Freelance Illustrator // Fine Artist // Adventurer // (I do not accept tattoo-design commissions.) //

February 2, 2011

Tutorial: Mounting Paper on Wood or Board

I am frequently asked about my process of mounting paper onto wood or museum board. I've spent YEARS refining this process so I apologize in advance for the length of the explanation!

REASON: I mount paper on wood or board is because I prefer to transfer the delicate details of my sketches via light box rather than using transfer paper or similar methods. To use a light box your surface has to be thin enough to allow light to pass through (paper), but to paint without having your surface buckle or curl you need to work on something sturdy enough to hold up against water and the test of time (wood or board). My process combines the best aspects of these two surfaces.

DRAWBACKS/PRECAUTIONS: Though paper mounted on wood/board is more structurally sound than unmounted paper, if exposed to the elements (moisture, sun, dirt...etc) it will still deteriorate. If the work is commercial then this is not a particularly big worry, but if the work is for a gallery then I recommend framing the piece behind UV-blocking Plexiglas (for gouache/watercolor/graphite/oil/acrylic) or sealing the piece when it's done with an archival non-yellowing spray or varnish (for oil and acrylic.) Not absolutely necessary... just something to consider. One other thing; oil paints in particular are corrosive to paper and can yellow or literally "eat away" at paper over time. Some people consider paper an unsuitable surface for oils for this reason. I love painting oil on paper, but I always seal the paper with a combination of sprays, clear gesso, matte medium, and acrylic-paint washes after transferring and mounting the drawing but before painting. Again... food for thought.

PAPER: I recommend using a heavy printmaking paper such as Stonehenge (favorite) also suitable are Somerset or heavy Rives BFK. The process will be really hard or impossible if you use thin paper as it tends to buckle and tear in the mounting process. If your light box isn't very powerful be sure to get white paper as opposed to grey or cream.

MOUNT: I recommend archival wood for gallery work and museum board (~1/8") for commercial work. Museum board is expensive but won't buckle as much as illustration board. Be sure that if you are mounting on wood, hardboard, or gesso board that they are archival (AKA: non-acidic/won't leach chemicals) or they will yellow your painting and may even eat away at the paper itself over time.

: I recommend you b/w "Kinko's Copy" your sketch to increase the contrast, darken the lines, and adjust the size of your sketch to make transferring easier.

: You MUST use Matte Medium. There is NO substitute. I've tried so many things, just trust me on this.

*Stonehenge paper
*Archival wood or museum board
*Matte medium (no substitute)
*Cork-backed ruler
*Artist's tape
*Light box
*Paper towels
*Large brush
*Fine-grain sandpaper wrapped around a flat 2"x5"x1" thick piece of wood (or something similar)

1) I trim the paper 1/4" bigger in length and height than the wood. (So the border is 1/8" all around when mounted)

2) Tape the sketch to the back of the paper using artists tape so it won't shift around and transfer your drawing on a light table. (You can tape it to a window in the daytime if you don't have a light table.)

3) Choose a location to mount; it should be flat, level, clean... any grit or dings in your surface will be impressed into the surface of the paper as it is being mounted. Put down an even layer of paper towels that extends past the size of the paper in all directions (to absorb moisture and cushion the paper.) Place your paper on the paper towels, face/drawing side down.

4) Put one additional piece of paper towel to the side (for later) and gather your matte medium, gesso brush (the bigger the better), and the wood or board you plan on using.

5) Squirt a generous amount of matte medium onto the wood/board and immediately start spreading in around with the brush, sweeping the excess off onto the spare paper towel. You need to work FAST but still achieve an even coat. Use the brush to glob just a little extra Medium onto the corners and along the edges if the size of the piece is large. This will ensure that those key areas bond well. This part should take no longer than 1-3 minutes depending on the size. It's best to have a friend help if you're working larger than 2'x2' to be sure that you work fast enough that the Medium doesn't dry before you can mount.

6) Flip the wood/board over, holding it above the back of the paper/drawing. Visually line them up and lower the wood/board onto the paper. Press down gently to force the Medium to touch the paper, being very careful not to let the wood/board shift around.

7) Flip the whole thing over, including the paper towels. Smooth the paper down, using circular motions and working from the center out to push out any air bubbles and to flatten out the Medium. (Keep the paper towels flat between your hands and the paper/drawing to keep the paper clean and to prevent the friction from compromising the integrity of the paper's surface. Use your hands to bend the excess paper just a bit around the edge of the wood, this further ensures that the edges bond strongly.

8) Flip the whole thing BACK over again so the wood is facing up (and the paper towels are flat on the bottom) and put a piece of paper or paper towels on the back as well and pile heavy books on top. Make sure the weight covers the whole back and is even, the paper towels on the top will protect your books from any matte medium that seeps out.

9) Leave it for 2 hours at a minimum. Leave overnight if possible, the larger the piece and the more matte medium you use the longer it will take to dry. If you only have time to leave it 2 hours, use a hairdryer to be sure it's dry and fully set. If you don't fully dry it and the paper is even imperceptibly moist from the matte medium the surface will be more prone to damage as you start painting/working on it.

**If you are mounting on board, just trim off the extra paper with a sharp Xacto knife and you are done! (Cut from the front, using a cork-backed ruler and trimming a little of the board too for a cleaner edge.)

**If you are mounting on wood, continue:

10) Remove books and VERY GENTLY test a corner by tweaking the excess paper to check that it has properly bonded to the corner of the wood. Place paper down/wood up on a cutting board and trim the excess paper with a fresh Xacto knife. Do not trim too close to the wood, maybe leave ~1/32" still sticking out.

11) Flip back over so the sketch is up and take your fine-grained sandpaper (wrapped around something flat so you sand evenly) and use firm downward strokes at a 90° angle to the edge of the wood to sand off the remaining paper and to further strengthen the bond at the edge. This will also make it so that nothing can "catch" on the paper and rip it off the wood in the future. (Warning! Downward strokes ONLY! Upward strokes will catch on the paper and pry it away from the wood.)

12) DONE! I've tried to be as specific as possible, but the only way to perfect the process yourself is to practice.

I hope this was helpful to someone out there! Don't be intimidated, it probably takes longer to read all this shit than to actually mount the paper.


Clovis said...

Very helpful and interesting. I should try this.

.gld. said...

AH! I've been meaning to look into the best way to do this for a couple weeks now! I've tired my hand at it a couple times with no luck yet. You're the best.(I haven't read every word yet, but I will trust me)

Sunny said...

Thanks for the tutorial~!

I'll try this sometime~:)

Danielle Buerli said...

You know why you are so amazing? because you care...

andrewlong said...

This is perfect timing! I was thinking of working on mounted paper as I am getting tired of the difficulty in tracing projected images onto the rough/er surface of canvas.

Thank you so much for writing all of this out, this is an invaluable resource!

mobot said...

I am just wondering how thick and what kind of wood do you use?
thanks for the tutorial...makes me wanna try it!

Heather Sybil Chavez said...

Thanks for the tip, this is great and your work is amazing

J. A. W. Cooper said...

My pleasure, friends!

Mobot- I usually buy deep-cradled wood panels or 1/2" wood panels with keyhole cuts in the back at Dick Blick/any art store.

It's hard to find frames thick enough for the 1/2"wood so if I plan to frame the piece with plexi (AKA, not an open floating frame) then I use thick museum board instead.

Yolanda Robinson said...

I truly can't thank you enough for posting this in such wonderful detail. I have been super curious but daunted by even the thought of how to dive in- I'm sure you have saved me tons of trial and error!
Thank you again for sharing!

Michael Ramstead said...

I'm gonna remember you posted this, it really could come in handy someday...

Marie Provence said...

This was so helpful! I'm mounting paper on oval/cameo-shaped board. I'm pretty sure it will work well if I sand the excess from the edges. Do you have any additional recommendations for mounting paper onto board with curved edges?

Sam Wolfe Connelly said...

man, i was looking everywhere for a tutorial like this. THANK YOUUUUUU

Kathleen Faulkner said...

Thank you for sharing this information. It is just what I've been looking for. One question: since everything I know about mounting paper on wood is what I've just read on your blog I would like to know why matt medium rather than glue? Do you care to share your experience learning about this?

J. A. W. Cooper said...

My pleasure, friends!

Marie- I am so sorry for the late response! I would say the technique will be the same with a curved/oval board. I would PERHAPS just use a little more matte medium than usual around the edges and be sure to use an even but more generously padded layer of paper towels beneath the piece while it's upside-down with books on top of it while drying to encourage the paper to bend around the edge and make the bond stronger. Just thoughts...

Kathleen- Some glues can have a yellowing effect over time, (depending on how archival it is) and they tend to be water-resistant. In contrast, matte medium is archival, strong, and porous and has a certain degree of "tooth" to it, all of which will ensure that it does not interfere or resist (causing pooling) layers of water-based paint such as acrylic, watercolor, gouache, etc. I have tried a variety of different methods of adhesion, from glue to spray-adhesive to clear/white gesso, to matte medium... and the latter has by far out-performed the others.

I think what makes Matte Medium so successful is it's archivalness, speed of drying (it'll set relatively well in an hour or two, but the paper can easily be adjusted when being placed if alignment is off), it's porousness, and it's consistency. This is all just in my experience so I encourage you to experiment with your own process/materials!

Hope that helps, let me know if you have any further questions!

Kathleen Faulkner said...

Thanks so much for your generosity of time and information. I very much appreciate it.

sharonasea said...

I have an oil painting done on gessoed illustration board, and would like to mount it on wood such as luan ply. Do you think the matte medium would hold it? Both sides of the illustration board were gessoed.

J. A. W. Cooper said...

Hi Sharon,

This technique is a little tricky and can take a couple of tries to perfect so you might want to practice before attempting to mount a finished painting... since the stakes are so high.

First of all I recommend sanding both the back of the painting and the wood to ensure that both surfaces are flat and porous.

Next, for this particular job I recommend using regular white gesso (because it is thicker/goopier and both surfaces sound very porous and potentially uneven, and certainly more rigid than paper) and keeping the wood/painting under weights for a couple days after mounting them to ensure a bond.

The trickiest problem to solve will be how to apply sufficient sustained pressure to ensure a tight bond without damaging the painting.

When the two are mounted/bonded/ and dry sand then in a downward motion , with the painting facing up (but protected by a sheet of paper) to ensure that the edges are flush and will not catch and rip apart.

These are just my initial thoughts, if you have further questions email me at

Hope that helps!

Megan said...

Thank you so much, this is a timely and helpful find!

Stella said...

Thank you so much !

Ryan Sutherland said...

Now I know you say no substitute for Matte medium. I'm in a pickle. I can't find any at my local art store. Would an acid free clear acrylic primer work if I'm planning on finishing with a resin over the whole piece. ??

J. A. W. Cooper said...

Ryan Sutherland - I would highly recommend ordering matte medium online from Blick or another art-materials retailer if possible. I haven't tried EVERYTHING but I have tried many alternatives and have had unpredictable results with them all... matte medium is by far the most predictably successful and archival. That said- if you can't get ahold of it then you will have to try whatever you can find but I suggest doing several practice rounds before working on anything important! Let me know what you find in your experiments and I'll add it to my knowledge-pool in case someone else has a similar problem in the future!

Ryan Sutherland said...

Thanks man. I'll spend tomorrow experimenting and get back to ya. It claims that it adheres to wood and paper. We'll see ey?

Ryan Sutherland said...

primer so far seems to be a success, i did a few test pieces and the paper has become one with the wood, i could not even get a corner to peel off. tho i cant compare it to matte medium as im yet to try, i give it a thumbs up. another positive i guess would be its a primer so it doesnt matter to much if you get it on your paper. one thing that might be a negative (didnt cause me any problems) is that i found a bit of moisture come through the paper and into the sheet i had on top of my work, under some books. but not much. thanks again for the resource man, its a real gem

Anonymous said...

Thank you! This was incredibly helpful.

JD said...


Anonymous said...

I often use one of those spatulas with little tiny teeth to spread the matt medium ...the kind that is used to spread glue for wall tiles. It seems to give an exact amount of even medium over the panel and in some ways allows a slightly longer working time as the medium isn't too thin in some places. It looks like a Japanese garden of glue evenly all over the surface.

Maria Jost said...


First, I cannot believe I have just found your illustrations tonight. Your work is absolutely beautiful.

Second, I appreciate all of this information (best info I've found online on the matter) and have some specific questions about mounting a very large piece of paper to plywood. I am creating a 4 feet by 6 feet piece that will be mounted on the ceiling. I work primarily with watercolor, collage and ink (pen and painted) so I want to use paper as the medium. I have a very large roll of paper but am wondering if I will have time to cover the plywood with matte medium before it starts drying. Would you recommend starting at one end and (with the help of others) applying medium and rolling out the paper while moving toward the other side and pressing it down? I am also wary of flipping the whole thing over and am hoping to let it dry paper side up. Any tips?

Finally, I am not planning on using plexiglass but I want to protect the work. Is there a sealant you'd recommend for watercolor / collage work that will be very protective (stronger and thicker than just a fixative spray). I'm not sure if you've worked this large and if you'll have time to reply but would truly appreciate any feedback.


Maria Jost

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