Best paper for watercolor painting

When I started painting in watercolor, I simply chose the best paper I could afford at the time with the prettiest label. (Kind of how I still choose Wine in the supermarket) And that’s how I carried on until I noticed the paint didn’t work the same on all papers.

Choosing the best paper for your watercolor painting can take you anything from 1-100 paintings before you genuinely decide this is the paper for you.

Once you have done this – you will stop buying paper because you like the packaging.

To find the most appropriate watercolor paper for you – you much first decide what you want to achieve with it.

best paper for watercolor

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How to choose the best watercolor paper

The most crucial element when choosing your watercolor paper is thickness. A minimum of 300gsm is required to stop any warping or buckling when using large amounts of water; anything less than this usually requires stretching. If you have the budget – opt for 100% Cotton paper. This may not benefit you if you are just starting your watercolor journey since you will probably throw out your first attempts. Finally, in simple terms, Hot Press paper has a smooth surface. It is excellent for fine detail work such as botanical. Cold pressed is more for general use and has a medium surface, while Rough paper, as it says, provides a rough surface.

Watercolor painting is a good idea as a hobby — enjoyed by kids and adults. Children exposed to watercolor painting harness their sensory, physical, emotional, and cognitive skills from an early age. 

Most daycare and kindergarten schools start art classes with watercolor painting. One activity can lead to a passion — pursuing art will be their lifelong dream.

As for adults, watercolor painting is a type of therapeutic activity. It is a hobby that doesn’t just bring them accomplishment but also a sense of comfort. Watercolor painting is an escape — a tried and tested art therapy. It relieves anxiety — replenishing the mind and body from stress. The world right now makes adulthood a lot harder. A form of disconnection like watercolor painting is essential to keep your sanity.

On the other hand, watercolor painting can be a professional job. So it’s essential to use high-quality products — to provide your clients or potential customers the best of the best. Most creatives work on their day job while earning a small commission from their side hustle.

What are The Three Basic Types of Watercolor Paper? 

Watercolor artists have their personal preferences regarding the type of watercolor paper to use. Their choice depends on what style you want to achieve — the kind of paper is essential. There are three types of watercolor paper to choose from:

Hot Pressed Paper

For smooth and non-textured paper, hot-pressed paper is the right choice. It’s best for fine details — making it great for pen and ink. Hot pressed paper allows you to have more time to mix colors. Paint doesn’t quickly dry out due to the paper’s less absorbent quality.

An example of hot-pressed paper is the Arches Watercolor Paper Block.

Cold Pressed Paper

In contrast with hot-pressed paper, cold-pressed paper is slightly bumpy and textured. This watercolor paper is absorbent — paint quickly dries when applied to this paper. For this reason, cold press paper is the most used type of watercolor paper. Artists can easily create any watercolor painting style with cold-pressed paper, and colors are less saturated on this paper.

You can try out this brand, Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor Paper Pad, for cold-pressed paper.

Rough Surface Paper

This watercolor paper has a felt-like surface mainly used for vivid paintings. Due to the paper’s rough texture, the picture will look grainy, and you need to be extra mindful of your brush control. Moreover, rough surface paper is a lot more absorbent than cold-pressed paper. 

You can start with the Arches Watercolour Pad to try a loose watercolor art style. 

Choosing the right paper is important to achieving the artwork you have in mind — the watercolor paper is the foundation of your project. Before picking up your brush, you better remember these factors to consider when choosing watercolor paper.

pot plant painted in watercolor on paper

Texture

It is essential to determine what texture is best for your artwork — do you envision a smooth or rough surface? The dents and pits on watercolor paper are vital to how the painting will look once it’s finished. 

The best way to understand this is to paint the same picture on Hot, cold, and rough watercolor paper and view the results.

A smooth-surfaced paper, hot pressed – is best for finely detailed work. In contrast, a slightly rougher surface paper, i.e., cold-pressed or rough form, is best for a loose watercolor painting style.

Paper Manufacturing Process

There are three ways to manufacture watercolor paper — handmade, mold-made, and machine-made. Yes, your art style can be affected by the manufacturing process of the paper.

I know this gets more complicated, but the process by which the paper is made shouldn’t really affect your choice. 

Handmade and mold-made papers are artist-grade papers — due to popular demand, it’s a lot more expensive. This is something to bear in mind if you are just starting out – as you may well throw out a lot of work before you are satisfied with the results. 

Whereas machine-made watercolor paper is cheaper — making it ideal for daily use. However, too much water can quickly wrinkle the paper.

Paper Weight

The weight of the watercolor paper contributes to how you’ll work on your painting as different weights affect the finished . If you choose thinner paper, you must stretch the paper first. Stretching is advised to avoid warping and expansion due to the water used on the painting. 

Stretching the paper is simply wetting the form and then fixing it to your board while wet with gummed tape and letting it dry before you begin. 

Some artists do this for every piece, while others have never done it since art school.

On the other hand, the heavyweight paper 300gsm and above doesn’t need to be stretched and can withstand numerous washes. Stretching is advisable when you’ll use too much water on the paper, or your style is very wet and 

The most recommended weight for watercolor papers are:

  1. 140 lb. 300 g/m2
  2. 300 lb. 638 g/m2 
house plant painted in green

Materials

You can determine the quality of watercolor paper by the material used during production. Cellulose fibers and water are the primary materials needed to create paper. Watercolor artists prefer paper with fibers of absolute cotton — making the paper solid but tensile. 

Some artists also opt for paper made out of wood pulp — or composition of cotton and other cellulose fibers. However, these types of paper are less flexible and don’t withstand multiple times of scrubbing, scraping, taping, and masking techniques. 

Durability

Mistakes are common and inevitable — erasures are essential to correct some details. For this reason, checking if the paper you choose can withstand multiple erasures is necessary. You can opt for a cheaper paper to create a rough draft. 

Test the paper with a graphite pencil and a white eraser. Observe how the paper holds on to the remnants of the eraser and if you can smoothly erase the sketch.

Paper Format

Bundles are not the only available watercolor paper format — brands make watercolor papers in different ways, such as:

Pads are either wire bound or taped on one side. You can easily tear a page — categorized as a student-grade paper. For example, Canson XL Series.

Watercolor Blocks are the most recommended paper format for artists — the papers are fixed on multiple sides, allowing the user to paint on a page without tape conveniently.

This format is an example of a professional-grade paper; Arches Watercolor Block.

If I’m using a block of watercolor paper, I usually slice the sheet off when I’m done with a sharp knife around the edges. 

Lastly, you can opt for sheets sold in square meters — or rolls. Sheets are larger than pads and blocks — a much better choice for more extensive artworks.

Purchase a considerable amount of sheets, and you can easily acquire smaller sizes by cutting the sheet down. The paper also has a deckle edge that gives off a more creative look. A deckled edge looks like an intentional tear but is creatively done.

Check out this brand of watercolor paper sheets and see if it’s the best option for you, UCreate Watercolor Paper.

Which Type of Paper Depends on What Style You Like 

Free or loose watercolor painting is an art style that focuses on how someone envisions the mood and essence of an image. Watercolor artists use a bigger brush — to illustrate more shapes than lines. You’ll need more fluid to achieve the loose art style — making a less absorbent paper the right choice for this art style.

In contrast with the loose watercolor style, tightness is more realistic. Painters will focus more on details — to create a realistic image. Unlike loose painting, a tight art style strictly depends on the art reference.

This is why cold pressed paper is so popular; it allows for both loose and more detailed work giving more flexibility. 

100% cotton watercolor paper

What Does It Mean By Rag and Cotton in Watercolor Paper?

Rag paper is a term for watercolor papers made from 100% cotton, suitable for creating fine art papers. However, you can also tell if it’s an artist-grade paper if the materials are from cotton rag and cotton lint. This paper is high quality and usually results in a more expensive paper.

Cotton rag watercolor papers are made out of long fibers from cotton plants. On the other hand, cotton and linen rags can be combined as well. The linen’s long and thin fibers add toughness when joined with cotton fibers.  

The important thing is both terms are acceptable to determine what type of watercolor paper has the best quality.

What Type of Watercolor Paper is Best for Beginners?

A beginner in watercolor painting will need time to manage the paint on paper. For this reason, it is advisable to use cold-pressed paper — the texture is best for people still testing colors.

This paper is the best option for beginners as you can easily find it, and it is budget-friendly. Watercolor paper for beginners should be resistant to erasures and a considerable amount of water.

List of watercolor paper best for beginners:

Legion Stonehenge Aqua Watercolor Block

-made from 100% cotton

-the best option for blending, lifting, and masking

-buckle resistant

-durable

– cons

expensive if you throw away a lot of work

Canson Artist Series Watercolor Pad

-heavyweight and cold press paper

-mold-made

-durable and can withstand a series of scraping, erasing, and washes.

Fredrix Archival Watercolor Canvas Pads

-100% Cotton

-with formulated gesso for water-based paints.

-flexible and durable

Strathmore Vision Watercolor Pad

-cold press texture

-heavyweight paper

-tear out pages cleanly

Bee Paper Watercolor Paper Pack

-140 lbs paper

-100% cotton

-cold press paper

-50 sheets per pack

– This paper is only 140lbs, so it might need stretching before use.

Which Watercolor Paper is A Good All-Rounder?

Cold-pressed paper is an all-rounder — watercolor artists can try different painting styles on this textured paper. It’s recommendable to both beginners and professional artists. You can also do several texture techniques, and it’s easier to manage than hot-pressed paper. Paint quickly dries when applied — allowing the artist to work easier in an ample amount of time.

Professionals such as architecture artists use cold-pressed paper.

newly purchased watercolor paper in wrapper

Where Can I Buy Watercolor Paper Online?

Many online markets accommodate watercolor paper sellers— from large companies or small businesses. You can definitely find a store that will fit your personal preference. Also, shopping sites are a great alternative when your favorite watercolor paper brand is out of stock at physical stores. 

Stock up your art supplies with these stores you can find online.

Amazon

One of the biggest merchandise sites on the internet has a collection of watercolor papers. You can find various brands that sell art supplies and quickly locate the brand you are looking for through an organic search. You can even discover new brands you haven’t tried out before — it’s not bad to experiment on once in a while to test your skills.

Etsy

Find the perfect watercolor paper for you on Etsy — there are hidden gems that might be your next favorite. You can find watercolor paper in various sizes and formats. Aside from watercolor paper, you can buy art supplies for your painting. Entrepreneurs own most Etsy stores — you might find a trusted store you can contact and rely on when art supply stocks are low.

Walmart

Yes, Walmart has an online store for people who prefer to receive their purchased items at home. However, this is only exclusive to people in the United States. Walmart can ship your purchased watercolor paper as fast as one to two days. 

Utrecht Art Supplies

This website is solely for selling art supplies — from paints to printmaking supplies. Utrecht is also from the United States, but international shipping is available. You can browse by brand or paper format. Hazardous and flammable items can’t be delivered overseas.

Does Watercolor Paper Store Well?

Like any other art supplies, you can easily store watercolor paper. Proper storage and organization are essential — to keep the quality of the paper and avoid damage. Watercolor artists should choose convenient and practical ways to store their art supplies.

Since papers are absorbent, the atmospheric acidity can contaminate the paper’s surface. Due to exposure, the paper can become brittle and have a yellowish hue. Moreover, papers can attract insects and support mold growth.

I don’t have the space to keep large sheets of paper long-term in a small house, but sheets can be cheaper in the long run. This paper format is so large you will need a special place to keep it; otherwise, it will end up with cat paws and coffee stains. 

watercolor terrarium painting

how to store watercolor paper for future use? 

If yes, here are the ways how to store watercolor paper.

Portfolio Box

This item is suitable for storing drawings and photos. A tight and secured box that you can also create on your own. The box can be made from wood and gummed linen from 6- or 8- ply.

Keeping It Flat

Ensure that your stock of watercolor paper is stored a hundred percent flat. Keep the watercolor papers in between uncontaminated regular papers. 

Bookshelf

Bookshelves are the best storage area for watercolor pads and blocks. You can use other books to sandwich pads and blocks for better alignment. Furthermore, sandwiching them in between books can avoid wrinkling and exposure.

Avoid Direct Sunlight

Sunlight exposure can lead to brittleness, and this factor is essential, especially if you keep the paper before using it. Choose a spot in your house where there is less sunlight.

Cardboard File Folders

Do a filing system on your watercolor papers. Keep a separate cardboard folder for each type of watercolor paper — if you use all types. You can also keep your sketches, artworks, and unfinished projects in cardboard file folders.

Does watercolor paper go off?

My experience is to not keep too much paper for a long time as it can affect the quality. Once you remove the thin protective covering, the paper is exposed to moisture. 

There is nothing worse than sitting down to paint and finding that the paper has gone off, gathered too much moisture, and is only good for the fire. 

You can tell this quickly because the paint sinks straight into the paper and doesn’t lay off the surface. It acts more like a sponge than paper. 

watercolor garden on cold pressed paper

Which watercolor Paper Do I Prefer?

I’m not an expert in watercolor; I have sold a few of my paintings online and made money. I prefer cold press as I like loose florals and stick to the leading brands. I’ve made terrible art on expensive, high-quality paper and beautiful art on student-grade paper from Hobbycraft.

I usually buy individual sheets of paper blocks, as I like to batch work with a pencil and paint lots in a short space of time. This is helpful if you are limited on space like me and paint on the kitchen table. The one thing I always do is work with 300gsm paper, a heavier paper than student-grade paper.

I have noticed that blocks tend to not degrade as fast as open blocks of paper. Maybe because as a block, only the top sheet is exposed to lots of moisture. 

You don’t want to get the iron out afterward to get those bumps out. 

best watercolor paper and how to chose the right one

Final thoughts on choosing the Best Watercolor Paper – Choose the best watercolor paper for your chosen art style — paper is the foundation of your painting. It’s also a good idea to try out other paper types to test your skills or simply out of curiosity. The important thing is that you use high-quality watercolor paper to bring out the best in your creativity.

There is no general rule on how to do watercolor painting. Art is each to their own — you can enjoy the activity as long as you want. People can be casual painters or professional artists. Keep on creating art — your work might be a ray of light to someone in need.

I hope you enjoyed our post on Watercolor Paper – let me know in the comments if you have anything to add.

If you love being Creative – here are a few more posts to prompt your Watercolor wisdom.

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