What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (2023)

One of the most important watercolour supplies you’ll purchase is watercolour paper. The type of paper you choose can have a big impact on your painting experience and the effect you are hoping to achieve.

The type of watercolour paper you choose will depend on a few factors:

  • Your style of painting (loose or detailed)
  • The media used (just watercolour or mixed media)
  • Purpose of artwork (practice or finished piece)
  • Your overall budget

Before you spend your hard earned money on paper, it’s best to figure out which type will work best for you.

What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (1)

Types of Watercolour Paper

When you’re looking to purchase a pad of watercolour paper, you’ll likely be met with a plethora of different brands, sizes, textures, weights, and fibers. It can be quite overwhelming and leave you wondering what type of paper you should use for watercolour in particular.

Since watercolour is a wet media, papers have been specially made to accommodate water without buckling, curling, or shrinking.

It’s easiest to break down the types of watercolour paper into two categories: student grade paper and artist grade paper.

The major differences between these two categories include the content of the paper – i.e. what it’s made of — and the weight of the paper.

Watercolour Paper Content

Watercolour paper can be made with a variety of different materials including cellulose, wood pulp, cotton, linen, hemp, or bamboo.

The quality of your paper really depends on the content that is used to manufacture the paper.

Student grade papers tend to use cheaper materials like wood pulp and sometimes a mixture of wood and cotton pulp.

(Video) What Paper Should I use for Watercolor

This type of paper is not the best at handling a lot of water, creating lots of painted layers, or handling scrubbing and taping. It tends to buckle and wear the more you work with it.

These types of papers can be great for practice work or first drafts, but if you really want to see what your watercolour paint can do, you’ll want to look for a paper that is labeled as Artist or Professional quality.

Artist grade paper usually consists of 100% cotton fibers. You’ll also want to make sure that the paper specifically says “acid free” (more on this below).

What Does Acid Free Mean?

In simple terms, acid-free paper will not yellow over time. It is made to be pH neutral and withstand chemical changes that happen when compounds are mixed during the refining process.

The acid is what breaks down the chemical compounds of the paper and creates the brittle, yellow toned paper that you might correlate with an old newspaper.

You should always look for an acid-free paper if you want your paintings to last a long time.

What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (2)

The Difference Between Mixed Media Paper and Watercolour Paper

You might be wondering “can I use mixed media paper for watercolour?” This is a question that many beginners have because it is tempting to just purchase a one-size-fits-all option.

First, what is mixed media paper?

Mixed media paper is sort of like a combination of standard drawing/sketching paper and watercolour paper. It has fibers that are more tightly compressed which, unlike typical watercolour paper, don’t allow for very good absorption or layering/glazing techniques.

…think of cold press watercolor paper as a bath towel, and mixed media paper as a polyester shirt. The bath towel will absorb water more easily than the polyester shirt.”

(Video) A Guide to choosing the best paper for Watercolour by Paul Clark

The Strathmore website

These types of papers work well with ink, coloured pencils, acrylic, charcoal, graphite, and marker. But for water application, they generally aren’t the greatest as compared to watercolour paper.

Typically the weight of mixed media paper is lighter than watercolour paper which can cause bending, buckling and curling. Although you can find heavier weight mixed media paper, it might just make more sense to purchase a dedicated watercolour paper.

Textures of Watercolour Paper

Watercolour paper is made in different ways to produce different results. The texture of your paper is based on how the paper was made and pressed. The three main ways of producing the paper are:

Handmade – textile fibers are used to make this paper, such as linen, cotton, or hemp. The handmade production offers a unique and more irregular texture which is lovely to work with. Handmade paper is often 100% cotton and more expensive than other papers.

Mould Made – made on a vat and cylinder mould machine but simulates the look of a handmade paper. Normally these contain a mix of fibers and aren’t 100% cotton.

Machine Made – More-so used in student grade papers and often contains wood pulp. Each sheet will have a consistent look and feel to it as opposed to the other options.

Now that you know the 3 main types of paper production, we can’t talk about textures without talking about cold pressed, hot pressed, and rough watercolour paper.

Cold Pressed vs. Hot Pressed vs. Rough Watercolour Paper

The texture of your paper is entirely a preference. Some artists prefer a smooth surface, while others prefer something with a little (or a lot!) or texture.

Hot Pressed paper has a smooth surface and is best used for detailed artwork and consistent washes. It’s also lovely to use with ink or gouache. This paper doesn’t absorb as much water and has the least amount of texture as compared to the other options. Because of the lack of absorption, glazing will tend to lift the paint from the previous layer.

Cold Pressed paper has a texture that is somewhat in between hot pressed and rough paper. It allows for pigment to absorb deeper into the paper. This is a favourite among many watercolour artists because of the added texture but also the ability to take detail well.

(Video) What Is The Best Watercolor Paper? Improve Your Watercolor Painting

Rough paper is exactly what the name suggests. It has a much rougher texture which is great for loose style paintings. The absorption is greater which means it will be tougher to remove unwanted pigment. Wet on wet application is beautiful on this paper.

What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (3)

Watercolour Paper Weights Explained

The weight of your watercolour paper again depends on your application techniques and preferences. There are three most commonly used weights:

  • 90lb / 140gsm
  • 140lb / 300gsm
  • 300lb / 638gsm

The difference in weight is something you can visually see and feel. 90lb paper isn’t the best option for watercolour but it can be great for making prints of your work.

140lb is pretty much the standard in watercolour paper weights being that it is thick enough to handle water well and can be taped down to a surface to prevent warping. Anything less than this weight is considered “light”.

To prevent buckling even further, it’s best to stretch this weight of watercolour paper before use, but that’s a whole other blog post!

300lb paper is double the thickness of 140lb paper which means it’s more expensive. However, you won’t have to worry at all about warping or buckling. This weight of paper and anything over this weight is considered “heavy”.

Watercolour Pads vs. Blocks

Watercolour paper also comes in two standard options: pads or blocks.

A pad is a typical paper pad that has joining adhesive on one edge, allowing you to tear sheets off easily.

A block of paper is the same concept as a pad, but the adhesive is applied to all edges of the pad. This allows the paper to stay flat to the block until you are ready to carefully detach it from the block.

This option helps to prevent bending and can be an alternative to taping down your sheet of paper to a hard surface.

(Video) Watercolor Paper Types Explained


If you’re using watercolour paper for practice and don’t use a lot of detail in your work, try a 140lb cold pressed machine made paper. Try hot pressed if you love using ink or finer details. This is a budget friendly option.

If you’re creating finished artwork, make sure you buy an acid-free paper of at least 140lbs. Try a 100% cotton handmade style paper for a more professional look. Rough paper looks great with looser paintings and a lot of wet on wet techniques. Cold pressed is pretty much good for anything. Hot pressed is best for finer details and a smooth surface.

Most importantly, have fun! There is no one-size-fits-all option for watercolour paper. Your choice entirely depends on your painting style and preference.

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What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (4)

What kind of paper should I use for watercolour? (5)


Besides being a wife and mama, I’m an entrepreneur, artist and author of the Watercolor With Me book series. I’m from Ontario, Canada and founder of the brand Wonder Forest. I’m here to help you on your watercolour journey!

(Video) Watercolor Paper Types, Comparing & Choosing


Can I use any paper for watercolor? ›

There are four things to consider when choosing the right paper for watercolor painting: quality, pressure, and weight. Not all types of watercolor paper work well for all techniques, so be sure to take your time in making a selection so that you don't end up with paper that isn't suitable for the job.

What is the difference between 90 lb and 140 lb watercolor paper? ›

90lb sheet is better for drawing techniques but not ideal for heavy watercolor. 140lb is most commonly used, but may buckle without stretching. 300lb could withstand more water and is better when using a heavy wash or soaking the sheet. This paper will be more expensive.

What thickness of paper is good for watercolor? ›

Gsm is grams per square meter and refers to the thickness of each individual sheet of paper. The lower the gsm, the more the paper will buckle as it dries. The most common watercolor paper weights are 190 gsm, 300 gsm, 356 gsm, and 638 gsm.

What is the best watercolour paper for beginners? ›

What Is the Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners? We recommend starting with a cold press watercolor paper. Altenew's A2 cold press watercolor paper has a smooth surface ideal for painting techniques requiring fine detail. Plus, the smooth surface makes it easier to achieve even washes of color.

What kind of paper should I use for watercolor? ›

In general, watercolour papers are made from one of two materials; cotton or wood pulp. 100% cotton papers are professional quality, and are considered to offer the very best painting surface. Cotton gives incomparable stability and ensures that you work will stand the test of time.

Is there a wrong side to watercolor paper? ›

Use whichever side of watercolor paper that you prefer. To save money, I often use both sides of my watercolor paper. And whether to leave the deckled edge and/or watermark alone, paint over it, or remove it through trimming is also nothing more than personal preference.

Is there a right and wrong side to watercolor paper? ›

The Correct Side of Watercolor Paper

When talking about pads and blocks of watercolor paper – the answer is pretty obvious that manufacturers prefer you use the sheet of the page that is pointed up – also known as the “front” side.

Should I wet paper before watercolor? ›

Most watercolor paper needs to be stretched before it can be used as a good painting surface and to ensure that it won't crinkle when your paints dry. You can stretch the paper a day in advance for a perfect, smooth finish, or if you're in a hurry, wet the paper a few minutes before you start painting.

What is the smoothest watercolor paper? ›

Hot Pressed paper tends to be favoured by artists that like to work delicately and with a lot of subtle detail, for example botanical artists. It is the least textured surface, and is completely smooth as it is pressed between 2 hot metal rollers.

Is it better to watercolor on paper or canvas? ›

For starters, watercolor canvas is much more resilient than watercolor paper, which makes it easier for the artist to work energetically without the threat of damage to the canvas from motions such as blotting, scraping, or scratching. Simply put, watercolor canvas can endure harsher treatment than watercolor paper.

Which watercolour paper does not buckle? ›

Legion Yupo Watercolour Paper Pad

This helps make up for the cost, as paint can be washed off and the paper reused. Yupo paper doesn't absorb washes, so it is slower to dry, and won't buckle at all.

Is stretching watercolor paper necessary? ›

If you intend to use a lot of water in your watercolour painting, then it's important to stretch your paper before starting to avoid cockling. This is where the sheet wrinkles and forms ridges that are almost impossible to remove.

What does 140 lb watercolor paper mean? ›

140 lb (300 gsm) paper is a medium thickness paper that accepts water soluble media very well, but if your style of painting involves a lot of wet-on-wet techniques, or you paint large washes, you might need to stretch this type of paper beforehand.

What's the difference between cold and hot pressed watercolor paper? ›

Cold press allows for some lifting of the paint once it has dried; hot press allows for more lifting and alteration. Because of the way that light refracts on the two textures, cold press paintings aren't as vivid as hot press paintings. Cold press is absorbent and dries quickly.

What should you not do in watercolor? ›

7 Common Watercolour Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
  • Muddy colours. One of the most common issues watercolour painters face when starting out is a mistake known as “making mud”. ...
  • Unwanted back-runs. ...
  • Loss of luminosity. ...
  • Unnatural Objects. ...
  • Wrong sized brush. ...
  • Bleeding. ...
  • Rushing.
29 Oct 2018

Do you line you art before or after watercolor? ›

Reasons for Inking Before Watercolor

Adding ink first allows you to erase your pencil lines better. This is important because once graphite from a pencil gets wet, it's permanent. Make sure that the ink is dry before erasing. Microns dry super fast and are completely waterproof.

Why does my watercolor painting look bad? ›

Your watercolours look dull because the paint pigments are contaminated. To fix this, always rinse off your brush in clean water every time you switch to a new colour. As well, prevent contamination by waiting for the layer to dry before painting on top of it. Otherwise, the layers will bleed into one another.

Does erasing ruin watercolor paper? ›

Because the repeated erasing will have damaged the surface of your watercolor paper, even if you have been careful. And the pencil line impressions even when the graphite has gone, especially if you like using a hard pencil like me - an H or HB - will show through your painting.

How do you blend watercolor perfectly? ›

Using a wet brush, touch one side of the area and pull or drag the paint down in zigzag motions to meet the other area, connecting them. Go slowly and steadily, and run back over the join a few times to smooth it out.

Why does my watercolor paper always buckle? ›

When paper gets wet, it expands. Apply wet watercolour to only part of the paper, and only part of the paper will expand, causing the paper to buckle. If there are no constraints on the paper, the paper will dry buckled. (This effect will be less noticeable the thicker the paper is.)

Why do you tape down watercolor paper? ›

Stretching is a simple process that ensures the perfect painting surface for watercolour and gouache and involves soaking the paper, taping it down whilst wet and, as it dries, shrinking it only to the extent that the tape will allow so that it has no movement at all when further layers of water are applied.

Do you watercolor background first? ›

The benefit to painting the background wash first is that you are less likely to mess up the foreground object. For instance, if you were to carefully paint in the subject first (say, a red rose) and then paint in the background, you would risk getting the background paint on the rose, which might mess it up.

What is the easiest thing to paint in watercolor? ›

So grab your watercolor paints, watercolor brushes, and paper or blocks and start painting with these ten easy prompts.
  1. Flowers.
  2. Public Parks.
  3. The Beach.
  4. Animals.
  5. The Lake or Stream.
  6. Nightlife.
  7. Houses.
  8. Downtown.

Should I erase pencil lines before watercolor? ›

Take care to erase any extra marks you don't need BEFORE you start painting. Once the pencil is trapped under a layer of dry watercolour paint it is effectively sealed in and you will not be able to erase it. This is easy to do (and quite fun) with a kneaded eraser.

What happens if you use watercolor on normal canvas? ›

Normal canvas, even if it has been gessoed, is generally not absorbent enough to work well with watercolors. The watercolors would lift off too easily, which would make blending or overlaying colors particularly difficult.

Should you ink a drawing before watercolor? ›

Do you add ink before or after watercolour? This is completely up to you! It's a personal preference. Some artists (including myself) will choose to ink before adding watercolour, and some artists prefer to ink after they have applied their watercolour.

What happens if you use watercolor on non watercolor paper? ›

Normal canvas, even if it has been gessoed, is generally not absorbent enough to work well with watercolors. The watercolors would lift off too easily, which would make blending or overlaying colors particularly difficult.

What is the difference between watercolor paper and regular paper? ›

Most standard paper uses recycled wood shavings alone or mixed with a small amount of cotton – to create it's super fine and thin appearance. However, watercolor paper – since it uses water – needs to be more absorbent than traditional paper. This is why watercolor paper uses cotton intertwined in it's fibers.

Can I use sketchbook for watercolor? ›

However, not just any sketchbook will do for watercolor adventures. In addition to having a durable cover for bumpy backpack rides, a good watercolor sketchbook should include thicker paper (average of 150 gsm) that can hold up to washes of color.

What is not paper for watercolor? ›

NOT (or cold-pressed)

NOT watercolor paper has a slightly textured surface, somewhere in between rough and hot-pressed paper. It's the paper used most often by watercolor artists.

Do I ink before or after watercolor? ›

Inking before watercolor saves time. I find that the ink from a pen dries much faster and I can add watercolor in just a few minutes. However, waiting for watercolor to dry before adding ink can take a while.

Do you wet the paper before watercolor? ›

When you first start out, pre-wetting your paper can give you some more time to continue working on your wet on wet passages as the paper will take longer to dry, but I think you will find that as your skill develops you will have less and less need to pre-wet.

Does the side of watercolor paper matter? ›

It is generally accepted that the correct side of the watercolour paper to paint on is the side from which the watermark is legible. For example, if you are using Saunders Waterford paper, the correct side would be the side on which the 'Saunders Waterford' Watermark is displayed the right way round.

What pens to use under watercolor? ›

Uni-Ball Signo pen is our first choice for a quality gel pen that is waterproof. It works really well with watercolor and we have never had complaints. It is also fade-proof which is a nice addition as well. It has straight and very thin lines that don't create any blobs at the end of long lines.

Do you pencil sketch before watercolor? ›

Because watercolor layers are transparent and thin, any hard pencil marks will most likely be visible through the paint at the end. I recommend using your pencil lightly when you are creating your initial sketch/map and erase at least partially afterward, if possible.

Is it good to use markers on watercolor paper? ›

Also markers do not gain any benefit from roughness or tooth in a paper, so avoid papers with a lot of texture, like charcoal paper, watercolor paper, or even a lot of sketch papers (where bleed will be an issue anyway.)

What ink doesn't bleed in watercolor? ›

Uni-Ball Signo Gelstick Pen

It's affordable and one of the best ink pens for use with watercolor. It's waterproof, fade-proof, and is able to create smooth, thin lines. It also doesn't leave stop and start marks at the end of long lines and marks like most gel pens do.


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