Mounting Paper onto Canvas and Other Supports

by | Jan 25, 2011 | Blog | 106 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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  1. 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 🙂

    • 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:
      I hope this helps you with your search.

  2. 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?

    • 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.


  3. 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!

    • 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.

  4. Rose

    What about using hot glue in each corner?

  5. Lori

    What brand of acrylic gloss gel do you recommend

    • 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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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