How to Choose Watercolor Paper

Watercolor painting is a satisfying medium cherished for its luminosity, fluidity, and transparency. However, its beauty and success heavily rely on the quality of the paper on which it's painted. Watercolor paper is not just a surface; it's a crucial component that significantly influences the outcome of your artwork. Understanding the differences in watercolor paper can help you make informed decisions and elevate your paintings to new heights.

Weight and Thickness

One of the primary distinctions among watercolor papers is their weight, typically measured in pounds per ream (lb). The weight determines the thickness and durability of the paper. Common weights include 90 lb, 140 lb, and 300 lb.

90 lb (190 gsm): This paper is lightweight and suitable for practice, sketching, and quick studies. It tends to warp easily when wet, even when stretched or taped down. However, it tends to be budget-friendly and student grade.

140 lb (300 gsm): This is the most popular choice among watercolor artists. It offers a balance between affordability and quality, suitable for both beginners and professionals. It can handle light washes and some scrubbing without significant warping.

300 lb (640 gsm): Considered heavyweight, this paper is thick and sturdy, ideal for artists who prefer to work with a lot of water or create large, detailed paintings. It hardly warps and can even be used without stretching in some cases.


Watercolor paper comes in three main textures: rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed.

Rough: Rough paper has a prominent texture with pronounced peaks and valleys, which can create interesting effects in your paintings. It's suitable for expressive, loose styles.

Cold-pressed: Cold-pressed paper is the most popular choice among watercolor artists. It has a slightly textured surface, providing some tooth for the paint to grip without being too rough. It's versatile and suitable for various techniques.

Hot-pressed: Hot-pressed paper has a smooth surface, ideal for detailed work and illustrations. It's less absorbent than rough and cold-pressed papers, allowing for more control over the paint. This is preferred if you digitize your work.


Watercolor paper is primarily made from wood pulp or cotton. Cotton paper is considered the superior choice due to its durability, strength, and ability to hold up to repeated washes and scrubbing. It also tends to be more expensive than wood pulp paper.


Sizing refers to the treatment applied to the paper to control how much water and pigment it absorbs. There are two types of sizing: internal and external.

Internal sizing: This is added to the pulp before the paper is formed. It affects how the paper handles wet media and how colors appear on the surface.

External sizing: This is applied to the surface of the paper after it's formed. It helps the paper resist damage from erasing or scrubbing.


The choice of watercolor paper can significantly impact your painting experience and the final result. Consider the weight, texture, material, and sizing of the paper based on your painting style and preferences. Investing in high-quality watercolor paper can enhance your artwork and bring your creative vision to life!

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