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. 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 medium-weight (140-pound) hot press papers with the best overall characteristics and performance. Experiment with several to find the one 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 an exceptionally smooth surface 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 Hot Press 5-Pack
For professional work to frame or sell, these thin packs of 140-pound paper are an excellent choice. With just five 16-by-20-inch sheets per package, they are a bit of a splurge, but worth it. Synthetically sized to make the most of hot press techniques, these sheets allow seamless gradation and sharp edges at the same time. They also release masking fluid easily, without tearing.
5. Strathmore Ready Cut Watercolor Paper
This watercolor paper was designed to stand out from the pack by being pre-cut to standard frame sizes like 5 by 7, 8 by 10, and 11 by 14 inches. But the best thing about it is that it is high-quality, 140-pound, 100 percent cotton paper at a very reasonable price. With an affordable, quality paper like this one, students can learn the techniques of the medium more easily. It’s worth mentioning that this paper has a little more texture than something like the Fabriano Artistico, and that it can pill if reworked too much. But overall, it’s an excellent beginner choice.