Stretching Your Watercolor Paper – Why It Matters


Yep!  I said it!   That’s how important I feel stretching your watercolor paper is.   ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE STUDENT GRADE PAPER – which can’t handle tones of water.    So why is stretching your paper so important – well let’s be frank and honest – painting on warping paper isn’t fun nor easy.  So, the best way to stop this from happening is to stretch your paper.   


Well, there are typically 3 different ways to stretch your watercolor paper… Lets start from the easiest – and build our way to the more complex


watercolor blocks

The first way, and easiest way to stretch one’s paper is to simply buy it already pre-stretched.   You can do this by purchasing watercolor blocks which are pre-stretched bundles of watercolor paper.  These blocks allow you to paint immediately and anywhere – which is really great for the traveling artist.  Plus, once you are done – simply remove each individual paper with a palette knife or something similar to a mail opener through a small opening somewhere along the edge. 


Masking Tape and a Art Tote Board

I call this the lazy way – simply because I use it all the time and usually don’t want to be bothered with the hardest way (using a staple gun).    This is my favorite way to stretch paper – and I use it 80% of the time.   To stretch your board this way – simple placing your watercolor paper – flat against a wooden board and taping all the edges down with masking tape.  Then – wet your paper with a large 2in soft brush and allow it to dry before painting directly onto the board.   This is my favorite method – but isn’t very reliable when working with tons of water.  That is why we must go over the last method…


Staple Gun and Birch Board

For this process you are going to need SOME SUPPLIES…

  • BIRCH WOOD BOARD FROM HOME DEPOT (or some other hardware store)


DISCLAIMER: there are tons of different ways that artist stretch their paper – but this is my preferred method. :)  

  • Step 01: SOAK IT –  The first step you are going to do IS SOAK YOUR PAPER (both sides) with a  small spray bottle and a 2in wash brush.   After this is complete – I’ll give another watery wash to the first side and then lay it flat against the birch wood board. 
  • Step 02: STICK IT After this is complete – you’ll start to notice your paper adhere to the wood like a sticker.  Make sure that the paper is smooth against the board and then move on to the next step.     
  • Step 03: STAPLE IT –  Now with a staple gun – secure your paper every 2 inches along the border – making sure to go through both the paper and digging into the board.
  • Step 04: DRY IT –  Once your paper has been secured, either allow it to dry over night on a flat surface or speed dry it with a heat gun.   Also – keep in mind that as the paper dries- it may appear warped during the drying process.  Don’t worry – this is normal.  As long as you followed the previous steps – as it dries it should lay flat like a drum.  This is because the paper is contracting back to its original shape thanks to those staples. 
  • Step 05: SECURE IT –  The last step – I do is use masking tape to secure the paper down once again.  Most artist use gummed tape and actually place it along the paper before stapling – but I don’t really like gum tape.  I’ve always had a problem with it ruining my paper.  So this is my preferred method. 


You just learned the best skill you’ll ever learn in watercolor!  Happy Painting and Talk to You Soon!

About Author

Hi there! My name is Carrie and I'm a Watercolor Misfit! What's a Watercolor Misfit? Well, anyone who is willing to try new things and not afraid to get their hands covered in paint! So what do you say, are you a Misfit-ian?


  • Pauline Reilly
    November 7, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Hello Lovely,
    That’s brilliant thank you, the staple method was always a mystery to me. I shall now give it a whirl.
    Hope your days good

  • Sabra Penley
    November 10, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Hi, Carrie! I love your instructions. I typically use Canson XL 140lb. watercolor paper and have never stretched it before. My question is does the board need to be wood, or can it be something like plexiglass?

    • Misfit
      November 11, 2018 at 12:40 am

      Personally – I would use wood. Although I’ve never heard of anyone trying other resources before. :)

  • Laurel White
    November 14, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    When it comes to using wood for a board for stretching paper, I was worried about permanent holes that would make the staples loose over time. So I used foam core. I got 4 boards, in the size I like. Then using spray adhesive I covered both sides with matting board. To make it waterproof, I used two coats of Liquitex Matte Medium. Duct taped all the edges. Voila! Custom sized, Self healing, lightweight paper stretching boards.

  • Craig Bunker
    April 2, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Hi Carrie,

    More good advice from a trusted source! Do you have any suggestions to separate paper in block form?
    I use an Exacto, fingernail, and even palette knife but some of the edges still tear. Thank you – Craig

    • Misfit
      April 4, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Craig, I always use a palette knife – but yeah – some brands of blocks do make it difficult to separate the paper. I’ve heard sometimes warming up the sides with a heat gun just to loosing the glue slightly can help – but never tried it. I was always worried it would corrupt the rest of the block – but not sure. I hope that helps :)

  • Mandy
    June 19, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Great and an article!
    Best regards,
    Mead Hessellund


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