How to Pick Great Watercolor Paper
How to Choose Artists' Watercolor Paper
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
QuestionWhat is "gsm"?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGsm stands for "grams per square meter" and indicates the weight and thickness of said paper (the thicker the paper, the heavier it is).Thanks!
QuestionHow soon should I use paper that has been stretched?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPreferably 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.Thanks!
QuestionWhich watercolor paper is most forgiving?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPersonally 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).Thanks!
QuestionWhats the difference between watercolor paper and cartridge paper? Can watercolors be used on cartridge paper?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCartridge paper wrinkles up and bends because of the water drying, but watercolor paper stays flat and preserves the color much better.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I find out what kind of watercolor paper a famous artist uses?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA 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.Thanks!
QuestionCan I use a canvas for watercolor?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou 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.Thanks!
QuestionCan a stock 300g/m2 card handle watercolors?SpookyneighbourCommunity AnswerYes, the majority of papers over 150g/meters squared will easily hold watercolors.Thanks!
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Video: How To Choose Watercolor Papers
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