Picking Watercolor Paper: Weight and Texture

There are many characteristics of watercolor paper to consider when you're shopping for paper for your watercolor painting. Two important characteristics are weight and texture.

Paper weight

One characteristic of all paper, including paper meant for watercolor paintings, is its weight. The manufacturer weighs a ream of 500 sheets of paper in its uncut state and gives it a number to indicate the paper's weight. Weight indicates the quality (and usually the price) of the paper.

Typical weights for watercolor paper are

  • 90-pound paper is a student grade and is rather thin. It buckles when wet and can't endure much scrubbing for changes.
  • 140-pound paper is probably the most popular choice. It's fairly stout, can be stretched to avoid buckling when wet, dries quickly, and is medium-priced.
  • 300-pound paper is like a board. It doesn't require stretching, costs twice what 140-pound paper costs, and takes longer to dry.

You can judge the other weights available in comparison with these weights.

Each paper weight has its advantages, and the weight you choose depends on what you want to accomplish. Beginners can get a good start with 140-pound cold-press, 100 percent cotton rag, acid-free paper in any brand. (For more on cold press and hot press, see the next section.)

In addition to the various weights of paper, you can use watercolor board, which is paper adhered to illustration board. It doesn't buckle when wet and is available in 20-x-30-inch pieces or by the case.

Touching on texture

Texture describes the surface finish on paper. The type of paper you choose gives you different effects with the paint. You may want a smooth paper for lots of detail or a textured surface to make sparkling reflections on water. You can choose from three main surface textures:

  • Hot press: This texture is even and smooth and makes a nice surface for prints and drawings. The paper has a slicker finish that you can use to create some interesting results. It's more difficult to make soft transitions when using this paper, so you may have more hard edges than you want.
  • Cold press: This slightly bumpy texture is the most popular texture for watercolorists. The texture allows paint to settle into the texture pockets or sit on top and skip over the pockets, creating some different painting technique options.
  • Rough: Rough texture has an even bumpier surface than cold press. This surface is good for exaggerated rough texture techniques.
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