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It’s not you - it’s the paper! Everything You You Need to Know When Starting Watercolor

When it comes to watercolor painting, the choice of PAPER is crucial to your artistic SUCCESS.

Have you ever struggled with adding details or washes over some layers when hours of your previous work were destroyed? All this spools and stains, awful color mixing….That list can be long…

In many cases I would say - It’s not you - it’s the paper!

Once again.


So, what should you know about watercolor paper?

There are essentially four key factors to consider, and each of these elements can significantly impact your painting experience. Let's take a closer look at them:


Watercolor paper is available in two main materials: cotton, wood pulp, or a blend of the two.

  • 100% Cotton Paper is the most convenient and best resource because of its absorbency and even color distribution. (Pricey though...)

  • Most of beginner watercolor papers are made either from wood pulp or of combination with cotton. While this helps keep costs down, it can result in issues with color absorption, especially for larger or multiple washes. it could be great for practicing brushstrokes, color combinations, and loose painting with maximum of 2 layers

  • In my opinion, mixed-type papers are a bit of a fiction, since they are priced similarly to 100% cotton papers but offer quality similar to wood pulp.


Watercolor paper texture refers to the surface characteristics, whether it's smooth, slightly textured, or heavily textured. There are three main types of watercolor paper textures to consider:

  • Hot Press Paper (or Satin Paper): This refers to smooth watercolor paper that has been "ironed" flat. It is ideal for detailed work, such as botanical illustrations, portraits, or transparent flower techniques. Hot press paper is also great for showcasing watercolor blooms, as the smooth surface allows water to pool and dry unevenly, creating vivid effects.

  • Cold Press Paper (or Fine Grain): Cold press paper has a slightly bumpy or grooved texture that has been pressed flat but not ironed. This type of paper is excellent for water control, making it ideal for beginners. The slight texture allows for even absorption of paint and water into the fibers, providing more control, particularly when working wet on wet.

  • Rough Paper: Rough watercolor paper has the most defined texture and is often used for abstract or impressionistic paintings. Its highly absorbent surface adds character to the final artwork but is not suitable for fine detail work.


The weight of watercolor paper refers to its thickness or absorbency. Here are three common weight options:

  • 100lb/200gsm: This is the minimum weight recommended for watercolor painting. Any lower weight will not absorb water properly, resulting in waves and rolls on the paper's surface. 200gsm allows you to paint in a loose technique with a single layer.

  • 140lb/300gsm: Considered the standard weight for watercolor paper, it is suitable for most techniques and purposes. If you plan to paint wet-on-wet, it's advisable to secure the paper with masking tape to prevent buckling.

  • 300lb/640gsm: If you prefer a paper that can handle more water and larger paintings without warping or buckling, opt for 300lb/640gsm weight. While this type of paper can be more expensive, it could be a deal-saver for complex paintings.


Now let's talk about the packaging options for watercolor paper. There are several different forms available, including journals, pads, blocks, and sheets.

  • Watercolor journals: These are the most accessible and cost-effective type of paper They are great for keeping all your paintings in one location, making them ideal for painting challenges, 100-day projects, and experimenting with new techniques and colors.

  • Watercolor pads: These pads are typically glued on one side, allowing easy tearing out of individual sheets. They are convenient and portable, making them suitable for plane-airs.

  • Watercolor blocks: Watercolor blocks are glued down on all four sides and often pre-stretched, minimizing the chances of buckling and warping while painting, so don't tear the sheets before you start to pain! Use the block "as is" and tear the pages after finishing you artwork.

  • Watercolor sheets: If you prefer to work on a larger scale or want to save some money, you can purchase larger sheets of watercolor paper (usually A1 ) and cut them down to your desired size. This allows you to get high-quality paper at a discounted price and offers flexibility in terms of painting sizes.

And that's it!

This covers the basics of watercolor paper. If you are interested in learning about specific brands of watercolor paper and my thoughts on them, take a look at my beginners' guide where I provide useful links to my favorite products. Additionally, if you prefer visual content, you can watch my YouTube video where I showcase all my favorite materials.

Remember, the best watercolor paper is the one that works best for you and meets your specific needs!


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