5 Reasons to Tape Watercolor Paper


Have you ever wondered why watercolor artists tape their paper?

In this post I’m going to go over five reasons for taping watercolor paper and why you should consider doing it!

Then I’ll also share some tips for using and removing tape on your own paintings.

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watercolor galaxy with taped border

Why tape watercolor paper?

There are a number of reasons for taping watercolor paper. Sometimes it’s just for a nice look, and other times it’s an important part of the painting process.

Different artists have different methods and ways they like to use tape for paintings. There’s not really a right or wrong way, so experiment and find what works best for you.

Here are five reasons you might want to tape your watercolor paper before or during a painting.

1. Crisp edges

Want crisp, clean edges on your watercolor painting? The best way to do that is to tape around the edges of the paper.

Once you’ve put tape on all edges of the paper, you can paint as usual and go up to and over the tape as you do, without worrying about messy edges.

When the painting is dry, peel the tape away and you’re left with a crisp, paint-free border around your artwork that looks so good.

If you’ve ever done this, you know that tape peels are extremely satisfying!

watercolor landscape paintings
Here tape was used to section off portions of paper for small practice paintings.

2. Reduced warping

Taping watercolor paper down to a surface can help with paper buckling. It won’t get rid of the problem, but it can help make it easier to manage while you’re painting.

When water makes the paper expand and warp, having it taped down to surface keeps it from curling up a lot and being too difficult to work with. You can tape watercolor paper down to your desk or onto a board.

This is especially helpful if you’re using a student-grade or lighter weight paper, since thinner watercolor paper buckles more than thick paper does. Using thick watercolor paper (like 300lb) is one way to prevent buckling.

3. Keeping paper in place

Taping watercolor paper down to a surface also ensures that your painting stays in once place and won’t get moved around as you paint.

If you have a desk that tilts, this is a good way to keep the paper in place even when your desk is angled.

If you want to tape paper down and still be able to turn your painting around as you work on it, try taping the paper to a small board.

taped watercolor paper

4. Protecting areas in a painting

Tape is great for protecting any area in a painting where you want a crisp, straight line.

For example, while painting a seascape with a straight horizon, you may want to put a piece of tape along the horizon line to protect the sky area as you work on painting the water.

Some artists use tape to make geometric patterns on their paper, too. Once it’s all painted over and dry and the tape is peeled off, there are clean, white lines throughout the painting.

Whenever you want a section of paper protected from paint, whether the area is painted or unpainted, tape might be the way to do it!

5. Paper stretching

One way to prevent watercolor paper from buckling is to stretch the paper. Many artists stretch their watercolor paper before a painting using gummed paper tape.

Stretching watercolor paper is a process of getting the paper totally wet and taping it down to a surface, making the paper expand and then shrink flat and tight as it dries, held in place by the tape.

Once the paper is dry, it will be completely flat and won’t buckle when lots of water is applied during painting.

If you’re frustrated with watercolor paper buckling, you might want to try this method!

Here’s a short video about how to stretch watercolor paper.

Do you need to tape watercolor paper?

You certainly don’t have to tape your watercolor paper if you don’t want to. (I often don’t.) It’s not necessary in most cases; it’s more a matter of preference.

If you’re using a watercolor block, the paper sheets are glued in place around the edges and tend to warp a little less, so you may not need to use tape at all.

But if you need to hold your paper in place, manage buckling, or want a crisp and clean border around your painting, tape is the answer!

If you’re working wet-on-wet, one alternative method to taping watercolor paper is to wet the back of the paper with a brush or sponge, then flip it over and wet the front. (You can even wait for a bit and wet both sides again.)

The paper will stick to your work surface and stay in place, and it will also stay wet longer, which means you don’t have to hurry as fast when working wet-on-wet!

taped watercolor edge

Additional tips for using tape on watercolor paper

Tape is very useful as a watercolor painting supply, but you’ll want to make sure you use it in the right way and also use the right kind!

Here are some tips for using tape on watercolor paper:

  • The kinds of tape that are generally used for watercolor paper are painters tape/masking tape and washi tape. These are sticky enough but not too sticky. As mentioned before, gummed paper tape is usually used for the stretching process.
  • For a crisp edge around your painting, make sure the tape is adhered well, particularly around the painting edge.
  • To help prevent tearing, you can try tapping the tape on your clothing before putting on the paper to make it less sticky (but if you have pets, that might not be the best idea). I’ve also seen some use a hair dryer to heat the tape so it peels off easily.
  • When peeling up the tape, go slowly! Pull the tape at an angle away from your painting. The last thing you want is to have the tape tear up your artwork!
  • Sometimes watercolor bleeds under the tape. To avoid this, make sure the edges of the tape are sealed down well and try to soak up any puddles of paint around the tape as you’re painting.

While any tape could possibly tear watercolor paper, washi tape and painters tape/masking tape shouldn’t rip the paper as long as you’re careful when removing it.

Some kinds of tape work better than others. Here’s an interesting YouTube video comparing which painting tapes work best for watercolor.

Do you tape your watercolor paper? If you don’t, now you’ve learned some tips and ideas of how you could! Save this post for later if you need to.

Thanks for reading, and happy painting!


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