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Named for a fabrication process that involves smashing pulp in heated cylinders, hot press papers present smooth surfaces with virtually no tooth. They are ideal for artworks that require seamless blending and transitions as well as precise mark making, and they are less absorbent than cold press papers. They are also well suited for building up layers while retaining subtleties in strokes and colors. All in all, whether you use these papers for watercolor painting or sketching with ink, choosing a product for your needs is highly subjective. Our picks below represent papers with the best overall characteristics and performance. Experiment with more than one to find the hot press paper you like the most.
1. Arches Watercolor Paper Block
Painters of all kinds, from watercolorists to gouache artists, are long-time fans of Arches’ watercolor paper, which comes in convenient blocks that don’t require stretching before use. While pricey, these pure cotton sheets boast exceptionally smooth surfaces with thin and tight fibers for even pigment flow, and colors stay vibrant and fresh to the eye. Another main selling point of this product is its consistency: Each sheet, made on a cylinder mold machine, is sturdy enough to handle a lot of water without rippling, buckling, or pilling. Whether you render detailed lines or lay down washes, brushwork resists looking muddy or distorted.
2. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Block
Winsor & Newton’s hot press paper is almost as good as the Arches product. These sheets present a satisfyingly smooth surface with almost no tooth and can tolerate layers of glazing with minimal warping. Lifting—removing or erasing pigment—is also possible without eroding the surface. These sheets seem thinner and slightly less sturdy than the Arches papers, but they’re still an excellent and resilient go-to.
3. Canson L’Aquarelle Heritage Paper
They’re not top-of-the-line, but these papers will still serve you well for everyday or experimental painting sessions. They are made of 100 percent cotton and are super smooth; colors flow easily on them, and they can withstand rough handling. These papers are designed to allow longer working times, and they tolerate corrections even when the paint is dry. You can expect some blurriness and buckling if you build up many layers—but with time, you’ll become familiar with this paper’s limitations, which are still outweighed by its many capabilities.
4. Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper
With just four sheets per package, this option from Fabriano Artistico is definitely a special pick to save for your best work. The pure cotton papers are sized to offer painters superior durability and absorbency and are ideal for wet-on-wet painting. They are heavier than standard papers, with a 300-pound weight, providing a surface that can tolerate rough working and reworking. Almost velvety smooth and porcelain white, the pages immediately stun right out of the packaging.
5. Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Block
These papers are a favorite of artists who paint botanical studies, as they show off detail wonderfully and retain the liveliness of colors and brushstrokes. Their surface is very smooth and are not white but cream colored, which will work for some painters, but not everyone. Glued in block form, eliminating the need for pre-stretching, these papers are easy to remove, but they can loosen if you apply too much water.