Top 5 Best Watercolor Papers in 2021

Watercolor paper is the basis for all watercolor art. Understanding the differences between the thickness, finish, and material of the paper is essential for producing specific techniques from fine details to washes. Watercolor brushes and palettes are designed solely for watercolor painting, with the highest quality made from 100% cotton.

In contrast, student-grade paper, made by machine, from trees, like most paper, doesn’t absorb water as effectively. It can also be frustrating to use this kind of paper as it won’t hold paint or water well, causing them to bleed into each other. Less expensive than cylinder or hand-made paper, called “mold-made,” student paper is usually just an affordable way to practice technique.

The quality of cylinder-made paper provides a superior outcome for watercolors and is surprisingly affordable in sheets, books, or blocks. Students or professional artists should always use 100% cotton paper, and it should also always be acid-free.

There are a few terms used in this article that are described below.

Watercolor Terminology

Tooth: A watercolor term describing the texture or tooth of the paper; the more tooth, the more absorbent it is.

Scrubbing: A technique used to scrub paint from a specific area for highlights and effects.

Stretching: This involves soaking or spraying paper below 356 GSM in water to prevent buckling and ensures the form stays level once paint and water are applied to the surface.

All products are graded based on 1-10 for each selection criteria, with 10 being the best.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is measured by grams per square meter (GSM) and is found in four kinds of thickness. The thicker or heavier the piece is, the more it absorbs water and the less it bends and warps when wet. The four watercolor paper GSM varieties are below.

Thickness / GSM

Thin: 190 GSM / 90 pounds – best used with very little water. This paper cannot withstand scrubbing, is best for students, and is the most economical.

Medium: 300 GSM / 140 pounds – the standard and best watercolor paper to use due to its ability to hold water and handle rough techniques.

Thick: 356 GSM / 260 pounds – used almost exclusively by professional artists; this paper provides a slightly different thickness between 140- and 300-pound composition and used for specific paintings and methods.

Board: 640 GSM / 300 pounds – the heaviest and the most substantial paper that can handle scrubbing and requires no stretching. It is expensive and is used mainly by professional artists.

Finish

Available in the three selections below, the finish is another term for watercolor paper tooth or texture.

Hot Press: This watercolor paper has a flat surface that dries quickly. It’s excellent for even washes of one or two colors and holds more detail. However, if more than two colors are used, it could cause the paper to warp as it becomes full of water and paint.

Cold Pressed: This paper has a textured surface and is the standard watercolor paper for artists as it’s best for washes, one of the main techniques used in watercolor painting.

Rough: Used mainly for a dry brush method, this roughly toothed paper produces dappled results as water is absorbed into the form. It can also withstand the highest amount of rough procedures.

Watercolor Paper Sizes

Come in pads, blocks, books, or single sheets. The size of the paper selected is entirely a personal preference and not an essential criterion. However, pads and books provide a budding artist a standard size of bound paper, which is an easy option for when on the go and creativity hits.

Our Product Recommendations

Read more about each of the products below:

#1. Best Watercolor Paper Overall- Arches Watercolor Paper Cold Press

Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Cold Press

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$42.67
    • Our score: 7/10
  • Thickness – 140-pounds/300 GSM
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Finish – Cold Press
    • Our score: 9/10

About the Arches Watercolor Paper Cold Press

Arches are one of the most famous brands of watercolor paper, and for a good reason. Made of pure cotton, this watercolor cold-pressed canvas block doesn’t need to be stretched before using, and its 140-pound weight is perfect for washes. It ensures an even cascade of colors that maintain their vibrancy and hue over time. Containing 20 sheets, each made on a cylinder mold machine, are tough enough to handle a lot of water without tearing, buckling or beading. This product is also available in 12 additional sizes as well as hot-press or rough finish.

Pros

  • The ideal weight and texture for washes
  • 100% cotton
  • Pre-stretched
  • Hand-made
  • A variety of sizes and other textures is also available for purchase

Cons

  • Expensive for hobbyists

#2. Best Watercolor Paper on Amazon – Canson Watercolor Paper

Canson Cold Press Heritage, White

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$17.98 (Was $19.23)
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Thickness – 140-pounds/300 GSM
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Finish – Cold Press
    • Our score: 9/10

About the Canson Watercolor Paper

Ideal for students looking for inexpensive paper to practice their watercolor technique, this Canson watercolor pad is a top choice. Each piece is hand-made of 100% cotton and is strong enough to handle rough techniques like scrubbing, even when the paper is dry. Although erasing may cause the form to pill, this paper can hold paint and vibrancy with its bright white background. In addition, this brand has softer pieces that stay wetter longer, allowing them to hold even washes well. Vegans will also be happy to know that this paper is sized using a vegan-friendly option.

Pros

  • Cylinder mold made
  • Pure cotton
  • Bright white background
  • It stays wetter longer than other brands
  • Vegan alternative for sizing paper

Cons

    Erasing may cause pilling

#3. Best Watercolor Paper Book – Fabriano Watercolor Paper Book

Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Sheets

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$24.57 (Was $28)
    • Our score: 7/10
  • Thickness – 300-pounds/640 GSM
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Finish – Hot Press
    • Our score: 8/10

About the Fabriano Watercolor Paper Book

With two sheets included in this Fabriano watercolor paper, this is an ideal choice for an intermediate artist looking to paint a portrait or landscape to gift someone special. These papers are perfect for most wet-on-wet paintings for their sturdiness and permeability due to their thicker weight. They can also withstand reworking techniques such as erasing, lifting and scrubbing, and the hot-press texture means using other mediums like pencils for sketching, markers, or pens will work as well.

Pros

  • Thicker weight allows for more corrections
  • Works well for sketching, drawing, and other mediums

Cons

  • Two pages included in the purchase
  • May be expensive for some buyers

#4. Best Black Watercolor Paper – Stonehenge Black Watercolor Paper

Stonehenge Aqua Black Pad

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$13.50 (Was $16.73)
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Thickness – 140-pounds/300 GSM
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Finish – Cold Press
    • Our score: 10/10

About the Stonehenge Black Watercolor Paper

Stonehenge was one of the first companies to produce pure cotton, watercolor-sized, black paper. Designed chiefly for watercolor pencils, iridescent or metallic watercolors, this paper can hold up to smudging and other rough effects used with pencils or markers. You won’t be disappointed in the brighter and more daring contrast it shows than white paper for those adventurous enough to use this paper. Artists who use watercolor pencils will be happy to know that this cold-pressed paper is smooth enough not to fray the watercolor pencil’s fabric tip.

Pros

  • Perfect texture and weight for optimal designs
  • Holds up to rough applications
  • Allows for creative expression using different techniques

Cons

  • May take practice to adjust to the different contrast

#5. Best Watercolor Paper Sheets –  Strathmore Watercolor Paper

Strathmore Paper 300 Series Watercolor Class Pack

  • Price – ~$10.49
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Thickness – 140-pounds/300 GSM
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Finish – Cold and Hot Press
    • Our score: 9/10

About Strathmore Watercolor Paper

The most affordable watercolor papers on our list, these Strathmore sheets are ideal for students practicing quick sketches and learning different watercolor techniques. These single cream-colored sheets come in a stack of 24 papers that are unbound and suitable for beginners who don’t want the hassle of accidentally tearing pages from a spiral-bound book. Each piece has a hot-press texture on one side for more detailed work and a cold-pressed side for washes and other techniques.

Pros

  • Option of hot or cold-pressed paper on the same sheet
  • Very affordable
  • Unbound for more accessible addition to a portfolio

Cons

  • Not 100% cotton

Conclusion

This wraps up our guide for the best watercolor papers. Not only have we discussed how you could identify the best watercolor paper, but we’ve also shared our top picks.

We’ve discussed how you can choose the best watercolor paper pad and why finish and thickness are essential deciding factors. We’ve outlined them so that each criterion is easily understood.

Lastly, we combined our recommendations for various shoppers. So whether it is a watercolor book or separate sheets of paper, or the best black watercolor paper, we’ve covered each product.

Thanks for reading. We hope our top choices help you choose the best product for your needs.

Sources