Can you use printer paper for watercolor painting?

Every artist runs out of watercolor paper at some point and finds themselves without anything to paint on. Is printer paper a quick fix for this?

As printer paper is too thin and lacks sizing, it is not suitable for watercolor painting. Due to this, the paper will buckle very quickly, making it unsuitable for watercoloring. It’s best to use sketch paper or cardstock if you can’t find watercolor paper, but this is only a short-term fix. To paint with watercolors at an enjoyable level, 140gsm paper is required.

woman painting with watercolor

Why printer paper isn’t suitable for watercolor painting

It is impossible to properly paint on printer paper. Water and paint will turn it translucent as it lacks sizing, which watercolor paper has.

Eventually, paint and water cannot sink into the paper and the paper buckles up, perhaps even tearing.

You can use printer paper to sketch out some future watercolor paintings with a pencil if you don’t have any other paper at home.

You will also develop your drawing skills as you give your paintings more thought and mindfulness. 

You will be able to practice before actually working on a painting. It’s common to find yourself not quite liking the composition of a watercolor painting, but it’s too late to change things, as watercolor can’t be erased.

If you sketch your paintings beforehand, you can tweak and change their compositions much more easily; you’ll just need to start over or erase it in seconds.

However, printer paper isn’t the ideal solution either. I like to use a sketchbook for this process since the thicker paper allows me to erase a lot and I can take it with me anywhere.

So sketching on printer paper is just a way to pass the time while waiting for new watercolor paper.

This next section may be of interest to you if you have other kinds of paper lying around.

watercolor paint with a brush

If I do not have watercolor paper, what can I use instead?

What I’m going to mention in just a moment will only be a temporary solution to the problem of not having watercolor paper. 

This is useful if you’re waiting for a paper delivery on a Sunday and can’t buy new paper.

While watercolor paper is always the best option, you can also use sketch paper, which often comes around at 80-100gsm. 

The paper isn’t heavy enough for a full watercolor painting, but it will work for watercolor sketches.

I discussed sketching your watercolor paintings using a pencil in the previous chapter. Between this pencil sketch and your actual painting, I would recommend this method.

watercolor painting teacher and student

You should always do a watercolor sketch of your artwork before you begin drawing since drawing is very different from painting.

The sketch should not take you much time, I don’t want you to get into too much detail. We’re just trying out some color variations and blocking out various parts of the painting to get a better feel for it when we start painting.

This simple step helps artists discover flaws in their compositions. This kind of breaks the barrier between drawing and actual painting because what looked good as a drawing might not be good as a painting.

Another way to paint with watercolors when you do not have watercolor paper available is to use cardstock.

This method only works if you also have gesso available. This article goes into more detail about this topic, so you should give it a read.

Additionally, this article covers the question, if you need gesso for watercolor painting.

Is it possible to print watercolor paintings on printer paper?

You can absolutely use printer paper to print out watercolor paintings. However, I wouldn’t suggest it. 

Paper for printers is very thin and is mainly used for printing text or some logos and pictures. It is not made for the fine detail and quality of paintings.

The quality and longevity of your prints will greatly increase if you use higher quality, thicker paper. Especially if you plan to sell prints, printer paper is a no-go.

You should consider ordering your prints from a professional if you don’t have the necessary equipment at home, such as a good printer, thick paper, and high quality printer paint.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

Although it will cost more than if you did it yourself, you won’t have to buy all of that expensive printer equipment up front.

You should consider buying your own setup if you do end up selling or using a lot of prints. 

By doing this, you’ll be able to fulfill orders faster and avoid a lot of headaches when it comes to receiving shipments from others, so that you can deliver your own shipments to your customers.

Additionally, it will become cheaper over time.

Speaking of selling prints, if you’d like to find out how to ship watercolor paintings, you can go ahead and check this article out.

Nearly no watercolor artist know how to clean their brushes the right way to ensure their longevity and high quality. I’ve put together a guide here.

watercolor paint with a brush


Printer paper is not designed to be painted on. It lacks stability, thickness and structure to support paint, especially water-based paints, such as watercolor. Water can’t be properly absorbed by the paper, so it tears and buckles. If you have the option, always choose a paper with at least 140gsm, preferably more. The lighter the paper, the more difficult it will be to paint with watercolor on it.

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