Can Multiple Layers of Watercolor DESTROY the Paper?

Watercolor paint is quite thin, so you need to paint multiple layers in order to cover the paper. Can watercolor paper handle many layers?

Multiple layers of paint can be applied to watercolor paper. It should be able to handle about 30 layers when using a medium amount of water and being careful with the brush. You should use paper weighing at least 140lb that is 100% cotton.

watercolor painting

The importance of layering watercolors 

The name of the paint already tells you that you have to use water in order to use it properly. Due to this, the medium is very thin.

Especially when using a lighter color, it’s difficult to really cover the paper with just one layer of paint. On the other hand, acrylic covers a canvas or paper almost instantly with a  brushstroke.

In watercolor, colors are gradually built up. Paints aren’t lightened by mixing white with them, but by adding water to decrease the pigment intensity.

As a result, painting a picture requires several layers. And that’s absolutely fine. But it takes many layers, sometimes dozens of them, to achieve the results you desire.

You shouldn’t think you’re doing something wrong if the color is still not satisfactory after the fifth layer. It’s totally normal and part of the process.

How many layers can watercolor paper absorb

You can’t really quantify it. Water usage, paper thickness, etc., are all factors to consider.

Providing you use at least 140lb paper and a reasonable volume of water, you shouldn’t have a problem painting >20 layers. Be careful not to tear the paper over time.

You would absolutely ruin your artwork and your painting experience if you did this. But as  long as you  stick to high-quality watercolor paper, I do not see why you should encounter any problems.

Learn, why watercolor paper is so expensive here.

How to use layering to your advantage

Watercolor can be reactivated on the paper by applying water, which makes it so unique as a medium. 

This can be used to “erase” paint. Simply apply some water to the area you wish to “erase” and use a brush to lift the paint from the paper.

Even though this can be tedious and doesn’t work all the time, it’s definitely doable.

If you’re wondering how long watercolor takes to fully dry, click here.

In addition to this, the artist is able to mix the paint on the paper. You’re not happy with the color of your artwork? Take another color, “reactivate” (that’s what applying water to dried up watercolor on paper means) the paint on the paper, and mix the two together.

Just like that you were able to get a new color even though the last layer of paint could’ve been painted weeks ago.

Painting with acrylics and oils requires you to use new paints instead of reusing the old ones that are  already painted. It can be both useful and annoying at the same time.

woman painting with watercolor

Which side of the paper should you use?

Most watercolor papers will have different textures on each side of the paper. That is due to its production procedure in which the paper is pressed. 

One side is smoother than the other one and each serves their own purpose.

There is no right or wrong here. You can just paint on whichever you’d like to paint on, it really doesn’t matter.

But I can give suggestions, which will make your life more enjoyable nonetheless. I would recommend using the textured side for things like abstract paintings, landscape and houses etc.

A bit of texture can be quite helpful, as it adds natural details to the painting that you could never paint, but increases the painting’s depth.

If you plan to paint very realistic watercolor paintings I would recommend the smoother side though.

This would be things like flowers and portraits, where you don’t really want texture. Especially skin can look quite weird when having so much rough texture.

With the textured side, you will struggle a lot with uneven paint transitions and edges, so save yourself the pain and opt for the smoother side before even starting.

If you prefer the style and the feeling I don’t want to hinder you from painting on your favorite side of the paper. These were just my recommendations.

Wondering, when watercolor paints expire? Find out here!

What weight of watercolor paper is best? 

I would advise to use either 140lb or 300lb when painting with watercolor. 90lb is just a bit too thin and 400lb is over the top. 

I mostly use 140lb, but if you often run into problems with your watercolor paper warping a lot, I would advise 300lb paper, as it can absorb a lot more water.

If you’d like to know how to do outdoor watercolor sketching and how it can impact your life, click here.


As watercolor is a very thin medium, you have to layer it to properly cover the paper with paint. Ideally you should use at least 140lb paper. Watercolor can be reactivated, meaning you can apply water to a dried up section of the painting and essentially repaint it and mix new colors to it, which makes layering quite useful.

Also read: Does an easel allow for watercolor painting?

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