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Dec 5, 2018

How to Choose a Good Watercolor Paper

Watercolor painting has a rich history that dates back to prehistoric times, when primitive people used a combination of water and pigments to depict animals and various other images on the walls of caves. Today, there's a wealth of watercolor paper options—covering a variety of price ranges—for both beginners and experts.

Keep in mind, though, that the type of paper you use plays a vastly important role in how well (or how bad) your painting turns out. Whether you're just practicing, thinking of framing your art, or planning to transform your paintings into paper crafts for home decoration, you'll need to keep some things in mind when choosing watercolor paper.

Aim for premium-quality watercolor paper

First off, make sure that you're buying paper that's specifically created for watercolor painting, not general media paper. If your budget allows it, buy the artist-quality watercolor paper. Also known as archival paper, it's typically either handmade or mold-made, is acid-free, and suitable for various types of paper art. Most are also made from 100% cotton fibers, making them extremely durable and capable of holding up even under multiple washes of color.  

Budget-friendly watercolor paper for everyday use

Getting into watercolor painting doesn't have to put a big dent in your wallet. There's a plethora of student-quality watercolor paper that's much more affordable than artist-quality paper, but still a pleasure to work with. This is usually machine-made, using wood pulp or a mix of cotton and other cellulose fibers. Since it's relatively inexpensive, it's a great way to introduce young ones to watercolors and a handy addition to your arsenal of paper craft for kids.

Light or heavy? The importance of watercolor paper's weight

Paper weight is measured according to grams per square meter (gsm) or by the number of pounds in a ream (500 sheets). Light paper weighs less than 140 lb/300 gsm while heavy ranges from 300–400 lb/600–850 gsm. It's a misconception that the heavier the paper's weight, the better it is.

As a matter of fact, the best types of watercolor paper come in both light and heavy varieties. That said, heavy is the watercolor paper of choice for many artists because of its water absorption capacity and durability.

Light paper is much cheaper but it needs to be stretched before painting to avoid having it wrinkle or buckle when it becomes wet. However, it’s sturdy enough for beautiful but simple paper art like handmade greeting cards.

Choosing among textures for the best painting experience

Your painting style and personal preference come into play when it comes to the best textures for watercolor painting. Hot-pressed paper has its pros and cons: a smooth and hard surface that’s perfect for intricate work, but whose smoothness makes it challenging to control the paint.

Cold-pressed paper features a semi-rough surface that offers great versatility for both novice and experienced artists and makes working on art and craft with paper easy. There’s also a type called rough paper, whose extremely textured surface absorbs pigments deeply to give watercolors a luminous quality.

Picking the watercolor paper form that’s best for you

Whether you’re a budding artist or a seasoned painter, you’ll find no shortage of watercolor paper in a variety of forms. Beginners or those just starting to learn paper art might find it easiest and most convenient to practice on watercolor blocks—a pile of sheets glued together on all sides—or watercolor pads, whose sheets are bound by tape or wire. Watercolor paper is also available in sheets and rolls, which might seem pricey at first glance, but they’ll actually save you money in the long run.