Stretching Paper

My complete guide to stretching paper the over-top way! The credit for this method goes to Nita Engle who’s book “Making watercolor paint itself” was where I first got most of this method from. It is also a great resource for anyone who uses watercolour. Also feel free to cut back on some of the steps, and adapt this method to your own way of working. The reason I do it this way is that I have wasted so much time by waking up the next day only to find that the glue hasn’t stuck, or the paper has ripped.

Tools and materials

  • Wooden board
  • Gum Tape
  • PVA Glue
  • A brush
  • A bowl
  • Heavy-duty stapler
  • Masking tape
  • A bath/large basin
  • A clean cloth/kitchen paper
  • Watercolour paper (duh!)


1. The board

The best board to use is thick plywood (12mm). The reason being that it resists bowing when it gets wet because of it’s layered structure. Don’t try MDF, it will bend (loosing you tension) and the layers will pull apart. When sizing your board make sure there’s a good 2 inches all the way round for the gum tape to adhere to. Also sand all the edges well, you can get some nastly splinters from plywood.

2. Preperation

Mix some PVA glue in a bowl with water. Not too much water, just enough to make the solution easy to brush on. Next cut all your lengths of gum tape to size and have them to hand.

3. The Soaking!

Fill your bath up with about 3 inches of cold water then put in your paper. Make sure the paper gets completely submerged and is lying flat. It will come to the surface but that’s OK, just as long as you don’t just lie it on top of the water. Now leave the paper to soak for about 20 min depending on the weight of paper, heavier weight’s will need more soaking. I usually leave my 140lb papers for about 20 min. The longer you leave it the more the paper fibre’s will relax and so the more tension created when dry. 300lb papers can have a terrific amount of tension in them. If your paper bobbles when painting you’ll know you haven’t soaked it enough.

4. Fixing your paper

After the time allotted take out your paper and drain off the excess water. Brush the PVA glue mixture onto one of the shorter gum strips, enough to cover the strip well but not soak it. Too much and the paper will dry quicker than the tape, too little and it won’t hold the paper well enough. Lay your tape down on one of the short sides. Half of the gum strip should be on the paper and the other half on the board. Then smooth with your hand so that there aren’t any bubbles in the tape

Next staple through the gum tape and into the board.

Holding the other end, lightly stretch the paper out over the board, pulling against the stapled side. This will help it lie flat on the board. Tape and staple with the rest of the edges.

Use a cloth to smooth down the edges of the tape and wipe off any excess glue that gets on the paper.

Then leave the board in a flat, dry place. Don’t bother trying to dry it with a hair-dryer as the paper and gum tape will dry unequally. The parts that are dry will pull on the bits that aren’t, meaning that the tape or paper could tear. Also the glue might not have time to dry so it won’t hold the paper as it drys.

The next day when it’s all dry put strips of masking tape over the staples otherwise you might scrape your hand on them when painting.

I tend to do a few boards at a time, that way I have a backup if the painting goes wrong.

So there we are, I hope it’s helped. Happy stretching.

Comments 2

  1. Simply a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw great pattern. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” by Albert Einstein.

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