How to stretch watercolor paper

watercolor techniques | how to stretch watercolor paper
Buckling paper is a frustrating and common problem when painting with watercolor which is why I always recommend new students start with a watercolor block. However, there are going to be times when you want to paint much larger or in a different non-standard size. In those cases, you do not have to put up with buckling if you stretch the paper. (I am told “buckling” is called “cockling” by my European friends) 

Here’s how…
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Stretching Watercolor Paper

If you have a relatively small piece of paper, say 9×12″, then you can just use cheap clear packing tape to hold the watercolor paper down to a hard surface or board. I like to just tape the dry paper right down to my work table. The packing tape will peel cleanly off of the watercolor paper without ripping. The work table will get gummed up by the tape, so don’t do this if it is a table you care about…like your dining room! Instead, you can just tape it down to a piece of Masonite or drawing board.

If you are working with a large sheet of paper, for example a full size sheet of paper, then you will have to use this process for stretching the paper.

Don’t get intimidated. Just follow these easy steps and you can download my free checklist to help you out.

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watercolor techniques | how to stretch watercolor paper
First, you will need to immerse your paper in water. I do this in my bathtub. I am betting you will need to use the tub as well! Use cold water for this as warm water may alter the surface of the paper. This will also remove sizing from the paper which is not a bad thing. Place the soaking paper on a piece of gator board. you can purchase gator board from a framing shop, an art supply store or some hardware stores. You can also get it online, but shipping may be pricey so local options are your best bet.

Next, you need to wait until the paper is damp but no longer has a shine. I will help that along by wiping the paper with a cotton rag. (an old t-shirt) Don’t blow dry or use a heat gun to dry the paper because it will not dry evenly and that will defeat the whole purpose

After the paper has “settled” – it is still damp but no visible shine to it.. you will use a heavy staple gun and staple the paper all along the edge. The reason you want to wait a bit is because the paper will expand when it is wet and it shrinks when it dries. If you don’t wait then the shrinking force will be too much for your staples and they will either pull out of the board or the paper will rip.

When your paper has dried, the surface will be tight like a drum. You can now paint with as much water as you please and any buckling will correct itself. As you paint, don’t forget that the staples will leave holes, but that is okay because that part of your painting will be covered up with your choice of mat and framing!


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Art Journaling Inspirations →! I’m Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.
My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I’m not working on art in my studio, you’ll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at or join the fun at

Don’t forget to download your free checklist, how to stretch watercolor paper so you can have perfectly stretched and flat paper every time!

Now I want to hear from you! What watercolor techniques would you like to learn?

3 thoughts on “How to stretch watercolor paper”

  1. 1st a share, I like to use Painter’s Tape to fix my wc paper to my workspace (or a board) and it leaves no gummy residue!

    2nd, How can I free my head from painting details and just paint Loose!


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I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.

I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.

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