If it ever crossed your mind to print line art on watercolor paper then you are way smarter than me as this had never crossed my mind as something I could or should do.
When I started thinking about it, printing line art on watercolor paper is a great way to save time and energy while creating art.
It can be especially helpful when crafting complex pieces that require precise shapes, lines and details.
So after learning about the technique, I just had to try this out.
While I made some mistakes and wasted some paper and ink I think I have worked it out and happy to share my learnings with you.
What are the benefits to artists?
This technique allows artists to print out their digital designs onto watercolor paper with an inkjet printer, so they don’t have to worry about the tedious task of sketching out their designs.
The end result is a print that can be used as a stencil for painting or drawing.
As an artist who makes their own prints to sell, this is also a great way for me to create a semi-production line of prints hand embellished with watercolors that I can sell.
I get to spend less time on the tedious part of hand penciling the underdrawing of a watercolor as it is all done in advance, and I can focus on the fun part of painting it.
In this post, I summarise what you can and need to do and then I will go into some detail (for those who like detail).
How to print line art on watercolor paper
Prepare the Hardware – Printer, tablet or computer
To get started, you’ll need an inkjet printer and watercolor paper to print your design on plus a computer with a Wacom drawing tablet or a tablet such as an iPad with a compatible Apple Pencil to make things easier.
I have tried drawing on a tablet without a pencil and it does not feel natural.
Download the Software e.g. Procreate, GIMP or Photoshop
You will also need to create your printable line art. I use an app called Procreate on my iPad that I freehand draw a design that I wish to print off and then color in using watercolor paints.
I can usually print the design directly from the app and iPad to the printer but some artists may like to manipulate or correct the drawing using software such as Photoshop or Gimp (it’s free!).
Once they have done this, they export or save the file which can then be sent to the printer.
Draw your line art
Draw your printable line art image and make any necessary edits you need.
Now to make the lines light but not too light and thin enough to be able to be seen but not appear too dark or thick that it dominates the water coloring.
You should use a light gray outline or something that resembles a 2B or B pencil in both color, shade and thickness.
I like to pick one of these shades of gray – https://www.color-hex.com/color-palette/9341
You can select the Hex code (eg #5F6369) and paste it into your app’s color dropper or color selector.
Save the design
When saving your printable file, make sure to select a compatible size with your printer.
A large format print or high-quality image should be saved as 150 to 300dpi.
Once you’ve saved the printable file, print out your design on watercolor paper.
Make sure to set print settings to “best” print quality for the most accurate results.
Feed the inkjet printer with watercolor paper
Feed the printer with watercolor paper using the manual paper feed rather than the tray. This allows for more control of the print.
The manual feed tray is usually designed to accept thicker paper anyway and will reduce the risk of paper jams.
Print it out on your inkjet printer
I recommend using an inkjet printer for 3 reasons.
One, its the cheapest solution.
Two, the ink is either a dye or pigmented ink instead of a toner, and three, inkjets can usually feed thicker watercolor papers while laser printers will struggle to feed without jamming.
If you do manage to feed the paper, it will heat the watercolor paper so much it will close the paper fibers and make it curl.
Once you have your printout, let it dry properly. You can then use it as a stencil for traditional painting and drawing techniques.
This will save you time in sketching out your design, allowing you to jump right into painting and drawing.
This is a great time-saving hack if you are planning on making multiple copies of the same design.
Inking/Coloring with watercolors
You can now apply traditional watercolor techniques such as washes or glazes to add depth and color to the piece as you like.
This technique is a great way to bring your digital artwork to life by combining them with traditional techniques without having to spend as much time sketching it out. Give this method a try and see how it works for you.
So I am not the best watercolorist and this is only a proof of concept to see if the ink would run once watercolor paint was applied.
I think it came out quite well for a quick piece. I showed my wife who didn’t even know it was a watercolor of a printed line art, she assumed it was drawn with pencil.
The great thing with this approach is that if I did not like the result of the painting, I had not devoted hours to sketching and underdrawing.
I could easily print off another copy and paint it again.
The only risk you may have is if your ink is waterproof.
It may sound like a benefit because so many artists complain the ink runs when water is applied but on the flip side if the ink is waterproof then it may resist the watercolor being applied.
This can lead to what looks like an outline being drawn over the watercolor.
The only way to see if this will be an issue is to try a test print on a small piece of watercolor paper and apply some watercolor over it and see how it behaves.
Can you print line art on watercolor paper using an inkjet printer?
The answer is yes, you can print line art or stencils on watercolor paper using an inkjet printer.
The key is to print it out at the best quality setting and opt for a waterproof ink if necessary.
If done correctly the print should stay intact when it comes in contact with watercolor paints. With this method you will be able to print line art or stencils quickly, saving time and resources.
You shouldn’t use a laser printer to print line art on watercolor paper because the print will be less durable.
Laser printers print with heat and can cause the paper to warp or buckle when exposed to watercolor paints.
How heavy a watercolor paper can I use to print on using an inkjet printer?
Generally, time and print line art on watercolor paper of less than 140lb/200gsm would be your best bet.
Heavier papers can still be used but may require some adjustment settings like print speed or resolution in order to get a successful print.
It is also important to use high quality ink when attempting this method as the print will not last long if the ink is not fade-resistant or lightfast.
Here’s a useful paper weight conversion tool that helps convert pounds to GSM and vice versa.
Does ink bleed with watercolor?
Inkjet print can hold up surprisingly well when exposed to watercolor paints.
However, some inks may still smudge or bleed slightly depending on the brand used.
To be safe, it is best to use pigmented inks that have been certified as lightfast and waterproof.
How do I feed the watercolor paper into my inkjet printer?
For best results, you should use a print tray designed specifically for thick media like watercolor paper.
This will help to ensure that the paper is fed evenly and without any misalignments or jams. If your printer does not have an adjustable print tray, you may then need to trim the paper down to fit in order for it to feed correctly.
Once you have the print tray adjusted and loaded with your watercolor paper, you are ready to print.
Make sure to check the print settings in your print dialogue box and adjust them as necessary for best results.
You can also print a test page on plain printer paper to make sure that everything is printing correctly before moving on to the watercolor paper.
Can you use a laser printer to print line art on watercolor paper?
Using a laser printer to print line art on watercolor paper is not recommended, as the heat generated by the laser print process can cause damage to the paper.
Laser printers are also not capable of printing with the same level of detail and accuracy that an inkjet printer can since they use toner and toner is usually not that good when you apply watercolor paint over it.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.