How to Pick Great Watercolor Paper

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How to Choose Artists' Watercolor Paper

Four Methods:

Selecting artists' watercolor paper can be tricky, because there are so many kinds to choose from. This article will tell you, the buyer, what to look for.


  1. Familiarize yourself with the types of paper available:
    • Weight and texture: Watercolor paper is available in a variety of weights and textures, and choosing the right paper will depend on technique as well as personal taste.
    • Absorbent ability: Unlike drawing and printmaking papers, watercolor paper contains sizing, which reduces the absorption of paint into the paper itself. The pigments remain on the surface of the paper, so the colors remain brilliant. (To see this for yourself, make one watercolor painting on heavy drawing paper and another on watercolor paper.)
    • Cost: Watercolor paper can be very expensive, but if you want to get the best results, you've got to use the right materials. Copier/cartridge paper, sketch paper, illustration board, and other types of papers and artists' boards aren't meant to be used with watercolor, and the results will reflect that.

Looking at Texture

  1. Understand the different qualities of texture is usually the first consideration when selecting paper.There are three general categories:
    • Hot-Presshas a smooth surface, and is sometimes even labeled as "Smooth." It's your best bet if you work with fine detail, combine watercolor and fine pen-and-ink work, or use watercolor as a base for colored pencil.
    • Cold-Presshas a noticeable texture that may not be suitable for extremely detailed work, but otherwise it's a versatile surface that lends itself to most watercolor techniques. Cold-press is the most commonly used surface, and if you're taking a beginning watercolor class your instructor will usually specify it on the supply list. There is no standard "cold-pressed" surface, however; the relative roughness of the paper and size of the grain varies between manufacturers. Strathmore's cold-press paper, for example, has a much larger grain, and thus a coarser appearance, than Arches.
    • Roughis--well,rough.It's great stuff if you're into bold brushwork and larger-scale paintings, but is generally not used by beginners.


  1. Understand the importance of weight.How thick the paper is is the next thing to consider. The weight of paper is given in pounds (or grams per square metre). The higher the number, the heavier the paper.
    • The most commonly-used weight is 140lb (300gsm) because it works well for most artists' purposes. If you plan to work very large or use a lot of heavy washes, there are much heavier papers available; 300lb (620gsm) is also popular.
    • Watercolor papers as light as 90lb (200g) are available, and they are usually less expensive than 140lb. However, they often end up causing problems for beginners because they buckle once you start applying washes. Unless you know how to stretch watercolor paper, they are best avoided.

Paper Size and Format

  1. Decide in what size and format you're going to buy your paper:
    • Padsusually contain 12-50 sheets (depending on weight) of watercolor paper, either spiral-bound (like a sketchbook) or glued along one edge. The spiral-bound kind are great if you want to keep all of your paintings together, or are traveling and want to keep an illustrated diary that includes your paintings. The glued ones make it easier to tear off a finished painting while it's drying and start work on another. They come in a range of sizes, usually from postcard-size up to 18 x 24" (45 x 60 cm).
    • Blockscontain 20-25 sheets of 140lb paper, glued together on all four sides. The advantage to blocks is that by having all four edges bound, the paper is less likely to buckle as you're painting. The thick backing board onto which the sheets of paper are bound keeps everything stable and makes it easy to hold the block of paper on your lap while working.
    • Sheetsare a great deal if you want to try a paper without committing to an entire pad/block. You'll also end up switching to sheets if you work larger than 18 x 24", or want to use heavier-weight papers. You can buy most brands of 140lb watercolor paper either in individual 22 x 30" sheets, or in a package of 4-10.
    • Rollsare usually 44-60" wide and 10 yards (9.1 m) long. If you love a particular paper so much you want to use it all the time, buying it buy the roll will be most economical in the long run. If you want to paint watercolors larger than 22 x 30", buying paper by the roll and cutting it yourself will be your only recourse.

Other things to keep in mind

  1. Note that there are some other important factors to consider when purchasing watercolor paper:
    • Acid-freepaper is pretty much a given, anymore, but check the label to make sure (especially if you're buying cheap or "student" paper). You might end up painting something you're proud of; don't let acidic paper slowly destroy it.
    • Whitenessof the paper can significantly affect the look of your finished painting. Some artists like a very bright white paper; others prefer a softer off-white. Some manufacturers (such as Arches and Fabriano) offer bright white papers for those who prefer it.
    • Cleanlinessis important when working with watercolors. There are people who can't go through the paper section of an art supply store without getting their dirty paws all over the paper. Not only are fingerprints and dirt impossible to get off paper, but the oils in people's fingerprints can mess up your painting. Buy the paper that's still sealed, or is on the bottom of the stack, and always check to make sure it's clean before buying it.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    What is "gsm"?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Gsm stands for "grams per square meter" and indicates the weight and thickness of said paper (the thicker the paper, the heavier it is).
  • Question
    How soon should I use paper that has been stretched?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Preferably 8-10 hours after you've stretched it. If it's for quick ones or simpler illustrations that do not require more than a couple wet techniques, 30 minutes - 1 hour should be more than enough.
  • Question
    Which watercolor paper is most forgiving?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Personally all watercolor papers of or above 300 gsm are forgiving enough, but if you're talking about 69420 mistakes on the same exact spot and rubbing them off with clean water without the paper fraying and holing, I'd suggest Cotman's gummed watercolor paper (425 gsm).
  • Question
    Whats the difference between watercolor paper and cartridge paper? Can watercolors be used on cartridge paper?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Cartridge paper wrinkles up and bends because of the water drying, but watercolor paper stays flat and preserves the color much better.
  • Question
    How do I find out what kind of watercolor paper a famous artist uses?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    A lot of different artists use social media, so that would be the first place to start. If you want to know about artists who have died, talk to a curator at a museum that holds the artist's work.
  • Question
    Can I use a canvas for watercolor?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You can, but whether or not you should depends on a few things, like the effect you're going for, the type of canvas you'll be using, etc. Canvas doesn't absorb the paint, so you might want to prime the canvas with something called gesso. This will allow the pigments to sink in and stay in.
  • Question
    Can a stock 300g/m2 card handle watercolors?
    Community Answer
    Yes, the majority of papers over 150g/meters squared will easily hold watercolors.
Unanswered Questions
  • What do I do if the water color pencils I am using are not blending with water?
  • What is the best paper to use for controlled backruns and bold blooms?
  • What brushes do you use for what
  • Are pads such as canon�useable?
  • What are the pros and cons of 100% cotton rag watercolor paper?
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Amber Willen

May 11, 2019

"I have never done a watercolor painting before but I do know that the results depend heavily upon the supplies thatare used. This article seems like it covered all the different aspects of watercolor paper. The "best" paper depends on how you're painting, what you're painting, and personal preference. The article manages to impart this information very succinctly in a way easily understood by a total beginner. My thanks to the author."

Jeffrey Patterson

Mar 30, 2019

"I knew a little bit about watercolor and I knew things like weight, thanks to my background in art and theatre, butI generally work in colored pencil. I've been wanting to try more watercolor and this was a great help!"


Aug 11, 2019

"I am taking a watercolor painting class and wanted to know the differences between the brands of watercolor paper.I knew about the pads, then I learned about blocks, but nothing about cold press, hot press and rough."

Eve Lombard

Oct 10, 2019

"Watercolor paper has changed my life, and this article told me about it. Now my "art" can be experiencedby millions, just a square center meter is enough to send you places. Talk about art, mate."

Kathy Sanders

May 31, 2019

"Just a beginner and needed advice on how to start. Didn't want to use paper wastefully, it's expensive. Otherknowledgeable tips were good, too. I now know what kind of paper to begin with."

Anna Clark

Mar 8, 2019

"I paint with oils and want to explore different mediums. I just got watercolor pencils and didn't know exactly howto start or which paper to try first. You've been a great help! Thanks."

Anna Clark

Mar 22, 2019

"I paint with oils and want to explore different mediums. I just got watercolor pencils and didn't know exactly howto start or what paper to use first. You've been a great help! Thanks."

Uma Chandel

Jun 3, 2019

"The basics of buying paints, paper and brushes are explained with all the pros and cons. This know how is veryimportant for beginners, and with it their work will be hassle free."
Rated this article:


Apr 11, 2019

"Mainly, the texture of papers. Wasn't too sure of textures for colored pencil work. I guess it will be trial anderror, but thinking going more for the more smoother surface."


Oct 24, 2019

"The paper differences such as hot pressed and cold pressed, and also the recommended weight for differentapplications was helpful."


Apr 11, 2019

"The thing that most helped me is how to understand to choose between a normal drawing paper and an artist'swatercolor paper."

Mohammed Thoufeeq

May 5, 2019

"Really helpful. I have to take a special paper for painting in school. Taught me exactly how to use the paper."

Shar Singh

May 11, 2019

"The information given definitely helped me in choosing the right paper for my project."

Linda Nice

Apr 18, 2019

"Very clear description. Learned which paper to choose and why.

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Date: 05.12.2018, 16:06 / Views: 62283