Why Does Watercolor Paper Buckle?

Why Does Watercolor Paper Bucle?

Watercolor painting is a beautiful form of art with its very light look and transparency of the different colors on the paper. But some issues come when working with watercolor paintings.

Most watercolorists know that watercolor papers curl up when working with watercolor. This is a very common issue making painting much more difficult.

Among the reasons is that you didn’t stretch the paper before painting, it was too thin, or you could have benefitted from a watercolor block or a board. To help you explain why does watercolor paper buckle, we have written a very detailed article that goes into all of the reasons you may face this issue with watercolor papers. Moreover, we will also be taking a look at methods you can use to prevent the watercolor paper from buckling.

Why Does Watercolor Paper Buckle?

When watercolor paper becomes wet, the wet paper fibers expand because of the water. As the paper dries, the fibers contract again. Buckling mainly occurs because not every square meter of watercolor paper gets the same amount of water, which is why some areas with extra water expand and contract more than others.

As a result, what happens is that your painted paper will start to curl after the paint starts to dry. You will notice that the buckling is most noticeable after the watercolor paint has become completely dry.

This paper buckling is also commonly seen when borders are made with masking tape for a watercolor painting. Since there are non-painted dry areas due to the tape, those areas will not expand, but the painting image side of the paper will get wet.

So, when the wet media has dried, the painted area will become curled up, compared to the area covered with tape. So, it will not be perfectly flat, which doesn’t create the best look.

How to Prevent Watercolor Paper Buckling

Many artists will understand the pain and agony of seeing a fresh painting become dry slowly and start to look worse. You will know this well, especially if you’re a watercolor artist.

We will discuss four methods that will help you get a watercolor painting with a flat surface. However, the first two methods we will discuss can be used by anyone.

Stretching the Paper by Soaking and Drying to avoid buckling

Before you start painting, you need to do prep work, so your painting has a flat surface. Stretching paper prior to paintingOpens in a new tab. is an effective method to avoid any buckling.

Soaking the paper using water is the first step to stretch watercolor paperOpens in a new tab.. Remember to soak the paper with water and not have it be fully submerged in excess water.

A fine mist of cold distilled water can be used to stretch the paper and soak it with water. A damp sponge is also a great choice to gently rub water to wet the paper for stretching. Then, take a single sheet of dry sketch paper larger than the watercolor paper you will paint on and keep it on a flat surface.

After that, you want to place the watercolor paper on the sketch paper, and make sure you place the side you will paint on on the sheet of sketch paper. You should then take another sheet of sketch paper and place it over the watercolor paper, so it is sandwiched between the sketch papers.

Weights have to be placed on top of the sheets of paper so they can stretch properly; books or even a board can be used as weights for this method. You may also use masking tape just on the edges of the sketch paper to make sure they stay in place.

After every 2 hours have passed, you will have to switch the damp sketch paper with a dry one. You will need to repeat this cycle approximately 5 times, or just till the papers aren’t wrinkled.

For the final step, you will have to put another dry sketch paper and then leave the weights on the paper for about 1 to 3 days, so the watercolor paper becomes fully dry.

After that, you can put watercolor paint directly on the paper without having to worry about your painting forming a rigid surface which is a hard surface to paint on.

sambeawesomeOpens in a new tab.

Get Yourself a Watercolor Block

Using a watercolor blockOpens in a new tab. is an excellent way to prevent watercolor paper curl up. Many use it for watercolor painting because of how inexpensive it is. Additionally, it makes the job very easy since it doesn’t require additional items such as tape and extra paper.

As you can tell from its name, watercolor blocks are blocks of watercolor paper stacked on top of each other. In this way, when you are putting watercolors on the surface of the top paper, all the other sheets also get wet and stretched.

These watercolor sheets are glued on all four sides with something like gummed tape, so the paper stays stable while you are painting.

After you are done painting on the block, let your artwork dry properly, and then with an X-Acto (or Exacto) knife (you know, the hobby knife you changed its blade) carefully cut off the paper from the rest of the sheets on the board. There is a small opening near where the paper is glued, so you can insert your knife there and start cutting.

As we have mentioned, watercolor blocks and stretching by soaking are the two methods that are most accessible to everyone, so you can use these techniques to get a smooth painting.

Using a Watercolor Board can help with the Paper Not Buckling

This recent invention in the art world has proved to be very useful for watercolorists. With this board, you can also use very light paper without worrying about them buckling, and you can also use highly liquid washes with it.

From the looks of this board, you will be able to tell that it is a premium product. It has a wooden panel, much like a wooden drawing board, and a sturdy metal frame. The paper is held tightly in this board by using screws that are attached to the metal frame.

You will always be able to rely on this board, but with reliability and convenience also comes a high price tag. Therefore, this is not a viable option for everyone.

Use Only Heavy Paper for Your Watercolor Paintings

Since thin and light paper can’t hold much water, it tends to curl up much faster. Hence, using heavier paper such as one of 300 lbs or above will solve this issue of curling up when you put a bit too much cold water on your paper.

The best watercolor papers are usually really heavy paper made by cold press. But cold pressed paper and heavier papers are very expensive, which can be an issue for many.

However, if you don’t have to worry about high costs, buy cold pressed watercolor paperOpens in a new tab. greater than 300 lbs. to paint on. A canvas that has very thick watercolor paper is also a splendid choice if you want to work on a very special watercolor art piece.

Final Words

Artists usually spend days, if not weeks, on each of their artwork. So, we want to make sure that your hard work isn’t wasted because of rough texture watercolor paper that has buckled. If you read closely through our explanation of why does watercolor paper buckle up and ways you can avoid it, you should be fine.

Whether by soaking and drying with weights and tape or using watercolor boards, we would highly suggest you apply one of these methods to avoid buckling when you’re working with watercolors.

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Ines, a self-taught artist from Caracas now based in the UK, explores diverse forms of art, from unconventional materials to sustainable and responsible use of resources.

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