Should you erase pencil lines before watercolor painting?

Before starting a watercolor painting, most artists like to do a sketch of their painting with pencils first, so they don‘t get lost throughout the painting process. But should you erase pencil lines before actually starting to paint or erase them afterwards?

If you don‘t plan on having the pencil lines shine through as an artistic choice, you should erase the lines partly. They should still be visible while painting, so you can use them as guidance, but you shouldn‘t be able to see them through the paint afterwards.

Why is it useful to erase pencil lines before painting?

When sketching out a painting, artists often tend to press too hard onto the paper, so that the lines are clearly visible.

This can become a problem throughout the painting process in two ways:

Firstly, you might smear the graphite across the paper, while painting, as there is a lot of excess which won‘t stick to the paper.

This results in your colors turning out differently than you originally intended them to. Additionally it gets really hard to erase this paint/graphite mixture afterwards, so you‘re kind of stuck with a „dirty“ painting.

Secondly, even if the graphite doesn‘t smear, it might be visible through the paint after you‘ve finished painting.

While some might like it as an artistic choice, most artists tend to hate how it turns out, especially as it might turn out a bit patchy, meaning some lines show through while others don‘t.

Later, I‘ll get into whether you can erase pencil lines after being finished painting.

How should you erase pencil lines before watercoloring?

I‘d advise using a kneading eraser for erasing pencil lines before painting, as it‘s able to lift off all the excess graphite, before you get to painting. 

Kneaded erasers have the advantages that you can form them however you‘d like and that they are very soft.

This enables you to remove graphite very precisely and easily without harming the paper.

It sort of feels like a magnet, as it‘s so easy without you having to rub like you would with a normal eraser.

If you accidentally used a lot of force while sketching and have got a problem with deep lines, you will have to rub either way.

If you don‘t have a kneaded eraser, I would strongly advise getting one or using your normal one very gently.

Once the lines appear very light, so you’re barely able to see them, you should be good to go.

The paint will be able to cover them up, yet you will still be able to use them as guidance along your painting session.

watercolor painting teacher and student

When should you keep the lines before painting?

It’s not always bad to see lines shine through a painting. At last, art is a form of individual expression, so you can paint whatever you want and however you want.

There is no rule set that you have to follow.

Now, there definitely is a time and a place for lines to be seen. If you prefer a rather simple and rough style of painting, I would absolutely advise to leave the outlines where they are.

Using lines as an artistic choice as well as guidance while painting can be very freeing and will be able to create astonishing results if done right.

So, next time you think about erasing your lines before starting to paint, hold on and leave them be. 

See what comes out and whether you like it. Maybe you’ll pursue it in the future, maybe you hate it. You won’t know unless you try.

If you do leave the lines, I’d suggest making them intentional with varying widths. Give the lines different weights.

This means that in some parts the lines are very thin while they are rather bold in other areas. 

This creates kind of a flow in your painting and shows that you’ve been very intentional and aware of the lines.

You could also consider drawing lines after you’re done painting, too.

That can also add some really interesting elements into your artwork that you might not have had otherwise.

You can highlight certain areas, while putting others a bit in the background, even after you’re done painting.

Just try out a bunch of different things and see where it leads you. There is no reason to be stuck in some ruleset that you thought you had to follow, when it comes to art.

Can you erase the lines after being finished painting?

Sometimes, you might notice your lines being a bit too bold after you’re done painting. You can see some lines shine through the finished artwork, even though you didn’t mean to.

This can be really annoying, as it will bug you everytime you look at it. Additionally you might think, there is no way to get rid of that. 

In fact, that’s not entirely true. You can erase pencil lines up to a certain point, even though it’s not as easy to do after the painting is done.

You have to be very surgical about it, and I’d advise using a kneaded eraser for the process, as those tend to be more gentle to the paint and paper, compared to a normal eraser.

A traditional eraser might damage the paper a bit, which will disturb the surface and colors of your painting, so you should try to either be extremely careful or go for a kneaded eraser.

Now to the erasing part. I would recommend erasing with very little force while only moving the eraser in one direction. 

This ensures that the paper will be left largely intact and the paint won’t be damaged too much.

If the paint still gets removed as well, you might have to correct it a little, but only do so, once all the eraser residue is gone.


If you prefer not being able to see pencil lines after having a finished painting, you should try to erase them so they nearly aren’t visible anymore. You could also consider leaving the lines as an artistic choice.

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