Top 10 Best Watercolor Paper – Reviews and Top Picks

For the best results in watercolor art, you will need not only the best paints but also the best watercolor paper. You will be impressed with the range of options available to serious and beginning artists. The options can, however, be overwhelming if you have not consulted a trustworthy watercolor paper review. 

Not to worry, we have you covered:

As you navigate the sometimes treacherous world of watercolor paper, consider what you really need to accomplish with your paintings and artwork.  Are you a professional artist looking for the best watercolor paper brand? Are you actually just learning to paint with watercolor and prefer less costly options?

There is a watercolor paper that is just right for you. Whether the paper is a premium quality and costly option or a medium quality, more affordable product, you will be able to achieve what you intended with the right paper.

Top 3 Best Watercolor Paper: Editor’s Pick.

Image Product Name Editor's Rating Price
Arches Cold Press Watercolor Pad
Watercolor Block, Cold Press
Strathmore 361-9 300 Series Watercolor

We have done the legwork for you and checked out some of the best selected watercolor paper options that are on the market right now. We have considered the main features that every great watercolor paper must have, and eliminated those that do not match up to the high standards expected by pro artists and others who truly appreciate the watercolor artform.

So, let us dive right in! You certainly won’t be disappointed with what we have discovered. Let’s take a closer look at the ten recommended the best paper for watercolor painting on our list.

Best Watercolor Paper Review:

1. Arches Cold Press Watercolor Pad, 9″X12″

One of the popular brands for the watercolor paper pad is Arches.  So, it’s no surprise that the first recommendation on this list is the Arches Cold Press Watercolor Pad. This is a high-quality, professional grade watercolor paper made from 100% cotton.  It is also made by cylinder mold and sized with gelatin. As you can expect from the Arches brand, this cold pressed watercolor paper is free of acid and is buffered with a microbe fighting ingredient that is mildew resistant.

The texture of the surface is flawless, as you would expect from cold press paper. Each pad carries twelve  9″ by 12″ paper sheets which are suitable for your wet techniques and blending of watercolors. With this high-quality paper, you won’t feel the need to rush through washes or details. Although the paper is quite absorbent, ensure that you have a sponge and blow dryer within reach. So, whether you are a newbie or a pro to using watercolors, this paper is the most effective solution for your painting projects.

2. Watercolor Block, Cold Press 9″X12″

Another Arches product is the cold press 9” by 12” watercolor blocks.  These contain natural cotton paper made on a cylinder-mold machine. This artist-quality watercolor paper is the best paper for watercolor painting, acrylic, airbrushing and gouache. With these cold press blocks, you get 20 sheets of premium-quality, acid-free, white 100% cotton paper. These cold-pressed papers weigh 140lb / 300g. If you are going for a professional appearance, this paper is the one for you.

You might find it a little on the expensive side, but that is to be expected for such a high-quality block of premium watercolor paper. If you were to compare how the watercolor paint looks in this paper to the results on another brand you will immediately see a major difference in color and depth. It is also easy to remove your paper from the block with a sharp metal palette knife. This paper is quite durable and can stand up to a lot of washing and scrubbing. If you are an absolute beginner still learning how to paint watercolors, this paper might not be the best option as it is more suitable for a final piece intended to be framed and mounted.

3. Strathmore 361-9 300 Series Watercolor, 9″x12″

Here is an option that is ideal for students and is the top watercolor paper for beginners. The Strathmore 300 Series Watercolor Roll is a heavy watercolor paper that is most suitable for practicing and testing your painting techniques. This cold-pressed paper is great as reworks and heavy washes are often required when you are learning and practicing your watercolor techniques. The Strathmore 300 Series Watercolor Roll works best with water-based media such as watercolor, acrylic, tempera, poster and gouache paint. You can trust Strathmore, which for more than 125 years have provided top quality products for students and artists alike.

This paper, which comes in packs of 24 sheets, is also an affordable substitute for the higher cost watercolor paper on the market. Although this paper will buckle as you use more water you won’t lose your work if you tape it down to a solid surface first. Furthermore, this paper is rough and has tooth so your colors will mix well enough for painting. Your paper will hold up to numerous brush strokes without falling apart, and you can also use your pen to draw without puncturing it.  It is ideal for rough drafts rather than the final painting you intend to frame and mount.

4. U.S. Art Supply 9″ x 12″ Premium Heavy-Weight Watercolor Painting Paper Pad

You might find this premium quality watercolor paper from US Art Supply most suitable for practicing your painting techniques. This is an acid-free, pH neutral, cold press paper that is supplied in a pad of 12 natural white sheets. The watercolor painting paper pad is a heavy 140 lb (300 gsm) paper that is great for working with watercolors and other wet media. You can also mix your media with this versatile paper. Each package contains two pads so you will end up with twenty-four sheets of paper.

This paper is also student grade and not as costly as other papers. Professional artists may prefer to use another watercolor paper as this Strathmore paper is really meant for students and beginners to practice their techniques. You might find that this paper will become bumpy as you apply water and while it won’t bleed through to the surface below, it will also flake with pressure. In any event, this paper is an inexpensive solution for practice drafts.

5. Winsor & Newton Cotman 200-Pound Water Colour Cold Press Gummed Paper Pad

How about the Cotman Water Color Paper for your watercolor paintings? If you are operating on a budget, the Cotman watercolor paper is just for you.  It is so inexpensive you can purchase these paper pads without straining yourself. Yes, this is a cold pressed paper which is mold-made to Winsor & Newton’s exact specifications. Your Cotman paper won’t deteriorate and lose quality thanks to its impressive stability cause by its fine quality, wood free properties.  It is also free of acid, which allows it to have an extended shelf life. Each purchase gives you a pad consisting of ten sheets of 200 pound, 9 by 12 inches paper.

As with all cold pressed watercolor paper, the Cotman is moderately textured and can hold water and pigment quite well. Create your best watercolors with this easy to use and versatile paper, which is among the best rated watercolor paper brand options on the market. You won’t experience tearing and other damage even if you sponge, erase, or remove the art masking fluid from your paper surface. Although this paper is quite sturdy it may curl during painting. You can flatten it before you use this paper.

6. XL Watercolor Pad, 9″X12″ Fold Over

Perhaps watercolor papers that combine performance with value are more up your street. In that case, consider the Canson XL Watercolor Pad.  This series is created for art students and art lovers from middle school to college. These Canson pads were carefully tested by art professors to ensure their reliability in performance using a range of art media. You can trust these watercolor pads from Canson as being superior in construction and heavier in weight than other lower priced paper pads.

These XL Watercolor Pads are also fold over and so convenient to use. As a cold press paper that features a light and easy texture, you are sure to get a load of fun using this even if you are an absolute beginner. It is also durable enough to withstand the rigors of repeated washings. It helps that these pads are heavyweight – 140lb/300gsm.  Each pack contains 30 sheets of acid-free 9-inch by 12-inch paper.

7. Montval Watercolor Block, 6″X9″

You might appreciate the Canson Montval Watercolor Blocks for their convenient size. This is a paper you can use for watercolor and other wet media. It is durable enough for you to scrape, erase, and wash repeatedly. You might say this paper is tough and is one of the top selected watercolor paper for artist available. You will get fifteen sheets in this mold-made block which, at 6 inches by 9 inches, is sufficient for your regular practices. The weight is also heavy, at 140lb / 300gsm.

Even if you are pretty new to painting with watercolors you will appreciate the lower cost of this paper which is within your budget.  The Montval watercolor paper block is the right size for practicing or producing small gift pieces for family and friends. Furthermore, this paper carries sufficient tooth so you can control water or paint. One thing you may want to look out for is the absorbancy of this paper. This paper does not absorb too much water and stays the same even when you lift the colors.

8. Reeves 8490530 9-Inch by 12-Inch Water Color Paper Pad

For those who are just starting out in the world of watercolor, Reeves watercolor paper pad is a convenient solution. This 35-sheet pad is a great bulk product you can purchase at wholesale discount prices. If you enjoy sketching, doodling, drawing, and painting with pencils and watercolors this paper is all you need. Students and beginners would benefit most from using this less costly and best for beginners.

So versatile is the Reeves watercolor pad that you can use other media on it to good effect.  Pastels, Markers, Charcoal, Chalk, and color pencils work just as well as watercolor paint brushes on this 90 lb paper. You can always know from the small symbols located at the upper left corner of the cover which paper is suitable for certain art media. The pad itself measures 9″ by 12″. You will, however, need to exercise care when applying water on this paper as too much water will cause it to pull.

9. Bee Paper Cold Press 140 Pound Watercolor Paper Pad, 9-Inch by 12-Inc

Versatility is the hallmark of this next watercolor paper option. The Bee Paper Cold Press Watercolor Paper Pad is just what you need if you rather a paper that can adapt to a range of watercolor techniques. Its neutral pH, archival quality, and 140lb weight give this cold press paper the edge for watercolor and gouache.  The surface of the Bee Paper pad is rough enough to hold up to multiple washings without buckling. Like most cold pressed watercolor paper it is also acid-free. Each tape-bound pad contains 15 sheets of 9 by 12-inch paper.

Did we mention that the Bee Cold Press Watercolor Paper is made from alpha-cellulose? This is a  wood pulp that provides a consistent texture that allows an easy flow when you paint. You may need a higher quality paper if your aim is to sell your paintings. The adhesive that holds this pad together may smear a little when you tear pages out. You would have to trim your paper to have a clean surface to work with as a result of this.

10. Strathmore 140-205 Pro-Art Watercolor Paper Pack

Finally, we have this watercolor paper pack from Strathmore, a brand known for more than 125 years for producing the best for artist projects.  These are pre-cut 5″ by 7″ paper that is not bound together in a pad or block. You will, therefore, need to use a handy storage arrangement to keep your paper in good condition for future use. Nonetheless, these ready cut mats and frames are ideal for your watercolor creations and you save time and money especially when it comes time to frame your work.

With these standard size paper, intermediate to advanced watercolor artists will enjoy producing stunning and awe-inspiring watercolor paintings. You won’t have to contend with weak paper that does not hold up to the demands of working with wet media like watercolor. The Strathmore Watercolor Cold Press Papers feature a stronger surface that provides improved color blending and lifting. Furthermore, this is 100% Cotton paper that is also free of acid and rated as archival. Each pack consists of 25 sheets.

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Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Select The Watercolor Paper

You’ll find watercolor paper in various forms, weights, surfaces, and qualities, some of which you may be quite familiar with.  The thing, though, is that watercolor paper will react differently to the paint and technique you use.

How, then, do you find the top class watercolor paper that suits your purpose?

The first thing to understand is the attributes of these papers and their differences. You can then test the various watercolor papers to determine which one will suit your subject and painting style.

Here are a few things you must consider in choosing the right watercolor paper pad for what you need to accomplish. Best oil paint also related important equipment for great artists.

The Quality

Just like other art materials, you will find various quality paper including the artist-grade and the student-grade papers. Your choice of the top rated watercolor paper for an artist is also determined by the way your paint will behave on it, as well as the kind of brush strokes you want to make. The hand-made watercolor paper has four deckle edges and randomly distributed fibers which make the paper very strong. The watercolor paper that is made with a mold has two deckle edges and fibers that are randomly distributed.  This paper is also strong but not as strong as the paper made by hand. The fibers of the watercolor paper that is made by machine are oriented in the same direction.

These papers are inexpensive to make and to buy. The most popular artist-grade watercolor papers are made with the mold and not the machine. Every artist quality watercolor paper is also 100% cotton, acid-free, and pH neutral. These high-quality papers will not deteriorate and become yellow with age, much unlike low-quality paper such as those made of wood pulp.

The Form

The watercolor paper that is made by hand is often supplied as single sheets. Machine-made, as well as mold-made papers, are available in packs, blocks, pads, rolls, and single sheets. Depending on the brand, you will find their papers packaged in one or more of these forms. Blocks of watercolor paper are pre-stretched and bound on the sides. You will need a palette knife to remove the top sheet from the block after you have finished painting.

 The Surface

You can tell by their surfaces which kind of watercolor paper you are getting. Machine-made and mold-made watercolor papers can be either hot-pressed (HP), cold-pressed (CP), or rough. The hot-pressed watercolor paper is smooth and fine-grained, with almost no tooth. On this paper, paint dries very quickly and this is the watercolor paper for applying one or two colors in a big, even wash. You can also use hot-pressed watercolor paper for drawing and pen and ink washes.

With the cold-pressed watercolor paper, the surface is slightly textured, a little between hot-pressed and rough paper. This is the watercolor paper most often used by artists for watercolors as it is great for both fine details and large areas of wash. The rough watercolor paper features dominant tooth or textured surface that is speckled or grainy.  Water collects in the indentations and you might find it difficult to control your brush strokes, but you can with experience.

 The Weight

How thick your watercolor paper is can be determined by its weight, which is measured in grams per square meter (gsm) or pounds per ream (lb). Commonly known standard machine weights include 190 gsm (90 lb), 300 gsm (140 lb), 356 gsm (260 lb), and 638 gsm (300 lb). Any paper that weighs below 356 gsm (260 lb) must be pre-stretched before use.  This way you avoid the paper warping while you paint.

How to Use Watercolor Paper

It is easy to damage even the top watercolor paper if you are not careful with your paints and techniques. Heavy washing or rough scrubbing, blending and scraping techniques can damage your paper. Watercolor papers are quite easy to use and you don’t have to prepare them in any way, such as pre-washing before you use them.  Simply unwrap and go.

For the best results:

  1. Use high-quality watercolor paper. This is either artist quality for pros or student quality for beginners. Artist quality paper also comes in a variety of weights to select the heavier paper like 300 pounds. Check also that your paper is made from 100% Cotton that will stand up to plenty of washing, scraping, and rubbing.
  2. Avoid putting too much paint on one area of your paper. Instead, spread your paint out. A good trick is to carefully and slowly start your painting, adding paint as you go.
  3. Be gentle with your paintbrush. Avoid rubbing your brush too hard or too much into your paper. If you do this, the hairs of the paintbrush will remove fiber from your paper and weaken it. Use light strokes that avoid damage to your paper as you paint.

Hot vs. Cold vs. Rough Watercolor Papers

How do you tell the difference between watercolor papers? The pressure applied during paper compression will determine the various kinds of surfaces.  Hot press is tightly compressed, cold pressed is partially compressed, and rough paper is loose. The differences are also seen in the amount of fiber present and how compact they are. Therefore, hot pressed paper has plenty of fibers that are close together while the rough paper has only a few fibers that are not tightly compacted.

These papers also absorb differently because of how they are made. So, hot pressed paper does not absorb pigment or water and is not the best paper for watercolor painting. With cold-pressed paper, you will achieve deep pigment and water penetration making it ideal for watercolor art and working with other media. Rough watercolor paper allows even deeper penetration and is also great for watercolor painting, glazing, and dry brushing.

Artist vs. Student Watercolor Paper

Quality is a main feature of the watercolor paper and this is usually indicated as artist grade and student grade. The higher quality watercolor paper is artist grade.  These are usually made of 100% Cotton and are quite strong and durable. These paper, also called rag paper, stand up quite well to repeat washes, scrubs, and scrapes. They are also acid-free and won’t turn yellow with age. Student grade watercolor paper, on the other hand, is lower quality paper that is most suitable for beginners. It is ideal for draft paintings but not for the final product you would want to frame. So when buying watercolor paper, pay attention to the label to ensure that you are purchasing the paper you actually need.

How To Paint Watercolors On Canvas

Unlike painting on watercolor paper, you must prepare your canvas first.  If you don’t, the watercolor paints will simply slide off the canvas.

So, to prepare your canvas:

  1. Gesso it by applying at least two coats. Gesso is like white acrylic paint (although thinner) used as a primer. Once dry, the canvas is stiff and ready for the absorbent ground product you must apply next.
  2. Apply a thin layer of the absorbent ground with a brush or roller – not thick layers which may crack. You will need up to six coats to make the canvas sufficiently absorbent for watercolors – simply allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next.
  3. Once the canvas is fully dry, you can paint your watercolor.
  4. Seal your finished painting with spray varnish to make it waterproof. You will need more than one coat.
  5. Hang or frame it.

Frequently Asked Question About Watercolor Paper

Which is the best watercolor paper brand for artists?

The paper you use is as important as the paint you use for your best artwork. Here are a few brands that supply the best rated watercolor paper for beginners and artists:

  • Arches – well-known for high-quality watercolor paper, but it is also quite costly. This brand is an all-time favorite for professional artists who love the smoother surface of this paper.
  • Canson – their watercolor paper pad is great for beginners. It’s a cold press paper with a coarse texture.
  • Reeves – another great paper pad for beginners. It stands up well to rigorous erasing without degrading the painting.
  • US Art Supply – also provides a great watercolor paper that is acid-free, naturally white and pH neutral. You can archive your painting with the assurance that it will not go yellow with age.

Can I Paint on Watercolor Paper With Acrylics?

Certainly, you can and you don’t need to gesso it first. Thin the acrylic so that it is fluid enough to behave like watercolor. You may use acrylic as is from the tube but you will need a heavier paper to avoid buckling. Depending on the watercolor paper you use, you may need to stretch it as well. The better quality watercolor paper is more costly than paper that is used for acrylics.  You would, therefore, need to check the costs before you decide.

What watercolor paper to use?

You have a number of ways to select your watercolor paper. By weight, you should aim for heavier paper of 140lbs or higher. This will avoid warping and buckling while painting. If you are selecting by form, you have four options – pads, blocks, single sheets, or rolls. Beginners tend to go for the first three options. Rolls are best for bulk buying. If you are selecting by quality, you have two options – student grade and artist grade, which is the higher quality. Depending on how much you have to spend, you can easily decide on which to use.  If you are selecting watercolor by type, you have three options – rough, hot press, and cold press. Watercolor artists tend to go for the cold press and rough watercolor papers – they are more absorbent and are quite textured.

Which is the best paper for painting?

There are various options you have to consider in choosing the best paper for watercolor painting.  You need to try out various paper to see which is best for you. That said, you could try rough, cold pressed, or hot pressed paper for different results in your painting. Depending on your painting style, certain paper would be ideal for you – whether they are absorbent, sturdy, or textured. So, for example, if your painting style is thick impasto technique or light translucent rinse, you will need to consider different weight paper as one weight does not fit all. Consider also watercolor paper that is sturdy enough to withstand repeat washes, especially if you are prone to making drafts and erasing paint. Watercolor paper, like 100% Cotton, is great for painting for this reason.

Final Verdict

You are now in a better position after this watercolor paper review to choose the right watercolor paper for your painting projects. No longer is there doubt about the best watercolor paper for artist professionals and students available from art suppliers. We have covered the features you must bear in mind when choosing watercolor paper.  The weight, quality, surface, and form are among the things you check first before you commit to a watercolor paper. Not all watercolor papers are created equal and you have seen the recommended brands available for you. Your final choice is now much easier.

  • Updated January 3, 2019
  • Review
Adriano Valente
 

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