How to Stretch Watercolor Paper

Apr 3, 2024 | Misc | 0 comments

And… Pros and Cons

I usually stretch my 140 lb watercolor paper.

Pros: Stretching creates a wonderful firm flat surface to paint on, instead of ripples and buckles in the paper. I use 140 lb Arches Cold Pressed paper, but any watercolor paper can be soaked and stretched. Once learned, it’s a simple process that takes only 10 or so minutes to complete and then some drying time. If you plan ahead, you can have a couple of stretched papers done before you need to start a painting.

Cons: There is a learning curve. It does take some up-front time before you begin your drawing and painting. Some watercolorists just prefer to use un-stretched paper


How to Stretch your Watercolor Paper (with photos below)

Materials for stretching:

  • Use 3/8” plywood boards.  Sand and seal board before using. 

Or:  Use thick (3/4”) gator board.  Gator Board is light-weight, can be stapled into and wet paper can be taped on.

  • Clean tub of water
  • 140 lb watercolor paper (I recommend Arches).  
  • Paper towels
  • Squirt bottle of water
  • Kraft tape (a brown tape -3 inches wide – that comes on rolls)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Staple gun (for extra hold if needed)


  1. Tear or cut paper to size
  2. Cut tape to fit four sides of board
  3. Measure and pencil in a one-inch boarder on all four edges of your w/c paper
  4. Soak paper for 9 – 10 minutes (set timer)
  5. Lift paper out of water and let extra water drip from paper.  Lay wet watercolor paper on board.  I like to put a layer of paper towel underneath the watercolor paper.  It protects the back of the w/c paper.
  6. Spray Kraft Tape evenly with water. Hold on one end until tape straightens out.
  7. Lay tape down.   Use the one-inch penciled boarder to keep your tape straight and square. 
  8. For large paper you may also staple edges of paper to board to add extra strength.
  9. Let paper completely dry till it is as tight as a drum.  (I usually let my paper dry overnight.)
  10. Paper is now ready for painting. 
  11. Important!  Do not remove tape from the board until you are completely finished with the painting.

Paper Size                                          Board Size

                                                                                (Includes 2 1/2” border on all sides)

Full Sheet – 22” x 30”                                    27” x 35”

Half Sheet – 15” x 22”                                    20” x 27”

Quarter Sheet – 11” x 15”                              16” x 20”

Alternative method:

Stretcher Bar Stretching of Watercolor Paper

1) Buy 4 stretcher bars for stretching canvas… any sizes. (2 long, 2 short, or all the same length)

2) You will need to plan for a 1 – 1 ½” border.

3) Soak paper for 10 minutes

4) Staple (with staple gun)

The middle of each side

Then the corners (folding corners)

Then filling in about every 1 – 2 inches, or so

5) Let dry till paper is tight as a drum. 

6) This method will dry faster than the board stretching. 

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