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Watercolor Paper

Types of Watercolor Paper:

  • Mould Made
  • Cold Pressed
  • Hot Pressed
  • Soft Pressed
  • Rough
  • Kilimanjaro
  • Richeson
  • Winsor & Newton
  • Waterford
  • Arches




Artist Watercolor Paper:

It's understandable that some people get more than a little confused when shopping for artist watercolor paper. There are a lot of different brands of paper, different weights, surfaces and it goes on and on from there. As we are here to help out.

Below we have put together some basic information to help you with your art supply shopping. In order to make things a little easier to understand, we have put some explanations with some terms that you are likely to see. Hopefully when you understand more about the art supplies that you are looking at you will be able to choose the fine art paper that is just right for you!

Mould made:

Some of the biggest names in watercolor paper, like Arches watercolor paper have been making watercolor paper in a mould since 1492.

Deckled Edges:

When you are looking for fine art paper or watercolor paper you will see that there are papers that have "deckled edges". These edges are created when the paper is made in mould. When the cotton fibers attached to the mould, they don't line up all even. Like everything in nature, this irregular edge is better and far more beautiful. When the brand new paper is removed from the much longer moulds that are used today, they have two natural deckled edges and then the other two are torn. The sheets are measured out and torn apart to leave the other two deckled edges.

Sizing or Gelatine:

All watercolor paper is sized. That means that the fibers that make the paper are treated with a gelatine to make them less absorbent. If they were not, it would be like trying to paint on a cloth napkin. Gelatine for many years was made from animal products, more recently they are made from synthetic ingredients. Some papers have the sizing mixed right in to the mixture with the fiber, this is called INTERNALLY SIZING.

This means every single fiber is treated evenly. Other art papers have the sizing painted on after the sheets are manufactured This is known as EXTERNAL SIZING.  This means that the surface is sized, but the fibers in the middle are not. Some papers can be INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY sized.  Generally speaking the more the paper is sized the harder the paper becomes and is more durable when re-working and scrubbing.

Cold Pressed:

The term cold pressed refers to the surface of the watercolor paper that you are looking at. Cold pressed paper is the most common and the most popular among watercolor artists. Cold pressed watercolor paper has a texture that is right in the middle between smooth and rough. Cold pressed watercolor paper gets its name from a finishing process employed by the paper makers. After the moulds of paper are created, they are then milled thru a set of cylinders to get the cotton fiber to lay down. These cylinders are cold, therefore the name cold pressed.

Hot Pressed:

The term hot pressed is another term that describes the surface of watercolor paper. Hot pressed watercolor paper is also milled thru a set of cylinders to smooth the cotton fibers down. In the case of hot pressed watercolor paper, these cylinders are heated. This causes the fibers to lay down in a much smoother arrangement. It is just like ironing your cotton shirt with a hot iron. Hot pressed watercolor paper is the smoothest texture available and preferred by artists who use lots of detail in their artwork.

Soft Pressed:

The term soft pressed is yet another term that describes the surface of watercolor paper. However, this term you will see much less often since this surface is only available in watercolor paper in the Fabriano Aritstico line. The texture of soft pressed paper is in between cold pressed and hot pressed art paper. Rough: This is the last of the terms regarding watercolor paper surfaces.

Rough watercolor papers are those that are not treated at all. These papers have a rough surface because they are pulled directly from the mould and are not run thru cylinders at all. This surface has the highest tooth of any watercolor paper.

Paper Weights:

You will often see numeric values that describe the various watercolor papers. The higher the number you see, the heavier the paper.   Actually, they make a pile of 500 sheets of the standard size paper and then they weigh the stack. The numbers correspond to the weight of the various stacks. 1400lb. paper is heavier than 90lb. and so on from there. The most important factor that you need to understand about watercolor papers is that papers made from cotton rag are just like your favorite cotton shirt. When they get wet, the paper will wrinkle up. So, when you paint with 140lb paper it will wrinkle up if you don't stretch your paper first.

Heavier Weight Papers are thicker and can handle more water without buckling or warping and can handle much more abuse than lower weight thinner papers.



I'm ready to paint

Can't wait to apply the paint to the "Watercolor Paper" I just purchased.

Grab the sheet, wet the paint, just can't wait, where is the brush.

In walks Jim and asks a couple of strange questions, "who made the paper and why did you choose that brand".

Who cares, I just told the store clerk, starting Watercolor Class and need paper - picked out a much cheaper priced sheet than the clerk suggested, $5.00 sheet, found some priced at $1.25 - took those. Saved $3.75 a sheet.


Choosing paper by its reputation, price or recommendations is only part of the story.

For those of you with some experience, you should consider your personal needs. Choosing the right paper to complement your style or technique is very important.  Cheap paint or cheap paper is going to be bad news.



All descriptions of Watercolor Papers are just my opinion.



House brand of an art retailer.  Made in Europe?

Mouldmade, 100% cotton rag, acid free, buffered, internally sized.

"Bright White" sheets contain a chemical additives and are more likely to change color or deteriorate as time passes.

It comes in Cold Press finish, sizing moderate, the surface is not suitable for work that requires extensive lifting or re-working.

Masking products removed easily, but scrubbing left visible streaks under a wash.

OPINION  --  Average Quality Paper.




Mouldmade, 100% cotton.  Internally and externally sized.

Available in Cold Press or Rough.  Color is bright and warm.

The sizing appeared to me as minimal.  The surface sucked up the wash rather quickly.

Resists - OK, Scrubbing did cause streak marks and some damage to the surface.  Was difficult to re-paint area without it showing.

Found it difficult to remove painted area.  Paint color was no brighter than any other papers.

I could not paint on it comfortably.



Made in Europe.

Mouldmade, 100% cotton, acid free, internally and tub sized with two natural edges.

Made in white only.

Cold Press:  

Surface has a very slight texture capable of imparting some brushstroke textures. but also found it to be good for detail work.  

Masking came off easily.

Sizing moderately heavy, the sheet I painted took a wash nicely.

Moderate scrubbing was OK.

Hot Press Surface

 Finish is hard.  The color is a soft bright white.  The sizing appeared thin, but took a wash easily with even color, no blossoming or splotching.

Resists - OK. very crisp edges.

Did not like a lot of wetting and re-working, paper roughed up a little.

Overall these are nice sheets, beautifully showing color and the texture.

Both types will not tolerate heavy re-working.



Made in England.

Mouldmade, 100% cotton, internal and surface sized.

Made in Rough, Cold Press(not), Hot Press.

TheRough finish, is as rough as any paper available.

The sheet painted a wash very easily. Masking lifted cleanly without damage to the surface.

Non staining colors lifted off with no damage to the paper.

The surface is sized fairly heavy, this allows the sheet to overcome surface abuse associated with some painting techniques.

Cold Pressed

Color is a warm ivory white, a little less sizing than the rough.  Wash was even.  The lifting capabilities of the paper were excellent.

Masking lifted - OK.

Hot Pressed

Color is a dull ivory.

The sheet took a very even wash better than any other Hot Press paper I have looked at.

Masking - OK.  Hard scrubbing left a noticeable streaking.

Overall I liked all the surfaces.

Like to paint large, they make a 40" x 60" sheet.

Rough Press

The finish which is on both sides of the sheet appears very similar to Arches Cold Press.  But, the tooth is slightly deeper.

The sizing is heavy.

The color is cool mid white.

Resists came off easy and I found it a nice paper to use.



Made in France.

Mouldmade, 100% cotton, surfaced sized.  Hot Press are also internally sized.

All sheets are air dried

Rough Pressed

Relatively mild texture compared to Saunders Waterford.

Warmest color I tested.

Sizing is light causing some blossoming in the magenta strokes.

Paint dried fairly quickly.  I did not like this.

Color lifted only with difficulty by hard scrubbing causing damage to the paper.

Cold Pressed

Again sizing was light.  Scrubbing left very niticeable streak marks.  Paint was "sucked" into the paper relatively quickly.

Difficult to work on paint when it is "into" the paper quickly.

Hot Pressed

Very smooth surface, color dull ivoery white.  Sizing heavy so paint covered a large area.

Wash was a little problem, was not easy to paint cleanly.  Did not tolerate extensive re-working.

The sheets smell yeasty when throughly wet, attracts my dog.  Try it with your pet.

It seems to me the quality has delined over the last few years.

They were always #1 - Now?

That being said they are still one of the most durable watercolor painting papers around.

They have an Arches Bright White sheet on the market.

WARNING: - The contain more chemical additives, hence they are more likely to change color or deteriorate as time passes.


Sizing moderately heavy - even washes and displays the pigment well.

Again it exhasted (sucked) the paint up more quickly than I like.

Masking removed easy.

Scrubbing left sluffing and visible streaks.




Made in U.S.

Hand made 100% cotton and rag, acid free, air dried, woven finish.

Internal & external sizing.

Three surfaces - Hot Press, Rough and Cold Press, made in various sizes, including round shapes.


Color is white, paint that was applied looked very bright.

Surface sizing produced very even washes that seemed to run across the surface rather than sink in.

Scrubbing and masking was easy.  Left no trace marks on paper.  Did not think, the surface was as rough as mouldmade papers.

Cold Press

Surface was very close to being Hot Pressed, and very hard.

All the descriptions for "Rough" apply to this surface.

Hot Pressed

Very smooth, beautiful finish.  There was a very slight streaking caused by scrubbing.

I was very impressed with all these Watercolor Painting Papers.

The colors were more brilliant than any other papers I have worked on.


But on the downside they being handmade , expensive - 16" x 20" sheet - $10.00 +-

Please Note:-  There are many more manufacturers making Handmade Watercolor Painting Papers.  This brand stopped me from buying others - why look any further.

So lets look at the surfaces of Watercolor Paper:




Rough - Has a "pebbled" texture, which gives you many options.

A) Brush held on edge and scraped across the surface produces a spotted effect.

B) Lightly scraping with a razor blade across a dry wash - pinholes appear.

C) Using settling or granulating pigment in washes, more pigment settles in the crevices than on the crest of the paper surface. Uncommonly interesting effect.

Rough is a versatile and generally forgiving surface.

COLD PRESS OR NOT - is the most popular surface. It is somewhere between Rough and Hot

Press. Excellent choice for a novice.

The surface permits you to create some textural effects and yet renders detail as well. You can scrape and scrub and lift to varying degrees, laying washes one over the other without fear of lifting the drier wash underneath. Forgiving surface, allowing for better control.

HOT PRESS - no surface texture, smooth burnished under pressure of the metal plates.

Best left alone until the artist has some experience under their belts, so to speak. Paint tends to slip and slide around on the surface and you must be able to control it.

DOWNSIDE - The surface is not very forgiving, you must paint decisively and directly to get the best results.

Difficult to glaze one wash over a previous dry wash, without lifting off some of the color.

That being said lifting color is useful mainly for effects and NOT for repainting. A re-worked area will look dull and obvious, hence not recommended for novices.

ILLUSTRATION BOARD - This is for the adventurous, surface is so smooth that it's like glass.

If you work wet-into-wet be positive and optimistic, good effects can and will happen, blossoms will also occur fast. Brush pigment in a gliding, dancing motion across the paper.

If you work dry you can obtain extraordinary details in your work.

The surface is excellent for rendering line and bright colors. (Colors do not sink into the paper.)

Lifting a non staining wash, you can nearly return to a white board. Lifting a staining wash will leave it singing like a piece of glass.

Keep in mind this is a difficult surface to work on.

A standard sheet of Watercolor Paper 22" x 30" can come in 90,140,200,300 & 400lbs weight.

The weight number used is based on the weight of 500 sheets, hence 90 lb. will be the thinest sheet and 400 lbs. the thickest. Stay with 140 or 300 lbs.

You can buy paper in wide widths in rolls of 10yds or more.

SIZING - Is a waterproofing agent applied to the paper externally or internally or both.

Moderately sized will give you a softer look and soft edges.

Heavy sized can withstand surface attacks, scrubbing, erasing and re-working. Light sizing will give you darker more predictable wash, but allow less re-working.

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