If you’re new to acrylics, you may be wondering if you have to stretch acrylic paper before painting on it.

Do you need to stretch acrylic paper? You don’t have to stretch the acrylic papers that I mention in this post. You can begin painting on them without any preparation because they’re extra thick and contain enough sizing to prevent the paper from buckling. The thinner student grade papers may buckle if you paint on them with acrylics.

There are a lot of advantages to painting on paper. For one, paper is much less expensive than canvas so it’s great for beginners or for experimenting with new techniques.

Another advantage is the finished paintings take up a lot less space than regular canvases. The smaller size and weight makes your paintings less expensive to ship too. You want to choose the right paper for acrylics so that it will be an enjoyable experience, otherwise you may end up with paintings that are buckled.

The Best Acrylic Paper

My favorite acrylic papers are in the table below. They are available in pads and sheets in a variety of sizes.

None of these papers require any preparation which means you can eliminate the tedious task of stretching paper or priming it with gesso. I’m always looking for ways to reduce the monotonous tasks so I have more time for making art. Using paper for acrylics is one way to accomplish this.

I have created numerous paintings on acrylic paper and they hold up well. The paper may curl slightly if you apply a lot of paint at once, or if your paint contains a lot of water. However, this is not a major concern though as I explain how to avoid this later in the post.

The papers in the table below both excellent papers, and the major difference between them is the texture which you can see in the pictures after the table.

I provide the links to Blick Art Materials for each product. I’ve been using them for years and they have great customer service. They also have full sheets of acrylic paper and more sizes than most places. If you prefer Amazon, they also have the Canson  and Strathmore acrylic papers.

Acrylic Paper Sizes (inches) Link To Blick
Strathmore 400 Series PADS 6×6
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Strathmore 400 Series SHEETS 18×24 [button type=”flat” shape=”rounded” size=”mini” href=”http://shrsl.com/28pud” title=“acrylic sheets”]Check Price[/button]
Canson Montval PADS & SHEETS 9×12
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Canson XL Oil & Acrylic PADS 9×12
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The links to Blick Art Materials are affiliate links which means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no cost to you.
Comparison of acrylic paper textures
I photographed these paintings on acrylic papers with glare to highlight the textures. At top is the Montval Cold press, and the Strathmore linen is at the bottom.

Montval Acrylic Paper

This acrylic paper is made by Canson. It’s 185lb which is fairly thick. It’s acid free and comes in pads or sheets. The most popular size you’ll find in stores is 9”x12”.

According to the Canson website they even state that it “stays flat and will not buckle.” They continue to say that it’s ready for use and there is no need for gesso or preparation.

From my own experience, this paper lives up to these claims. I paint on it without stretching nor do I apply any gesso. In fact, I think stretching it would probably remove some of the sizing considering you have to wet paper before you can stretch it.

The information on the pad doesn’t say what they use for sizing the paper, but it’s probably gelatin. Manufacturers apply sizing to art papers to slow down the absorption of the water into the paper. Paper expands when it absorbs moisture from the acrylic paint.

When you apply paint to one section of the paper it absorbs moisture and expands while the surrounding dry areas remain the same. This uneven expansion is what causes the paper to buckle. The sizing prevents this from happening. Thicker papers are less likely to buckle too.

Strathmore 400 Series Acrylic Paper

This is Strathmore’s version of acrylic paper made for painting with acrylics. Based on the weight of the paper provided by the manufacturer, I believe it’s the thickest paper of all the acrylic papers in the table above. The pad states that it’s for acrylic, but you could probably use it for other mediums too.

The Strathmore website doesn’t make any claims about buckling or not needing preparation, but it works just as well as the Montval paper. You can paint on it without having to stretch it, nor do you have to apply gesso.

Strathmore describes the texture as “linen” which is a type of canvas made from the flax plant. It does have a texture that’s similar to linen. Upon close inspection you will be able to tell that it’s paper and not real canvas, but the texture is still nice to work on.

Once you apply several coats of paint to it, the texture becomes more subtle and natural looking.

The paper has a slight warm tone to it and is similar to any natural white watercolor paper.

Some watercolor papers are available in bright white, which tends to have a very bright and cool appearance. The natural white have more of a warm tone to it, which is how both of these acrylic papers look.

You can apply a coat of gesso to the paper even though it’s not necessary. Some artists prefer working on gesso and there’s nothing wrong with applying a coat of it to these papers.

Do You Need To Gesso Acrylic Paper?

There’s no need to apply a coat of gesso to acrylic paper unless you prefer working on a gessoed surface. The sizing that the manufacturer applies to the paper prevents it from absorbing too much moisture at once. This helps to eliminate buckling and curling.

The paper readily accepts pencil lines so you can sketch on it before you paint.

You can apply a coat of gesso to acrylic paper if that’s what you prefer working on. Gesso is basically acrylic paint so it won’t harm the paper in any way.

While gesso is slightly absorbent, it will help to seal the paper. I’ve noticed that the first layer of paint dries slightly faster than subsequent layers. My post about gesso alternatives covers the various acrylic mediums you can use in place of gesso.

Does Acrylic Paper Curl?

While acrylic paper doesn’t buckle, it may curl slightly. This is especially true if you like to thin out your acrylic paint with water. The extra water will eventually soak into the paper and cause the fibers to expand. Expanding paper fibers are what causes buckling in thin papers. Thicker papers shouldn’t buckle but they may develop a slight curl.

However, the curling is slight and doesn’t really interfere with my painting process. These acrylic papers will eventually dry flat. Every painting that I have created on acrylic paper has dried perfectly flat.

I believe an exception to this is if you paint in extremely thick layers. Canvas may be a better option if you like to paint in thick layers as paper will buckle under the weight of very thick layers of paint.

One way to prevent the paper from curling while you’re painting is to tape the corners down. I like to roll up a small piece of masking tape and place behind each corner.

You want to look for masking tape that’s removable and doesn’t have an aggressive adhesive. Otherwise you may rip the paper when you remove it. It would be wise to test out different kinds of tape on some scrap paper before using it on a painting.

Another thing to keep in mind is you don’t want to leave the tape on the paper for more than a few days because it becomes more difficult to remove the longer you leave it on. You can always remove the tape from the paper if you plan on taking a break for a few days and then replace it when you come back to finish it.

The paper only tends to curl with the first layer of paint or so. Each layer of paint further seals the paper from absorbing more moisture.

How Fast Does Acrylic Paint Dry on Paper?

Acrylic paint usually dries to the touch within 10-20 minutes but you may find that it will dry a little faster on paper because it’s absorbent. The first layer may dry within 5-10 minutes, but it will behave more normally as you build up the paint. The exact drying times for acrylics depends upon many factors, including the brand of paint, temperature, humidity, air flow, and the thickness of the paint.

I wrote a more in depth post on how long it takes for acrylics to dry if you want to read about how to make acrylics dry faster or slower.

As for painting on paper, the first layer will always dry faster.

I actually consider this an advantage because I like being able to use the first layer for quickly blocking in the shapes. Then I can move on to refining the shapes and correcting the color without having to wait for the first layer to dry.

Occasionally, I begin a painting by toning the entire sheet of paper with a solid color. If you don’t like blocking in the major shapes first, this is a quick way to seal the paper and make it less absorbent.


Acrylic paper is fun to paint on. It’s much cheaper than buying a canvas for each painting so you will feel more free to experiment. If the painting doesn’t turn out it’s not like you’ve wasted an expensive canvas.

Painting with acrylics on paper is convenient and I like trying out the different textures. If you enjoy using acrylics in a watercolor style, painting on paper will help your acrylic paintings to look more like watercolors. If that’s something that you’re interested in, then you may be interested in reading my post about how to make acrylics look like watercolors.

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