Shopping for art supplies can sometimes be overwhelming. There are so many options to choose from whether at the art supply store or online. Which brands of watercolor paper are the best. What do all the different numbers mean?
Watercolor paper – actually all paper – comes in different weights or thicknesses which you will see described as something like 140lb or 300gsm. The heavier the weight the more water and paint it is able to hold without falling apart. Usually that also correlates to price as well with the heavier papers being more expensive. Look for paper that is 140lb for most watercolor painting.
What is the difference between student watercolor paper and artist or professional paper? Student or sketch watercolor paper is not made of archival grade materials, meaning that the paper may discolor and deteriorate over time due to acids and other compounds in the paper. However, they are perfect to practice on.
Professional grade papers are usually heavier weight and higher quality cotton fibers that will not yellow over time. You’ll see them labeled as “archival”. They might come in blocks which are sealed on three or four sides to keep the paper from rippling when water is added to it.
Hot press vs cold press paper: Typically watercolor paper has a rough texture meant to hold the paint pigments in place. However you can also find smooth watercolor paper if you prefer that. Usually it is called hot press paper, while the textured style is cold press. You can think of it like the hot press paper has been ironed with a hot iron.
How to choose the best watercolor paper for you? Are you looking for a sketchbook or watercolor paper to practice on? Maybe you are searching for the best quality, professional papers. Here are some of the top watercolor papers and sketchbooks for artists and beginners.
Watercolor paper can be quite pricey, but luckily there are many good options for beginners to practice their techniques without breaking the bank.
If you are new to watercolor painting you might be drawn to smaller sketchbooks or paper pads, thinking those are easier to paint on since the page is smaller and less intimidating. It is true that a small pad is easier to carry and store, and yes maybe that blank page isn’t as intimidating. However, many professional painters will recommend using larger format paper so that your strokes can be loose and free. Smaller, more precise paintings are actually more difficult in watercolor and require more practice anyway. And if you just want to practice your lines and shapes you have more space for doodling with the brush on one page. So perhaps the best idea is to go with a size larger than you initially think.
Typical watercolor paper has a rough, orange peel like texture. This helps hold the pigments, and gives your artwork that typical watercolor look. Beginners should probably start with the standard style and then later test out different types of paper. Hot press paper is smoother, and they also make extra rough textured papers. Sometimes I use smooth multimedia paper for watercolor sketch painting, this can be a cheaper option than hot press watercolor paper.
Here are some of the best watercolor paper options for beginners:
Strathmore makes great painting supplies for beginners and professionals alike. I love their paper products. They have watercolor paper for students in two different levels, the 300 series and the 400 series. As you might guess, the 400 series is better quality than the 300, but both are 140lb and acid free. They come spiral or tape bound and the 400 series also comes in blocks. Find the Strathmore paper at Dick Blick or on Amazon.
Strathmore 300 Series Student Watercolor Paper – $2.09 from: Blick Art Materials
Canson produces excellent painting materials for beginners, and I am a huge fan of their affordable watercolor paper. It is cheaper than most of the competition and is perfect for sketching and practicing new techniques. The paper weight is 140lb and it is acid free. I like their wire-bound watercolor pads for my sketches and art that I wouldn’t be selling. Canson is also made by the same company that produces top quality Arches Watercolor Papers – read more about those below. Buy Canson papers here at Dick Blick Art Supplies or find it on Amazon.com.
As mentioned above, the best watercolor paper is archival quality. This means it is acid-free and is made of 100% cotton rag. Paper labeled only as “acid-free” is usually made with wood pulp or other cellulose materials and may yellow over time. If you plan to sell your originals or keep them for many years it is best to use high quality archival papers.
Watercolor paper, especially the higher end papers, will often come in a block. This means the paper is sealed on two or four sides so that you can paint on the pages without too much warping and rippling of the paper. After the painting is dried, the page is removed from the top of the block by cutting the glue seal on the edges with a flat tool.
If you don’t like to work with blocks or are using regular paper you can also tape or clip the pages to a board or to your table. If you don’t use a lot of water when you paint, you probably don’t need to tape the pages down at all.
Arches Watercolor Paper is one of top brands for professional watercolor painters. It comes in blocks and tape bound pads – you can also buy it by the sheet or by the roll. You can find it in various weights and dimensions as well as both hot or cold press. Helpfully, the covers are color coordinated to each specific weight and texture so if you know you like the 300gsm rough paper you can just look for the orange cover.
Arches paper is made in France, with a centuries old method using molds to form the papers. The paper comes in natural white or bright white and is 100% cotton. If you’ve never tried professional grade watercolor paper before, you might like to start with Arches.
Winsor & Newton is of course known for their watercolor paints. But they also make a high quality watercolor paper that you can find in blocks or pads. The paper is 100% cotton and many artists appreciate the slightly more affordable price tag. You can find Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper at Dick Blick Art Supplies or at Amazon here.
Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor pads and blocks are another option for those looking for high quality watercolor paper made from 100% cotton. The paper is made on cylindrical molds and is acid-free. You can buy the blocks here at Dick Blick or check out the tape bound watercolor pads. You can also shop for Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige at Amazon.
Some artists like to work with larger sizes of paper or cut or tear their own papers to size. If so, you can shop for individual papers and even rolls of paper online or at your local art supply store. Check out Dick Blick for a selection of watercolor papers from many top brands.
If you prefer your paper in a more enclosed sketchbook format, check out the Strathmore journal sketchbooks. They make really nice watercolor journals that you can buy here on Amazon or at Dick Blick Art Supplies. I personally prefer the 500 series Mixed Media sketchbook. It does not hold water as well but if you like to draw as well as paint the surface of the paper is smoother. Try them both and see which you prefer.
Moleskine sketchbooks are popular as journals and for drawing but did you know Moleskine also makes watercolor sketchbooks? You can find them at Dick Blick or here on Amazon. The paper is 25% cotton and is 200gsm.
If you like urban sketching with watercolor you might like the Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbooks. They have hard back cover making it easier to draw and paint while standing up or sketching out in the field. The paper is 200gsm and the books have landscape dimensions. Check them out at Blick Art Supplies or on Amazon.
If you are looking for something different to try with your watercolors or inks you can check out other styles of paper like yupo, watercolor panels and uniquely sized papers like postcards.
Have you tried Yupo paper before? It’s a plastic paper with a slippery surface. The paint does not sink into the fibers as with other papers. This makes the colors super vivid and they also move on the paper differently. Many people use yupo papers with inks. Try them with your liquid watercolors. You can find Yupo paper at Dick Blick or shop here on Amazon.
Watercolor panels are wood, cardboard, clay or canvas covered in watercolor paper or a medium that absorbs and holds watercolor paints. They are a fun way to create artworks that are ready to hang on the wall. You can find watercolor panels at Blick Art Supplies or buy them on Amazon.
Do you like to travel with your watercolor paints? Bring along a pad of postcard sized watercolor paper and create artworks to send to friends and loved ones from your travels! Many companies sell watercolor paper in postcard format with the back side preprinted with an address area and a place for your written sentiments. You can also buy watercolor greeting cards. Check out the selection of watercolor greeting cards and postcards from Strathmore.
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