How To Flatten Watercolor Paper After Painting?

Watercolor papers are specially made for artists to work on their watercolor art. Since watercolor uses up a lot of water, these papers are made specially to retain a lot of water. Watercolor papers are meant to be absorbent and thick because they need to retain and absorb a huge amount of water when in use. 

Without using the right kind of watercolor paper, it is simply not possible to create a watercolor painting for an artist. A lot of the techniques of watercolor require using the right watercolor and, of course, the right watercolor paper. 

How to Use Watercolor Paper?

The most watercolor paper doesn’t come fully prepared for use. If you use watercolor on any unprepared watercolor paper without first preparing it, it is highly likely that the paper will ultimately buckle and warp up when drying.

It is extremely frustrating for an artist when that happens; simply because you haven’t prepared it beforehand. 

This is why it is very important that you prepare your watercolor paper before using it. This is not a lengthy process, but it is an important step. If you are in a hurry, preparing watercolor paper might even take a few minutes at best. 

The following steps are how you properly prepare watercolor paper for painting on; 

  1. First of all, it is extremely important that you wear a pair of latex gloves before stating the process. This is both so that you don’t damage the watercolor paper with your fingerprints or the natural oil present in your skin. 
  2. Secondly, fill up a large tray with cool water.  The tray needs to be completely flat and larger than the watercolor paper you want to prepare. If your tray is smaller than the paper, it is still possible to use for the process but a larger tray is preferred. 
  3. Place the watercolor paper in the cool water fully and gradually, completely immersing it in the water. Keep the paper submersed for at least 3 minutes, which is the standard time required for preparing watercolor paper. However, the time required can differ based on the brand you are using. It is important to check the package of the watercolor paper to note the time needed to keep the paper submerged in water. 
  4. Then, carefully lift the watercolor paper from the water, starting from one edge. If the edge bends perfectly, the paper is ready to be used. If the paper is still dry, the edge will flatten out and if the paper has been immersed for too long, the edges will droop. 
  5. Place the wet paper on a sturdy and waterproof board or tray. This tray also needs to be flat, larger or equal to the paper you are preparing, and dry. You can use plywood, plexiglass, polystyrene boards or even Lexan boards for this. 
  6. Use a clean and dry sponge to remove the excess water from the paper. Alternatively, you can use a piece of dry cloth instead of the sponge to remove the excess water. 
  7. Use a roll of gummed tape to secure the watercolor paper. For this, you need to use a wet paintbrush to wet one side of the gummed tape to activate the adhesive. 
  8. Use the wet gummed tape to secure the four sides of the watercolor paper to a piece of wooden frame or board. This will cover around ½” of the edges on each side, leaving plenty of space for painting in the middle. 
  9.  When this is done, the paper needs to dry overnight. Usually, watercolor paper starts drying after 2-3 hours, but will be completely dry after about 8 to 10 hours. 
  10. When the paper is completely dry, cut away the area covered by the gummed masking tape to free the watercolor paper. If you don’t want to cut off the gummed tape, you can simply wet the tape a little and remove it easily from the watercolor paper. 

If you are in a hurry to paint and can’t wait for the paper to dry overnight, you can simply use a paintbrush dipped in cold water to brush over the paper.

This process needs to be repeated on both sides of the paper until it becomes flat on its own. This will wet the watercolor paper enough to paint on it, without needing an entire night to dry.

What is Meant by Flattening Watercolor Paper After Painting? 

Sometimes, when you haven’t prepared your watercolor paper properly or when you haven’t had enough time to prepare it before painting, the paper might start to warp around the edges.

This happens when the watercolor paper hasn’t been prepared accordingly before painting or when too much water has been used on a piece of watercolor paper. 

Without preparing perfectly, watercolor paper might start to buckle around the edges or even warp around the edges. This can become a problem if you want to staple your work to a board instead of framing it under the weight of glass. 

This is where the process of “flattening your watercolor paper” comes into use, when you have already finished your painting without preparing it first.

How to Flatten Watercolor Paper After Painting?

When you have completed your painting without preparing your watercolor paper, the edges will start to warp and fold over time, especially after the watercolor has dried up completely.

There is, however, a trick to flatten your finished watercolor painting so that it stays flat all the time. 

For this trick, you’ll need: 

  • Two pieces of cardboard, preferably the same size as the watercolor paper you are using, or larger; 
  • A water bottle that can spray water in a fine mist; 
  • A flat surface, cardboard or tray; 
  • Something heavy, i.e. several large books. 

These are the steps to flatten your watercolor artwork after finishing it: 

  • On a flat surface, place one of the cardboard pieces. 
  • Place the artwork face down on the piece of cardboard you’ve just laid down on the surface. 
  • Use your spray bottle to gently spray a fine mist of water on the back of the artwork, preferably from a distance of 20 cm. 
  • When the back of the artwork is slightly damp from the water, place the other piece of cardboard on top of the cardboard, covering the whole thing. 
  • Place something heavy, i.e. half a dozen thick books on top of the cardboards, playing enough weight on the artwork. 
  • Keep the artwork hidden under the weight for at least 24 hours before removing it again. 
  • When you remove the weight and the cardboard pieces after 24 hours, the artwork will become permanently flattened. 

This is a technique that can definitely help you to flatten your watercolor artwork if you’ve forgotten to prepare your watercolor paper beforehand, or if you’ve been in too much of a hurry to start painting.

Without preparing properly, watercolor artwork will start to warp around the edges – a process that can easily be modified by flattening the watercolor paper. 

The process of flattening watercolor paper is a simple one, also quite lengthy. In fact, both preparing the watercolor paper beforehand and flattening it afterward take similar steps, but flattening takes more time to complete. 

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