes in painting designs. The key properties to consider when choosing ideal watercolor paper are thickness, texture, absorbency, finish, and durability.

Firstly, the weight or thickness of the paper must be suitable for the painting size and medium to prevent the paper from wrinkling, waving, or causing damage with the added weight of the brushes and paint. Secondly, texture plays a significant role in watercolor paintings as it influences the finished artwork’s texture.

Watercolor paper comes in three finishes; rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed. A rough texture generally creates more granulation and control in watercoloringthe hot-pressed texture giving smooth painting results while providing less absorbency than cold-pressed paper.

Thirdly, absorbency depends on each artist’s working preference, and thus choose paper according to their technique and project requirements. Fourth, the weight or texture finish contributes to the characteristics of the final product.

And finally, the ideal watercolor paper should also be durable and long-lasting, making sure that it withstands all types of environment that it may be exposed to.

Fragility of Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is fragile and should be handled with care, as it can tear, crease, or stretch if mishandled. Proper handling of watercolor paper can also minimize the likelihood of accidental damage to the artwork.

It is essential to make sure that watercolor paper is stored in dry, cool areas, rolled on cylinders or placed flat, and kept away from direct sunlight or any other environmental factors that might affect its stability. Transporting and handling of watercolor artwork should also be done carefully, and the artwork must be protected with acid-free material to keep them free of any scratches, stains, dust, and sunlight.


Watercolor paper is an essential element in creating vibrant, expressive, and unique watercolor paintings. Whether to choose a stretched or unstretched watercolor paper depends solely on the artist’s preference and the painting’s requirements.

Stretched paper is advantageous for smaller paintings or paintings with more defined details. In contrast, unstretched paper is ideal for creating raw expressions or unpredictability.

The properties of ideal watercolor paper include thickness, texture, absorbency, finish, and durability. Proper handling of watercolor paper will ensure that the artwork can be preserved and be enjoyed for generations.

Watercolor paper is a crucial element that affects the final outcome of any watercolor painting. Stretched and unstretched watercolor paper has unique characteristics that make each choice suitable for specific painting needs.

In this article, we will discuss the effects of applying watercolor to unstretched paper, the effects of stretching watercolor paper on paint flow, and different methods of stretching watercolor paper with gummed tape and board or masking tape and board.

Effects of Applying Watercolor to Unstretched Paper

Applying watercolor directly to unstretched paper results in a surface that is more prone to water absorption and warping. Watercolor pigments tend to pool and mix unexpectedly when applied to the paper’s fibrous, uneven surface, creating unpredictable and organic painterly effects.

Generally, using an untreated paper is excellent for expressive artwork, as it allows artists to be more experimental, adventurous in their painting technique, and create bold, spontaneous, and less detailed artworks. However, the results may be less refined and detailed than those produced through stretched paper.

Effects of

Stretching Watercolor Paper on Paint Flow

The primary effect of stretching watercolor paper on paint flow is an even distribution of the paint without blotches and unintended marks. The paint applied on stretched paper will flow smoother, reducing the chances of pooling and uncontrolled blotches, creating a consistent result, and producing an evenly toned surface.

Additionally, stretching watercolor paper helps painters to reach more refined and detailed results in their paintings. Methods of

Stretching Watercolor Paper with Gummed Tape and Board

Stretching watercolor paper with gummed tape and board is one of the most common methods used by watercolor artists.

The steps involved are straightforward and easy to follow but takes time and patience for drying. To stretch watercolor paper using gummed tape and board, follow these steps:


Lay the watercolor paper on a flat surface and wet it thoroughly

2. Let the water soak into the fibers for a few minutes


Tape the paper to a board with gummed tape, making sure there are no air bubbles

4. Make sure the tape is tight, stretching the paper


Leave the paper to dry for a minimum of 24 hours before removing the tape and board. Methods of

Stretching Watercolor Paper with Masking Tape and Board

Stretching watercolor paper with masking tape and board is another widely used method, particularly by beginners.

This method is useful for individuals who want to start stretching their paper without purchasing gummed tape. The method is quite similar to using gummed tape, but it is less adhesive and a little more manual.

Here are the steps to stretch watercolor paper with masking tape and board:

1. Soak the watercolor paper in water for a few minutes


Place the wet paper down to a smooth surface

3. Let go of the paper’s sides and then lift one side to hold it up.

4. Align the masking tape to one edge of the paper and stick it to the surface


Repeat, applying the masking tape to the opposite edge of the paper

6. Stretch the paper by pulling it gently and evening the wrinkles until it becomes taut.

7. Add tape to the remaining sides of the paper and place the board over the paper’s top to let it dry for 24 hours.


In conclusion, the choice between stretched and unstretched watercolor paper is critical in creating a successful watercolor painting. Understanding the properties and characteristics of paper is essential in producing striking outcomes with less time-wasting.

Unstretched watercolor paper provides a raw, organic variation to the paintings, while stretched paper offers a more professional and refined finish. Stretching watercolor paper helps the paint to flow consistently while avoiding uneven blotches and unwanted textures.

Stretching watercolor paper with gummed tape and board or masking tape and board is easy with a little practice to achieve an evenly toned surface for a satisfying painting experience. Watercolor paper plays a significant role in the outcome of a watercolor painting, and stretching it properly is crucial to achieve the best results.

While methods such as using gummed tape and board or masking tape and board are commonly used, there are alternative methods available. In this article, we will explore alternative methods of stretching watercolor paper, stretching watercolor paper with a watercolor stretching board, common mistakes when stretching watercolor paper, and how to flatten/stretch a finished watercolor painting.

Alternative Methods of

Stretching Watercolor Paper

Although stretching watercolor paper with tape and boards is the most popular method, there are alternative techniques that can achieve similar results. One alternative method is using adhesive spray or glue to adhere the watercolor paper to a rigid support, such as a wooden panel or foam board.

This method provides a firm surface and prevents the paper from warping or buckling during the painting process. Another alternative method is using a watercolor canvas, which is pre-stretched and ready for painting.

Watercolor canvases have a textured surface similar to watercolor paper but are already stretched and mounted on a wooden frame. This eliminates the need for additional stretching.

Stretching Watercolor Paper with a Watercolor Stretching Board

A watercolor stretching board is a specialized tool designed specifically for stretching watercolor paper. It consists of a wooden board with a series of straps or clips that hold the paper securely in place while it dries.

To stretch watercolor paper with a watercolor stretching board, follow these steps:

1. Wet the watercolor paper thoroughly by soaking it in water or spraying it with water until it is evenly damp.

2. Place the wet paper on the stretching board and align it with the edges.

3. Use the straps or clips on the stretching board to secure the paper tightly, keeping it flat and taut.

4. Allow the paper to dry completely on the stretching board, ensuring it is secure and flat.

Common Mistakes When

Stretching Watercolor Paper

While stretching watercolor paper is a simple process, there are common mistakes that artists may make, leading to issues with the final artwork. Some common mistakes include:


Insufficient soaking: Not allowing the paper to soak in water for a sufficient amount of time can result in uneven stretching and warping. 2.

Overstretching: Pulling the paper too much while securing it to the boards or stretching frames can lead to a fragile and brittle paper surface. 3.

Uneven drying: Not allowing the paper to dry completely before removing it from the stretching apparatus can cause it to warp or buckle. 4.

Poor taping: Improper taping can result in air bubbles or loose edges, leading to uneven tension and potential paint pooling. 5.

Overworking the paper: Rubbing or handling the wet paper too much can damage the paper fibers and affect its ability to absorb water and paint. How to Flatten/Stretch a Finished Watercolor Painting

If a watercolor painting has dried and become slightly warped or curled, there are methods to flatten or re-stretch it.

To flatten a finished watercolor painting, place it between two clean, heavyweight books or under a flat, heavy object for several hours or overnight. The weight will gently press the painting flat and help reduce any curling or warping.

If the painting needs to be re-stretched, dampen the back of the painting with a sponge or sprayer until it becomes slightly moist. Then, follow the stretching methods mentioned earlier, such as using tape and boards or a watercolor stretching board, to re-stretch the paper and secure it until dry.


Properly stretching watercolor paper is essential in achieving optimal results in watercolor painting. While methods such as tape and boards or a watercolor stretching board are widely used, there are alternative methods available, such as using adhesive spray or a watercolor canvas.

Avoiding common mistakes when stretching watercolor paper can contribute to a successful painting experience. If a finished painting becomes warped or curved, techniques such as flattening it under weights or re-stretching can restore its flatness.

By understanding these techniques and options, watercolor artists can create artwork on a beautifully stretched surface with exceptional results. In conclusion, properly stretching watercolor paper is crucial for achieving the best results in watercolor painting.

Whether using traditional methods like gummed tape and board or exploring alternative options such as adhesive spray or a watercolor canvas, the goal is to create a flat, taut surface that allows for better paint flow and control. However, it is important to avoid common mistakes and handle the paper with care to prevent damage.

Additionally, knowing how to flatten or re-stretch a finished painting can help maintain its integrity. By understanding and utilizing the techniques discussed, artists can elevate their watercolor paintings and unlock their full creative potential.

Remember, the surface on which we create our art can greatly impact the final outcome, so investing time and effort into stretching watercolor paper is truly worthwhile.

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