One of three standard textures of watercolor paper (the other two being hot press and rough), cold press paper features a slightly rough texture that will showcase your brushstrokes to dramatic effect. One convenient way to use cold press paper is to purchase sheets in block form. The papers come pre-glued together on all four sides so there’s no need to tape them down to stretch them before use, although you should have a small knife on hand to separate the top paper cleanly once dry. Ideal for plein air painting and for travel, watercolor blocks are a staple in the watercolorist’s studio. Read about our top picks below.
Sennelier Watercolor Blocks
Sennelier’s bright-white paper is a top choice if you want to paint on a 100 percent cotton rag surface, which offers excellent absorbency, is archival, and is durable enough to take vigorous scrubbing and lifting. It is nearly as good as the famous paper from Arches (more on that later) and is more affordable. The textured surface is slightly smoother than the Arches version, which some artists might prefer because it allows one to achieve fine details. Pigments blend and adhere beautifully to these sheets and appear bright and sophisticated once dry. Each block of 140 pound paper comes with 20 sheets, and you can choose between two sizes—9.5 by 4.5 inches or a 12-inch square.
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Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Block
If spending more than two dollars on a sheet of watercolor paper sounds like splurging, Strathmore offers a great option that balances price and performance. Its cold press watercolor blocks are made of blended wood pulp with a natural white hue and an irregular surface texture to offer a more professional look and feel. The sheets remain tight on all edges even if you’re working with a lot of water, and the fibers resist pilling even if scrubbed or layered with multiple washes. Satisfyingly absorbent and forgiving, these blocks are perfect for seasoned watercolorists looking for more economical papers to practice or experiment with, or for students new to the medium. Available in five sizes, each block comes with 15 sheets of 140-pound paper.
Canson Montval Watercolor Block
Another good option for everyday painting, Canson’s Montval blocks are geared more toward beginners. The cotton-blend pulp is not as luxurious as higher-grade papers, but it is acid free, quite durable, and much more forgiving. Artists can scrape, scrub, and erase repeatedly without causing abrasions to the natural white surface, which features an even grain that helps to uniformly disperse pigments. This paper will pill if overworked and warp if overhydrated, but it can be great to learn on once you know its limitations. The 140-pound paper is available in four sizes.
TOP OF THE LINE
Arches Watercolor Blocks
The Arches brand is regarded by many as the gold standard of watercolor papers. These sheets are made entirely out of cotton fiber, which makes them thicker and more rigid than those composed of wood pulp. The paper has a tough surface with subtle grain that offers superior adhesion for pigments and absorbs water extremely well, with no puddling or pilling—even with heavy washes and multiple layers of color. Yes, this is costly paper, but the results—vibrant, lively colors on an unwrinkled surface—speak for themselves. While perfect for professionals, this pad is also a wonderful choice for beginner watercolorists as it stands up to repeated overworking, overpainting, and refining, so you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes. Arches’s cold press blocks are available in 140-pound or 300-pound versions.
Paul Rubens Watercolor Block
This economical paper is quite rough, which makes it best for washes and broad strokes rather than detail work. Composed of an even blend of cotton rag and wood pulp, the 140-pound paper tolerates a lot of water and accepts multiple layers of paint without buckling. It’s also easy to blend colors and scrub pigments—the sheets can take a decent amount of abuse. Each block comes with 20 sheets and is available in three sizes, but artists in America should note that the dimensions are sized according to the imperial system.