Jackson’s introduced Yupo Paper a couple of months ago to our range of papers for watercolour and mixed media. After reading the description of the paper, that it is non-porous, waterproof and stain-resistant, as a watercolourist I was intrigued to say the least! We had quite a few questions via social media with regard to how the paper performs and what it’s like to work on so I thought I’d take the time to review it and look at its strengths and weaknesses.
About Yupo Paper
Yupo is a non-porous, acid free and pH neutral, synthetic paper which is machine made in the USA from 100% polypropylene. It is completely waterproof, stain-resistant and has become a unique and intriguing alternative to traditional art papers due to its strength and lifting properties.
The super smooth surface allows you to build up nuances and patterns that would normally be impossible to achieve on traditional watercolour and drawing paper. Because it can be wiped clean you have the option to return to specific areas and redo them until they meet your standards, or to build up layers of paint using a similar technique to the one used with oil painting.
There are three different types of Yupo Paper, Translucent, Medium & Heavy. Yupo Paper is available in sheets and pads and also now available as a Sample Pack
How it’s manufactured
Yupo is made from heated polypropylene pellets which are then extruded to form the base and surface layers of the paper, These layers are stretched to create a dimensionally storable and biaxial-orientated substrate. This process means that Yupo paper is exceptionally strong, opaque and has an incredibly smooth surface. Yupo is also available in a lighter translucent version that will help you see colour from a new perspective. The slick papers can be a great starting point for a variety of media and are designed for backlit applications with the combined strength of having excellent light diffusion.
This paper easily resists tearing or buckling meaning there is no need to stretch or treat in any way before you start work. Yupo has an extra smooth surface and can be used with a combination of media, including watercolours, alcohol ink, acrylic paint, monotype, offset printing, debossing oil pastel, graphite and silkscreen.
When you have completed a piece remember to spray the surface of the Yupo paper with a matt clear varnish or finishing spray so that the work will remain stable.
My initial thoughts before starting to use Yupo Paper
When I first heard about the Yupo paper I, like I suspect many watercolourists that use traditional papers, was skeptical and unsure of what it was, how it would behave and why I would want to use it. A non-absorbent, synthetic paper that is made from heated polypropylene? I’ve seen on YouTube a lot of artists using inks in a very experimental way but that’s not how I paint – how would Yupo fair with an artist that paints in a realistic style and who doesn’t use a lot of water when they use watercolour? The only way I was going to know was to give it a whirl…
I was given three tiny sample pads which are just the perfect size for little paintings or studies, they each measure 9.5cm x 6.3cm. The sample pads are available in Translucent, Medium and Heavy – now normally I work on a minimum of 300gsm with a rough/not texture so I thought, if I’m going to use this new paper I might as well start off with the one which would be most alien to me, the Translucent.
Applying colour and pencil to Yupo Paper
The aesthetic of the Translucent Paper is what I would liken to baking parchment or a really thick, heavy duty tracing paper. It is 153gsm and feels really slick and smooth, almost too smooth for watercolour paint! It was designed ‘for backlit applications and combine strength with excellent light diffusion.’
The paper takes pencil really easily so be careful when sketching out composition if you are using light colours and don’t like rubbing out your pencil lines once your painting is complete – the positive aspect of this is if you are tracing anything you should be able to get a solid outline fairly easily.
My first application of colour was a really light wash as I didn’t want to go in too heavy. I used a Jackson’s Synthetic Watercolour Brush Round size 3/0 for this as I didn’t want to use a big brush and be unable to control the flow of colour or have it spread too much. What I would say if you, like me, work in lots of layers is to be cautious with adding more water when applying colour as it can lift it off the layer underneath (which is great if you don’t want it there but not so good if you are trying to strengthen/darken a colour) Once I got used to that, and being patient between layers letting them dry then the application of colour was really enjoyable, the paint moves so freely as the surface is so smooth, it takes the lightest stroke to get the paint where you want it to go. I also found, that as the paper doesn’t absorb as much as traditional watercolour paper would, I used considerably less paint then I normally would.
The ability to lift colour on this paper is simply amazing, I used a really heavy dark green and I managed to remove the colour just with a tiny bit of water and a brush. Normally on watercolour paper I would have to use a sponge or kitchen paper to remove any colour as I paint in lots of layers. The paper did not buckle or wrinkle once and remained completely flat. It’s definitely a different aesthetic to what I am used to, and I’m not entirely sure I like the sheen that the paper gives to the paint once it is dry, but the lifting qualities and clarity of colour is something which is to be championed!
Lifting colour with Yupo Paper
I then decided to use the Yupo Medium Sample pad to test the lifting and blending abilities on the paper. I wanted to really put it to the test so decided to use a range of staining, transparent and opaque colours to see how it would react.
• Lukas 1862 Watercolour in Ruby Red a transparent, staining colour.
• Schmincke Horadam Watercolour Yellow Ochre a semi-opaque colour.
• Schmincke Horadam Watercolour Phthalo Blue a semi-transparent colour.
The below image shows a comparison between the Yupo Medium on the left and the Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press Sample Pad on the right. On each I painted a solid block of colour where on the right hand side I have removed the paint with a piece of kitchen towel and on the left, lifted the colour with a brush. As you can see from the image, the colour from the Yupo paper has lifted considerably – the Phthalo Blue can still be seen so hasn’t been lifted completely but it’s pretty clean and I’m sure with a bit more water and scrubbing it would have been removed. The texture and integrity of the paper remained exactly the same no matter how hard I scrubbed and did not break down at all.
In comparison, the Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press began to bobble and become fibrous pretty quickly after the initial removal of colour. As you can see, it’s nowhere near as neat and bright as the Yupo and quite a bit of the colour has remained. This is due to the absorbency of traditional watercolour paper, as the Yupo is non-porous it makes it much easier to lift colour without damaging the surface.
Blending colour with Yupo Paper
I also did a test which looks at the ability to blend and manoeuvre colour around the paper. I painted three blocks of colour with gaps in between, on the left is Yupo Medium and on the right the Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress. I waited for the colours to dry and then re-activated them with water to see how they would blend. The colour on the Stonehenge did blend but it took a bit of work and you can still distinguish where the blocks of colour were. With the Yupo, it took a minimal amount of water to completely reactivate the colour to the point where it was running around the paper and I had difficulty controlling it. This is something to take into consideration if you use a lot of water when you paint as it doesn’t take a lot for the colour to bleed and run.
The biggest difference I noticed though between the two papers is the complete lack of buckling/warping in the Yupo. As you can see from the images, it remained totally flat – whereas the Stonehenge has lifted slightly either side.
Using fineliners with Yupo Paper
As well as watercolour I wanted to see how the Yupo Paper would take to fineliner pens as I know quite a few watercolourists use fineliners to pick out details in their work. I used the Yupo Heavy Sample Pad for this simple illustration of a succulent. The Yupo Heavy is 390gsm and definitely feels more along the thickness of paper I would normally use. I was concerned with fineliners that as the surface was so smooth, the ink would bleed off and spread, however the ink went on really well. I used a Staedtler 0.2mm Pigment Liner Pen and because of the smooth surface, the pen glided over giving me a much neater finish.
Part of the description we have for the Yupo Paper states to “spray the surface of the Yupo paper with a matt clear varnish or finishing spray so that the work will remain stable” once it is finished. This is a very important piece of advice, as you can see below I did not fix the drawing with anything and moved it probably 2 hours after completing it, thinking that the ink would be dry. Clearly, the ink has smudged and I consequently ruined my first attempt!
Final thoughts and impressions of Yupo paper
I must say before I started this review, I was sceptical and unsure of whether I even wanted to try out the Yupo paper – I’ve used the same watercolour paper for years and know its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and I just couldn’t see where this would fit in. However, after using it I can totally see why artists love using it. The ability to lift, or more accurately wipe colour clean from the paper is simply amazing. I think it makes working on watercolour paper a lot less daunting for those not used to using it and it allows you to be more experimental. Colour clarity is another big plus for this paper, sometimes watercolour paint can dull slightly because of the absorbency of the paper however the colour on Yupo remains true to what is on your palette.
Obviously I am, along with Jackson’s, well aware of the environmental impact and issues surrounding a paper which is essentially made of plastic, however there are two points which I think are worth mentioning. The first is that although the paper is made from heated propylene, this means that it is tree-free, meaning that there are no trees having to be cut down to be made into paper. The second point, which is more down to how you would use the paper – as it can be wiped clean it means a lot less wastage as you can tweak/remove things until you get your artwork exactly how you want it. This potentially means less paper being thrown away.
Here is a statement from Yupo’s website which outlines their stance on environmental issues: https://yupousa.com/our-company/environmental-statement/
Click on the underlined link to go to Yupo Paper on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website. Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.