Ask any watercolor artist about their art, and they’ll tell you how important it is to choose the best watercolor paper for your work. That’s because choosing the correct surface for your artwork will greatly enhance the final product.
But with so many options out there, which paper is the right one for you?
To help you out we’ve put together this guide for you which explains the key differences between the different types of paper and helps you decide which one is best for you. We also offer some product reviews and recommendations.
At a Glance: Our Recommendations for the Best Watercolor Paper on the Market
- Arches Cold Press (Pad)
- Arches Cold Press (Block) (Premium Choice)
- Strathmore 361-9 300 Series (Pad)
- U.S Art Supply Premium Heavy-Weight (Pad)
- Winsor & Newton Cotman (Pad)
- XL Watercolor Fold Over (Pad) (Budget Choice)
- Strathmore 140-205 Ready Cut (Single Sheets)
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices, and customer reviews on Amazon and Blick. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
- Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose the Right Watercolor Paper
- Product Round-up and Reviews – Best Watercolor Paper
Buyer’s Guide – How to Choose the Right Watercolor Paper
There are certain things to look out for when determining the quality of your paper.
First, you will need it to weigh a decent amount. This is to ensure it won’t warp, buckle, or even tear. Generally, anything 140lb or above is sufficient.
Also worth considering are the materials the paper’s made from.
Generally, you will find that it’s either 100% cotton, or wood pulp.
100% cotton is the professional preference, as they offer a superior painting surface and incomparable stability.
Alternatively, there is wood pulp. This is paper made from a chemically treated pulp. It’s a budget-friendly alternative to 100% cotton paper and can be a good choice for beginner painters.
On top of this, some paper is ‘mould made’, while some is ‘machine-made’.
Mould made is the preference here, as paper of this kind tends to weigh more and offer a high surface stability.
Machine-made papers tend not to be as stable, nor do they have the rough edges or watermarks that mould-made papers offer.
There are 3 main forms you can expect watercolor paper packs to take: individual sheets, pads, or blocks.
- With loose sheets, each page is separate, so you will need your own storage arrangements for the paper.
- Pads contain multiple pages bound together. This can be with a spiral or a gum strip. These are great for painting on the go using a plein air easel and are often less expensive than blocks.
- Blocks contain glues on all four sides of the paper, which make them less likely to buckle when water is applied and also gives you a base to paint on. As the paper is on a block, rather than a pad, it makes it more convenient for traveling too. To remove each sheet, you simply run a knife around the edges of the paper.
Another important choice to make is your surface type. There are three main watercolor paper surfaces: Cold-Pressed (NOT), Hot-Pressed (HP), and Rough.
- Cold-pressed offers a medium texture that’s easy to work with and is well-suited to beginners. It’s versatile and available from student grade paper to artist quality paper.
- Hot pressed watercolor paper is smoother than cold and is the choice of more advanced artists who want to use fine sharp details. Hot press paper also gives colors more vibrancy.
- Rough paper is the most textured choice. It contains deep pits which are great for granulation and can be the best paper for those with a loose painting style.
Can I Paint on Watercolor Paper with Acrylics?
Before we look at the products, another question you might have is whether you can paint on this kind of paper with acrylics. The answer is yes. All you need to do is thin your paint, so it will behave like a watercolor. This will ensure the paper can handle it.
It’s worth noting that high-quality watercolor paper tends to be more expensive than paper used for acrylics, so it might be worth considering the costs before you choose this method.
Product Round-up and Reviews – Best Watercolor Paper
So, now you know what you’re looking for in watercolor paper, let’s have a look at some of the best products on the market. To make it easier for you to decide, we’ve included the pros and cons of each, as well as who the paper is best suited to.
Note: these are all cold-press papers, which are perfect for beginner and intermediate painters who are still learning how to paint with watercolors.
Arches Cold Press Pad, 9X12”
Arches’ Cold Press watercolor Pad is a professional product with a reasonable price tag. The thick, 140lbs paper won’t warp or buckle beneath watercolor paints and there’s a unique, gelatine surface on this paper, making it even more resistant.
This paper is artist-grade, mould-made and 100% cotton. It will suit artists of all stages; whilst it’s forgiving for beginners, it also has the quality that more advanced painters will appreciate and require.
Suited to: Advanced artists with a preference for pads and cold-press paper.
- Thick, 140lbs paper means it won’t warp or buckle beneath the paint.
- There’s a unique gelatine surface on the 100% cotton paper, making it even more scrape-resistant and ensuring the colors show at their best.
- Artist-grade, mould-made paper which is mold-resistant and acid-free.
– Cold-press paper, which is versatile and easy to paint on.
- It’s a pad rather than a block, so lacks sturdiness.
- The paper is cold-pressed, which won’t suit those who wish to display a high level of brush detail or those who want the richest shades.
Arches Cold Press Block, 9X12”
Similar to the first product, this block of paper by Arches is cold-press, 100% cotton, mould-made, and artist-grade.
It costs a little more than the pad, but that’s because it’s a block, meaning it’s gummed at all four sides. This not only makes it more portable but reduces the risk of buckling and removes the possible need to stretch your paper.
Suited to: Advanced artists who paint in a variety of settings.
- The paper is on a block, rather than a pad, which makes it convenient for traveling and means you don’t need to worry about stretching your paper or it buckling beneath the paint.
- Cold-press, 100% cotton paper that’s versatile and easy to use.
- Artist-grade, professional paper that’s mould-resistant and acid-free.
- It’s a little expensive, but the quality matches the price tag.
- The cold-press paper isn’t suited to those who want find brush detail and/or the brightest of colors.
Strathmore 361-9 300 Series, 9X12”
Strathmore’s watercolor pad is another strong, reliable option that will suit artists on a budget. It’s reasonably priced, but still 140lb so plenty strong enough, as well as acid-free and cold-press.
There have been reports that it doesn’t absorb water as readily as some other paints, but if you’re wanting an introduction to the craft, this product will be more than sufficient.
Suited to: Artists on a budget.
- It’s not too expensive, so it will suit artists on a budget.
- 140lb paper is strong and won’t buckle beneath the paint.
- Cold-press, acid-free paper is easy to use.
- It’s a pad, rather than a block, so you need to be careful with the paper staying in shape.
- The paper doesn’t absorb paint as readily as some of the higher-end supplies.
- Though 24 sheets might seem plenty, you can get pads with more pages at a similar price.
U.S Art Supply Premium Heavy-Weight (Pad)
This paper comes at a very reasonable price, with the added benefit of splitting the pages into two pads. This is great for those who either want to travel light or share the painting experience with a friend.
The paper is 140lb, so thick enough to hold the wet paints, as well as cold-press and acid-free. It’s machine-made, so lacks the rough edges and watermarks of mould-made papers, but it’s plenty for a beginner or somebody who would like to combine watercolor painting with other art on the page.
Suited to: Artists using mixed materials/paints.
- Very budget-friendly, making it perfect for beginners.
- Comes in two, smaller packs rather than one bulky pad.
- 140lb, cold-press, acid-free paper.
- It’s not as white as some other watercolor papers.
- The paper absorbs the paint quickly, leaving little time for blending on the page.
Winsor & Newton Cotman (Pad)
Winsor and Newton have an excellent reputation in the watercolor community and it’s well-deserved.
This paper is acid-free, cold-pressed, and comes in a gummed pad. Though it isn’t mould-made, it’s more than capable of masterpieces and despite its 90lb weight it is sturdy and stable. It doesn’t crinkle at all as you paint and comes at a reasonable price.
Suited to: Artists of all levels who are looking for something lighter.
- The paper is acid-free, giving it good longevity.
- It comes as a pad, making it portable as well as easy to achieve flawless results.
- It’s cold-pressed, so perfect for beginners to become introduced to the craft.
- The paper is just 90lbs, so not as thick as the others on this list.
- It’s not as budget-friendly as some of the others on this list.
XL Watercolor Pad Fold Over
This pad contains 30 sheets: more than any of the other pads in the list. This will be great for those creative artists who occasionally need to discard a page or two.
The cold-press paper is easy for beginners to use, and at 140lb, the paper is plenty strong enough. It’s extremely well-priced, with a durable surface that can withstand multiple washes. Those looking for a bargain, look no further.
Suited to: Those seeking great value and ease of use.
- 30 pages, so you don’t need to worry about ‘wasting’ a page or two.
- Cold-press paper is easy to use for beginners.
- 140lb thick pages won’t warp or buckle.
- Cold-press paper won’t appeal to some more advanced painters who wish to show fine stroke details.
- It’s a pad, making it slightly less practical than a block.
Strathmore 140-205 Ready Cut
The Strathmore Ready Cut watercolor set is another that offers great value for money.
The 100% cotton paper is acid-free and 140lb thick. It also has a super-strong surface, which offers superior color blending and mixing opportunities.
The paper doesn’t come as part of a pad or block, so you’ll need your own storage arrangements, but this will be perfect for those who require separate sheets for teaching, group painting, or simply a personal preference.
Suited to: Artists who paint in groups, teach or just prefer individual sheets.
- 100% cotton paper that’s acid-free.
- 140lb thickness, so there are no worries about warping or buckling.
- The super-strong surface improves color blending and mixing.
- The paper isn’t in a pad or block, so you need your own storage arrangement.
- Cold-press won’t suit every artist’s needs.
As you can see, there are plenty of watercolor papers to choose from.
If you’re looking for the highest in quality, Arches Cold Press Block is the best premium product. While pads are less expensive, blocks are preferred due to practicality and style.
Our most budget-friendly option is the XL watercolor pad. As well as containing a whopping 30 pages, this pad is strong, easy-to-use, and stylish.
If you prefer single sheets, Strathmore’s 100% cotton paper is an excellent option.
Whichever watercolor paper you go for, all the best on your creative, colorful journey!