Oil Paint on Paper Tips: How to Prime and Use

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Every artist uses paper at some point. Some artists even use paper for painting instead of painting on canvas.

Here is the million-dollar question: Should you use oil paint on paper?

Some artists will go to great lengths to avoid painting on paper. They only use paper for ideas, sketches, and other mediums, such as colored pencils or pastels.

But, as long as you are using the right type of paper and make sure that the paper is properly prepared, the answer to the question is yes, you can use oil paint on paper.

Today I want to talk about the advantages of using paper for oil painting, the best type of paper to use, and offer up some tips on how to do oil paintings on paper.

If you love working with oil paints, keep reading to learn more.

Benefits of Using Paper for Oil Painting

There are several advantages to using papers for oil painting. First and foremost, it is inexpensive. If you are on a tight budget, paper may be your best option for now.

Paper is also very flexible. It can be rolled up and taken anywhere. This makes it easier to store, and easier to ship.

I like the fact that you can cut a piece of paper to any size you wish your painting to be. I also like that I can cut a piece of paper anywhere, unlike trying to make a canvas to paint on.

You will save a lot of time by using paper instead of canvas. Yes, the paper will still need to be primed, but it won’t take nearly as much time as priming a canvas.

Using oil paint paper is also a great way to practice your oil painting techniques, and a chance to experiment. You can create finer brushstrokes on paper because it isn’t as rough as a canvas.

Which Paper Should You Use for Oil Painting?

I never advise using regular sketchbook paper or typing paper for oil painting. The solvents in the paint can end up causing the paper to degrade. Also, the painted paper can crack if there are any changes in the humidity.

But, many types of paper are ideal for oil painting. Here are some of the best types of paper for oil painting.

#1. Oil Painting Paper

Yes, there is a special paper that is made for oil painting. This type of paper will save you a lot of time and money because you don’t have to do any prep work yourself. The paper is ready to paint on.

This type of paper is quite durable, and as I mentioned, you don’t have to worry about sizing and priming as you would with canvas or other types of paper.

Oil painting paper is made to be used with oil paints specifically. It is rigid and has just the right amount of absorption.

In most cases, you will find oil paper in pads, so you will get several sheets for a decent price. You can also get rolls of oil painting paper at most art supply stores, which is great if you want to create large paintings.

This type of paper is good for absorbing solvents, binders, and even water while ensuring that the pigment stays on the surface of the paper.

You can frame your artwork without having to put it behind glass. This is because when you finish your painting, it will need to be varnished just as you would with any other oil painting on a canvas.

While it is a bit more expensive than other types of oil painting paper, I recommend using Arches Oil Paper. It is made from cotton and is a great paper to use while experimenting with oil paints.

This paper has a bit of texture, and the surface is bright. There is plenty of absorbency, and it comes in a couple of sizes, 9X12 inches and 12X16 inches, and 140 pounds.

Some easy oil painting ideas you can try on this include flowers, simple landscapes and sunset.

#2. Watercolor Paper

You can also use watercolor paper for oil painting. This is because this type of paper is very thick, and has a rough surface. It is also highly absorbent.

Unlike oil paper, you will need to prime watercolor paper before you can begin painting. This is going to make the surface of the paper ready to accept the oil paints.

Cold-pressed watercolor paper is the ideal option instead of hot-pressed watercolor paper.

One of the biggest advantages of using watercolor paper is that it is less expensive than oil paper. So, if you are on a budget, I suggest giving this paper a try.

Look for a watercolor paper that has a relatively smooth surface. This will ensure that the colors are bright and the paint flows nicely.

The paper should be cotton, and it should be sized. You can get watercolor paper in pads or blocks. I like blocks because I don’t have to tape the paper down to avoid buckling.

You also need to flatten watercolor paper after finishing your painting so it looks good.

#3. Printmaking Paper

Another great option is to use printmaking paper. This is a lot like watercolor paper, and it is thick and acid-free.

You can usually get printmaking paper in sheets up to 280 gsm, or in rolls up to 300 gsm. This paper has a matte, white surface, and paintings will hold up for a very long time.

If you are looking for an inexpensive option, I recommend Strathmore Printmaking Paper. It comes in pads of 20 and 40 sheets and is available at most art supply stores.

Tips for Using Oil Paint Paper

Let’s take a look at a few tips you can use for oil painting on paper.

#1. Prime the Paper

Unless you have paper that is already primed, you will need to prime it yourself. The paper should be primed with a gesso-based primer.

There is one problem with this type of primer though, and that is it is very absorbent. I suggest also using an oil-based primer. This will allow you to have better paint transparency.

How to prime paper for oil painting

To prepare paper for oil painting, you can follow these steps:

  • Pick the right type of paper: Pick a heavyweight piece of paper made for oil paintings. On papers, look for the words “oil painting paper” or “primed for oil painting.”
  • Prepping the surface: If the paper is not previously primed, prepare the surface by using a suitable primer such as gesso. Using a brush or roller, spread gesso in an even, thin coating. Make sure you cover the paper’s whole surface, then allow it to completely dry.
  • Add more layers: You might need to add more than one layer of gesso, depending on the absorbency of the paper and the desired finish. It is best to apply each coat thinly and evenly, and to wait until it is totally dried before adding the next. If necessary, lightly sand each layer.

To create a smoother texture, softly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper once the gesso has dried. This will help the paint to stick to the paper.

Give the paper enough time to cure after the final coat of gesso to ensure proper drying. Depending on the thickness of the gesso layers, this could take a few hours or possibly a day or two.

The paper is prepared for oil painting once it has been suitably primed and dried. To prevent damaging the prepared surface, handle the paper carefully.

#2. Gradient

One of the biggest drawbacks to using paper for oil painting is that you will see each and every brushstroke. While this is great if you are going for a rougher look, it isn’t ideal if you want to have a gradient.

In this case, you could mix a few colors that are shades of the main colors you are using. Apply these colors next to each other and let each coat blend with the previous coat.

This should be done while the paint is wet. You will get the best results if you are using flat brushes. Once the piece is dry, repeat this process for optimal results.

Final Thoughts

While paper isn’t the ideal oil painting surface, oil paint paper can offer a lot of freedom to artists who want to paint on the go. You can take it anywhere, and it is easy to transport.

Working with paper is also a great way to practice various techniques before using a canvas. It costs a lot less than canvas, so you won’t be wasting as much money if your paintings don’t turn out the way you want them to.

I recommend giving oil paint paper a try. It will give you a chance to practice various techniques, and you will have a new substrate to work with occasionally.

You can also check my guide to learn how to oil paint on wood.

*image by wirestock_creators/depositphotos