How To Deckle Edges on Watercolor Paper for Digital Fine Art Prints

Handmade papers have naturally deckled (rough and irregular) edges, but paper made for fine art digital printmaking doesn’t typically have a nice edge. This isn’t a problem if you are matting your artwork, but what if you want to float the print so the edges show? This is what I wanted to accomplish recently with some prints from my Faces of Chaos series. This is the technique I use, but isn’t the only way to do it. Any thick, fibrous, watercolor-like paper should work well (e.g. Epson Watercolor Radiant White, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag… I’m using Arches Infinity here). Please, practice on something that’s OK to mess up! Here we go:

The digital print as it first comes out of the computer

This is an 8″ x 8″ print on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. I’ve printed crop marks, which will help with the subsequent steps. First, I use an X-ACTO knife to cut through the crop marks, from the corners, away from the print:

One of the crop marks at the corners, already cut

The point of doing this is so we have some reference on the back of the print when we flip it over. You could also use a pin and poke holes in the corners. So, the second step after doing this for each corner is to flip over the print and score the edges, using the back side of the X-ACTO knife. Make sure you have something underneath the print to protect it while you do this. Note that you’re not cutting all the way through the paper – you’re just breaking through that edge of fibers on the back. It doesn’t take much pressure to do this:

The back side of the print with a ruler lined up to the crop marks, which we cut through in the first step

A detail showing the scored paper at one corner

A detail showing the score in progress using the back of the X-ACTO blade

The third step is to fold and crease the edges, one at a time, in both directions. The reason we scored the back instead of the front is so we can fold towards the image first and away second – this will produce a nicer deckled edge. I use cotton gloves to protect the print from the oils in my hands, and a bone folder to crease the edges. Start each fold from the middle and work your way to the edges. It should be pretty easy since you scored the edges:

Start in the middle and fold from the back towards the image

This is what it looks like after folding it by hand

Use the bone folder to crease the folded edge

I tend to do two opposite edges at once. After you fold and crease them towards the image, fold and crease them away from the image:

Both edges have now been folded away from the image

These edges have been folded and creased both ways and are ready for deckling

This last step is the only tricky part, but it’s not that bad if you’re careful. Use your dominant hand to tear, and your non-dominant hand to hold the print flat. Start slowly at the top, pulling the edge horizontally and away from the image. Don’t pull up towards you or down against a table edge or anything like that. Imagine the little row of weakened paper fibers at the edge being pulled apart from each other – this leaves a nicer texture at the edge:

Starting to deckle the first edge

One deckled edge

Follow the steps for all four edges, and you’ll have the finished product:

A digital print with deckled edges on white

A digital print with deckled edges - corner detail

That’s it! One word of caution: these edges can shed a bit. I’d like to figure out how to get all the shedding out of the way before they are framed, so that the little fibers don’t end up on the inside of the glass!

This print and others from the Faces of Chaos series went into shadow boxes and are currently in an exhibition at Highland Beach Library. You can buy fine art prints like this, either unframed or framed, for quite reasonable prices at my online store for digital fine art.

A detail view of the deckled print in its final shadow box frame

A detail view of the deckled print in its final shadow box frame

The deckled print in its final shadow box frame

The deckled print in its final shadow box frame

21 thoughts on “How To Deckle Edges on Watercolor Paper for Digital Fine Art Prints

On December 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm, Joey said:

Cool! What’s a bone folder? Have you tried wetting the folded edges, then pulling it apart? I’ve never tried this for artistic reasons, but I do it when I can find scissors.

-Joey

On December 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm, nathan said:

Thanks! A bone folder is that pointed off-white tool in one of the photos – traditionally made of bone, but mine is made of plastic. It’s useful for creasing, especially if you’re doing a lot of it, but you can definitely get by with your fingers / fingernails. I’ve tried the wetting method before but the digital fine art papers seem to be too strong for this, and/or I didn’t like the edge I got (it’s been awhile since I tried that).

On November 9, 2012 at 9:40 pm, Heather K McManamy said:

Fantastic! What have you got the final print mounted on? From the close-up, it looks like it’s floating a bit – I really like that effect!

On November 11, 2012 at 10:24 am, nathan said:

Thanks Heather! The final print is mounted on a piece of acid free foam core that’s narrower and shorter than the print, so you can’t see it around the edge, giving it the floating effect.

On February 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm, Jackie said:

This is the easiest and best tutorial for making deckled edges! Thanks!

On July 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm, becky said:

Just what I was looking for. I haven’t found the size of deckle edge paper I was looking for. This solves the problem. thanks

On September 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm, madeleine said:

Wonderful tutorial. Exactly what I needed. Many thanks.

On October 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm, Allison Rathan said:

Thanks for the info! Can you tell me where you got the shadow box frame?

On October 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm, nathan said:

You’re welcome Allison! I had the shadow box frame made by a local framer. Anyone that does custom framing should be able to make you a shadow box. Of course it costs more than buying a pre-built shadow box, but the results will be better. You can probably find some pre-built at Target or maybe Michaels if you’re in the US.

On January 3, 2014 at 7:34 pm, Ed said:

I caught your response to Allison and wanted to add that Ikea sells decent, very inexpensive photo box frames that I use often. Their wacky Ikea name is “Ribba.” 🙂

On October 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm, Robert said:

Hey what is the best paper to do this effect? And can’t you just use deckle tool like the logan?

On October 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm, nathan said:

Hi Robert, I haven’t used the Logan deckle tools before, but it would be interesting to compare the results. I think a nice thick fine art paper works best for this. I encourage you to experiment and see what paper and technique you like best, and feel free to let me know!

On January 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm, Ed said:

This is a great tutorial, thank you! I just tried it on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag and my edges came out way too clean and neat. I might have erred by folding the edges back and forth several times before tearing, which would make for a cleaner tear. Do you typically only fold once in each direction? Might also have to do with the paper’s weight — used 188gsm. I have a piece of 250gsm Arches Velin Museum Rag I might try next…. anyway, if you have any insight, please let me know!

On January 6, 2014 at 9:51 am, nathan said:

Thanks Ed, glad you found it useful. Great photos by the way. I only fold once in each direction, yes. I would imagine heavier paper would produce more texture at the edges as well.

On March 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm, Patti Harada said:

First, Nathan, your art is exquisite. I’ve just begun playing with watercolor (with a background in absolutely nothing) and after several months of learning to really see, and presently trying to get that (or a reasonable facsimile) on paper, I’m awed by your shading; its uniformity, blending, colors and placement. I can’t even begin to imagine how you create such precise symmetry, and I’m hoping for creativity. Was yours just there when you began? Anyway, I’m so, glad I tumbled into your Website so I could see more clearly what I aspire to.

Last, and not at all least, thank you for sharing your deckling technique. I’m anxious to try it. I certainly have good tools for it, so I will let you know how it works.

I tried a wet edge method (no folding). I found it tedious and time consuming, but I produced three edges that suitably matched the Arches 300 lb deckling.

I tried a wet edge method (again, no folding) using a pedicure file. Less tedious, less time consuming and fabulously effective. And WAY messy. And 300 lb paper takes a while to dry when saturated.

And then I took a piece outside and used my sander on the paper about 1/4″ from the edge, sanding on both sides for the same amount of time until sanding produced deckling. Beautiful effect. Outrageously messy. If I did that again, I’d wear a HazMat suit!

Needless to say, I can’t wait to try your method! Thanks again!

On March 6, 2014 at 8:31 pm, nathan said:

You’re welcome, and thank you for the kind words. These prints are mathematically generated and printed from the computer, which is where the precise symmetry comes from!

On May 23, 2014 at 5:59 am, Nancy said:

I am having an original watercolor printed on watercolor paper. These prints will be 3×3 inches…miniatures! I will need 300 of them for a wedding! I’m not an artist and have no experience with this. What’s the best way to print these…use small paper and print 1 per page or print multiples on large paper…what kind of watercolor paper, what size and what weight should I use, etc. Would I use the same technique? Thanks so much for you help…your instructions are just great!

On May 26, 2014 at 11:43 am, nathan said:

Hi Nancy, if you have any friends or know anyone with some experience in digital printing, you’ll get better results in less time as there is a learning curve with all of this (not to mention having the right equipment, especially the printer itself).

On October 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm, Frank Pellicone said:

Great site, clear, concise, and easy to follow instructions.
If you haven’t found a way to get rid of the fibers that shed I suggest a small brush, perhaps a tooth brush. If that doesn’t work you could try a metal brush used in cleaning delicate parts in various instruments and mechanical devices. You can find them in electronics catalogs, they usually come in brass, nylon, and stainless steel and are approximately 25mm (1″) long. My thought is to gently brush away from the edge to loosen the fibers then lightly spray a fixative on the back of the paper to seal them in place.

On October 20, 2014 at 9:28 am, nathan said:

Thank you Frank. Those are good ideas; thanks for commenting! I’ll have to try that next time I deckle a print and frame it in a shadow box.

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