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How to Use Tracing Paper

Blue print work
simm18pl istockphoto

Tracing paper is a translucent white paper that is slightly thicker than tissue paper. You can use tracing paper to trace and transfer images. Additionally, it protects artwork or color mark-ups. Found in art or craft stores, it is available in different, weights, thicknesses, surfaces and size depending on an individual's needs or project. Smooth is unsurpassed for most studio work, while wax-free is advantageous for sewing and needlepoint. Graphite and carbon tracing paper perform well when transferring designs.

Blue print work
simm18pl istockphoto

Things You'll Need:

  • Scissors
  • Drawing Supplies, Such As Pencil, Eraser, Inks And Felt Tip Markers
  • Drafting Or Masking Tape
  • Tracing Paper, Type Determined By Project

Enlarge a photograph to the desired size using a copier. Lay tracing paper over the photograph. Adhere the tracing paper with the photograph to a window or lightbox using masking tape. With a pencil, lightly trace along the lines that you wish to retain. Remove the paper and photograph. Darken the backside of the tracing paper by rubbing graphite along the lines. Place atop a drawing surface and smooth out. Tape the paper along corners. Retrace the image onto a prepared surface for rendering.

Use wax-free tracing paper to make sewing patterns. Lay out the original pattern onto a table. Tape the tracing paper onto the pattern at the corners. Trace over the original pattern along the pattern marking lines underneath. Make any necessary alterations on the tracing paper for a custom fit. Lift off the tracing paper and cut out with scissors. Alternately, make your own patterns using store-bought clothes as a guide. Make use of the tracing paper for needlepoint designs and quilt making.

Improve existing images on paintings, watercolors and drawings. Lay the tracing paper over the original art work. Work out values and other interpretations. Determine how much of the original to omit. Decide on the best composition without making concessions of the original. The sketch on the tracing paper serves as a guide for the actual rendering. After sketching a rough draft, do a final draft on the tracing paper. Lay it over the rough draft when working with color and perspective.

Test designs when rendering or drafting by using yellow tracing paper as overlays. Block out portions of the sketch on one sheet. Add elements, such as building detail or landscaping, by isolating them on a second sheet. Repeat the imagery by making tracing templates. This speeds up the project without compromising quality. Pencil, ink, charcoal and markers will not bleed through. Its high transparency allows several overlays without losing detail--a useful tool when reproduction is necessary.


Look for the watermark on tracing paper. The letters should be right side for optimum results. With various weights and formats, find the best type of tracing paper suitable for the project. Use tracing paper for crafts, such as origami and animated flip books.


  • Thin tracing paper reacts to humidity and damp. Be sure to store paper with care. Do not leave rendering with an object on top overnight as it will leave an imprint on the paper.
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