How to Stretch Watercolor Paper to Prep It for Painting

So you’ve found the perfect watercolor paper for your next project. Before you prep your palette and grab your brush, you may have to stretch it. Most watercolorists do so before painting, especially when using a thinner variety, as the process expands the fibers of the paper so it doesn’t buckle or warp. After all, it’s much more enjoyable to paint on a flat surface and be able to use as much water as you want.

Stretching Watercolor Paper

Level: Easy

What You Need

  • Watercolor paper
  • Water
  • Container
  • Stretching support
  • Tape or staples
  • Instructions

    1. Soak

    Soak your paper in cool water for 5-10 minutes.

    2. Check the Soak Level

    You want to remove the paper when it’s soft, but not floppy. To check if it’s ready to be removed, try gently bending a corner. If it holds its position, you’ve reached the perfect soaking time. If it falls down, it’s been in the water too long. If it comes back to its original position, it needs more time to soak.

    3. Place on a Flat Stretching Surface

    Place the soaked paper on your stretching support — this can be a stretching board, gator board (a kind of foam board), or a medium-density fibreboard (MDF). Whatever support you use, it needs to be acid-free and solid enough to stay flat when the paper dries and shrinks.

    4. Remove Excess Water and Secure

    Smooth the paper with your hands to remove the excess water. Secure the paper using the support’s system, or with staples or tape.

    5. Dry

    Let your paper dry in a horizontal position so the water is equally distributed. After a few hours, it should be drum tight and ready for paint.

    Looking to get started with watercolors? Check out the class Startup Library: Watercolors below!

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    One Response to “How to Stretch Watercolor Paper to Prep It for Painting”

    1. Kristina Novakova

      Hi, how does the climate or the environment (humidity, temperature etc.) affect the process of stretching watercolour paper?