Can You Use Watercolor Paper for Printmaking?

Can You Use Watercolor Paper for Printmaking

Part of the fun of printmaking is trying out different materials to see the result. If you’ve found some watercolor paper lying around, you are probably wondering if you can use it for printmaking or not.

You can successfully use watercolor paper for printmaking if you prepare the paper by dampening it beforehand. You will achieve the best results if you also use a press and water-based inks.

In this article, I will explain different types of paperwork for their intended medium and how to prepare and use your watercolor paper for successful printmaking. 

What Is Printmaking Paper?

Printmaking paper needs to be particularly sturdy to endure the process. It must be strong enough to bear up to the soaking, stretching, and pressing involved in printmaking. With printmaking paper, you won’t get warping like you would with thinner, less sturdy paper.

One defining characteristic of printmaking paper is its “sizing.” Sizing refers to the process of adding gelatine to paper, which determines its absorbency. Unsized paper is extremely absorbent. However, the paper becomes more impermeable when the “sizing agent” is added. 

Printmaking paper has less size than watercolor paper, so it’s more absorbent. This absorbency means the paper will readily accept the ink when applied and ensure a smooth, even finish.

Depending on the paper being created, sizing agents are either impregnated into the paper or applied as a surface coating.

What Is Watercolor Paper?

Watercolor paper is designed to hold up against watercolor paints. Because this painting involves a lot of water, the paper must be very strong and easily hold the medium on the surface. For this reason, the watercolor paper contains a lot of sizing and is not very absorbent. 

There are two types of watercolor paper available, the hot press and cold press watercolor paper. 

Hot Press Watercolor Paper

Hot press watercolor paper offers a smoother surface than cold press watercolor paper because of the way it is manufactured. The surface has little tooth and has a very fine-grained surface, making it less absorbent than traditional watercolor paper. 

As part of the fabrication, the paper is pressed between smooth hot rollers, which flattens the grit in the paper to achieve a smooth surface. This type of paper is good for large smooth washes of paint and precise brushstrokes.

Cold Press Watercolor Paper

Cold press paper also gets pressed between rollers, but these are not heated and use less pressure, allowing the paper to keep most of its texture and tooth.

This type of paper is more absorbent and easier to use than hot-press watercolor paper, making it the more popular option among artists. Artists can apply more washes of paint to cold-press watercolor paper than to hot-press watercolor paper.  

Why Use Watercolor Paper for Printmaking?

Printmaking paper is used for its intended purpose because it absorbs the ink well and results in a smooth, even finish. So, why would anyone want to use watercolor paper? 

The answer to this lies in using cold-press watercolor paper. The texture of the paper makes it very interesting, and when printed on, you add an extra dimension to the finished piece. The overall aesthetic is unique and something quite special.

Why Printing on Watercolor Paper Can Be Difficult

While those peaks and valleys make for a stunning finished result, they also present some issues. For starters, the uneven surface means the paint doesn’t meet the surface simultaneously. This can give you a messy, unfinished-looking result.

Secondly, the lack of absorbency of watercolor paper means the ink doesn’t penetrate as well. This can cause the ink to rub or wipe off the paper ruining the piece.

How To Successfully Use Watercolor Paper for Printmaking

Don’t let the above problems put you off printmaking on watercolor paper. There are ways and means to do it successfully. 

Choose Less Textured Paper

While you don’t want to lose that beautiful texture altogether, you do need to find a compromise. You want the paint to sit evenly on the surface, which will be tough on the most textured varieties.

Choose a watercolor paper with a medium to low texture, like the hot press watercolor paper. You can observe this when comparing the different papers in the store. On the other hand, maybe you want that uneven surface? In that case, go for the textured paper.

Dampen Your Paper Beforehand

Wetting the watercolor paper will increase the absorbency and allow the printing ink to penetrate better. However, you don’t want to print on soaking wet paper. 

Take some time to prepare in advance by dampening your paper and then allow it to dry slightly between two absorbent sheets of material, such as clean newspaper. Make sure you’re drying it flat. To help, you can add some pressure on top, like a couple of heavy books. 

The paper is ready when the excess moisture has gone, but the paper is still slightly damp.

Use Water-Based Inks

Since watercolor paper is explicitly designed for water-based mediums, you will have a much easier time getting water-based inks to settle into the paper. Oil-based inks will have a tough time soaking into the paper, and you’ll struggle to get a uniform finish.

Use a Press

To get an even finish on the watercolor paper, you must apply a decent amount of pressure when printing. I recommend using a press if you have one handy. If not, you can pick one up online for less than $100. One such press is the VEVOR Manual Paper Press Machine (available on Amazon.com). 

VEVOR Manual Paper Press Machine 12X8.6 inch for A4 Sized Papers Flatting Machine 10cm Thickness Steel Frame Manual Flat Paper Press Machine Papermaking Book Press
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VEVOR Manual Paper Press Machine 12X8.6 inch for A4 Sized Papers Flatting Machine 10cm Thickness Steel Frame Manual Flat Paper Press Machine Papermaking Book Press
  • Durable Material: This commercial bookbinding press is constructed with thickened steel, featuring a...
  • Effective Working: Our powerful paper flattener is commonly suitable for A4 sized paper. It’s...
  • Steady Structure: Non-slip foot pads reduce damage on the tabletop and increase friction to make the...

Last update on 2022-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you don’t have a press, you can always apply the pressure with a few heavy books and other objects. Why not try out different pressure levels to see what the finished result is? You could get some exciting results.

Final Words

Using watercolor paper for printmaking is a great way to experiment and incorporate that gorgeous textured finish into your designs. 

See what watercolor paper you already have around the house and start there. Try them out and determine which types of paper and effects you like best and use up your excess paper supplies!

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Laura Boswell
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