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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Mounting watercolor paper on a wood panel.

Updated: May 1, 2023

Hate framing your watercolors? Hate having your large watercolor paper bend and warp?

I got you covered. All you need to do is mount it on a wood panel.

Mounting watercolor paper on a wood panel is not for the faint of heart. It takes practice and it comes with its cons. But there are definitely many pros in favor of this method.

Choose what is best for you. If longevity (being pristine 200 years from now) is most important you might need to commit to framing. Traditional framing is the best way to protect your watercolor painting. However, if you like to live a little more on the edge and/or your budget doesn't include framing then mounting paper on a wood panel might be for you.

I scoured the internet to learn this process. So I hope you've found this post and you can now stop your search for information. I am sharing my process, my tips for success, my tips for when you fail and my process for protecting the painting once you're done (varnishing). I haven't written the varnishing post yet, but when I do it'll be linked here so you can easily find it.

So read away. I hope it helps you. Plus... Here is a link of me doing this process sped up on Insta: click here

Preparatory step- Gather materials

Things you're goin' want

  • wood panel

  • watercolor paper (I use 140 lb cold press... 300 lb might not work, I haven't tried)

  • Golden soft gel gloss

  • knife/spatula utensil for scooping gel onto board

  • largish paint brush (not your nicest one)

  • speedball rubber roller (ideally, not 100% required but it helps)

  • paper towel

  • extra regular paper

  • heavy objects (like books or weights)

  • X-Acto knife/box cutter

Step #1 - Prepping

A. Make sure you have all your supplies ready. I like to prepare where I'm going to put the panel when it's ready to dry by laying out the extra paper and having the weights/books on standby.

Tip 1:

As well as keeping your watercolor paper clean, using paper for your clean dry surface is also important because as the glue/gel dries it releases moisture. So if you use plastic or something else non-absorbent then your watercolor paper will have a hard time drying

B. Cut the paper to fit the wood panel. You're going to want it at least an extra .5 to 1 inch on all sides.

"Do not mount watercolor paper that already has art painted on it. this process is tricky, you don't want to risk the art." – me

Step #2 - Apply the gel (still prep)

1. Take your utensil and spear gel onto your panel

Get it as smooth as possible and brush it out to create an even coat.

2. Apply gel to the back side of the paper (the back is usually smoother) -this layer should be smooth as well

3. Let these dry separately.

This step prepares both surfaces for good adhesion later. Wood and paper easily absorb stuff so if you tried to stick them together right away, you will have dry (not sticky) patches where the glue was absorbed.

Step #3 - Apply the gel for real

A. Take your utensil and smear gel onto the board. The amount of gel is pretty important.

  • Too much gel means that your paper will have trouble drying which means there will be wet pockets/bubbles on your surface.

  • Too little gel means that there will be pockets of air in your surface. You might not notice these until you start getting your paper wet during the painting process. Also too little gel means that your edges probably aren't securely glued down.

It's better to have less. It's possible to re-glue areas around the corners. But it's impossible to get rid of the wet bubbles.

B. Use your paint scraper or anything flat like a gift card or a squeegee to spread the gel and get it even. Make sure to avoid wet globs but also make sure it isn't dry and all the corners are nice and glued down. (Do not use brush for this step)

Step #4 - Apply the paper

A. Have your paper standing by. Bend it slightly so the middle of the paper lays in the middle of the board and lay down gently. Before pressing anything down hard make sure the paper covers the whole board. It's easy to place it off center leaving one or two edges uncovered which you can't come back from once the paper is glued.

B. Place extra paper on top of your watercolor paper. This will protect it from any dirt on the roller. Use the speedball rubber roller to press the paper into the wood panel making movements outward from the center.

C. Use the paper towel to wipe off excess glue on the sides. Be careful! The glue will interfere with watercolor paint. It's important to not get any on the front of the paper.

Step#5- Dry time

As soon as your paper has been evenly rolled out, lay the whole thing down on the prepared area and cover it in books/weights.

Step#6 - Finishing touches

A. Check your board and breath a sigh of relief if there are no weird bumps or air pockets.

B. Check the edges to see whether they are properly glued down. If they are not- take something thin (I use a small thin ruler) to apply glue/gel in those areas. You're just gently pushing glue into the open space.

C. Trim the edges. You may want .5-1 inch on the sides. But I like to get the paper pretty close to flush (maybe .25 inch) with the edge. Use the X-Acto knife.

D. If needed, use a small square of sandpaper to gently clean up edges of paper.

Tip 2:

You can trim the sides to be flush with the panel sides once the paper is mounted. Protect the edges of the paper with a ruler! This is key. *See image below. I successfully mounted a piece of paper only to have my edges ruined during the cutting. What happens is that the knife slips under the wood edge so you lose some of the front of the paper.

D. I attach hardware to the back of my wood panel for easy hanging. I recommend 1 hole D rings and framer's wire.

Tip 3:

Adding hardware: measure down the sides to roughly the same spot on each side. I use a push pin to make a little preparatory hole. Then screw in the d rings. Once those are in place on either side (I put them on the inside of the panel where they are out of the way) then you can measure out your wire. To find the right length the wire should not be able to touch the top edge of the panel when held in the middle but it also shouldn't be tight. If it's too tight it will come undone under the pressure. If it's too loose then the painting will hang low.

If you have failed.

Take a deep breath. You're not alone. It's so frustrating and there's really no way to soften the blow.

The good news is the board can be saved. The bad news is that I haven't found a way to save the paper.

To save the board-- rip, tear, and scrape that piece of paper and it's glue off. Employ all tools at your disposal. I've used spackle tools, steaming iron, my fingers, rags etc.

Tip 4:

Water or steam can be helpful to dissolve the glue and soften the paper. However, water is powerful and if used too much it will eat away at the glue holding the board together and/or warp the wood. So be careful.

Sand down the rough paper and glue that just wouldn't come off. Try again.

Matthew Bird is an excellent source for further instructions. His method is slightly different and I highly recommend it. He also has a video.


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