Is Watercolor Paper Recyclable?

Painting with watercolor is a lot of fun. You can explore and create different scenes and use colors to let your imagination come to life. However, to work with this medium, using a special type of paper known as watercolor paper to get the work done and recycling this paper may be difficult. 

Watercolor paperOpens in a new tab. is not recyclable if you have already painted on the paper. Once you add any paint to the page or cardboard, the water will soak into the fibers, damaging the fibers’ not being recycled. Paper with no paint on it can be recycled or sold and donated to another artist. 

In this article, we will take a look at some of the reasons why a watercolor paper with paint can’t be recycled, why the materials in a watercolor paper are different from standard paper, and whether we can find a watercolor paper that uses recycled materials to help limit our carbon footprint on the world. Is Watercolor Paper Recyclable?

Can I Recycle My Watercolor Paper?

Most types of watercolor paper can’t be recycled, especially if you have used them and added some watercolor paints to the canvas. 

When it comes to using arts and crafts, we already know that anything with acrylic paint should not be recycled because the paint already ruins the paper and makes it unfit to be reused again. 

In addition to the acrylic paintsOpens in a new tab., though, the water inside tempera and watercolors will also cause damage to the paper and make it unfit to be recycled. The water will get into the watercolor paper fibers and ruin them, making everything damaged before you try to put it into the recycle bin. 

If you add other items onto the painting, like stickers or glitter or even a bit of acrylic paint, this will further reduce how well the watercolor painting paper will recycle when you send it in. 

Since watercolor paper is different from some standard paper because of the cotton and fibers found inside, it is often not recommended to recycle it. If you have painted on the paper, you will need to dispose of it another way. 

If the paper has not been used, the fibers and materials inside should be fine, and it is possible to donate. You will need to check with your local recycling center to make sure before adding the paper in. You can also consider donating or selling to an art student looking to get started instead of throwing it out. 

Can You Recycle Paper that Has been Drawn On?

While it is unsafe to recycle the watercolor paper if you use any paint on it since the paint will mess with the fibers on the paper, it is possible to recycle the paper. You will need to check with your local recycling center to see their exact rules on this type of recycling. But with colors and other items that are not paints, the fibers will not get ruined, so the paper is still intact for the most part. 

Since the watercolor paper is made out of fibers, usually cotton fibers, you may still need to throw it away or follow special instructions on recycling the paper. It will depend on your area. 

How Is Watercolor Paper Different From Regular Paper?

When you visit an art supply store, you may notice many different types of paper you can choose to work with. Some are thicker, while others are thinner. Some are really large, and others are made out of a canvas-like material. But what makes watercolor paper stand out from all the rest?

The Weight and Thickness

You will notice the most obvious difference when you hold a watercolor paper up next to traditional paper in the thickness and weight. Moderate quality watercolor paper will be weighed in at 140 pounds. This means that when you hold a stack of 500 full sheets, the total weight should be 140 pounds. 

There are different weights for watercolor paper, but all of them come in heavier than traditional paper. For example, you can get 500 sheets of printer paper that weigh only a few pounds, while watercolor paper is much thicker. This helps you to add the watercolor paints without having the water leak through and ruin the paper. 

The Material

The material used to make your watercolor paper will be different as well. Most quality watercolor paper types will have cotton mixed into the fibers. This helps it to absorb the watercolor paints better without ruining the paper. 

On the other hand, the standard paper will have recycled wood shavings. Some higher-quality standard paper may have a small amount of cotton mixed in as well, but this is not common, and the amount of cotton found is much smaller than what is found in watercolor paper. 

This material helps the watercolor paper stay strong and work for all of your painting needs. The standard paper would not do well with good watercolor paints and may buckle or curl on you. The materials used in watercolors, specifically the extra cotton inside the fibers, helps them to absorb the water in your paints to make the perfect masterpiece. 

The Texture

You will also notice the texture of the watercolor paper is different from standard paper. Most standard paper types are flat and smooth. This makes certain types of artwork easier to do but doesn’t allow much absorbency for your watercolors. 

Watercolor paper will have some texture in it. In fact, the more texture found in the paper, the more it can absorb your paints without ruining the paper. Most artists choose a medium-rough type of paper because this helps the paints to absorb well without making the paper impossible to work with. 

The texture, weight, and material of your watercolor paper will be the main issue when it is time to recycle. On their own, they are fine. If you have some pieces left over that you don’t plan to use and don’t have paint on them, you can recycle them. 

However, once the paint gets onto the paper, the water will seep in and basically damage the materials inside. This isn’t going to harm your painting at all. But it will make it impossible to recycle the paper when done. 

Can I Purchase Watercolor Paper Out of Recycled Materials?

It is possible to make your watercolor paper out of recycled materials. You may not be able to recycle all of the paper once the watercolor paint is on it, but it is possible to purchase paper with some recycled materials inside. This helps you to paint still while thinking about the environment. 

First, we must remember that this kind of paper will be made out of many different materials to keep it strong and help you put watercolor paints on it without ruining the material. While the standard paper is made out of recycled paper and wood pulp, watercolor paper is made from cotton rags and linters. 

These fibers can be made out of old fabric, making the paper designed out of recycled materials. Linen and cotton can be ten times stronger than some of the wood fibers you find inside a standard paper, and they are naturally free of acid, making them a good eco-friendly choice to enjoy. 

The fibers can be made up of pretty much anything that has cotton in it. If the manufacturer chooses to add in recycled materials, then this can still make some strong watercolor paper that you will love. It is even possible for some of the fibers of your paper to come from scraps of new fabric that were left over from the manufacturing of other clothes. 

You can also recycle some of the linters. These are easy to find in recycled form, but they are not as strong as some of the cotton fabric discussed above. They are also shorter fibers attached to the seed, even after you complete the initial processing. Because of these factors, it is best to combine the linters with at least a little cotton rag to make the strong watercolor paper that is neededOpens in a new tab.

Can I Use Standard Paper for Watercolor Painting?

It is tempting to pull out standard paper to handle all your watercolor masterpieces. This paper is inexpensive, easy to find, and can be recycled when you are using it. 

If you want to use watercolor paints, though, this is not recommended. The standard paper will let the paints bleed through, ruining the effect you are trying to get in your painting. 

There also aren’t any fibers to absorb and hold onto the water in the paints. This will cause the standard paper to buckle and curl. 

Watercolor paper is designed with cotton fibers to prevent this from happening. It can handle a lot more water than standard paper, and this is because of the cotton fibers inside. While it may cost more and it is hard to recycle after use, it is a much better choice if you want to use these paints.

What Should I Do With My Old Watercolor Paper?

This will depend on what you have done with the paper and your future endeavors. There are a few things that you can do with them, but it will vary depending on whether you painted on the sheets or not. 

If the sheets are blank, then you may want to consider giving the pages to someone else. While you may not need the paper any longer, that doesn’t mean you should throw it all away. Watercolor paper can get expensive and hard to come by, and many students and others interested in painting may be willing to purchase Opens in a new from you. It is better to let someone have the paper than to throw it out. 

If you have already painted on the paper, there are still a few things you can do. First, consider which paintings you want to keep and which ones you no longer need. Keeping a bit of your work from the past is always a good idea. This helps you to compare your present work with what you have done in the past and see how much improvement you have made. 

For the items you plan to keep, consider getting some containers or boxes to help hold onto the extra paper. This keeps it somewhere easy for you to find and prevents anything from getting broken along the line. You can always get into the box and compare your work when necessary. 

When you look at the piece of art and decide you do not want to keep it, and you have no want to give it to someone else, you will need to throw it out. It is hard to throw out watercolor paintings because the paper is so nice, and you did a lot of work. 

Since the water from the paints does ruin the fibers in the paper, it is not a good idea to try and recycle them, though, and throwing the art out may be the only choice if you don’t want to keep it. 

Can I Make My Own Watercolor Paper?

If you are interested in doing something good for the earth, and you struggle to find watercolor paper made out of recycled material, then you can make some of your own as well. This process takes a bit of time but can ensure you get the exact type of paper you want and can be fun. 

What Supplies Do I Need?

  • Rolling pin
  • Clean rags (you can use recycled ones if you would like)
  • Dryer lint
  • Tub
  • Blender
  • A big pan to fit the paper on
  • Scraps of construction paper
  • Wooden frame and a window screen
  • Staple gun

How to Make the Paper

Get Your Scraps of Paper

To start this, you can take a window screen that is about 12 by 14 inches and staple it to a wooden frame that is a bit smaller. Your goal here is to get the edges to attach firmly to the frame to stay put. 

From there, we can rip up the scraps of paper so they are in squares. You do not need to make this perfect, but have them turn into pieces of one inch. Place it into a pan and fill it up with some water. These need to soak until they are pulpy and soft, so don’t hurry the process. 

Add Paper to a Blender

It will probably take until the next day for this to be done. You can bring out the blender and scoop out some of the paper mixtures. A cup is enough, and fill the rest with some water. Blend the water and the paper for a bit before putting it into the tub. Do these steps repeatedly until you get five inches or more of the mixture inside the tub. 

Mix in some of the dryer lint, not too much to ruin this, but enough to add some thickness. Take the frame that you prepared before and add it under your mixture of paper. Shift it back and forth until you get a bit to coat the screen evenly. The goal is to get half an inch here. 

Once you have an even surface on the screen, you can take it out of the water. It would be best to use some caution, so you don’t end up tilting the frame. Hold the frame above the water to let it drain a bit. Place a clean rag over it once the water is gone and press down just a bit to remove the water. 

Let the Paper Dry

You now need to prepare the work surface you want to use. It is best to lay down a few sheets of newspaper to prevent leaking, but a towel or something else to absorb a bit of water, or prevent a mess, will work. Slowly flip your screen over and have it on the newspaper. Try to lift the frame slowly, so you don’t damage your paper. 

Now it is time for you to wait. Let this sit here for a bit, and then use a rolling pin to help squish out as much water as possible. You can repeat the steps above as often as necessary to make more papers and then roll over the stack together. 

Once you have most of the water going through the methods above, you can peel the rags off the paper and leave it alone on a clean work surface. It may take a few days to dry completely before you can use it. 

You can make the paper textured too. You can leave the paper on a porous tile, and when it is done, you can take a look and see some texture there. 

Artrageous with NateOpens in a new tab.

Paper Options You Can Purchase

While some may jump at the idea of creating their own paper, others may not have the time and patience to do this. Some of the best watercolor paper options you can choose to make your own works of art include:

  • ARTEZA Watercolor PaperOpens in a new tab.: This is a great option that comes with two packs, with 32 pages each, so you get plenty of practice.

Last update on 2024-04-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

GenCrafts Watercolor Paint Palette 48 Premium Colors with Paper Pad - 2 Refillable Brush Pens - 15 Sheets of Water Color Paper Opens in a new tab.
  • 48 VIBRANT COLORS: Our PREMIUM watercolor paint is carefully crafted with long lasting rich pigments...
  • REAL BRUSH TIP: Water pens have flexible nylon paint brush tips allow for broad and fine strokes on...
  • AMAZING VALUE: Comes with a Bonus Paper Pad (15 Sheets) and 2 Refillable Water Blending Brush Pens

Last update on 2024-04-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Bellofy 2X Watercolor Paper Pad 100 Sheets | Watercolor Paper 9x12 In | Watercolor Paper Kids, Artists & Beginners Love | Watercolor Paper For Watercoloring Techniques | A Gift - Watercolor Sketchbook
  • Unsurpassed Water Color Paper Quality - Enjoy more of your artistic experience with Bellofy Water...
  • Watercolor Pad In A Set - Watercolor notebook comes in a set of 2, each with 50 sheets. Paper weighs...
  • Watercolor Journal Outmost Durability - From a trusted brand that respects your wishes & opinion....

Last update on 2024-04-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

  • Canson XL Series Watercolor PadOpens in a new tab.: This is a simple pad that has all the options you need to get started with watercolor painting, with several sizes to choose from. 
Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad, Heavyweight White Paper, Foldover Binding, 30 Sheets, 9x12 inch Opens in a new tab.
  • Cold press textured paper.
  • Recommended for use with watercolor, acrylic, pen & ink, marker, colored pencil, pencil, charcoal,...
  • Durable surface withstands repeated washes.

Last update on 2024-04-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Words

Painting on watercolor paper is a lot of fun. The paints can help make a masterpiece, and with several types of paper to choose from, you can make something unique each time. 

However, as discussed in this article, once you paint on the paper, it is impossible to recycle it because the fibers are soaked and ruined. The good news is the painting is still fine, and you can hang up and enjoy your creation for a long time to come. 


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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