Watercolor Painting Paper: Sheets, Blocks, or Pads

When you're buying paper for your watercolor creation, you don't want to skimp on paper quality. Cheap paper can't take the abuse required of watercolor. Good watercolor paper is made of 100 percent cotton rag, acid-free content. (Acid-free is important because it ensures your paper won't turn yellow.) It lasts a very long time — it's been found in Egyptian tombs in good condition!

A ratty edge, called a deckle, is a sign of high-quality, handmade paper. Straight, even edges indicate machine-made paper. Handmade papers are really nice, but you can also find some nice machine-made papers. Just go with whatever you prefer or can afford.

Watercolor paper is typically white, whether that's bright white or natural white. White provides the most reflected light though transparent color. You can get colored paper in tan, blue, gray, and pink that makes for an interesting background color.

Individual sheets are a popular way to buy watercolor paper. Sheets of paper come in different sizes:

  • Full sheet is 22 x 30 inches.
  • Elephant is 29 x 41 inches.
  • Double elephant is 40 x 60 inches.

In addition to sheets, you can purchase paper in convenient pads and blocks:

  • A pad is several sheets bound with a wire spiral or glue at one end. You can paint while the paper is still attached to the pad, or you can tear off one sheet at a time to use. The edge usually tears out pretty neatly. Paper in wire-bound pads usually has a perforated edge, so the tear-out is clean. You can use scissors to cut the paper to the size you need. If you end up framing the painting, a matte usually covers the edges, so how they look doesn't matter that much.
  • A block contains a number of sheets and is glued on all four sides. You paint on the top sheet and then remove it with something dull (a plastic knife or credit card works great) when you're finished to reveal the next clean sheet.

If you want to paint a mural, you can also buy rolls of paper, which are usually 44 to 56 inches wide by 10 yards long.

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