The best watercolor paper to buy in 2023
Buying the right materials can really improve the quality of your paintings. Discover the best watercolor paper to buy in 2023
Choosing the best watercolor paper can make a real difference to how your paintings turn out.
Whether you’re a new painter or a more experienced artist, it’s worth taking the time to learn about your materials so that you can get the most out of your work.
If you’re creating a watercolor painting, you should always use paper specifically designed for watercolor paints for best results. Mixed media paper or cartridge paper can also be used, but will warp if you use too much water.
Watercolor paper is perfect for watercolor pencils, inks and gouache paint too, so you can get a lot of use out of a pack if you like to experiment with other mediums.
In this guide, we’ll explain the types of watercolor paper available to buy and recommend some pads to help you get started.
Which paper is best for watercolor painting?
When you’re looking for the right watercolor paper to buy, it’s a good idea to know about the different types of paper available.
Watercolor paper is thicker than other types of paper used for painting. This is because it needs to be able to absorb water and pigment without bending or buckling.
Paper can still buckle if you go overboard with the amount of water you apply, so don’t overdo it!
Look for paper with a high gsm (grams per square metre). Generally anything over 190gsm should work well, but you can buy heavyweight watercolor paper up to 640gsm.
What is watercolor paper made from?
Watercolor paper is made from wood pulp or cotton. Beginners usually paint on paper that’s made from wood pulp, while cotton paper is essential for professional artists.
Most watercolor paper is sold in pads, blocks or sheets. Pads are fantastic to use as sketchbooks and art journals – you can use them to hone your skills and practice watercolor techniques .
Experienced artists often prefer to work on blocks. When you’re using blocks, you don’t need to tape down the edges and can start painting straight away.
Watercolor paper can also be bought in loose sheets, which is handy for those times when you want to test out a paper type or if you’re searching for a particular paper size.
If you want to make sure the colors in your painting stay bright over time, choose paper that’s acid-free. This will usually be mentioned in the product description when you buy the paper.
Read on to learn about the three main types of watercolor paper…
Hot pressed watercolor paper
If you like to create highly detailed watercolor paintings, then hot pressed watercolor paper should be your go-to choice.
Hot pressed watercolor paper has a smoother surface than other types of watercolor paper, so it’s much easier to work on if you need to produce more intricate artwork.
This type of paper is pressed between hot rollers, which effectively irons the surface so that it’s beautifully flat and even.
NOT or cold pressed watercolor paper
Not or cold pressed watercolor paper is pressed flat by cold rollers. As a result, it has a bumpier surface than hot pressed paper.
This kind of paper has more tooth, meaning that it is rougher. When you paint on it, you’ll notice that your paint settles into little dips in the surface. This rougher texture is part of what gives watercolor paper its charm and many painters prefer this uneven look.
Rough surface paper
As the name suggests, rough surface paper is coarser than other types of watercolor paper. If you want your watercolor paintings to have lots of texture, then this is the paper for you!
The paint settles into the surface of the paper, giving it a more grainy appearance.
Rough surface paper is best for artists with a looser painting style, so if you’re into fine detailed work then this isn’t a good option.
Best watercolor paper to buy in 2023
1. Daler Rowney Aquafine hot pressed watercolor paper
This smooth paper is brilliant for artists who want to produce detailed paintings, such as botanical art or illustrations. It’s also a good choice if you’re not a fan of rougher watercolor papers.
It’s 300gsm thick, so it shouldn’t warp much when you’re painting, but you may want to tape it down to keep the paper flat.
Daler Rowney hot pressed paper is available in a range of sizes, including a large A3 pack that’s suitable for bigger projects.
Be aware that this pad only has 12 sheets of paper, so if you’re a prolific painter you may want to buy a bigger pad.
2. Daler Rowney Langton cold pressed paper
This premium watercolor paper from Daler Rowney provides brilliant value for money. It’s only slightly more expensive than the brand’s Aquafine range, but you get a premium pad for the price.
The Langton pad has been created with professional artists in mind. It’s high quality, fade-resistant and acid-free paper. It’s been mould-made, so it resembles handmade paper even though it has actually been manufactured using a machine.
If you paint onto this paper your work will really shine – and it will last for years without any reduction in brightness or quality.
3. Arches cold pressed watercolor paper
If you’re a keen watercolor painter, you’ll undoubtedly have come across the Arches brand before. Like Daler Rowney, Arches has a great reputation for producing top-notch art supplies.
This paper can absorb a surprising amount of water without buckling. It’s designed to stay in shape even when wet.
It’s also mould-resistant and acid-free, so your work will continue to look its best for years to come.
Some artists say that this is the best watercolor paper on the market and it’s certainly worth the money. It’s more expensive than other watercolor papers on the market, so it’s not a great choice for beginners. However, we’d highly recommend it for professional painters.
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4. Khadi handmade rag paper
Want your paintings to have a more rustic look? Give Khadi paper a try. Khadi paper is a handmade paper with a textured surface and rough edges. It will definitely give your paintings a different feel!
Khadi looks great when displayed in a glass frame as you can see the uneven edges of the paper in all its glory.
Khadi paper is made from cotton, which is absorbent and works well for watercolor paints. It’s available in a variety of sizes right down to business card proportions. These can be used to make mini paintings whenever you have a spare five minutes.
Your complete guide to watercolor painting
Discover everything you need to know about watercolors with our in-depth watercolor painting guide.
5. Zen Art Supplies cold pressed paper
Bored of painting on A4 or A3 paper? This fabulous pad from Zen Art Supplies comes in neat 8x8 inch squares.
This cold-pressed paper is made using cotton, which means it can take a lot of moisture even when heavy washes are applied. It’s expertly made to keep your artwork looking perfect without any yellowing or fading over time.
The sheets are attached to the pad on two sides, meaning that there’s no need to stretch the paper if you’re painting outdoors. As a result, this is a fantastic travel art pad to take with you on your adventures!
Unlike some other types of watercolor paper, this pad is completely vegan and uses no animal products. It’s always worth checking this if you’re a vegan, as some papers are prepared (sized) using gelatine.
6. Winsor & Newton professional hot pressed watercolor paper
Like most art manufacturers, Winsor & Newton has watercolor paper ranges aimed at both beginners and professional painters.
If you’re new to watercolor painting, you can buy a pad from the brand’s cheaper range and be assured of its quality. However, as you gain confidence and develop your painting skills you’ll be ready to move up to more expensive watercolor paper.
Winsor & Newton’s professional hot pressed paper has a silky smooth surface, as well as being both resilient and absorbent. You’ll definitely notice the difference if you’re used to their more affordable papers.
This is a good buy for intermediate to advanced painters, but not complete beginners.
7. Stratford beginner watercolor paper
When you’re new to watercolor painting, you’re likely to go through a lot of paper as you experiment and try new techniques. This Stratford watercolor pad has been made especially for beginners – it comes with 32 sheets of thick 300gsm paper, so it’s excellent value.
However, as it’s a cheaper watercolor paper it’s more prone to bending and curling when water is applied. Don’t apply as much water or paint as you would with a professional pad. You may be able to reduce the warping by taping down the paper while you paint.
Overall, this is an affordable option for new artists or painters on a budget.
Picking the best paper for watercolor painting
Selecting the most suitable paper type for your watercolor painting can have a real impact on how your finished work looks.
Whatever your level of experience, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different types of watercolor paper so you can pick the one that suits your style.
It’s always best to use paper designed for watercolor painting, rather than mixed media paper if you can. Watercolor paper is thicker and more absorbent, so it shouldn’t bend out of shape when you add water.
As an added bonus, you can also use watercolor paper with other mediums such as inks, watercolor pencils and gouache.
Get into watercolor painting
If you’re new to watercolor painting and you don’t know where to begin, our beginner’s guide is the perfect place to start.
Take your first steps into this fun medium with our watercolor painting for beginners guide.
Sarah Orme is a UK-based linocut printmaker, digital editor, feature writer and award-winning podcaster. She's been editing the sewing and art sections of Gathered.how – and before that our sister website calmmoment.com – for over 3 years. She’s the host of Gathered’s We’ve Made It podcast and A Calmer Life podcast. She’s a keen crafter and artist and loves creating DIY tutorials for Gathered. Sarah has previously written features for The Guardian, In The Moment Magazine, Project Calm Magazine, countryfile.com, radiotimes.com and yourhomestyle.uk. She enjoys designing her own unique lino prints and dreams of opening her own online shop. She shares her work @sarahormeprints
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