Does your Paper Curl?


Curling paper is an annoyance in the art room, but can you prevent it?

I don’t think you can eliminate it entirely, but choosing the right papers for your art projects will prevent much of the curling.

I use two types of papers for most projects: 90 lb watercolor paper and 76 lb Tru-Ray sulphite paper. You might be surprised that my choice of watercolor paper is only 90 lbs but I have never had an instance when it proved to be too light. I teach elementary school kids and 90 lb watercolor provides just enough tooth and texture to distribute the watercolors evenly.

I don’t think it is at all necessary to tape down watercolor paper onto boards like adults do. It’s a good practice for more advanced watercolor technicians, but who needs the extra effort with seven-year olds?

I sometimes use watercolor paints on the 76 lb sulphite paper and although it doesn’t curl much, the watercolor paint doesn’t perform as well because the paper soaks up too much of the paint.The photo above is about how much curling I get from using puck tempera paint on sulphite paper. Not bad, huh?

Even when I use liquid tempera paint on sulphite paper, I don’t get much curling. Maybe my tolerance level is high. One of the problems I do have is very wet papers falling through the openings on the art rack causing the paper to dry lumpy and bumpy. I usually place these pieces under a stack of heavy posters or books to restore them to a flat finish.

Your Turn….

Do you experience more curling than this? What kind of paper do you use? How do you prevent curling?

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  • debbiezg@sbcglobal.net

    I know of one Art teacher that uses large pieces laminate boards and put art between board and clamps art work down for 24 hour. I don’t have time for this procedure but she is very happy to do it.

  • snikdaj@gmail.com

    I was just doing a google search on how to flatten student’s paintings and found nothing, so I thought, I’ll pop over to DSS and send Patty a message. She’ll know. And then this is the post for the day! Lol! I used the same paper, but get a lot of buckling–never realized it could be coming from the drying rack. I’ll have to weight them down. Thanks for reading my mind!–Julie

    • Patty Palmer

      That is so funny! Glad you thought of me!

  • Beth Carter

    I use 3 packages of wrapped 12 x 18 inch paper taped together, as my paper weight. I place them on top of projects to flatten them in my cabinet. I don’t have a storage room, but have old cabinets in the hall. I have one cabinet for each day of the week. I keep the old wrapped paper in the cabinets and rotate it on top of the projects as we finish Great question!

  • Ashley

    I actually have “messy papers” that the students always use under their paintings [and anything messy]. They are pre-cut pieces of manilla paper that are 12×18″. They get paint and pastels and sharpie marks all over them from the kids working on them, but they keep the messy paper under their work when they put it on the drying rack. I think it helps the curling a little bit, and it definitely keeps heavy papers from falling through. At the end of the year we use them for collages :).

    • Kris

      I do this too…it helps cut back the time it takes to clean up the tables because most of the mess is contained to the “sloppy papers”…I also try real hard to allow students to slide their own work into the drying racks, and this gives them something stable to hold onto while doing so…many benefits to this trick!

  • Kathy Church

    I Iron my paper after it dries. If it is really curly, I spritz the back with a fine mist of water, and then iron. I then put them under books until cool, and viola! Flat as a pancake!

    • Patty Palmer

      This is amazing to me. I never knew art teachers took the time to iron. What love!

    • R5bales

      I wonder if a laminator would work.

    • diaza1226

      Cool! I’ve always wondered if I should use an iron. Now, I know.

  • Mrs.C

    I place the class folder underneath my 18×24 reams of white sulphite drawing paper(they weigh a ton!)
    They are always flat and ready the next week for class! 🙂

  • kimberly long

    does anyone ever try to flatten the paper out for when they give back the artwork?

    • Carla Lee

      I have a big stack of dictionaries in my art room that I use for flattening their art work. I always place their papers under the dictionaries (whether we are going to display them or send them home) and the next day they are flat. I think parents appreciate a flattened piece as it seems more “finished!”

  • Ingrid

    I have small rubbermaid containers that I store ‘mosaic stones’ aka fishtank pebbles in. The industrial arts teacher cut me a 19 x 25 or so piece of 1/2 thick plywood. I stack papers when emptying the drying rack, throw the plywood on top, stack boxes of rocks, and they are ready by the next day.

    • Patty Palmer

      Now this is a system I like!

  • Mary Rutherford

    Curly paper drives me crazy when I am photographing work for Artsonia! I have flattened most of our work under boxes of poster board. I have also ironed some pieces but that takes forever. I do have a tip for cardboard. If you are using large pieces of cardboard to paint scenery for plays, etc. paint a wide X from corner to corner on the back. When you paint the front it helps keep it from curling so much. Love your blog by the way!

  • Madeleine

    I keep sheets of cardboard cut to the size of each of the drying rack shelves and so always lay the artwork on these cardboard sheets and therefore do not have too much of a problem with the paper curling.

  • Nena

    I just finished your painted paper project and made owls with my 3rd and 4th graders. Not being an art teacher, I tried to find your 90 lb. sulphite at Hobby Lobby. No go. So I got 98 lb. mixed media paper instead. It held up well and didn’t curl much. I still put the whole stack, after drying, under a heavy weight overnight. They were perfect the next morning. The kids had a ball making their painted paper owls today! Thanks so much for the inspiration! Not being “artsy” myself, this is a stretch for me! But well worth the 2 days it took to make them. Thanks, again! :O)

    • Carla Lee

      So smart! That’s a great idea!

  • Marisa Kenney

    I also iron most of the students art if it curls. There were two old irons already in the art room when I took over. The kind with no steam. I use heavy paper book covers my school has printed each year and place the art between two of the covers, then iron. The art look 100% better once it’s flattened! It also looks nicer and makes it easier to mount onto black art paper so that it looks framed. The students and faculty think it’s hilarious that I iron the art work!

  • Laurel McGowan

    Well! I feel like such a ding-a-ling! I don’t flatten the kids work in between sessions of working on it, I never really thought about it, but, have recognized that because the paper is a little bumpy after the first painting session that it is harder for the kids to get the paint or pastel or whatever on as neatly because they are fighting the wrinkled paper! Duh! I take great care when the projects are finished to mount them and weight them so they end up beautiful and flat!

    I have cardboard (thick, heavy, corrugated cardboard) pieces that I have wrapped with thick, clear, plastic from the paint department. They are all wrapped like a package and taped with packaging tape on the back so the cardboard inside is totally sealed. I always tape paper to them when I finger paint, string paint, even do Patty’s textured paper projects because then even the little kids can pick up the board with no sweat and slide it into the drying rack all by themselves. There is no having to stick hands in and try to pull the paper from the back to get it in! No bending or folding either when they just shove it in either. It also does a lot to keep the paper from sliding around on the table while they are working on it. I also use them for heavy papers that fall through, or small papers that fall through. They are easy to wipe off with a sponge, too. Once I made them, they have been great to have. I actually made them a little at a time because I have enough for 3 classes worth of projects, that way, they can just sit in a stack still taped in between sessions. Yes, they were a lot of work to begin with, but have paid for themselves in time and extra work a million times since then.

    -I never thought of ironing the papers, is that like ironing your pillow cases???!!!:) You love the kids and their work. That is obvious.:)

    Speaking of doing weird things, I get strange looks from the other teachers and my principal when they walk by and see me mopping my tables to clean them. It works awesome. I only use it for tables, no floor, because of the yucky germs on the floor. You don’t have to bend over either and you can reach the whole 6 ft. table or whatever from one side or end. I have back to back classes and sometimes we can’t get them wiped off in time for the next class so I grab my mop while the kids are putting their paint shirts on and give the tables a quick once over and WaLa! They are clean and ready to go. It doesn’t take the kids long to figure out they should scoot back from the table 6″ or so until you get past their spot either. Don’t want to give them a face full.

  • Lori

    I tape the paper down like you would for watercolour. Lots of work but i can usually find some older students to help out.

  • Meri

    I have taught my students to gently pull their dried paper across the edge of the table while lightly holding onto the top of the painting. Sometimes the painting needs this process along all of the sides but this works really well to help flatten the paper. I leave this process up to them to do it.

  • Kris

    I don’t have too much trouble with most paints…I do many of the tricks I see posted above…but I have a MAJOR problem with curling when I use finger paints! I don’t know why- I’ve tried regular paper in different weights, even the expensive finger paint paper…but nothing seems to keep it from curling…and once dry…finger paint doesn’t flatten out as well as all of the other types of painted papers…I would LOVE suggestions!

    • Katie

      Perhaps do a trial first in the event this idea is a “fLoP!” … Collect large pieces of left-over large lamination scraps (I find them recycled after being cut from classrooms’ laminated work) that you could place a piece atop each finger painting sandwiched with a blotter under the artwork. Over the sandwich, place a marker bin or something with enough of a weight to keep all flat. The following day, lift the bin & slowly peel the lamination film off the work of art when certain it’s dry. You sadly will lose the textural beauty of the work of art but if flat is important, this is a possibility.

  • Phyl

    My trick to keep paper from curling also has other benefits. I have the kids draw a narrow ‘frame’ on their paper – maybe 1/2″ – and all painting is done inside the frame. The unpainted edge keeps the paper from curling, and also gives “handles” for carrying wet papers, keeps the tables cleaner, and leaves a lovely white edge for displaying unmounted artwork! Sometimes, we filled the white edge in with marker patterns or collage (such as a collage of animal print tissue paper for borders on our Fauve paintings of African animals). The kids get used to doing this and it becomes a natural part of painting.

    • Denise


    • Patty Palmer

      Cool. I never considered that the white frame would prevent curling. Love this!

  • Brenda Price

    In the past I just ignored it as a hazard of using paint with 10 year olds, but now I keep a stack of old art books by the drying rack. When I take a stack of paintings out that are bent, I put them under the stack of books for one day. Then I rotate to the next stack and pull the now flat ones out. The kids now know what the books are used for and leave them alone.

  • Ros

    After the paintings have dried on the rack I put them into piles and place them under the floor mat that the students sit on for discussion time. All students know that the small bump in the carpet is a pillow that I want sat on and enjoy doing this. By the next session that class has lovely flat papers to work on.

  • Charlie Green

    I enjoyed reading all the comments that have been posted. The one about wetting the back side to counteract curl is interesting. In the commercial world of paper manufacture, the most universal rule is that paper curl moves toward the side from which moisture moves last. To discuss curl in more detail, you can find my email address and comment section on the website http://www.papercurl.com, Curl is an interesting but complicated issue commercially.

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks Charlie. Wow! A whole site on paper curling. I personally don’t mind a little curl in student art but for those that do, your site is great.

  • Barbara Steg

    Is that AFTER the pastel is completed,,,,, that it effect the finished painting?????

  • Barbara

    Where do you buy your watercolor paper? sulphite paper? I have been searching for places to find it in bulk. My last order I bought the largest size and cut it down (very time consuming). On a small budget, I am trying to get as much paper as I can for a lot of kids.

  • Lisa Price

    Hi! I’m new to your website and found this article and others’ comments very helpful. I make beveled stationery, and have been looking for envelope liner paper that complements my hand-mixed metallic colors for painting the beveled edges. What a chore! Metallic paper suitable for liners is expensive, plus I can’t find exact matches. So I decided to airbrush my colors onto 80# 100% cotton paper, that way I’d have a perfect match between my beveled edge cards and the liner paper. Naturally the paper curled and I used the iron and heavy books method. Looks great! I also tried fabric spray paint and that required no ironing and looked great.

  • Misty

    I’ve tried placing them under heavy things for up to a week and they are flat until I hang them in the halls. Then they curl right back up! Frustrating! I might try ironing them!

    • Patty

      Yes, this is just the result of the nature of school grade paper and paint. If you want to hang the artwork by a single tack or point, you’ll need to mount them on matt board. Or you can just tack the 4 corners.

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