What watercolour paper do I choose

Watercolour Paper : what do I choose?


Watercolour Paper is the most important thing to get right for your paintings.   Paper quality can vary so much and the price will reflect this. Watercolour paper in your local store tend to be made of cheap materials. As they do not specialise in art materials, they art supplies are poor quality.  Using bad quality watercolour paper will destroy your experience with watercolour painting especially if you are a beginner.

You should go to an art store as this is their speciality. There will be a choice of products in different ranges and different suppliers.

There are a number of things you need to consider before selecting a watercolour paper as follows:

1. Surface

(a) Cold Pressed or Not

This is what is used by most.  A moderate amount of pressure is applied to the paper sheets using cold press and this results in a medium textured surface. This type of surface allows some pigment to penetrate it. It allows for wet in wet application which can bleed and hence making control difficult. In any case, cold-pressed material still suitable for many watercolour techniques. It is a good idea to start with this type of paper when you are learning to paint.

(b) Hot Pressed

This is smoother as it has been run through hot rollers.  Apart from being smooth, hot-pressed paper is very tough, allowing very little pigment to penetrate the surface. As a result, it is good for pen and wash and finer details but it doesn’t allow wet-on-wet application or diffusion

(c) Rough

This paper has a lot of texture. This would be good when you have more experience with painting and you want to take advantage of the heavier texture of the paper. It allows a lot of pigment to penetrate its fibers. This makes the wet-on-wet application very effective. Also, this type of surface is ideal for advanced techniques such as dry brushing, which can be great for creating scenery foliage and landscapes.

2. Weight

Paper weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter). The more GSM a paper has, the heavier and thicker it is. Office/copier paper tends to be 90 to 120 GSM.while watercolour paper tends to be anywhere between 190 and 640 GSM. It is noticably heavier than copier paper. It is recommended to choose watercolour paper 300gsm or more. The lighter weight paper will buckle when you add a lot of water.  You can stretch the paper to avoid buckling. However with lighter paper, it can still buckle if you are applying lots of layers (ie lots of water). Paper in blocks do not need to stretched.

3. Format

Watercolour paper can be obtained by purchasing paper pads, blocks, sketch pads or even loose sheets. Blocks and pads are the most common format. Blocks have the sheets gummed at all sides and hence do not need to be stretched  and will not buckle. However they can be a lot more expensive than other forms. Beginners should start off with pads. Lots of professional artists would practise and create studies on pads and then create the final piece on a block.

4. Material

Watercolour paper is generally made of either cotton or wood fibers. 100% cotton paper is considered the best painting surface and suitable for professionals.  Cotton fibres are  lot more durable than wood pulp. It can handle different amounts or paint/water and drying. Hence you will get more evenly dried layers of paints and less blotches.

Student grade paper is meant for experimenting and learning purposes. Hence paper made from wood pulp is suitable for this. It is also alot cheaper than cotton paper. However it can be fragile and can tear easily if applying a lot of layers of paint.  It still is recommended for beginners.

Sample Brands

There are lots of different reputable companies that provide good quality paper. Here is just a sample of brands that you can purchase.

*** please note I do not receive any commission for mentioning any of these brands

Beginner/Student Advanced/Experts
Daler Rowney Langton

Watercolour Pad

300gm Cold Pressed or Not

Windsor & Newton Professional

100% Cotton

Cold Pressed – 300gsm

Bockingford Block 300 gsm paper Arches Block  300 gsm100% cotton
Canson XL Aquarelle

Watercolour Pad 300gsm NOT

Fabriano Artistico Block 300 gsm 100% cotton
Strathmore 300 series

There are 2 additional points that you should consider when deciding what watercolour paper suits your needs:

  1. Your skill level ie are you starting to learn to paint with watercolours
  2. What type of painting you plan to create eg landscapes or very fine detailed paintings

Hopefully this will help you to decide which one is right for your particular needs. It is good to try different brands to determine which is best for your style of painting.  I found this starter pack which you might like to try as there are different brands included in the pack and different paper types, weights etc https://www.artsupplies.co.uk/item-mini-watercolour-paper-starter-pack.htm


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