Can you iron a watercolor painting to flatten it?

It is pretty much inevitable that watercolor paintings will buckle/warp as they are painted. Will ironing help solve this problem? Can you flatten a watercolor painting by ironing it or might that damage it?

It is possible to flatten watercolor paintings by ironing them. Moisten the backside a bit, but only lightly. Cover the painting with a bed sheet or similar while ironing, with the painting’s backside facing up. Iron softly over the painting with a dry iron on a low setting. Check the painting frequently during the process.


Is it a good idea to iron a watercolor painting?

Ironing a watercolor painting flattens it faster than anything else. It might not be the best method, though. 

You could end up doing more harm than good, especially if you’ve never done it before. If you don’t use it properly, an iron can be very harmful to both the paper and the paint.

I will go into more detail about that soon, as well as alternative, safer methods of flattening a watercolor painting. Keep reading.

Anyhow, an iron, if used correctly, can do wonders. If used incorrectly, it can ruin your work.

If you’d like to find out if laminating your watercolor painting, would be a good way to preserve it, check this article out.

When ironing a watercolor painting for the first time, don’t iron the finished piece. 

Doodle on some watercolor paper, or use an old painting you don’t like that much, but could use some flattening. Now, you’ll just have to follow these steps:

woman painting with watercolor

The proper way to iron a watercolor painting

Firstly, you should use the lowest setting on your iron so it doesn’t burn the paper or paint. Too much heat can sometimes make the paper brittle, so you have to be careful.

Additionally, you must use the dry setting. Steaming your painting will destroy it, because the watercolor paint will simply float away.

When it comes to preparing the paper, you should moisten the backside a little. You need to be extremely careful with how much water you use here. You should only slightly moisten it, so the paint on the frontside won’t get wet.

You should use some type of protection between the iron and painting once your iron and painting are ready. For me, a bedsheet works well. You can use anything similar as well. I talk more about why I like to do so in the next section.

Lay the painting on a flat surface with the moist side facing up and cover it with a bedsheet. Turn on the iron and gently iron the painting.

Check your painting every now and then to make sure everything is okay.

You should first test ironing a watercolor painting on another sheet of the same paper if it’s your first time ironing a watercolor painting. 

The first time might not go so well. You can try setting your iron to a higher setting, ironing the painting longer, or moisturizing the painting a bit more.

Also find out if you need gesso for watercolor painting and if watercolor and acrylic paint can be used together.

Watercolor paintings can be destroyed when ironed, here’s how to prevent it

Ironing the watercolor painting on the front side of the paper would be the worst thing you could do.

Watercolor paint can be burned if it is ironed. Especially if the iron is set to steam.

You should always iron watercolor paintings with the dry iron setting on the backside of the paper. 

In addition, I recommend using a bedsheet or something similar in between the painting and the iron. It prevents damage to the painting or too much heat being applied.

Since it reduces the risk of damaging your painting, and irons your bedsheets at the same time, I have found it to be quite useful.

It is still important not to overdo it or put too much pressure on it.

Particularly when ironing a watercolor painting for the first time, those things can be a bit tricky to estimate.

As you iron, check on your painting every now and then to make sure everything is on track.

If your iron has various heat settings, always start with the lowest setting and work your way up checking on the painting in between.

Each iron works differently, so be careful when using one.

If you’re unsure, how long your watercolor paints will last you and when you should check in on them, read this article, I’ve written about it.

watercolor painting next to watercolor paint, brushes and a jar of water

What are other ways to flatten a watercolor painting?

There are several ways to flatten a watercolor painting. There are three main ways that are most commonly used, while I prefer only one. Let’s take a look.

Stretching and flattening the watercolor painting with clamps

This is my least favorite option out of the three, but it’s kind of a personal preference. There are some reasons, though.

Paintings can be damaged by clamps, as they have to be strong enough to flatten a painting yet not leave marks.

Even if you find the perfect clamps and install them correctly, they can severly damage your painting, as merely hitting a clamp a bit can scratch the painting.

Additionally, they aren’t really that good at flattening a watercolor painting as one might think.

While they are useful for keeping your watercolor painting in place while you paint, they are not used for flattening dried paintings.

Taping down the watercolor painting to flatten it

Some people like to tape down the painting using masking tape. By doing so, some level of force is created which stretches the paper back into shape.

My experience, however, was that it didn’t work as well for dried up, finished paintings. When painting, it’s quite useful, as it holds the paper in place and can create sharp edges, but afterward it’s not so useful.

Masking tape mostly just doesn’t have enough strength to restore a dried up, buckled watercolor painting to its original form.

This is why I consider it my second favorite option. Let’s move on to the best method for flattening watercolor paintings for most artists.

Pressing a watercolor painting to make it flat

It is probably the easiest, simplest and most reliable way to flatten a watercolor painting.

You only need a flat, relatively heavy object. If possible, multiples of that. I like to use books, as everybody has them at home.

Books are perfect for pressing a watercolor painting. There’s nothing dangerous about them, they are flat and have even pressure.

There are only two things you need to watch out for:

1. Under and on top of the painting, place protective layers of paper. This keeps it free of dust, dirt, etc. Put one sheet of paper under and one above the painting, and then place the books on top.

2. The bottom book should be large enough to cover the entire painting. Otherwise, it will only press parts of the painting and leave it in an odd shape. The other books can be any size as long as they are spread evenly, so that every part of the painting is roughly pressed with the same force.

A lot of artists don’t know about this, but watercolor can grow mold pretty easily. Read this, to know how to prevent it.

If you’d like to know, if expensive watercolor are worth it, go on reading this article I wrote about it.


Although watercolor paintings can be ironed, it can also be risky to do so. While ironing, make sure you only wet the backside of the painting (not the front), as too much water can ruin the painting. As a barrier between iron and painting, use a bedsheet or something similar. To prevent damaging the paint, you should only ever iron the backside of the painting.

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