What the Heck is Yupo?

The tools that watercolor artists use are simple and straightforward; in addition to our paints, there are only brushes, water and paper.  So when a new product was introduced about a dozen years ago to the watercolor community, there was both interest and trepidation.  What is yupo and how would a watercolor artist use it?

During the late 1990s, yupo was created by two Japanese firms looking for an alternative surface to the traditional fiber-based papers.  The name “yupo” refers to its creation: YU is for the Misubishi Petrochemical Company, known as Misubishi Yuko in Japan; P is for paper, and O is for the Oji Paper Company.  The product was not available or manufactured in the United States until the early 2000s.

Basically, yupo is a completely recyclable, waterproof synthetic paper, made from extruded polypropylene pellets.  No part of it is taken from any tree product. Just like traditional paper, yupo is created in different weights or thicknesses.  Then it is spun onto large spools in long lengths and cut into widths from 16 inches to 66 inches.  Though yupo has many other applications, artists typically use yupo in weights comparable to 62 to 144 pounds.

So why use yupo?  The synthetic paper is extremely smooth with no man-made irregularities. Every sheet will be identical.  The yupo paper is very durable, waterproof and stain resistant; it will not tear or buckle.  Yupo has a very long shelf life.  Additionally, painting on yupo can give added texture to your work, and if you don’t like what you painted, simply wipe it clean with a moistened cloth.

However, there are some complications with painting on yupo.  Both dirt and oils can hinder the paper’s performance, including the natural oils from your own hands.  Therefore, I have started each yupo painting by wiping down the surface with a cotton ball saturated in rubbing alcohol.  I wear gloves while painting, and my non-painting hand is resting on a paper towel while I am working.

The watercolor paint remains on the surface on the yupo paper, without ever absorbing deeper like it does on traditional paper; because of this, the colors on yupo seem brighter.  Additionally, the only way for the paint to dry is by evaporation. During the drying process, I’ve watched other textures appear in the paint, especially if I am painting with extra wet pigments. 

Yupo is a surface to embrace, using it for those paintings that would best adapt to its particular traits.  Detailed paintings with layered washes may best remain on traditional fiber-based papers. However, a looser composition with intensive colors and textures would present well on yupo paper.  Yupo is definitely worth a try and who knows? Perhaps you’ll embrace it for some of your own paintings.  

Photo A shows the textures that I can easily achieve on yupo:

Photo B is a painting of the Point Lomos Lighthouse in San Diego on traditional paper:

Photo C shows the same subject on yupo: