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!
Susan has a Master of Fine Arts in Oil Painting, has been a glassblower since 1998, and is a former drawing professor. So naturally, we thought to ask her to help us review this article.
Her "painted drawings" are oil on paper and employ cartoon imagery to explore issues, ironies, and paradoxes in modern societies, often inspired by urban life in Tokyo. She has participated in juried exhibitions in the US and Japan. You can check out her work on Behance!
To choose the best watercolor paper, we took into consideration the following:
Don't forget to check out our buying guide after the products to make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision about watercolor paper.
Speedball/Hand Book Journal Co.
400 Series Watercolor Paper Block
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
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
|Texture||Cold press||Cold press||Smooth||Cold press||Hot press||Handmade||Cold press||Cold press||Cold press||Cold press|
|Weight||140 lb.||140 lb.||74 lb.||95 lb.||140 lb.||300 lb.||140 lb.||140 lb.||140 lb.||140 lb.|
|Material||Tub-sized cotton||Cellulose fiber (wood pulp)||Polypropylene||Not provided (likely wood pulp)||Cotton||Cotton, internal and external sizing||Tub-sized cotton||Cotton, internal and external synthetic sizing||Wood pulp, internal and external sizing||Mixed cotton, wood pulp and recycled paper|
|Size||9 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.|
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.
|Size||9 x 12 in.|
|Material||Cellulose fiber (wood pulp)|
|Size||9 x 12 in.|
|Size||9 x 12 in.|
|Material||Not provided (likely wood pulp)|
|Size||8.25 x 8.25 in.|
|Size||5 x 7 in.|
|Material||Cotton, internal and external sizing|
|Size||22 x 30 in.|
|Size||11 x 16 in.|
|Material||Cotton, internal and external synthetic sizing|
|Size||8 x 10 in.|
|Material||Wood pulp, internal and external sizing|
|Size||48 in. x 5 yd.|
|Material||Mixed cotton, wood pulp and recycled paper|
|Size||11 x 15 in.|
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
We asked Susan to help us answer some common questions about watercolor paper, so before you start your Internet search, read on!
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."
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."
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."
Now that you've found some paper, it's time to get creative. Check out these different mediums you can use on your 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.
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