Watercolor Workstation: Part One

One of the most crucial factors for success in watercolor painting is the paper! In this lesson, I’ll explain the various types of watercolor paper, so you’ll understand how to select the right kind for your needs.

Please Note Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Blick Art Materials, where I shop all the time myself! I have been very happy with their prices and customer service, so have no hesitation in recommending them to you. When you purchase a product through one of my links, Blick provides me with a small commission fee, which goes towards building and maintaining this website. Thank you for your support!


Cold Press vs. Hot Press Paper

Cold press paper has a slightly textured surface, while hot press paper is smooth. Both are equally lovely, and which you choose is mostly personal preference. However, there are a few differences as far as which techniques you can use on each.

Most students start out with cold press, since paint sticks to it tooth readily, making it easy to layer. The texture of cold press paper is essential for an effect known as granulation. An attribute of certain paint pigments, granulation occurs when insoluble particles separate from the wash, congregating in the small crevices and dips in the paper. The effect is quite interesting and looks scaly or watery.

There is an expensive type of handmade watercolor paper called “rough,” which is even rougher than cold press. Landscape artists love the variation and texture it adds to foliage.

The smooth surface of hot press is ideal for doing detailed work. If your style is very calligraphic, or if you want to use watercolor with detailed ink line work, then you’ll probably find it much easier to work on hot press paper.

But do experiment! It’s important to find the way of working YOU like best.


Archival Quality vs. Student Quality

Archival quality paper is made from 100% cotton, and the very best paper in this category is handmade.

Student quality paper is made from wood pulp. Unlike cotton, wood pulp isn’t white naturally, and so must be processed with a variety of chemical, which cause it to yellow over time.


Look for 100% cotton rag, acid free, etc.

Recommend Archival Brands: Arches, Etc.

Recommended Student Brands: Strathmore, Canson

Machine-made paper is less expensive to manufacture and purchase. Most artist-quality watercolor papers on the market are mold-made rather than machine-made.

You always want to use the highest quality paper you can afford, which is artist quality paper.

All artist quality paper is acid-free, pH neutral, 100 percent cotton. That means that the paper will not turn yellow or deteriorate over time, unlike lower quality paper made of wood pulp, such as newsprint or brown kraft paper.

Preventing Paper Problems

Student grade paper often comes in 80 lbs to 90 lbs weights. This light paper cannot handle much water at all before it starts to pill up and rip. Resist the urge to use low quality paper, since you’re only “just learning” or “just practicing.” Having tried it myself, I can assure that it’s frustrating to be unable to try out new techniques without destroying your paper!

Watercolor paper is a wet medium, and you simply must have paper that will withstand all that water. So I suggest choosing paper that is no less than 140 lbs in weight. Some archival watercolor papers come in 300 lbs weight, which is quite nice if you are working with an extra-wet technique.


My Top Three Paper Picks

I love the ready cut line by Strathmore–very affordable, and high quality paper, suitable for beginners as well as professionals.

Student Pick: Strathmore 300 Series

Professional Pick: Canson Watercolor Boards +

Student and Professional: Strathmore Ready Cut



Preparing Paper to Paint

Use an art board ets with WHITE tape


Watercolor Boards and Blocks

Some watercolor paper is sold glued together on all four sides into a “block.” This eliminates the need for taping the paper to a board, as the paper is already held flat by the glue.

As you become more skilled in watercolor, another paper option you might like to try is watercolor boards, which are sheets of archival-quality watercolor paper pre-mounted to boards, making them ready to frame and resistant to rippling or warping during the painting processes.



Supplies List

Cold Press Watercolor Paper, 150 lbs.



Masonite Board http://www.dickblick.com/products/speedball-gessoed-hardboard-panels/

Download Complete Supplies List Here!