When it comes to expressing your creativity with watercolors, using any kind of material just will not do. Specifically designed to hold watercolor paints, watercolor paper produces the best results when working with this type of material. With so many manufacturers offering this type of material, though, it can be difficult to choose the right one.
The Best Watercolor Paper – Five Reviews
This guide will go over five of the best watercolor paper on the market. It also will provide useful information about this material in general. Hopefully, this knowledge will help you choose the perfect product for your needs.
|Arches Watercolor Paper Block, 300 lb||
For Watercolor Pencils
|Arches Watercolor Paper Pad (12 Pack)||
Best Hot Pressed
|Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper Block||
Best Cold Pressed
|Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Block||
|Canson Montval Watercolor Pad||
1. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, 300 lb − Best Watercolor Paper Overall
Being one of the most well-known art supply manufacturers in the world, Arches produces a wide range of watercolor paper types. High-quality and efficient, its 300-pound block is one of the most popular and successful. Thick, slightly textured and very high in quality, this product is durable and reliable. With impressive weight and an affordable price, this product by Arches can be great for producing advanced artworks.
Despite not being one of the most expensive products of its kind, the Arches Acid-Free Cold-Press Watercolor Block boasts a very high level of quality. Because it’s heavy and cold-pressed, it is capable of withstanding prolonged use. This allows it to absorb water efficiently, allowing for a quick dry. The product’s material qualities allow you to really go hard on it, painting and repainting until you reach the desired results. In fact, I learned that it will resist various washes without showing signs of deterioration.
This art block is very solid and stable. Because it helps absorb water more effectively, its weight makes it even more rigid and resistant. Its sheets are carefully and precisely glued together at just the right spot, preventing accidental shedding that could ruin a work in progress.
This Arches product is a true workhorse. Its characteristics make it a great option for both beginner and advanced-level painting. It is also remarkably tough and durable for not being hand-made. Taking into account the online reviews, the fact that it’s relatively affordable also adds to this product’s popularity.
- Cold-pressed, 300 lb / 640 GSM
- Holds up to intense work.
- Absorbs water well.
- Resistant and durable.
- Does not require stretching.
- Does not have a notable texture.
2. Best Paper for Watercolor Pencils − Arches Watercolor Paper Pad (12 Pack)
Hot-pressed and mold-made, the Arches Watercolor Paper Pad is remarkably smooth and imperfection-free. The fact that it has almost no tooth allows it to produce fine detail, making this a great choice for portraits and smooth washes alike. This material also works very well with watercolor pencils because it has the right amount of absorption, allowing you to create small details without bleeding or blotching.
Because it is made on a traditional cylinder mold, this art supply product features interwoven fibers that result in greater durability and resistance to tearing. In addition, this mold-base manufacturing procedure prevents the material from losing strength over time.
One of the greatest advantages of hot-pressed paper is how resilient and resistant it is. Being remarkably strong, it does not warp or cockle even if you apply large amounts of water to it. This technique prevents it from becoming damaged when you use rough techniques on it.
In terms of its manufacturing process, the Arches Watercolor Paper Pad is up there with the best. The manufacturer’s choice of using 100% cotton and pure spring water is a good one. Despite being hot-pressed to perfect smoothness, its sheets have a certain amount of grainy texture that undoubtedly adds to its looks and feels.
At first, it can be difficult for you to get used to the sheets’ color dispersal and flow properties. Admittedly, they are somewhat slow and difficult but this is not all bad as it provides more control overall. For that reason, it works wonderfully with watercolor pencils. It also allows for easy color lifting even after some amount of drying. This is a paper pad that can be used at high-performance levels with excellent results.
- Hot-pressed, 140 lb / 300 GSM
- Smooth and imperfection-free.
- Barely any tooth.
- Great lift properties.
- Resilient and durable.
- Great light reflectivity.
- Slow flow.
- Adhesive is dark.
3. Best Hot Press Watercolor Paper − Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper Block
Another remarkable product by the renowned Arches, the Hot Press Paper presents the high-quality manufacture that characterizes the brand. Unlike the previously-described Arches product, this block for art is especially well-suited for producing portraits. The fact that each sheet is produced on a cylinder mold only adds to this, resulting in remarkably uniformity and stability. Despite not being the heaviest type of paper out there, the Arches Watercolor Paper is resistant, durable and resilient.
Made from long, tough fibers of the purest cotton, the Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper does not warp or bend whenever it comes in contact with water. Its absorbancy is remarkably quick and efficient, allowing you to apply several strokes of paint without color bleed or warping of any kind. Consequently, this block is great for artists who paint quickly and enjoy continuously editing their work. Due to its quick-dry and high-absorption capabilities, it is very useful for quick sketching.
Like other Arches paper products, this block for watercolor painting is treated with a special natural gelatin substance that adds to its durability. This process enables the paper to resist scratches and rough techniques without tearing or linting. Apart from making it more resistant, this type of internal sizing prevents water and paint from thoroughly penetrating the material, ensuring durability and permanency of colors.
Unfortunately, due to its texture, Arches paper does not handle glue very well. As a result, the sheets that make this block may peel off accidentally with some level of ease. This can be disruptive and inconvenient, particularly when you don’t have any other surface that you can use to hold the paper rigidly and stably. Even worse, an inconvenient of this kind can cause you to lose or damage completed works.
- Hot-pressed, 140 lb / 300 GSM
- Made with pure cotton and filtered water.
- Sizing treated for added durability and resilience.
- Allows continuous edits without becoming warped.
- Very absorbent.
- Very stable.
- Sheets may peel off accidentally.
- Somewhat pricey.
4. Best Cold Press Watercolor Paper − Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Block
Like the great majority of artists’ watercolor paper out there, the Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper is cold-pressed, resulting in a semi-rough texture that creates slight but interesting visual and even tactile patterns. Cylinder-molded and very fibrous, this paper is thick, stable and resistant to a variety of techniques. Sophisticated, well-cut and very homogeneous, this block can be a good addition to any artist’s arsenal.
One of the first things that you will notice about the Winsor & Newton Paper is that, despite its opaque tint, it reflects the light very well. Its light-grain texture helps retain water without creating blotches of pigment. As a result, this material is fantastic when it comes to maintaining the semi-transparent quality of watercolor paints. The material’s light-reflecting properties also help conserve the pigment’s brightness and vividness for a long time.
Despite not being hot-pressed, the sheets in this block are remarkably strong and resilient. To be sure, a part of that is due to the high-quality pulp that is used to manufacture them. Producing long and thick fibers when dry, this base material is perfectly conducive to the type of colors and details that can be achieved using watercolors. The second part of what makes this material so resilient is its reinforcement treatment. Before it’s ready to be used, the manufacturers submerge each sheet of paper in a bath of pure natural gelatin designed to increase durability and toughness.
Not a lot of negative things can be said about the Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper. It should be noted that, unfortunately, this product is somewhat expensive in comparison to others of its kind. This is even more notorious when you consider that each block only has 20 sheets. Considering that they are 300-GSM and of very high quality, that price no longer seems unreasonable. For that reason, this block can be a good choice for serious artists who enjoy a textured, rich material to work on.
- Cold-pressed, 140 lb / 300 GSM
- Reflects light very well.
- Tough and durable.
- Helps preserve the natural transparency of watercolor paints.
- Slightly textured.
- Prevents blotches of pigment from forming.
- Edges may bend somewhat.
- Somewhat expensive.
5. Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners − Canson Montval Watercolor Pad
Canson is one of the most renowned and well-liked paper manufacturers in the world. Despite this fact, its products are very reasonably priced. Efficient, durable and beautiful without being prohibitively-priced, the Canson Montval Watercolor Pad is a great example of what makes the brand great. Acid-free and low in grain, this 15 x 20-inch, cold-pressed, 140-pound paper product may be a good option for beginners who want to practice extensively while on a budget.
Made of high-quality cellulose, each sheet of paper that makes the Canson Montval Pad is durable and resilient. For that reason, it is a fantastic option for watercolors and other wet media. Even though it’s considered a students’ grade art supply, it has a surprisingly high level of quality that rivals with that of some artists’ grade paper products. Smooth, thick and tough, the sheets in this pad can certainly help you create impressive artwork.
One thing that some artists may find unappealing about the Canson Montval Watercolor Pad is that, if it’s not properly stretched before being used, it will buckle and warp terribly. This can be frustrating and annoying when inspiration hits and you want to get to work before it fades away. At any rate, though, the paper is resistant and stable, allowing you to stretch it extensively without tearing it deforming it in any way.
If you ask me, I can say that the best thing about this Canson pad is how tough and resistant it is. No matter what type of technique you use on it, the paper will likely resist and maintain its structural integrity. It is capable of resisting several edits and added washes. This, combined with its affordability, makes this pad best cheap watercolor paper for beginners.
- Cold-pressed, 140 lb / 300 GSM
- Great for beginners.
- Very affordable.
- Tough and durable.
- Surface withstands scraping, erasing and repeated washes.
- Completely acid-free.
- Requires stretching before being used.
- Does not handle too much humidity well.
- Produces a slightly unpleasant smell when wet.
It’s important to understand that the amount of pressure applied during the manufactury process determines a paper’s surface type. Hot-pressed paper receives the most compression, cold-pressed paper received a medium level of compression and rough paper receives very little compression. The characteristics of each method are the following:
Achieving a great deal of pressure, a hot press produces very smooth and imperfection-free paper. Apart from being smooth, hot-pressed paper is very tough, allowing very little pigment to penetrate the surface. As a result, it’s well-suited for fine detail techniques such as ink and pencil but it doesn’t allow wet-on-wet application or diffusion, making it less-than-optimal for watercolors.
Using a cold press, manufacturers apply a moderate amount of pressure to the paper sheets, resulting in a more textured surface. This type of surface allows some pigment to penetrate it. A diffused wet-into-wet application can be achieved with this type of material but it allows some bleeding, making control difficult. In any case, cold-pressed material lends itself well to various advanced watercolor techniques.
Featuring a very slight level of compression, rough watercolor paper is the most textured of the three. It allows a lot of pigment to penetrate its fibers. This makes the wet-on-wet application very effective. Also, this type of surface is ideal for advanced techniques such as dry brushing, which can be great for creating scenery foliage. A downside of this paper is that it’s difficult to wash for editing.
Watercolor Paper Presentations
As you probably learned from our reviews, watercolor paper comes in different presentations. Up next, I will go over the four most common ones:
One of the most common and well-liked watercolor paper presentations is the block. A watercolor paper block is a pile of sheets. These sheets are bound together by the sides using a soft glue. As a result, the sheets are nice and straight when you pull them out of the block.
This presentation provides enough thickness and support to allow you to work directly on the top sheet without it buckling or wrinkling. After it’s dry, you can easily pull the sheet in order to frame it, save it in a folder or anything else. These blocks are practical and convenient but they also tend to be somewhat expensive.
If you are an enthusiast of painting scenery or you simply love the idea of outdoor painting, a watercolor paper pad may be a good choice. Normally, this type of product is very lightweight and portable, making it a practical choice for the aforementioned purposes.
Pads are often made of students’ quality paper. This type of material is affordable and lightweight but it is still textured and high-quality enough to handle watercolor paint with no problems.
Often, paper pads are tape-bound, making it easy to pull out individual sheets at any moment. Another great option is the wire-bound pad as it allows you to flip over an existing painting in order to work on another one.
Sheets and Rolls
If affordability and convenience are at the top of your list, watercolor paper sheets may be something to look into. Typically, they can be purchased individually or in a pack. These sheets are very lightweight and, as a result, they require some stretching before use in order to prevent them from warping or buckling after the paint is applied to them. While the process of stretching the sheets is not difficult, it can be somewhat annoying and inconvenient for some painters.
If we are talking about Artists’ quality paper, normally, it’s not possible to purchase it in individual sheets but it can be bought in rolls. This can save you a lot of money in the long run. This rolled-up paper will also require you to do some stretching before it can be properly used.
Composed of sheets of watercolor paper and rigid board, this is a good alternative to blocks. Like said blocks, boards offer enough solidity and resistance for you to work directly on them without stretching the paper. Because it is glued to the rigid board, it will not wrinkle, warp or decay as the watercolor paint dries. As a result, paper boards are a good alternative to the more expensive paper blocks.
Things to Consider Before Buying Watercolor Paper
The next time you are out looking at products of this kind, be sure to carefully analyze their characteristics and features. Take the following into account:
As with everything, it’s important to look at the quality of the different products out there. When it comes to this type of product, there are two main quality levels: students’ quality and artists’ quality. As you can probably imagine, students’ quality paper is more affordable but less high-quality than artists’ quality paper. In addition to being thicker, more textured, more dynamic and overall more durable, artists’ quality paper doesn’t have acid or any other toxic substances in it. As a result, it will not become yellow or stained over time. Here is an example of how the watercolor paper can perform with oil paints.
Essentially, there are three main methods by which this material is manufactured: by hand, by mold and by machine. Depending on its method of production, the quality of a paper will vary. Normally, hand-made paper enjoys the highest quality of the three but it tends to present the most imperfections. Second in quality comes mold-made paper. It presents fewer imperfections than its hand-made counterpart. Lastly, machine-made paper tends to have the lowest quality but the least imperfections.
Paper weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter). The more GSM a paper has, the heavier and thicker it is. You can get a better idea by considering that office paper tends to be 90 to 120 GSM. Meanwhile, art paper tends to be anywhere between 300 and 640 GSM.
Texture is more of a subjective matter when it comes to paper. When it comes down to it, the preference for a certain type of texture relies upon personal preferences and painting styles.
Regarding watercolor paper specifically, there are three main types of texture: hot-pressed, cold-pressed and rough. Hot-pressed paper has the smoothest surface. In addition, it’s the hardest and most resistant. Cold-pressed paper, meanwhile, has a medium level of roughness and texture. Finally, the rough paper has a pronounced texture, making it very suitable for washes and luminous paints.
Some level of tint is added to many watercolor paper products to make them look warmer and more inviting than they would be otherwise. It can also help the material reflect the light in a pleasant manner. Normally, this tint is a creamy white but this can vary according to the design of the material.
With everything on the table, it’s easy to see why the five products featured on this list are so popular and well-liked. Versatile, efficient and boasting a very high level of quality, each and every one of these watercolor paper products can help you produce the best artwork possible. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to you to decide which one is right for your particular needs. Hopefully, this guide will help you make a wise choice.