Flattening a Finished Painting Before Framing

I am sure that most of you have come across this issue at one time or another. Mainly, how on earth do you get the ridges and valleys out of the watercolor painting once it is finished and waiting for a frame. Not everyone pre-stretches their paper before painting. I, for one, find myself a little too lazy to stretch it. However, this may be less of an issue for me as I try to use the 100% cotton paper as opposed to the wood-fiber paper. There may be no way around stretching for the wood-based papers that can be used – at least not if you plan on even washes and a relatively flat surface.

I found that all of my paintings were too warped to properly mount in a mat. It is true that framing them behind glass and sandwiching them in a frame that way would alleviate this issue, but it was still disgruntling to have it so warped on the mat. What if I wanted to display the painting without a glass pane holding it flat? There was no way this warped paper would do the painting, and effort I put in, the justice it deserved.

I scoured the internet and found that most people also have this issue, unless you have stretched it before painting, or are using a very heavy 300lb paper. The other individuals came up with some very creative solutions of their own to flatten the paper.

One of these methods particularly caught my attention, as it was fast, cheap, and relatively simple. Ironing out the cockles.

“But won’t that injure my painting! Or my iron!” Well, since I use cotton paper most often, I don’t see what harm ironing the painting would do. I just took a few precautions to protect both.

Ironing Out Your Paintings

  • You will be ironing the back, unpainted side, so flip it over.
  • Prepare two heavy books or large flat objects that will be used to press the paper flat after ironing.
  • I did not want to ruin my ironing board, so I took an old and clean white shirt, ironed that flat, and then put the painting on top.
  • Spray down the painting with water on the back. Really soak it.
  • Put the iron on the highest setting (cotton), and iron that painting out. It will sizzle and steam, spatter and make noise, but it will flatten it. You will also smell that familiar odor of wet pigments – but don’t worry, you’re painting is fine.
  • After you have gone over it with the iron, it should be flat and a little floppy because it is still damp. At this point, put it in between the two books you prepared earlier. Just make sure they cover the whole painting.
  • Leave it overnight and don’t touch it. Turn off your iron, put everything away.
  • Note:
    • Do not iron over any glue residue at the borders of the paper that remained from a block or a pad of paper. Remove that first or avoid it, as it will melt and can mess up your iron. I did this a bit…oops. 😦
    • Leave the paintings alone and do not fidget with them. They will dry flat.
    • If they dry and are not as flat as you like, you can repeat this process until you achieve the results you were going for.
    • Try this out on a painting you can spare, or scrap, and not one of your masterpieces. This will put you at ease and help you work out the kinks (pun intended) before completing the process on something you hold dear.


Let me know how you all flatten your paintings. I am interested to find out your methods!



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