Process: How to cut a watercolor roll

So when I took the big plunge and bought a watercolor roll, I did a search and I couldn’t find anything about what to do with it on the internet. So here is my attempt to fill that niche. I would love to hear other’s approaches.

1. A brief summary of watercolor paper

Watercolor paper comes in three formats, in three textures, and with several weights. First, the formats are blocks / pads, sheets, and rolls. Rolls are the closest thing to the raw product. The manufacturer presses the paper into molds 10 yards by 44 inches in size. With a roll the entire sheet is rolled up and shipped to you. In the case of sheets, the large sheet from the mold is cut into 30″ x 22″ sheets. Blocks are cut up even further and glued together on the edges to keep the paper from buckling. I won’t go in depth into textures, but the three textures are rough, cold press (medium texture), and hot press (smooth texture). Weights vary from 94 lb to 500 lb with 140 lb to 300 lb being the most standard. However as far as I have researched only 140 is sold in rolls. I assume anything that weighed less would be too “cheap” and anything that weighs more does not roll up. The great thing about rolls is they are the cheapest per square inch of paper and you get the freedom of getting the exact size of paper you want.


2. Materials and prep to cut paper

  1. Roll of watercolor paper
  2. 2H or harder pencil
  3. Fabric shears or other high quality scissors
  4. meter T square
  5. 4 heavy books (preferably in content as well as physical weight)
Materials: paper, 2H pencil,  fabric scissors, T square, 4 clean heavy books
Materials: paper, 2H pencil, fabric scissors, T square, 4 clean heavy books

I used to feel bad about using my nice fabric shears on paper, and then I remembered watercolor paper is 100% cotton so it’s really amounts to the same thing. I also find it very important to make sure the surface I’m working on is very clean and I have just recently washed my hands and feet (oil from fingers affects the absorbency of watercolor paper so the goal is to touch the paper as little as possible. The books should be clean as well.

3. Unroll paper

Lay all four books on the edge of the paper and scoot out two of the books while you slowly unroll the paper. Unroll the paper about 16 inches more than you will cut. Measure the length you want to cut and mark both edges. Double check that the paper’s edge is actually cut square, and re-measure.

unroll paper
unroll paper


4. Draw your cutting line

If you’re like me and your edge is shorter than the width of the paper, draw one line square to the paper from one mark and then do the same from the other mark, making sure that the second line touches the first at the end of the stick. Draw this line very very lightly which is the reason to use a harder graphite.

draw your cutting line
draw your cutting line


5. Make a space to cut

Next scoot the cut edge closer to the roll just a little bit with the books, this will create a bubble that will help you cut. The goal is to never make a crease because you can’t get rid of it ever. You can’t see the line in the photo because that’s how light I drew it.

create a bump
create a bump


6. Cut the paper

You want to cut the paper the same way you would cut fabric, instead of working the shears open and closed, move the shears forward while they are partially open. The bump will help the cut paper to move away from each other so that you can sit between them to finish cutting. As you can see, everything snaps back into rolls the moment you finish cutting:

the paper snaps back into a roll once it's cut
the paper snaps back into a roll once it’s cut


7. Repeat the process with cross cuts

It’s a little harder to make a bump in the perpendicular direction without creasing the paper, but it will help if you have a cut that is longer than your reach.



8. Wet your paper

Once your paper is cut and you want to flatten it, (it’s fine to store it rolled) just hold it in the shower until all the surfaces front and back are thoroughly soaked. If you have a tub big enough for your paper, let it soak in the tub for 5 minutes. As you let the paper soak the sizing will slowly come out of the paper.



9. Lay the paper flat

At this point you can stretch the paper if you want to (there are plenty of tutorials for that already) but I just like to let it lay flat and dry on it’s own.


I hope this is useful!

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