• 10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed) 1
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed) 2
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed) 3
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed) 4
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed) 5

10 Best Watercolor Paper in 2022 (Artist-Reviewed)

Watercolor can be a fun and interesting medium to work in. You can design cards, create illustrations, paint beautiful masterpieces, or just enjoy some time doodling. But one of the most important things you can do is choose your watercolor paper. The kind of watercolor paper will determine the look of your work and the techniques you can employ.


That's why we've compiled a list of 10 great watercolor papers. One product stood out among the rest because of its 100 percent cotton paper, durable and lightly grained surface, and high-quality performance. We're talking about our favorite, Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper Pad. Continue reading to see the rest of our list, and don't forget to check out the buying guide, which has been reviewed by an artist!

Featured in this article

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
mybest US Editors
  • Last updated: 08-26-2022
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Watercolor Paper - Buying Guide

Finding the best watercolor paper for your artistic style may take some trial and error, but we have some tips to get you started. The first things you'll need to consider are the paper's texture and weight.

Pick a Watercolor Paper Texture

The texture of your watercolor paper can change the look of your artwork. There are a few different options offering a range of surfaces. There is no better or best texture for watercolor paper; instead, it's based on personal preference.

Hot Press Paper Offers a Smooth Surface for Fine Details

Hot Press Paper Offers a Smooth Surface for Fine Details

This type of paper is called hot press because the rollers used to make it are hot. This creates the smoothest and most even watercolor paper texture. Due to the smooth surface, your watercolor, graphite, or ink can glide easily across the surface. 


Hot press watercolor paper is great for rendering fine details and will give your final piece a flat finish. Some artists enjoy hot press paper for very detailed work, while others find it too smooth and hard to control the watercolors. Hot press paper is less absorbent than cold press.

Try Cold Press Paper for a Variety of Skill Levels and Effects

Try Cold Press Paper for a Variety of Skill Levels and Effects

Cold press paper is pressed at a lower temperature than hot press paper. This gives it more tooth (or, a slightly rougher texture). When painting on cold press paper, some paint will settle in crevasses while others remain on the peaks, leaving them with a less dense color. It can create some interesting and beautiful effects in a piece.


Cold press paper is great for large washes of color and still does a good job with detailed work, although it is not as easy to work with as hot press paper for fine details. Cold press is the most common watercolor paper texture because it's great for beginners and professional painters, and almost any style of watercolor painting.

Rough Paper Has a Very Textured Surface for Expressive Pieces

Rough Paper Has a Very Textured Surface for Expressive Pieces

Rough paper can create very unpredictable effects with its exceptionally bumpy surface. The paper has a lot of tooth, with many hills and valleys. This gives your painting a rougher finish than the cold or hot press. It does not work well for highly detailed pieces due to the unpredictability of how the paint will move


Rough paper is best for more expressive pieces that can embrace the tooth of the paper. It works well with techniques specifically meant for the rough texture. Paintings such as landscapes are popular when using this kind of paper.

Choose the Correct Weight of Watercolor Paper for Your Work

The thickness of watercolor paper is measured by how much 500 sheets of that paper weighs. Watercolor paper is offered in a number of weights, the three standards being 90, 140, and 300 pounds.


The heavier the paper's weight, the thicker the paper will be. Generally, thinner papers are better for practice as they will warp more with water. Thicker paper is used for more finished pieces of art that can handle more re-working.

90-Pound Paper Is Better for Studies and Training

90-Pound Paper Is Better for Studies and Training

90-pound paper is very lightweight for watercolors. It will easily buckle and warp when a little too much water is used. This paper will not be able to hold up to copious amounts of water or a great deal of scrubbing or other techniques that involve a lot of friction. 


90-pound paper is best as a practice paper. Generally, it shouldn't be used for nice, finished pieces of art. 90-pound paper will be labeled as "190 gms" if the manufacturer uses the metric system.

140-Pound Paper Can Handle Quite a Bit of Water and Scrubbing

140-Pound Paper Can Handle Quite a Bit of Water and Scrubbing

140 pounds is the most common paper weight for watercolor. Many artists enjoy this paper for practice and final paintings.


It can withstand a decent amount of water and scrubbing but can still be prone to warping. Taping down the paper before painting, and applying a water wash that's allowed to dry before you begin, can help with this. 140-pound paper will be labeled as "300 gsm" in metric.

300-Pound Paper Is Heavy and Usually Won't Buckle

300-Pound Paper Is Heavy and Usually Won't Buckle

300-pound watercolor paper is quite heavy and thick paper. It can withstand a lot of water and not buckle. While this paper is very sturdy, it can take a longer time to dry. Some artists compare this paper weight to the sturdiness of cardstock or cardboard. 300-pound paper is the same as 640 gsm.

Decide Between Loose-Leaf, Paper Rolls, and More

Decide Between Loose-Leaf, Paper Rolls, and More

Watercolor paper is offered in a number of formats, including loose-leaf, rolls, pads, and blocks. Loose-leaf watercolor paper is an individual or pack of watercolor sheets separate from one another. Sometimes loose-leaf paper comes in very large sizes that can be cut down for multiple smaller projects.


Watercolor paper rolls are convenient for customizing the size of your project, too. These will be the best option for those who paint large works, as they're often available measured in yards and feet.


Watercolor pads are multiple watercolor sheets attached together, either tape-bound or wire-bound. Pads are great for traveling and for practice. You can find them in every grade from student to professional.

Decide Between Loose-Leaf, Paper Rolls, and More

Blocks come with multiple sheets of watercolor paper attached together with a rubber or glue-like material. The sheets are attached together on all four sides of the paper, which helps to prevent buckling when using wet techniques, keeping your art flat and smooth while painting and drying.


To remove a finished work, you use a knife or the tip of your paintbrush to separate the top sheet from the block. Blocks are great for those who want to use a lot of washes but dislike taping their paper to a board.

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Blocks can be a great choice if you like painting outdoors since you won't have to prepare your paper and carry a heavy board with you. However, you'll only be able to work on the top sheet, because you need to let it fully dry before removing it to prevent buckling.


Unless you want to keep a watercolor journal or plan to get a block, you'll usually want to wet and secure an individual sheet to a board before you start working. So the format the paper comes in may not matter as much to you as its quality.

The Paper Material and Manufacturing Process Also Affects Your Work

The Paper Material and Manufacturing Process Also Affects Your Work

Surprising as it may be, paper is not always made from trees. High-quality watercolor paper is usually made of 100 percent cotton or a cotton and cellulose blend. Lower-quality papers are generally made with wood pulp or a wood pulp and cellulose blend.


Cotton paper is much more durable and naturally absorbent than its tree-based counterpart. Wood pulp paper usually breaks down faster. If a paper is advertised as lignin-free, acid-free, or archival, it should last longer than those that aren't. Wood pulp papers are better for practice, while cotton papers are best for finished pieces.


When watercolor paper is made, it has to go through a treatment that makes the paper suitable for watercolors. This process is called sizing. Sizing solutions are either animal gelatin-based or plant starch-based. Their goal is the same: to prevent the paper from soaking up paint uncontrollably.

The Paper Material and Manufacturing Process Also Affects Your Work

The sizing treatment can happen in a number of ways. One example is internal sizing, where the sizing solution is added to the paper pulp during manufacturing. In other words, the solution is being added while the paper is being made. Most machine-made papers have this to some extent; this glue holds its fibers together.


External, or surface, sizing happens when a sheet of paper is either immersed in a tub or sprayed in a layer of sizing solution. That is to say, the sizing solution is added after the paper is made. Tub-sizing is more effective and provides more even coverage than spraying. A high-quality paper will generally be sized both internally and externally

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

The way the paper is made also affects its texture and consistency. Handmade paper is prized for its deckled edges, which thin out delicately. It's often thicker as well but can offer less consistency from sheet to sheet.


Mold-made paper is formed on a cylinder mold, so it can have two deckled edges, and it's a good happy medium. Because it's mass-produced, it provides consistency, but the process makes for a texture somewhat similar to handmade paper. It may have directional lines that form a pattern from the way it's pressed, however.


Finally, machine-made papers offer complete consistency from batch to batch and are the cheapest. They aren't the preferred choice of discerning artists, but they're good for practicing and sketching.

Consider Some Other Paper Types for Different Work Styles

Watercolor paper isn't the only option for painting with watercolors. Some artists work with a number of different mediums for one piece and find that other papers work better.

Mixed Media Paper Can Handle Wet and Dry Media

Mixed Media Paper Can Handle Wet and Dry Media

Mixed media paper is quite similar to watercolor paper. Both can handle wet media and are offered in a variety of weights. Mixed media paper has a slight amount of texture, but it doesn't come in the variety that watercolor paper does.


Dry media such as pens, graphite, and charcoal work great on mixed media paper, as well as many wet mediums including watercolor, marker, ink, and gouache. Although mixed media paper doesn't handle watercolor quite as well as watercolor paper, it is a great option when a variety of media is being used.

Illustration Board Is Thick and Can Handle a Lot of Water

Illustration Board Is Thick and Can Handle a Lot of Water

Illustration board is very similar to 300-pound watercolor paper. Both are thick and sturdy. Illustration board is great for scanning and reproducing art digitally. It can also handle a lot of water with little to no warping.


It is a wonderful mixed media option, as both dry and wet mediums can work well on the surface. Similar to watercolor paper, illustration board is offered in hot press and cold press, but the texture is not as pronounced as watercolor paper.

10 Best Watercolor Paper

Here are our 10 favorite watercolor papers. We made our choices based on the points listed in the buying guide below, as well as reviewer comments when available. We've included the surface texture and weight of each paper so you can pick the best option for you.

Image
Arches Watercolor Pad 1

Arches

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Paper Block 1

Strathmore

Legion Yupo Medium 1

Legion

Speedball/Hand Book Journal Co. Travelogue Watercolor Journal 1

Speedball/Hand Book Journal Co.

Strathmore 500 Series Ready Cut Watercolor 1

Strathmore

Indigo Artpapers Handmade Watercolor Paper 1

Indigo Artpapers

Arches Watercolor Pad, Rough 1

Arches

Legion Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress Black Pad 1

Legion

Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor Paper Roll 1

Canson

Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad 1

Canson

Name

Watercolor Pad

400 Series Watercolor Paper Block

Yupo Medium

Travelogue Watercolor Journal

500 Series Ready Cut Watercolor

Handmade Watercolor Paper

Watercolor Pad, Rough

Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress Black Pad

Artist Series Montval Watercolor Paper Roll

XL Series Watercolor Pad

Features

Best Versatile Paper From a Manufacturer Known for Quality

Best Watercolor Block You Don't Have to Tape Down

Best Smooth Synthetic Paper for Endless Experimentation

Best Journal for Urban Sketchers

Best-Sized Watercolor Paper for Framing

Best Handmade Paper for Gallery Presentation

Best Rough Paper Pad for Visible Texture

Best Black Paper for Metallic Media

Best Large Paper Roll to Customize the Size of Your Work

Best Watercolor Pad for Practicing

Price$18.77$14.60$11.00$16.99$9.00$38.59$27.96$16.60$44.54$11.99
TextureCold pressCold pressSmoothCold pressHot pressHandmadeCold pressCold pressCold pressCold press
Weight140 lb.140 lb.74 lb.95 lb.140 lb.300 lb.140 lb.140 lb.140 lb.140 lb.
FormatPadBlockPadPadSheetsSheetsPadPadRollPad
MaterialTub-sized cottonCellulose fiber (wood pulp)PolypropyleneNot provided (likely wood pulp)CottonCotton, internal and external sizingTub-sized cottonCotton, internal and external synthetic sizingWood pulp, internal and external sizingMixed cotton, wood pulp and recycled paper
Size9 x 12 in.9 x 12 in.9 x 12 in.8.25 x 8.25 in.5 x 7 in.22 x 30 in.11 x 16 in.8 x 10 in.48 in. x 5 yd.11 x 15 in.
Sheets121510302531215-30
Link
TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialTub-sized cotton
Size9 x 12 in.
Sheets12

Strathmore400 Series Watercolor Paper Block

$14.60

TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatBlock
MaterialCellulose fiber (wood pulp)
Size9 x 12 in.
Sheets15
TextureSmooth
Weight74 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialPolypropylene
Size9 x 12 in.
Sheets10

Speedball/Hand Book Journal Co.Travelogue Watercolor Journal

$16.99

TextureCold press
Weight95 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialNot provided (likely wood pulp)
Size8.25 x 8.25 in.
Sheets30

Strathmore500 Series Ready Cut Watercolor

$9.00

TextureHot press
Weight140 lb.
FormatSheets
MaterialCotton
Size5 x 7 in.
Sheets25
TextureHandmade
Weight300 lb.
FormatSheets
MaterialCotton, internal and external sizing
Size22 x 30 in.
Sheets3

ArchesWatercolor Pad, Rough

$27.96

TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialTub-sized cotton
Size11 x 16 in.
Sheets12

LegionStonehenge Aqua Coldpress Black Pad

$16.60

TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialCotton, internal and external synthetic sizing
Size8 x 10 in.
Sheets15

CansonArtist Series Montval Watercolor Paper Roll

$44.54

TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatRoll
MaterialWood pulp, internal and external sizing
Size48 in. x 5 yd.
Sheets-

CansonXL Series Watercolor Pad

7022446

$11.99

TextureCold press
Weight140 lb.
FormatPad
MaterialMixed cotton, wood pulp and recycled paper
Size11 x 15 in.
Sheets30

Frequently Asked Questions

We asked Susan to help us answer some common questions about watercolor paper, so before you start your Internet search, read on!

Which side of watercolor paper should I use?

Susan says, "Whichever you like! The sizing would be the only thing that could prevent you from using one side, but most papers are sized all the way through - and on both sides, if they're sized externally - so it shouldn't make any difference. If your paper has a watermark, then the side with legible lettering is meant to be the front. Still, there's nothing preventing you from using the other side if you want to.


Some papers have a noticeable difference in texture from one side to the other, so just choose the one you prefer. One thing to look for, though, is a linear pattern as a result of the way the paper is pressed. You might find one side has these geometric impressions, and these straight dents could interfere with your design."

How do I keep watercolor paper flat?

Susan says, "Start by buying the heaviest weight paper you can. 300-pound paper is far less likely to buckle no matter how wet you get it, although personally, I still prepare it and tape it down. Another thing you can do is get a block, where they really can't buckle since all the pages are glued to each other.


If you have loose sheets or a regular pad, you'll want to tape the paper down to a drawing board and prepare it before starting to paint, especially if you work with lots of washes or are using thinner paper. You'll need to do this ahead of time, like the night before you start painting, because the paper needs to get fully wet and then fully dry.


This YouTube video by Jessica Hopper is a great step-by-step tutorial. The basic process is to get the paper wet, tape or staple it to a sturdy board, and let it dry before painting on it. If you've already painted your masterpiece and it happened to buckle, Strathmore has some tips for saving it."

Is watercolor paper good for markers?

Susan says, "Marker paper has some advantages. It's usually coated so the ink doesn't bleed through, and it can also help make blending markers easier. There's also texture to consider. If you do want to use watercolor paper, you might find you like smoother texture of hot press, which is better for the details and thin lines markers can offer.


Some artists like to use Bristol board or mixed-media paper for markers, but these non-coated papers may suck up more ink and drain your markers faster. Watercolor markers, which can be blended with washes, should be great with watercolor paper."

Feeling Artistic? You'll Need Some More Supplies

Now that you've found some paper, it's time to get creative. Check out these different mediums you can use on your paper.

Amazon's Best Selling Watercolor Paper

If you're still not sure which watercolor paper may be best for your artistic endeavors, try checking what's popular with Amazon customers.

In Collaboration With Artist Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.

Author: Alexa Crookston

Updated by: Susan Lucier-Ogawa, 11/12/2021


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