Simple Method to Stretch Paper

June 7, 2011

In order to prepare a sheet of paper for watercolor or acrylic painting, the paper needs to be stretched tight. This is done in order to prevent the water from wrinkling the paper as it dries and shrinks. A typical method is described here at the Watercolorpainting.com site. It works fine but I’m not very fond of using gummed tape, since it tends to not stick very well. There are devices like the Bogaboard or Zipp Clamp that are okay a too, but are limited in size. An easy alternative I’ve used is to just tack the wet paper around a canvas stretcher and let it dry.

The stretcher on the left is a pre-cut frame that I bought at a local hobby store, @ 9×12″. The paper I’m using is average weight Arches paper, @ 100#/260gsm. The paper should be at least an inch or more larger than the frame size. I assemble the frame without bothering to glue it and line it up on the paper, cutting off the paper corners to fit the frame. I then soak the paper for about 5 minutes in the sink and brush off the excess water. While the paper is still damp, I fold it up the sides of the frame and tack it down with thumbtacks, pulling it slightly as though stretching a canvas. I don’t need it all that tight since the paper will shrink later. After drying for 30 minutes to an hour, the paper is as tight as a drum.

This also makes a very good drawing surface, especially for soft dry media like charcoal or pastels, since it has a little “give” instead of lying on a firm drawing board, lighter in weight, easy to hold, etc. To set it upright as on an easel I would tape the bottom edge to the frame and then remove that line of tacks. When I’m finished painting or drawing, I remove the tacks and trim off the edges. The stretcher bars are standard white pine with slotted joints that assemble easily and come in various sizes.



  1. […] decided to use the stretched paper I recently demonstated as the surface for this ink wash drawing. The ink is bistre which works well for thin washes like […]

  2. […] my method for stretching paper on a wooden frame instead of taping it to the face of a board. I had made a post on this subject several years ago showing a cheap and easy way that I have been doing this. That works fine, but […]

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