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There are hundreds of types of tapes, but which is the best tape for watercolor paper? You need to make sure you pick correctly or like I did when started out, you could ruin your painting with the tape ripping into it.
In general the best tape or watercolor paper that I use is regular masking tape. Masking tape is a light adhesive, easily tearable, paper tape. It can be easily applied and removed. More importantly, it will not be affected by water so will not peel off during painting.
But there is a bit more to this topic, and also a few options to also consider before deciding which tape is the best for you, and also if you even need to use tape at all.
Why You Should Use Tape
Have you ever tried to paint on watercolor paper, or any type of paper and watched in horror as the paper buckles and warps after applying your watercolors?
This is because the paper will absorb the water and will expand as water is applied.
Watercolor paper is designed to absorb water and watercolor paint, but even most watercolor paper will curl and buckle with enough water.
Why Does Watercolor Paper Curl?
Watercolor paper will curl or buckle because the fibers will expand as they absorb more water.
Then as the paper dries those expanded fibers will then contract. But the paper will not contract to its original state. Especially after you have applied differing amounts of water and paint to different areas of the watercolor paper surface.
Because the fibers do not return to their original state; this changes the surface of the paper, but it will now be warped with undulating valleys and hills which is the buckling effect.
How to Stop Paper From Curling When Painting
The best way to avoid or limit this curling or buckling effect is to stretch the paper.
This is a lengthy process that involves wetting the paper so that it expands, then taping it down to keep it at that size and let it dry overnight.
As it dries the paper becomes taut like a drum. Now that it has done its stretching prior to painting, when you now apply water and paint any warping will be minimal.
I’ll go over the process in a separate article, however this is not a method I personally choose.
Instead I make sure to get professional grade watercolor paper. I make sure the paper is 100% cotton, a heavy weight of minimum 300 gsm and processed with quality sizing.
Sizing in this instance is not the actual measurements of the watercolor paper, it is a treatment applied to the watercolor paper in the process of making it. Sizing helps paper absorb water more evenly, so you don’t get that blotchy effect.
So I choose masking tape, but which tape is right? I’ve already admitted I used masking tape, but is it right for you?
Which Tape Should You Use for Watercolor Painting?
First off, it should go without saying, do not use scotch tape (or selloptape, if you’re from the UK). The tape will have too much adhesive and when you try to peel it off it will peel off a bit of the paper surface.
The three tapes you should consider are masking tape, washi tape and gummed tape.
The latter is used for a more ‘stretched’ out process to stretch your watercolor paper. The former two I will discuss here.
Masking Tape with Watercolors
I use masking tape for 99% of my watercolor paintings and I choose it for some different reasons which I’ll outline here.
First is it is super cheap, you can get it everywhere too in big multipacks and at different sizes, I use three different sizes. The smaller I use for my outdoor travel kit. The medium size one I use for A4 and sometimes A3, but mainly for A3 I will use the larger masking tape.
One great use of masking tape is to frame the painting in a white border. Creating a white border with the masking tape is an age old tool used by photographers to frame and compose a photo. The same applies to painting. Also, peeling it off is a bit of guilty pleasure.
Of course the main reason is to hold it down to the canvas and minimise buckling. Masking tape is strong enough for heavy 100% cotton paper to help minimise buckling.
So as you can see, the masking tape in the watercolor painting above held up with the watercolor paints being applied around and over it, and there is only a little bleed.
I’m using Cass Art A2 paper cut into smaller pieces. It’s 300 gsm cotton paper. So in conjunction with masking tape I am more than happy with how it performs.
When to Use Masking Tape
The quality and weight of the paper is highly dependent on how effective the masking tape will be.
I try to buy quality watercolor paper, as heavy as I can. This is usually 200-300 gsm. The weight and thickness does most of the work with absorbing the water.
The size of the watercolor will also be a factor. In my experience, the smaller the paper the less the need for masking tape.
A5 watercolor sketchbooks or Moleskine’s 13cm watercolor sketchbook, are small enough to not need any masking tape to keep them from buckling.
I still use masking tape though to retain a white frame around the finished painting.
Washi Tape for Watercolors
This is a popular type of tape I’ve seen getting more popular with watercolor artists.
Known more as a decorative tape, Washi tape hails from Japan, where Wa means Japanese and Shi means paper.
Washi tape is actually made from traditional japanese paper. Its ingredients are renewable and it is biodegradable, so it’s recyclable.
Three great features of it are that it is tearable (no need for scissors), heat proof and most importantly, waterproof.
It’s most popular purpose is as a decorative tape first then as an adhesive tape. Which is why it is perfect for watercolor tape. It serves the purpose of taping the paper down and holding it while you paint and then peeling away easily when you’re finished.
Ok let’s try it out, and see how it compares to my tape of choice, masking tape.
So again to keep my testing fair, I’ll use the same Cass Art paper and same pigments, Schmincke Horadam.
Again, not a surprise, the washi tape is decent.
Gummed tape is a specialized type of paper tape that has a permanent adhesive. It needs to be wet to be activated.
Gummed tape the best type of tape to use when you are stretching out big canvases. Masking tape would not be suitable for this technique. The process requires its own article though!
The process though is not particularly suitable for traveling outdoors with big sheets, as it requires a bit of time to do. Unless you prepare beforehand that is, though I prepare smaller sheets which only need masking tape.
Is Scotch Tape Good for Watercolor Painting?
This is another popular tape for crafts and packaging. But for watercolors I’d give this a miss. It’s just too much adhesive, and will take off a layer of paper if you don’t pull it off lightly.
For the purposes of this article I want to conduct an extensive test on all types of tapes, and so I’ve gone ahead and for demonstration purposes used some scotch tape for painting.
As you can see, I have tried to be as delicate as I can when I peel it off. I have been relatively successful here but on closer inspection, some of the paper has peeled off.
I mean if you’re out of masking tape and all that you have at hand is scotch tape, then by all means go ahead, but if you can, use one of the previously mentioned alternatives.
As always I hope you are now better equipped with the knowledge to choose which tape is best for your watercolor painting style. For me having tape is an essential tool that both secures the paper to my canvas and also helps with the composition.
I would now recommend you check out my article on watercolor paper and how to choose from different brands.
If you have any more questions do pop down in the comments below and I can reply back directly.
Artist / Photographer / Videographer