How to Make and Use Graphite Paper with Watercolor Painting

Outline or photo on top, graphite paper in middle

Graphite paper is a valuable tool with watercolor painting, as it allows artists to keep the surface of their watercolor paper clean and unmarred.

Tape the outline or photo to the top of the watercolor paper, place the graphite paper between. Be sure the graphite side is down towards the watercolor paper. (We’ve all put it in upside down at least once – don’t feel bad.)


tracing lines with graphite paper

Trace over the lines with a pencil, pen or stylet. Lift the graphite paper/outline to check if your graphite lines are dark enough, or if you’re missing anywhere.

Try to keep your hand from resting on the surface, as that can smear graphite onto your watercolor paper.

Best Types of Graphite Paper to Use for Watercolor Painting

Best Graphite Paper is Homemade

Store bought graphite paper is often too dark, too light or contains WAX so the lines won’t erase and repel watercolor paint – problems, problems, problems.

making your own graphite paper

You can easily make your own sheet of graphite paper with a pencil and scrap piece of paper.

Making your own graphite paper takes less than 10 minutes and can be reused many times. If the graphite lines are too light, reapply darker graphite.

Best Commercial Brand of Graphite Paper

Saral is one of the best brands of graphite paper to use for watercolor painting. Unfortunately, Saral comes in large rolls and is more than most people will ever use, but you can split it with other art friends.

Steps To Make Graphite Paper – It Is EASY!

Use a number 2 pencil or darker. Color graphite across the paper in one direction. Color graphite across the paper again, going in a different direction, i.e. horizontally, vertically, diagonally.

Graphite Paper Can Be Different Colors

Different Colors – You can buy or make graphite paper with different colors.

Dissolvable Graphite Lines – Use watercolor pencils for graphite paper and the traced lines will dissolve into your painting.

White graphite paper lets you trace an outline onto a dark area of your painting and still be able to see the lines.

Is It Cheating to Use Graphite Paper to Trace Instead of Drawing?

When you are learning a new skill, working on one thing at a time will give you much more fun and successful results. Drawing is a valuable skill but learning painting techniques is also valuable. Focus on one at a time.

A good painting done from an outline is still a showcase to your painting skill.

Why Do Professional Artists Use Graphite Paper?

Watercolor paper is fragile. Drawing on your watercolor paper often leaves spots and lines that mar the finished watercolor painting, especially if you erase.

You’ll get better better watercolor painting results if you use graphite paper to trace the finished outline of your drawing onto your watercolor paper.

Can I Use Graphite and Drawing Both – Yes!

Use graphite paper to mark important spots from your outline or drawing and then draw the rest of the lines in-between the spots. This will give you the correct proportions and still let you do some drawing.

An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision - James Whistler