Finding the right watercolour paper to use can be tricky. They vary widely, and the paper you use affects the marks that you make far more than the type of canvas you use affects oil or acrylic paint.

How to use watercolour paper

In general, water will make your paper bend and warp or ‘cockle’. To avoid this, you can put your paper sheet on a board  and wet it it all over, then tape it with gummed tape to stick it down. If you keep it taped down until the painting is dry, then it should dry flat.
I have found that the gummed tape can rip the surface of the paper when you remove it however.

Personally I prefer buying my paper on a block, where the sheets of paper are glued around the edges. You can paintin your painting and remove it when dry and it should stay flat.

The weight of the paper determines its thickness, the lowest weight you can use to avoid cockling is in theory 300gsm, though I have found this varies between brands, and cockling is less likely on paper with a high cotton content.

Types of watercolour paper

There are three main types of watercolour paper:

  • Cold pressed (NOT) watercolour paper
    This is the most common type of paper marked as ‘watercolour paper’. It has a slight texture which varies depending on brand.
  • Hot pressed watercolour paper
    This is very smooth paper (because it’s been pressed whilst hot) and this affects the marks the paint makes on the surface, giving harder edges to the paint marks.
  • Rough watercolour paper
    This paper is similar to cold pressed watercolour paper but the texture is more pronounced and pitted. It gives very interesting textural effects.

Cold pressed watercolour paper

Cold pressed paper is good for most projects, expressive or detailed, although the texture and composition varies frmo brand to brand so it’s worth trying out different types to see what works best for you.

I’ve tried out a couple below to show you how they differ:

Arches cold pressed paper 300gsm

  • Colour and texture: Arches cold pressed paper is creamy in colour, soft (and more expensive due to its cotton content) and the texture is quite subtle. Colour goes on smoothly and evenly.

  • Lifting power: Paint lifts most easily if you are quick and use a wet paper towel, not quite so easily with a dry one, and I found it took a bit of work with a wet brush to lift as much colour as possible (even then it left a trace)

  • Softness of wet-on-wet: I found the colour spread softly and subtly when applied wet-on-wet.

  • Cockling: When used on the block, Arches cold pressed watercolour paper barely cockled.

Good for: More experienced painters and commissions

Fabriano Acquarello cold pressed 300gsm

  • Colour and texture: Fabriano Acquarello cold pressed paper is whiter in colour than the Arches and not as soft as it contains no cotton, but is consequently cheaper. The texture is a little more pronounced. Colour goes on smoothly and evenly.
  • Lifting power: Paint lifts very easily with a wet paper towel or brush, and fairly easily with a dry one. It’s quite easy to get rid of mistakes

  • Softness of wet-on-wet: I found the colour spread softly and subtly when applied wet-on-wet.

  • Cockling: When used from a pad, Fabriano Acquarello paper cockled slightly, though it depended on the amount of water used.

Good for: beginners, practice and experiments

Hot pressed watercolour paper

Saunders Waterford hot pressed 300gsm

  • Colour and texture: Saunders Waterford hot pressed paper is creamy in colour and very smooth.
  • Lifting power: Paint lifts very, very easily with a wet paper towel or brush, it almost glides over the surface.
  • Softness of wet-on-wet: Colour spreads unevenly when used wet-on-wet, and leaves distinctive lines or ‘tide marks’. it has clear, crisply delineated edges to brush marks

  • Cockling: Saunders Waterford hot pressed paper 300gsm did not cockle at all, even on the sheet, not the block.

Good for: Fine work, illustrative or graphic work.

Rough watercolour paper

Saunders Waterford rough 300gsm

  • Colour and texture: Saunders Waterford rough paper is creamy in colour, soft (made with woolen felt) and the texture is slightly more pronounced but random. Colour goes on smoothly and evenly.
  • Lifting power: Paint lifts very easily with a wet paper towel or brush.

  • Softness of wet-on-wet: I found the colour spread softly and subtly when applied wet-on-wet.

  • Cockling: When used from a pad, Saunders Waterford rough paper didn’t cockle.

Good for: Expressive work

 

I will add to this page as I test out more papers, please let me know in the comments if you have a favourite paper and what’s good and bad about it.

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