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

The deckled print in its final shadow box frame