Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Watercolor Paper?

By Mandy Moss

The short answer is yes. Acrylic paint works beautifully on watercolor paper, allowing artists to enjoy the textures and absorbency that watercolor paper provides.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about using acrylic paint on watercolor paper.


  • Recommendations for choosing the right watercolor paper
  • Expert opinions and experiences with the technique
  • Proper application and painting techniques
  • Results and finished look
  • Alternative painting surfaces
Can you use acrylic paint on paper

Maybe you’ve run into similar issues while using acrylic paint on paper, or maybe you’ve been told to avoid using it altogether.

YOU WILL LEARN: Problems with painting on paper are so easy to overcome when you have the right information. I love to paint this way mainly because of the convenience. 

Can You Use Acrylic Paint on Watercolor Paper?

You can use acrylic paint on watercolor paper but it’s important to know how it interacts with different types of surfaces to avoid frustrations like buckled paper and cracked paint.

The weight and quality of the paper are very important to get the best results. Here are some key factors to look for when selecting watercolor paper for acrylic painting:


  • Look for heavyweight paper between 246-300 lb.
  • Heavy paper that is absorbent prevents buckling and warping.
  • Paper that is too lightweight may wrinkle as the acrylic paint saturates the fibers.


  • Choose 100% cotton, professional-grade watercolor paper.
  • Synthetic fibers also help reduce buckling.
  • Stay away from papers with wood pulp content.


  • Pick paper with a cold-pressed or rough textured surface.
  • Hot pressed papers are too smooth for acrylics.


  • Acid-free papers maintain brightness and prevent discoloration.


  • Standard watercolor paper size is 22”x30”.
  • But sheets, pads, and blocks come in other sizes too.

I often use 300 lb rough watercolor paper for my acrylic work. The heavy weight means fewer issues with buckling, and the texture provides some nice variation in paint application. I prefer sheets over pads or blocks for more flexibility in working with custom sizes.

Expert Opinions on Using Acrylics on Watercolor Paper

Many experienced artists have tested and recommend using acrylic paint successfully on watercolor paper. Here are some of their key insights:

Acrylic Painting School

  • Confirms acrylics adhere well to watercolor paper with no priming needed.
  • Allows thinning acrylics to a fluid, watercolor-like consistency.
  • Heavy paper reduces buckling from the moisture.

The Spruce Crafts

  • states that acrylic is very versatile and pairs nicely with watercolor paper.
  • no need to prep the paper first with gesso.
  • acrylic maintains its opacity and drying time on paper.

Choose Marker

  • Approves of acrylic painting techniques on watercolor paper.
  • Points out key differences between acrylic and true watercolor paints.
  • Paper needs to be heavyweight to prevent curling or waving.

Testing on paper scraps first is always recommended. Make sure the paper can hold up to the amount of water and paint you plan to use. But overall, experienced artists give acrylics and watercolor paper the green light.

Proper Techniques for Applying Acrylics to Watercolor Paper

Once you have selected a high-quality, heavyweight watercolor paper, you can begin painting! Here are some techniques for getting the best results:

1. Prepare the Paper Surface

  • Stretch and tape down paper edges to keep surface taut.
  • Apply gesso to size and prime paper (optional).
  • Use weights or clips to prevent paper from buckling.

2. Thin and Dilute the Acrylic Paint

  • Add water to get desired consistency and flow.
  • Create translucent acrylic washes.
  • Mix in acrylic media like gloss gel to alter finishes.

3. Use Appropriate Brushes and Tools

  • Soft bristle brushes work best.
  • Prevent scratches by avoiding hard bristles.
  • Palette knives add texture.
  • Sponges create blended effects.

4. Employ Techniques as Desired

  • Wet-on-wet and wash techniques.
  • Dry brush for texture.
  • Glazing and layering for depth.
  • Smooth blends with palette knife.

5. Allow Acrylics to Dry Completely

  • Acrylic dries quickly but allow time between layers.
  • Weight down paper edges while drying if needed.
  • Mist back of paper to relax wrinkles (avoid over-wetting).

With a bit of practice, you can achieve vibrant acrylic paintings on watercolor paper. The finished pieces will showcase the combined benefits of both mediums.

Comparing Acrylic Painting Results on Watercolor Paper

How do finished acrylic paintings on watercolor paper compare to works on traditional canvas? Here are some key differences:

  • Colors – retain their vibrancy on paper as on canvas.
  • Textures – paper provides varied effects not seen on canvas. Brushstrokes also appear more visible.
  • Absorption – paper soaks in more acrylic pigment than canvas. Can require more paint.
  • Dry Time – drying time is slightly increased on thick paper vs. canvas.
  • Portability – paper is more lightweight and easy to transport or mail.
  • Longevity – canvas withstands frequent handling better than paper over very long term.

The unique textures and visual interest from the watercolor paper surface make it a compelling artistic choice. For transportable pieces that will be displayed framed and under glass, watercolor paper provides a practical option.

What paper can you use acrylic paint on?

The reason these problems arise when painting on paper is because as paint dries, it shrinks in size. Acrylic paint is more suited to heavier papers.

Thicker paper will be sturdier, and one with a rougher texture will be more absorbent. Thin, less absorbent paper, like notebook or printer paper, isn’t as strong, which is why it tears and ripples easily when paint is applied.

If you’ve never shopped for paper in an art supply store, you might not be familiar with the different “weights”; this refers to the thickness and absorbency. “Heavier” paper will feel thicker and will be more difficult to crease or tear.

TIP: I would recommend you to search for 300lb or heavier artist paper. This is a safe bet, and will resist buckling, tearing, and bleed from the moisture in the paint. It will also prevent the paint from pooling on top of the paper. 

Alternative Surfaces for Painting with Acrylics

While watercolor paper serves as an excellent painting surface, some artists may prefer other ground options:

  • Canvas – The most popular choice provides durability at lower weights. Stretched canvas gives a traditional finished look.
  • Canvas boards – These convenient boards come in many sizes. They provide a canvas texture without stretching.
  • Wood – Sanded plywood, MDF, and timber panels provide smooth, absorbent surfaces for acrylics. Must be sealed properly.
  • Acrylic Paper – This thick paper is designed specifically for acrylic painting. It is very durable and textured.
  • Mixed Media Paper – Affordable and accommodating to many wet and dry media. But quality varies greatly.

For my abstract acrylic work, I like using 12″x16″ canvas boards.

Can I use acrylic paint on watercolor sketchbook?

Yes, I have used acrylic paints in watercolor sketchbooks many times. The key for me is choosing a sketchbook with thick, heavyweight paper, at least 300gsm or 140lb.

I can still remember the smell of the cheap acrylic paint I was using and the exact sketchbook with the blue cover. I sat at the kitchen table, painting a picture with painstakingly meticulous details for a school project and left it to dry.

The next morning before school, I found a wrinkled piece of paper where I had left my finished painting, and when I tried to smooth it out, the paint started to crumble and fall off the paper. All that work for nothing!

Can you paint on printer paper

From my experience, yes I have painted with acrylics on all kinds of regular paper – printer paper, drawing paper, cardstock, and more. The key is accepting that the results will not have the same longevity or finished look as painting on proper acrylic paper or canvas. I view it as a more temporary, practice surface.

The thinner and slicker the paper, the more issues I run into with wrinkling, bleeding colors, and lack of tooth for the paint to adhere well. Heavier cardstock holds up better. I don’t expect the vibrancy or archival benefits of good art paper either. But it’s a fun way to test out ideas freely.

Helpful Tips for Avoiding Common Problems

When applying acrylic paint to watercolor paper, there are some potential issues that can arise:

Problem: Buckling or Warping

Solution: Use heavyweight paper and tape down the edges to keep surface taught as it dries. Mist the back to relax wrinkles.

Problem: Colors Seem Dull or Muted

Solution: Make sure to use heavy body or soft body acrylic paints. Allow sufficient drying time between layers.

Problem: Paint Soaks In Too Quickly

Solution: Try sizing the paper first with acrylic medium or gesso to create a barrier layer.

Problem: Edges Curl Upwards

Solution: Avoid over-wetting paper. Weight down the edges as the painting dries.

With some testing and practice, acrylic painting on watercolor paper can become second nature. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works best for your artistic style.


Can you paint on printer paper?

Specifically with printer paper, I recommend using heavier weight stock if you want to prevent excessive wrinkling. Standard copy weight paper becomes wavy easily with wet acrylic paint. Cardstock printer paper gives better stability. You may also need to apply multiple coats to get good color saturation since printer paper is not formulated to be workable with wet art media.

What kind of paper do you use for acrylic paint?

For my acrylic painting, I prefer to use heavy weight mixed media paper or acrylic paper. The textures provide interesting effects, and these papers can take thin washes or thick impasto techniques without buckling. I enjoy the Strathmore 500 series mixed media pads which take both wet and dry media nicely. For larger pieces, I stretch canvas paper which mimics the feel of painting on canvas without the need for framing.

Can I use acrylic paint instead of watercolor?

Yes, I regularly thin out my acrylic paints with water to create transparent washes that look very similar to watercolor effects. I took some time to learn proper dilution and brush techniques, but now I can reliably mimic watercolors with thinned acrylics. I prefer acrylics for their faster drying time, ability to layer without disturbing lower colors, and versatility on a range of surfaces. With practice, acrylics can be watered down beautifully to substitute for true watercolors.

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