Mounting Paper onto Canvas and Other Supports

by | Jan 25, 2011 | Blog | 122 comments

Often artists will create a drawing or sketch on paper, and then want to adhere it later to a stretched canvas to create a stronger support, and even to continue working on it – adding subsequent layers of paint.

Here are some suggestions for a way to glue paper smoothly onto canvas and other surfaces, without wrinkles.

Gluing small to medium sizes of paper

When the sheets of paper are manageable sizes you can glue the paper directly onto a painting surface such as canvas or wood panel. Make sure to read through these instructions first, to have all your supplies prepared and close at hand when you are ready to begin the process. It is important to do all the steps quickly without any lag time in between, as that can cause issues.

Start with Your Surface – such as canvas or wood panel. Use a canvas that is stretched and primed with gesso so it isn’t too absorbent. If using raw canvas or raw wood, it is recommended to seal the support first. Seal front face of the canvas with an acrylic gloss medium, or prime with gesso. Wood panels need to be sealed with an acrylic gloss medium on all exposed wood areas – back, front and sides. If the support is not sealed, and is too absorbent, there is a risk that the glue will sink into the surface too fast, before you get a chance to apply the paper. This is the main reason paper gets wrinkled – the areas where the glue is no longer wet when the paper is applied.

The Paper you want to adhere onto the surface should be a bit larger then the canvas you want to glue it to. Ideally the paper should have at least 1/2″ excess on all sides, so that this can be trimmed off later.

Select Your Adhesive – this can be just about any acrylic product – with the exception of acrylic mediums. The actual acrylic component in the product is the glue. For example, an acrylic gloss gel is all acrylic – nothing else added – and therefore will have the most glueing strength. Whereas, an acrylic paint color is made of two components – acrylic and pigment – and won’t be as strong a glue as the gel. You can also use acrylic gesso, but again this product has white pigment in it along with the acrylic component, and will work – but the gel trumps all. I do not recommend using acrylic mediums, as these are thinner then gels, and tend to dry quickly. When your glue dries quickly you risk wrinkles and areas that aren’t glued properly. Whichever acrylic product you choose don’t dilute it with with water when using it for glueing purposes.

Apply Adhesive
Apply your acrylic gel or other acrylic product (I repeat – not mediums) onto your support. I like to apply the gel with a knife, and the gesso with a brush. While the acrylic is still wet, place the paper over it. If the paper you are glueing has a drawing on it, apply a piece of tissue or clean sheet of paper over it, so you can smooth it out without smearing the drawing. Use your hands to smooth the paper onto the wet acrylic starting from the center and moving outwards towards the edges. The paper will stretch as it gets wet from the acrylic, and will move over the edges, so you end up losing about 1/2″ of the drawing along the borders. When it is all smooth, let it dry at least a day.

Trim the Paper
Once glued and dry, you can easily trim the excess paper by running a single edge blade along the outside edges. This technique gives a very clean edge so you can’t tell the paper has been glued.

More Tips
Place boards, books or something rigid under the canvas to give it support, so when you rub the paper to smooth it out it won’t sink down in the center with the canvas. The most important thing is to make sure the acrylic is still wet everywhere when you put the paper over it. If the acrylic dries in areas you will get wrinkles there. When you are working with a large size, or in a dry hot climate, you can first apply a gloss medium or gel to the primed canvas. Let this dry. Now the surface is less absorbent, so when you apply the acrylic to glue it won’t dry as fast.

Gluing very large sheets of paper

To glue large sheets of paper to a support, you would want to use either plywood, or the stiffer foamkore sheets. If you want to glue it onto canvas, then use canvas that is not stretched on stretcher bars, so you can lay it flat on the floor or table.

To glue use a spray adhesive (wear protective gear) and another two pairs of hands so that one person holds one end, another holds the middle, and you would start to apply it at one end, smoothing it out before lowering the middle, then lowering the other end. It’s tricky but can be done.

Cool alternative idea

If you like working large and on paper, but not enjoying the finishing process – here’s a very cool idea. Start with a rigid surface, like a piece of plywood or other wood surface, instead of paper. Then change the surface to create a quality that simulates paper. I like to apply a product by Golden called Absorbent Ground. Apply one to four coats of this product onto your surface, letting each coat dry for at least a day, before applying the next. The more coats you apply, the more absorbency you will create. Four coats ends up looking and feeling exactly like a beautiful sheet of Reeves BFK paper. This product is actually made of pieces of paper fiber in an acrylic base, so in effect you really are changing the wood surface to a paper surface. By the way, applying more than four coats is a waste because the absorbency maxes out at four coats. When the coats are dry you can paint on it, or work on it in whatever way you like. Then for finishing and hanging purposes, you can treat this just like a painting – frame it or not – and add hanging hardware on the back.

Framing or hanging paper works

First, let me say that framing paper is always tricky, and best left up to the experts – a framer. Paper is mostly framed without glueing it down. Usually paper is attached very loosely to a board like foamcore with some hinged fabric tape in a couple of places to hold it in place, but only in one direction – for example a few places along the top. Paper moves along with the climate – moisture and temperature – and when attached to a backing in a loose way like this – the paper can move without causing issues.
Usually choosing to work on paper means you are willing to let the finished product be about the paper – loose. If hanging in a show, you can attach it as above, with hinged fabric tape directly on the gallery wall. Then you can place a piece of plexi over it that screws into the wall, without pressing the paper flat. In other words, the paper is allowed to hang freely – wrinkles, flipped edges and all.

Framing a large size, like a 6 foot sheet of paper, is a monumental job. I have framed some extra large paper works for myself over the years, but rarely do it anymore as it is so difficult. You would use the hinge tape mentioned above, used by watercolorists for their framing along the top only, to allow it to hang freely and shift like paper does.

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122 Comments

  1. virgil

    Hi Nancy, I am printing photos (with toner ink) on copy paper, and then using gel gloss as an adhesive in order to glue the prints onto the wood or canvas support. The gel seems to hold well and dry fast for this part of the project, but after I seal the work with the Soft Gel Gloss, the result was concerning and seemed to be different: a tacky surface that, several days later, didn’t seem or feel fully dry and/or “cured.” While I certainly do not want to compromise the seal and quality, a 28 or 30 day curing process will not work for this project. Gel gloss appears appropriate and effective as a sealant for a toner print for this project, however I am still not sure as to how long the curing process for gel is. Can or do you recommend or know of any other approach to this type of project, such as polyurethane or polyacrylic? I am seeking a quality, matt or gloss, rather thick and long-lasting sealant layer that dries as fast as possible. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Virgil,
      I’m glad you are able to successfully apply the printed copy paper to the wood or canvas support. Your issue has to do with how to seal toner ink. Gel is quite thick and may not be the best way to seal the ink, as you have discovered. Since it is thick, it takes awhile for it to dry. This means the gel can absorb some of the ingredients in the toner ink, creating drying issues. This is not something I am familiar with, so I’m just brainstorming here with ideas. You may want to call the company that sells the toner ink and ask them for the best sealer. Perhaps a clear gloss spray using one of Krylon’s UV protection sprays would dry fast and seal that toner layer. Then if you still want to apply acrylic gel over the sealed print you can do so after waiting a day or two to make sure the spray is fully dry. Gel should not take too long to dry. Drying times depend on how thick the gel is applied, the temperature in your working space and humidity. If the temperature goes below 65 degrees (I need to check on the exact temperature for drying here) it will lengthen and sometimes stop the curing process. Golden’s website does list the lowest temperature you can have for acrylic drying times. Hope this helps.

  2. Suzanne Taylor

    Hello Nancy. I want to glue drawings done on velum to wood. I don’t want the wood grain to show through so I was going to paint the wood first. Instead of painting would you prep the wood with a white gesso then use acrylic gel to adhere the velum?

    Thanks….Suzanne Taylor

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Suzanne,
      Your plan sounds good. You don’t want the wood to show through the semi-transparent vellum, so that is a good idea to use white gesso (gesso is always white – clear gesso is actually not gesso but just plain medium). If you are working on wood I definitely recommend sealing the wood first on all sides, face and back to keep the wood from warping. I have an article on my blog about best practices to prep wood prior to painting.
      Nancy

  3. Nora

    Hello,
    I am a beginner in the art world and would truly appreciate any help you can give me. I am doing an alcohol ink piece on yupo paper and looking to adhere it to a large cotton canvas to then add some resin, geode and modeling paste on top. I am not sure how I can go about attaching yupo paper to cotton canvas. Can it be done? Or do I need to purchase wood canvases?

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Nora,
      Congratulations on beginning your art journey! Your project sounds unique and fun. I have not worked much with Yupo paper so I am sorry I can’t give you experienced advice, however I’m happy to provide you with the following.

      You can glue the paper to cotton canvas using the method I describe here, but I would use a soft or regular acrylic gel for the glue instead of gesso. The gels will give a stronger bond.

      Instead of the steps you describe, I recommend an easier process. On your raw cotton canvas first stain seal it with any acrylic gloss medium. One coat should be sufficient. Once dry, apply one coat of a good quality acrylic Gesso. Golden’s Gesso is the best for acrylic paints. The cheaper gessoes work fine for oil paint, but may present technical issues when using acrylic paint over them.

      When the Gesso is dry you can then apply a 1:1 mixture of Molding Paste with a gloss gel. Apply this mixture with a brush or knife to create a similar surface as your Yupo paper. Now continue with your process using alcohol inks, then resin and the pastes you mentioned. One more suggestion – if you are applying many products as you mentioned so that the surface becomes weighted, you may want to use wood panels instead of canvas. I use panels all the time so I can pile many layers without the weight of those layers creating a warping of the canvas.

  4. Hannah

    Thank you for sharing this information! It’s been extremely helpful. I’ve ended up with a bunch of canvases that I don’t feel like painting on because I now prefer the smoother surface of boards and panels. I’m covering the canvases up with hefty, smooth paper, and I’m excited to see where it leads.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Hannah,
      I’m so glad this article inspired you to make good use of your unused canvases. As an alternative to this technique of applying paper to your canvas, a much easier method is to apply an acrylic paste that mimics a paper surface, over your canvas. Much easier and brings the same results. My favorites are Golden’s product called Absorbent Ground, or another of their products called Light Molding Paste. (Note this product is very different than another product with the name of Molding Paste.)
      Nancy

  5. Emilia sadeghi

    Hello,

    I have a large wooden base (40”x60”) that had a poster glued on it. It has a diagonal support in the back to keep the board straight and to not warp.

    After 30 years, The poster had started to peel off on the edges. I managed to remove it successfully but there is a smooth fiber still left on the board from the back of the poster that is papery to the touch.

    Can I glue canvas on top of this board that has the fiber on top?

    Do I gesso on top of the board to seal the fiber and then use an acrylic gel or pva glue to glue the canvas on it or cover the fiber with lots of Yes glue and then glue the canvas on top?

    I think the wooden base can still be used for a good large acrylic canvas painting. Even though it is only 3/8” thick.

    I would appreciate your opinion.
    Thank you for your time.

    Hand holding a large foam board upright.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Emilia,

      It’s hard for me to tell you how to proceed without seeing the board in person, but I’ll give it a try. Since the poster and board are 30 years old, I would worry that the old glue, still present under the remaining poster fiber, might cause problems later. For example it might cause some staining that seeps into new layers of acrylic paint you may apply on it. The board is probably still OK to use. Good it has some supports in the back to avoid warping. If there are any raw areas of wood still exposed, on the sides and/or back, I suggest you seal the wood in those places so that no more moisture will enter the wood in those areas, causing the wood to warp.

      One question. You mention the wood is only 3/8″ thick, but in the photo it looks like it is cradled with sides to make it around 2″ in depth. The cradle would help avoid warping, in addition to the diagonal supports you mentioned, and sealing any raw wood still left exposed.

      Your question is how to deal with the remaining fiber left on the wood surface from the poster that was removed. First try to spray the top surface lightly with water. Wait a few minutes for the fiber to soak it in. Then try to rub the remaining fiber off with a microfiber cloth or other more abrasive scrubbie sponges. You should be able to remove all the fiber this way. If that doesn’t work you can lightly sand it off using a sanding block, or waterproof sandpaper along with spraying the surface with water. An electric sander, if you have access to one, should be able to remove it very quickly.

      Once the fiber is removed you can use this as a painting support for acrylic painting. You can either use the panel as is, without gluing canvas on it, by applying one or more coats of acrylic gesso. Then it’s good to go for acrylic painting. If you want to glue canvas on the panel to paint on, then you can adhere the canvas using any acrylic medium or gel. I recommend Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss or Regular Gel Gloss to glue the canvas. The gel will be a stronger glue then the gesso I recommend in the article, which was for applying paper over canvas.

      Hope this helps!

      Nancy

  6. Aoife Carroll

    Thank you so much. I have a paper collage ready to glue down to a canvas and I’ve spent so long googling what’s the best way to do it. Your direction is by far the most helpful & accurate & informative

    Collage of oceanic and human elements in surreal artwork.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Aoife,
      I’m so glad you found my way of gluing helpful for your work. I like to use Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss for most gluing. I only use Gesso to glue one sheet of paper, like a drawing you may want to mount, that is larger than the mounting surface. If I want to glue several smaller pieces of paper, fabric or canvas, to a surface I will use the gel.
      Nancy

  7. Cynthia

    Good Afternoon,
    I am working with one of my AP Students, she did a very detailed drawing and wanted to attach it to her canvas as an assemblage. We used acrylic matte medium to attach the work, we did use a bit of pressure for it to dry but we have a few bubbles and an area that is rippled, she is upset and unfortunately, it is fairly secure and I can’t detach it easily. . . do you have any ideas as to how to get rid of the rippling? I am enclosing a photo, the area we want to smooth is on the hand. Thank you so much. . .

    Abstract monochrome portrait with chaotic red accents.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Cynthia,
      I’m sorry to hear your students has issues with her recently glued artwork. That is frustrating!

      The reason ripples happen when gluing is because parts dry too quickly, and therefor don’t stick and instead raise upward creating the bump or ripple. To avoid this in the future; (1) use gloss acrylic instead of matte. Matte dries quicker than gloss. (2) seal the backs of the paper that will be glued by applying gloss medium to them. Let this dry. This will seal the paper. Then apply another layer of the same medium and immediately attach it to the base. (The fact that the paper is first sealed means the second layer of medium used for the gluing phase will stay wet longer.) Smooth it out and put weights on it for 15 minutes. Remove the weights after 15 minutes and leave the work in place overnight or more to dry. Make sure the temperature does not get too cold (below 60 degrees F) for this last drying period. (3) When putting weights on the the previous step for the 15 minute pre-drying period, make sure you first place a board that covers the entire artwork. Then on top of that board add heavy objects like books, gallons of paint, etc. By having the board cover the art work, the weight you apply will be distributed evenly.

      To fix the current problem, you can take a very sharp razor or xacto blade and slice in the middle of the ripple. Press the pieces (that are now flipped up around the slice) down with more glue, and put weights on top as described above to compress it down. Then remove weights after 15 minutes to allow it to fully dry.

  8. Lyn

    Do you need to finish the glued paper with a protective sealer pls? What do you recommend?

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Lyn,
      I do recommend sealing your final artwork on paper to protect it. If the artwork will change in a way you don’t like when using a sealer, then you can alternatively frame it behind glass. Paper does need to be protected or it can be damaged when transporting, handling, or even just hanging on a wall absorbing moisture and dust. Once your artwork is finished, you can spray it with any fine art quality clear gloss spray. If you use a matte spray it will create a very light cloudy effect. I sometimes like that matte finish, and don’t mind the slight cloudy effect if I don’t want any gloss or glare, but mostly I end up using gloss on my paintings. When I work with paper I usually do not spray it because I don’t like the way it looks over oil or chalk pastel, or even watercolors. These are the mediums I use when I work on paper. For these I frame behind glass.

  9. JooYoung Choi

    Hi, I was wondering what type of spray adhesive you are using that is acid free and archival? I called 3m to ask if they had any archival spray adhesives and they told me no. My paintings are often shown in museums and sometimes purchased by institutions, I need to make sure that the adhesives are going to last. Any suggestions? Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi JooYoung,
      I have used spray adhesives in the past, but because they are so highly toxic I have not used them for a long time. I suggest calling the tech department at Golden to ask them this question. The experts there are quite informative. Call 1-800-959-6543. Since Golden specializes in paint, not adhesives, I recommend calling this company’s tech department as they specialize in archival conservation adhesives: https://www.universityproducts.com/conservation-materials/conservation-adhesives
      I hope this helps you with your search.
      Nancy

  10. Iskra

    Hi Nancy,
    I am doing collage on paper and having some issues with the substrates buckling. My favorite paper is Rives BFK, I soak and staple it to gator board–it all seems great until late in the collage process I start to see uneven waves, or buckling around the edges of the collage. The paper remains flat and doesn’t pull out of the staples, but I dread what happens when I remove the staples.

    I don’t know if I am stretching the paper too long or not long enough (about 10 minutes in a tub.) Or is it that the glues are creating a problem? I am using a mix of Glue stick for thin papers and matte medium for thicker. I have used Nori paste but it seems to pull like crazy and has buckled every substrate I have tried. Is it a problem to mix different adhesives on one surface like this? I noticed as I took the picture that the paper is also curving up the corners of the gator board.My fall back is to take the finished piece to a framer for putting in the hot press, but that is expensive and adds more risk when a piece is done. I could switch to panel but I want to do a lot of collages and not have to store panels –paper is thin and takes less space and is appropriate for ephemera and archival subjects. Any thoughts?

    Vintage nautical map collage artwork on textured paper.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Iskra,
      Paper isn’t my main substrate but I’m happy to offer some thoughts on your issue.

      To reduce buckling of the paper here are some suggestions.

      (1) Using a variety of glues, as you stated, may contribute to the issue. Try using just acrylic gel for glue. Gel is thicker than mediums or thinner glues. This means it stays on top of the paper, staying wet longer to adhere materials together. Thinner glues and mediums have a tendency to sink into the paper adding moisture in places, while other places on your paper do not get that moisture. Buckling of paper happens when the paper has absorbed moisture unevenly.

      Spread the gel evenly (this is important) and thinly without adding water to the gel. Skip using the glue stick (not permanent so it won’t last). The gel is actually the best glue for thin papers (as long as you spread it thinly using a plaster knife). I would definitely pick one glue (I like Golden’s Soft or Regular Gel Matte) and do an experiment using the same materials but knowing it is only for a test so you don’t spend time creating a finished artwork out of it. Do a few tests before applying the process on your actual artwork. Try the above ideas and let me know if any of them resolve your issue.

      (2) Make sure the paper is fully dry after you soak and staple it. Wait at least a day or two, depending on the humidity where you live. The paper should flatten out totally once dry. At this time you can apply glue.

      (3) Try using watercolor paper tape instead of or in addition to the staples. You would have to cut off the deckled edge once you are finished so you may not like that idea.

      (4) Use heavier weight paper

      (5) Use a stronger support under the paper. I think the gator board may contribute to the buckling.

      Hope this helps! Please come back to this post and let me know what resolved your issue.

      Nancy

  11. Pamela

    I didn’t put enough soft gel gloss in top part of rice paper drawing I glued onto a gessoed canvas. Can I put the gel on top of rice paper to smooth out some bubbles I seem to have? Or spray with water?
    Thanks very much!

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Pamela,

      Sorry to hear you got bubbles gluing rice paper onto canvas. I suggest taking a single edge razor or other sharp blade and slicing the rice paper right through the middle of the bubbled areas. Then apply gel over it and it should smooth out. Try it on one small one first to make sure it works for you.
      Nancy

  12. Rose

    What about using hot glue in each corner?

    Reply
  13. Lori

    What brand of acrylic gloss gel do you recommend

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      I usually use Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss for most gluing tasks. If I am gluing something heavy – for instance a small rock or shell – onto a surface I will use a thicker gel like Golden’s Regular Gel Gloss or Golden’s Heavy Gel Gloss.

    • Hugh Doyle

      I have discovered a very old painting by E Landseer RA. Looking at the nails used to make the light frame I reckon it is well over 100 years old. What confuses me is that the painting seems to be on stiff paper that is glued to canvas (linen) as it is lifting at one corner from it. Any ideas would be appreciated.

      Close-up of wood texture meeting concrete wall.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Dear Hugh,
      If the painting is of value, which it sounds like it is, then you’d do best by taking it to a qualified art restorer. A good restorer will be able to tell you if the painting was originally done on the paper, and if someone else – or the artist – then mounted it on canvas. They would also be able to repair it for you so that the issue doesn’t increase.
      Nancy

  14. Eddie

    Hello Nancy – what a generous service you provide! I’ve a project involving pen and ink with water color paint (all on the same paper). I then use cropping squares to find interesting patterns / compositions to cut out and then recombine them in ways that add a little more structure. I’d like to do this on a vertical rectangular format and I’m trying to find the best way to recombine them in a more permanent method than something like a modge podge. I’d like a satin finish or less when it is all said and done. Enough to retain some vibrant hints of color without being to glossy. The background canvas (or painted plywood?) color will be a somewhat neutral back drop to the cut pieces I will be applying on top. It will be a painted surface using acrylic. I don’t have a clue to what I’m doing or how to do it and would appreciate your advice.

    The attached shows how it might appear if the shapes and images were cut out and then applied on a second surface. Not exact but the geometric shapes with different types of color treatment bare some semblance to what is in my minds eye. : )

    The important thing is to be able to make these different pieces of slightly accidental art and then by cropping, cull the more interesting compositions I find, and apply them in a more intentional manner on top of the other substrate. I’d rather it all look closer to one surface and not have a bunch of pieces curling up at the edges.

    Thanks – I hope that makes sense. Maybe what I’m asking is too tall an order to explain in this format. If it is easier to just point me in a direction, I’d be grateful for that as well.

    Abstract watercolor geometric shapes art print

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Eddie,

      Sounds like a wonderful technique and process you are working with. Attaching your example was very helpful. It sounds like you want to attach cut outs to a surface with minimal relief edges. You can use any substrate to adhere paper pieces, however I like using a rigid support like a wood panel so I can put pressure on it easily to help the glue process work best. I suggest you cut out your shapes from the watercolor paper. Flip each shape over so they face down. Using a fine grit sandpaper (220 or finer like 400) sand the backs of the shapes just at the edges, until the edges are feathered and thinner than they were before sanding. This may take some experimenting to make sure you don’t sand all the way through and create holes. Use an acrylic gloss gel as your glue. Mediums don’t work as well and your shapes may not lay flat after gluing with mediums. Using a knife apply the gel on the back of one of the shapes. Make sure the gel goes all the way out the edges. I like to place my shapes on a phone book page so I can apply the gel in excess. Then I just turn the page when ready to glue the next shape. Place it in position on your surface, then place plastic wrap over it, then something heavy. It’s a good idea to have your plastic wrap torn in sheets ready to grab, and your weights put nearby before applying the gel. Leave it alone for 15 minutes. Remove the heavy weight and plastic wrap. Now move on to the next shape. If shapes overlap wait a day for the first shape to dry before applying the next. Hope this helps you succeed with your project.

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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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