The Importance of Watercolor Paper

One thing I love about watercolor is that it is an art form that is super accessible.  There are lots of cheap palettes and it is super easy to clean up and store! Even my toddler can get her own paints out and paint all by herself.  All you need is water, paint, paper, and a brush!  


Once you start diving into watercolor a bit deeper, you're going to find that the quality of supplies you use can actually make a huge difference.While quality paints and brushes are great, I would argue that the biggest X factor is the paper.

When painting with watercolor, the quality of paper is absolutely crucial.  Watercolor needs a special type of paper that is both absorbent but at the same time not TOO absorbent.  The mark of a good watercolor paper is that it keeps the shape of the water you put on the page and dries slow enough that you can manipulate the paint before it sets. 


There are tiny ridges called "tooth" on the surface that help grip the water and keep it in place.  There are two types of paper that are most often used.  Cold pressed watercolor paper and hot pressed.  Hot pressed is smooth (less toothy) and dries faster.  Cold pressed has a deeper tooth and allows you to manipulate the water and paint a little longer.  I work mostly with cold pressed watercolor paper.  

I will use hot press for watercolor lettering because the smoother paper makes it easier for the brush to glide along the page, but that's pretty much it.  I know people who do fine detail work also often prefer hot press, but NOT ME! 

There is also rough watercolor paper which has a really toothy toothiness! I haven't worked with this hardly at all, so I'll leave the explaining to someone else for that one.


Watercolor paper with detailed dahlia


Watercolor is also distinguished by its weight.  The weight speaks to the pounds per ream of paper, but in general, the larger the number, the sturdier it is going to be.  Just like a 90 lb person is going to be easier to knock over than a 190 lb person (Please do not try to knock over anyone! This is a peaceful space!) 

I use 140 lb cold pressed paper for things I'm going to scan.  I prefer 300 lb cold pressed paper for custom portraits.  The sturdier the paper (aka the higher # lb), the less buckling you’ll have.  Have you ever accidentally dropped your book in the bath and all the pages start to wrinkle? (No?!?! JUST ME?!?!) Well imagine if that buckling happened to your beautiful watercolor painting you just made.  That is why you want a sturdy paper.  

There are ways to treat your paper so it doesn't buckle, like pre-wetting it but I'll level with you... I don't do this because I'm always too impatient to start painting.  I usually use a watercolor block, which has glue around the edges to keep it from warping.  You can also tape the edges down with painter's tape.  If it still buckles using a block or tape, you can always flatten out your painting after you are done, but that is a blog post for another day! 

watercolor block with line drawing and art supplies


Also...ever wonder how some paintings have those fancy raw edges that look like perfectly torn paper? Well that is called a deckled edge and there are rulers to help achieve that look.


I could seriously talk about paper all day long, so let me know if you want to learn more! I'd be happy to do a deeper dive! In the meantime if you want to see what paper I use, go ahead and fill out the form below and it'll get sent straight to your email! 


Happy Painting! 

November 23, 2021 — KATE TALCOTT

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