Masking tape for watercolour painting

April 1, 2022 | 23 Comments

In recent years I’ve used tape to mask off the edges of my sketches and other watercolour blocks such as colour charts. I’m yet to find a solution that is economical and 100% reliable – however for now I’m happy with using washi tape…

and/or 3M(Scotch) Delicate surface painters tape (which is a type of washi tape as well).

The benefits of washi tape are that it comes in a variety of widths and the small rolls are easy to carry around every day in my sketching kit. Whenever I’m in a stationery or craft store I look out for washi tape on sale.

I have two techniques that minimise the risk of the tape ripping off the paper when I remove it:

1. Before placing it on my page I stick it on my clothing first in order to pick up some lint and this lessens its stickiness.

2. When removing the tape, I peel off horizontally (shown on the left) not vertically (shown on the right)…

… and try to do this at an angle (thanks to Chris Haldane for this trick.)

The paper you use makes a big difference as well. These solutions work well for me using either Stillman & Birn Alpha or Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks.

BTW1: the colour chart contains swatches of paints by Deep Deep Light – more here.
BTW2: The other images are from a demo done for my Sketchbook Design course… and a group will be starting to work through this course next week on 6th April. Find out more here.

Would love to hear from you below in the comments… what tape do you use?

(If you are reading this via email, please click on the article title link below and add a comment on my blog. Thanks!)



  • Joanne Jaeger says:

    Wow! I thought was the only one who stuck the tape to my clothes before using it!! Just don’t stick it on a wooly sweater…you end up with too many fibers.

  • Peter Sampson says:

    I use micropore. Works well for me. The only disadvantage is that it is the same colour as the paper.

  • Melissa D Gathings says:

    Roz Stendahl recommended Michigan tape from Japan for a class and I’ve been a fan since. It is off-white and comes in different widths. Seals edges and releases beautifully off WC papers.

    • Barbara W says:

      Thanks for the tip, Melissa. I think it’s actually called Nichiban artist (or masking) tape, available on Wet Paints’s web site.

  • David Savage says:

    Yes, so true Liz – we take some of the stickiness off on clothing too, first. Never had an issue with paint seeping under the tape. Taking it off – if we strip it away from the painting in a diagonal, that seems to work and is less stress on the paper.
    Best wishes,

  • Gayle Selby says:

    I use washi tape. If I have trouble removing it with the horizontal method, I get out my heat tool and blow over it and it comes of easily without damaging the paper. I learned this from the Dragonnfly Spirit studio on YouTube. She’s an Oregon artist.

  • Jane Varley says:

    Hi Liz, I’ve used the 3M product successfully. No problem with tearing paper. Another factor for many masking tapes though, is not to leave it on the paper too long. Adhesion gets stronger the longer it is in contact!

  • Georgy Evans says:

    I’ve used low tack masking tape on full strength watercolour paper but not on sketch pads (yet). Sold here in the U.K. at artists’ shops. But it doesn’t come in the very narrow widths that washi does. Or the pretty colours ? I use washi tape for guidance on knitting charts but find that the narrow tape doesn’t last that long (all that yarn floof plus two cats and a dog!) and the wider tape takes half the chart with it as I’m using only ordinary copy paper.

  • Viv Burrows says:

    I always use a hair dryer on the tape for a few seconds and it comes off a treat

  • Sara Morgan says:

    I use Blick Artist’s Tape and 3M painter’s tape. I like both on 140 lb. paper. The Blick tape is 1/2″ and since I work relatively small, I like that width.

  • Diane Johnson says:

    Thanks for this post Liz,
    I’ve never used any tape in the past, but I love the result and all the tips, so I’m now on the lookout for Washi Tape and definitely going to try it out 🙂

  • For stretching watercolour paper only any brand or weight
    I use Bear Brand masking tape, it stand to very wet paper (cheap at hardware stores)
    Peel by lifting a corner and pull slowly parallel to the paper
    Remove it after no more than 4-5 days or will tear the outer layer of paper
    Painters coloured masking tape works well but have to removed within or 1-2 days

  • Nigel Dalby says:

    I’m in the UK, and I use something known as ‘Low-Tack Masking Tape’.
    It’s available in most art/hobby shops, in a variety of widths, and I’ve also seen it for sale in some DIY stores – so I think it must be a Multi-Purpose product.
    I previously found that some masking tape does have a tendency to be difficult to remove without taking the surface off the paper, but have (to date anyway!) never had a problem with the ‘Low-Tack’ variety.
    So I think perhaps it’s the same sort of product that many of you in other countries use – but just called something else.
    It’s useless for stretching WC Paper (I use brown paper tape for that), but for ‘borders’ on a dry surface it’s absolutely fine, and have never had problems with either paint seeping underneath, nor removing it as long as I take it off slowly, and always pull it ‘along’ the surface rather than ‘upwards’ (If that makes sense!).

    • Lura White says:

      Nigel, I used brown tape or paper tape and it’s stuck to my board and I cannot remove it. Has this happened to you? Do you have any suggestions? Thanks very much.

  • Kate says:

    Interesting! I have seen other artists who use washi tape for masking off edges successfully. Every time I have tried it, the washi tape comes up, allows paint to seep under or some other such problem. I must be purchasing inferior washi… but I have no idea how to tell which are good to use and which don’t stick to my sketchbook paper at all. I usually try to get it when I see it on sale… maybe that’s my problem. I have some pricey special art tape that works great, but, it’s pricey. So I use it sparingly and re-use it often several times as it’s that good a quality. If anyone has a ‘brand’ of washi tape that’s not expensive to recommend I’ll try to find one others have been successful with! 🙂

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Kate – I use cheap washi! I really like the tip to heat it with a hair dryer before removing. that seems to help a lot!

  • Liz Steel says:

    thanks everyone for sharing the tape you use and great tips! so helpful! thank you!!!!!

  • Skint Student says:

    Frog tape from Bunnings- yellow if I’m leaving it longer but purple (super delicate) usually. Love it.

    This is painter’s tape and a happy find (was painting a house wanted something better than 3M blue and now have two long rolls of the yellow to use up). Never have to pre-emptive tee or jeans tacky it either.

    Comes off a heap of papers I’ve used it on without issues too. (Strathmore 570GSM heavy mixed media and hardback or spiral bound Winsor & Newton 300GSM pure cotton. I can use it forever too- there’s a heap of pieces all over my A4 and A5 journal collection where I fix 4×6 inch precut paper for doing art on the move or in front of the tv. Though the yellow adhesive lasts longer for that purpose than the purple.)

    Give that a go!

    • Skint Student says:

      Whoops just read the inside of the purple tape roll. It’s Scotch Delicate Surface Washi Painter’s tape (#2080). Both are treated so shouldn’t allow paint seepage. I say shouldn’t.

      The adhesive isn’t as strong as the Frog tape so brand new straight off the roll it won’t keep 570GSM flat. The yellow (delicate) Frog tape WILL. I don’t recall either having issues with paint seepage despite this.

  • Noah Enholm says:

    Masking the paper edges is a crucial step in the preparation process for watercolor paintings. However, normal tapes should not be used because they may be overly sticky and cause the paper to tear when peeled. Blue tapes cannot be used on wet surfaces, therefore they cannot be used on paper that has already been saturated and stretched.

  • Nancy Sherr says:

    I’ve been trying black vinyl electrical tape for the outside borders of my sketches. I like the black outline, it doesn’t conflict with my paint colors and leaves a nice dark border. The tape I have is very low tack but I still stick it to my clothes first. So far I haven’t had any problems with it, but I haven’t been using it for long. I’ll update this post later if I run into a problem.

  • Marta says:

    Thank you so much, My washi tap was pulling too much of my sketchbook paper, and I hadn’t thought of sticking it to something before applying it on to the paper. I have stopped using the tape because of that. Great Idea!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Marta – getting some lint on it really helps but the best solution is to apply heat via hairdryer before removing.

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