You might be wondering about the best watercolor paper to start with your ambition of becoming a watercolor artist. It is necessary to make an objective judgment based on how well each kind of paper works. At the same time, it is important to know options that allow you to practice without a big budget.
Although I will try to stay objective and give you all the variables you must evaluate, to be honest, my preferred one is the cold press paper. The textures give your watercolor painting some unique behavior and forms. Some of the biggest artists also use this kind of paper.
We are going to talk about some key aspects so you can familiarize yourself with quality and the different types of watercolor paper that can lead you to a successful learning process of the technique. I’m not going to suggest a specific brand, but only consider the different features the best watercolor paper must meet as well as its available wide variety.
To answer the best possible way, let’s ask some important questions:
What makes a good watercolor paper?
Because of the nature of the paint and technique, watercolor art paper has been designed to meet the best performance through the following features:
Weight indicates the measure as well as the thickness of the paper. This is determining in watercolor painting because the thicker paper will absorb paint or water without buckling. At the same time, this quality absorption won’t let the paint to stray or fall apart giving the painting its necessary consistency.
Notice that weight is proportional to size, but it doesn’t determine the paper thickness. Smaller sizes are naturally less weight, but the thickness is the same. On the other hand, different types of paper can have different thickness as well.
Indicates how rough the surface of the paper is. The tooth is what makes paper rough. So the amount of tooth determines how rough or how smooth the paper is. The rougher paper is ideal for wide washes, while the smooth paper is better for finer details and subtle hues.
When it comes to quality there two choices: artist’s and student’s quality. What makes them different is that artist’s paper is acid-free and for instance will endure much more time. Because student’s paper is not acid-free will tend to get yellow and brittle as time passes. But is a pretty good mean to practice.
Is it really paper?
In a blog post from Artistsnetwork, they have made a very assertive observation. They state that the word “paper” has come to devalue the watercolor artwork in some way. When we use the word paper, we associate it with something that is not permanent. Some people think that watercolor will fade out soon, and for instance is not worth preserving. At least in the sense in which other medium based paintings such as oil and acrylic are valued because the base used to paint is made of cotton.
But wait for a second! The artist’s watercolor paper is also made of cotton. If only the manufacturers substituted the name and instead of paper would say something like “watercolor canvas,” or “cotton sheets” the watercolor artworks would be more valued. Notice that I didn’t say “appreciated” since that fresh and peculiar style of watercolor can capture the attention of everyone, especially when creating art with fuzzy strokes.
As an interesting fact, there has been shown that quality paper is even more enduring than certain wood or fabric supports. The canvas or wood support of some famous oil paintings of history usually suffered deterioration that had to be restored through a meticulous process. By contrast, the paper on which many drawings of the same period were made remains almost intact.
What are the types of watercolor paper available?
There are three different types of paper, based on the differences in texture product of different manufacturing processes:
Hot pressed paper
As part of the manufacturing process, this paper is pressed by metal rollers creating this way a smooth texture. Because of this texture, the paper is intended for creating art that has a lot of fine details. You can also use it to combine watercolor with other kinds of mediums such as ink or graphite. This paper will also allow you to create subtle combinations and gradients.
In this link you can see an example of hot pressed paper for watercolor painting
Cold press paper
This paper has a fairly rough texture. This is preferred by artists because of its absorption quality. This paper is ideal for large and expressive paintings, but not so convenient when it comes to a painting that requires a lot of fine details. Even though it still possible to be expressive as detailed to a certain extent.
In the following link you can see an example of hot pressed paper for watercolor painting
This is even rougher than cold press paper, and it is used to create expressive paintings through fuzzy strokes. When painting on this paper is more about the idea and emotions that strokes convey.
As you could appreciate, there’s not a thing like a better paper within these types of paper, since your choice will depend on the technique you want to apply and your taste.
In my specific case, the paper I enjoy using is the Cold Press one, because of its natural textures give your painting more organic movements.
Is a good advice to have some block available in your home or studio because you never know when is your creative moment and you should be prepared.
You can check the latest price at this link of one of the most popular watercolor papers on the market.
Can I use regular paper for watercolor painting?
Because regular paper is completely different from the types of paper above described, it doesn’t meet the features needed to provide good performance when working with watercolor painting. What will happen when trying to paint on this type of paper is that it will surely buckle and have a doodle result.
You can use it to practice your ability to make lines and forms with the pencil, but not for producing actual artworks.
What type of paper to get?
If what you are looking for is paper to practice only and want a balance between quality and cost, then you can go ahead and choose student’s paper which can provide you a decent result. As you improve your technique and discover a real passion for watercolor, then you would want to create enduring artworks. In such case, you can consider getting the best watercolor paper of artist’s quality.
There are different forms in which to get the paper. You can get separate sheets, pads, rolls, panels or blocks. To begin, you can get pads or blocks. This is for practicing purposes or for working out any idea you might have. If you would like to create an artwork that endures, then you should get high-quality separate sheets.
On the other hand, the form of paper you get is also of a personal choice, even for professional artists. It depends on your style and the way you like to work the best. Some illustrators like to work on pads or blocks. The form doesn’t necessarily have to do with quality. A specific brand or quality paper can come in any of these forms.
Keep in mind: If you get the 300lb paper, this doesn’t need to be stretched. Less weight and thinner paper do need to be previously stretched. But don’t worry, it’s not a complicated process. We talked about how to stretch paper in our previous article on “How can I learn watercolor painting?”
What are the key performance features of the best watercolor paper?
To determine based on performance and results what the best watercolor paper is, let’s consider some important attributes:
They allow a background brightness that displays colors in the most accurate possible way. At this point, it is important to know that there different tones of paper that can have cream and even a yellowish color. The white paper can reflect brightness and clarity giving place to vivid colors ideal for illustrations. But this is not a quality judgment. You can play with paper of different tones and see the effects and mood that produce in specific themes.
The colors most also produce a soft feeling in the eyes. This, of course, depends on the paint and the brushes to a great extent, but a quality paper is a key element to produce a uniform texture.
The painting remains the same even after has been dried. There has to be of course a slight difference from the point in which is wet to the point in which is dried. But paper most control water retention and absorption so that the painting doesn’t stain when the work is finished, and edges remain sharp when the paint has dried.
When the paper is completely saturated with water, it doesn’t excessively buckle or disintegrates. The surface must remain intact and colors reflected cleanly and consistently.
It must be possible to apply any technique with different brushes sizes and types of pigments. It should be possible to work with other types of media such as graphite, watercolor pencils, charcoal, pastels and acrylic paints.
Under proper conditions and care, colors and brightness must endure. It shouldn’t change over time due to paper chemicals or for external factors such as air.
With these aspects in mind, you have a more comprehensive understanding of what type of paper best suits your needs at your first stages of becoming a watercolor painting artist. Once you have made a decision, it’s time to get the ball rolling.
Don’t be afraid to depict your unique artistic ideas. With practice, you’ll have a more accurate sense of what is the best watercolor paper for you depending on your style and preferred techniques. You’ll be soon creating long-lasting artworks.