How Do I Remove Brown Gummed Tape From Stretched Watercolor Paper?

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Adhesives—so useful when we need them and yet sometimes so annoying when they leave residue in places where we don't want it. In the case of removing brown gummed watercolor tape from stretched paper, it's best to leave a wide enough margin to trim it off of the paper completely, because removing it risks wrecking your painting. 

Your Options

When it's dried, gummed brown tape won't come off easily. You risk tearing the watercolor paper. Your removal options include: cutting off the edges of the sheet completely to remove the tape or leaving alone anything that will get covered by matting or framing. If you really want to try and remove it after it has dried, dampen a sponge to reactivate the glue on the tape. Do not have the sponge be sopping wet, because you don't want water to run down into your painting and spoil it. The tape should lift off after it gets wet again, as the adhesive is water-soluble. 


You can avoid having to stretch watercolor paper by using heavy-weight paper (300 lb) that won't buckle when it gets wet (unless you totally soak it). But this paper is far more expensive.

You can also try different kinds of tapes, such as acid-free white artist tape, drafting tape or even light-colored painter's tape, though it may not have the tackiness you need because it's designed to come off easily. Or try clipping the paper to the board with heavy-duty binder clips or stapling it down—and avoid taping it down altogether. Just be sure to tack it down so that it will dry evenly and flat.

Why Stretch?

Artists who paint wet-on-wet with watercolors or know they'll be using lots of washes in their work often stretch their paper by taping it down to a board in preparation for painting, to avoid the paper buckling or warping when painted. A flat, predictable surface that avoids puddling benefits the artist as well as the final product.


Submerge the paper in a large sink or clean tub (no soap residue) of cold water for about five minutes if the paper is a lightweight type (90 lb) or 15-20 minutes for a heavier paper (more than 200 lb). The heaviest paper (300 lb) may not need to be stretched; it depends on the amount of water you anticipate using in your painting. Anything less than the heaviest may need to be stretched to allow for expansion of the paper when wet. You want the paper to be floppy but not lose its sizing, which allows the paint to sit on top of the paper and not be completely absorbed by it. You may wish to cut your tape while waiting for the paper to be ready. Don't get it wet until it's time for the tape to go down.

Next, wet the board evenly, and allow excess water to drip off the paper. Center the paper on the board and flatten any large air bubbles before taping the paper down. The support board should be bigger than the paper on all sides to allow room for the tape and not warp when it gets wet or from the tension of the taped paper shrinking as it dries.

Wet your tape with a sponge; get it wet, but don't wash all of the adhesive away. Then tape down the paper. Don't let water from the tape drip in your painting area, or else the paint may not stick there.

Let the board dry horizontally so that water evaporates evenly. It'll become taut when fully dry. If you tape watercolor paper to both sides of the board, just ensure that air is able to circulate over both sides. It should be ready to paint on overnight or a day later.