Painting on Paper with Acrylics: Tips for Ultimate Success

Painting a bright coral circle on a piece of paper.

Everyone knows that you can paint on canvas but did you know that painting on paper with acrylics was an option? It sure is! In fact, it’s my favorite surface to paint on and I use it about 90% of the time. There are some pretty enticing benefits to painting on paper so let’s take a closer look.

Benefits of Painting on Paper with Acrylics

Besides the fact that paper (and cardboard) are what I used when I was first starting with acrylic painting, there are a few convincing benefits to consider:

  • Takes up way less room
  • Easy to keep in a binder so you can watch how much you’re improving
  • Paper is easy to get your hands on
  • Can be less expensive
  • Easy to transport if you are painting on the go

Paper Types to Use with Acrylic Paint

When thinking about painting on paper with acrylics, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind. Because acrylic paint is water-based, you’ll have better success using thick paper so your paint doesn’t bleed through to the back. Thicker paper will also allow you to get a bit rough if you need to paint different effects (like dry brushing clouds).

Mixed Media Paper

A Canson mixed media paper journal opened to a painting of a blue vase with assorted brightly colored flowers on a lime green background.
One of my favorite types of paper to use – Canson Mixed Media spiral bound journal

I have a mixed media journal that I use all the time and I love the paper! Mixed media paper was created to stand up to different media like inks, watercolors, markers, and more.

It’s a fairly thick paper with a bit of tooth (rough finish) and can be bought in spiral-bound journal form and you can get different sized sheets. It’s this versatility that makes it a fantastic option for painting on paper with acrylics.

Watercolor Paper

Although it seems obvious what watercolor paper is used for, it’s also a great option for acrylics. If you think about it, watercolor paper is made to handle very thin watery paint and, since acrylics are more dense than watercolor paint, it can certainly handle acrylic paint.

Acrylic Painting Paper

Yep, there’s also a paper developed for acrylic paint….. imagine that! Painting on paper with acrylics is a breeze with this type of paper. It’s thick and offers just the right amount of texture so you can use washes (watered down acrylics) and add lots of layers with confidence.


I know what you’re thinking. This type of paper doesn’t seem to belong but I have been using cardstock, successfully, for years! Cardstock comes in different weights so as long as you choose a heavier weight, you’ll be golden. You can get it in different colors which is so fun when you want an underpainting without using your paint. Cardstock is super easy to get your hands on because it’s sold in so many different places. Also, it can be bought in larger amounts so you’ll never have to worry about running out!

Should you Gesso Paper for Painting?

You may have heard of a product called gesso but aren’t quite sure what it is. Gesso is a primer for your surface before you paint on it. Most stretched canvas and canvas boards you buy at the store have already been primed with gesso.

Gesso comes in white, black, and even clear. It is thinner than acrylic paint and has a chalky texture. It stops your paint from absorbing into the painting surface so that it glides easier.

Painting on paper with acrylics can be a bit tricky because of the absorbency issue so some people will always gesso their paper first but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Instead, you can adjust the amount of water you use and change up your technique a bit.

Absorbency Issues when Painting on Paper with Acrylics

So, there are two big issues that you can face when painting on paper with acrylics. As you know, paper is absorbent. There’s a reason why people freak out when they spill coffee on their paperwork (I’m not naming names or anything…).

Paper can soak up paint like a sponge and, since acrylics dry fast to begin with, this can be very frustrating for beginners especially if you’re using cardstock. Think of it like pasta noodles. If you make pasta for dinner and then decide to have leftovers the next day, you’ll notice that the pasta has soaked up quite a bit of sauce and you’ll need to add more or, at the very least, a bit of oil.

In order to get your paint to flow across the paper, you’ll have to be prepared to keep your brush a bit damper or add more water to your paint. But, if you don’t want to have to bother with that, you can always paint a few coats of gesso over the paper first. Just remember to give each coat a light sanding and to make sure you wipe off the gesso dust.

Warped Paper

Warping is the other big problem when painting on paper with acrylics. Because the paint dries at different speeds you will most likely have to deal with at least a bit of warping. Because I use paper a lot for painting, I’m pretty well versed in how to fix this.

When I have a painting that has warped, I wait until it is completely dry and then I lay it face down on a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I lightly (LIGHTLY!!!) mist the back with water, lay a few sheets of paper towel over it, and, lastly, lay two or three heavy books on top. I give it a good 24 hours before I take the books off and check to see if it’s flattened. If it still needs a bit more flattening, I repeat the process with clean parchment and paper towel and give it another 24 hours.

Sometimes you don’t even need to do anything except to give it time to completely dry. So, I always suggest giving it a week and see what happens before trying the method mentioned above.

A pink, gold, white, and grey swirled painting on paper, with acrylics, by using the paint pour method.
This is a paint pour that I did on paper. Even though some parts have more paint than others (you can tell by the cracking in the dried paint), the paper is not warped at all.

Varnishing your Painting on Paper

If you plan to display the art that you are painting on paper, I would err on the side of caution and varnish it. Varnishing will help to keep your painting from being affected by humidity/water and does provide a bit of UV protection from sunlight. Several coats of spray or brush on varnish, front and back, should do the trick.

If you’re interested in learning more about varnishing acrylic paintings, take a look at my article “How to Seal an Acrylic Painting“.

Framing an Acrylic Painting on Paper

Do you have to frame your painting on paper with acrylics? No, not really, but it sure does look nice! I know there are many different ways to do this but this is my method:

  • Buy a frame one size larger than the actual paint
  • Use a mat so that it creates a space between the painting and the glass (if not, you run the risk of the paint sticking to the glass, yikes!)
  • Center the painting on the mat and tape it in place
  • Disassemble the frame, clean both sides of the glass, and check that it’s completely dry before reassembling
  • Make sure that the painting and the mat fit snuggly in the frame and, if not, add a piece of cardboard (even a piece of a cereal box)
An open 3-ring binder that is used as a portfolio for acrylic paintings done on paper.
Having a portfolio is really handy when people want to see your work. Painting on paper with acrylics instead of using canvas makes it super easy to keep all of your work together and organized.

So, now you know that you’ll either have to gesso or add more water as you paint and that you can easily fix warping issues with some books, a misting of water, paper towel, and parchment paper.

You can varnish your paper painting to protect it from humidity and UV damage and you can also frame it, making sure to use a mat to give space between the painted surface and the glass.

To sum it all up, give painting on paper with acrylics a go! You won’t have storage issues, you’ll have a wonderful portfolio to show off to friends and family, it’s super portable, and you might even save some money!

Have you ever painted on paper? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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