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Dip your toe into the wide world of watercolor. Paint without worry of ripping, tearing, and warping with paper specially designed to hold the medium. While ordinary paper is smooth and thin, watercolor paper is heavier and has some texture, so that it absorbs pigment, holds up well to moisture, and doesn’t create feathering.
In order to determine which paper is best suited for your needs, it’s first important to understand some key characteristics and terms. All artist-quality paper is acid-free, which means it won’t yellow or fade your pigment over time. The thickness of watercolor paper is indicated by its weight, measured in pounds per ream. The standard machine weight is 140-pound weight, and all the options below adhere to this specification. Watercolor paper can be made by hand, by cylinder-mold machines, or by machine. The pages made by hand feature four rough, uncut edges, called deckled edges, which lend an antiquarian feel, and the fibers are randomly distributed on the page, rendering handmade paper the strongest. Papers made by mold have two deckled edges, and the fibers are also randomly distributed, though mold-made paper isn’t quite as strong as handmade paper. Machine-made paper is made in one continuous process, so all the fibers are oriented in the same direction. All edges of machine-made paper are cut, though some may feature artificially deckled edges.
Another aspect to consider is whether you want hot press or cold press paper. Hot-pressed watercolor paper has a fine-grained, smooth surface, with almost no tooth. Paint dries very quickly on it, which makes it ideal for one or two light washes of color or a pen-and-ink wash. Cold-pressed watercolor paper has a more textured surface, which holds both light washes of paint and fine-detail work of multiple layers. Watercolor paper is sold in pads as well as sheets. Browse our roundup of the best picks for the latter here.
1. Fabriano Artistico Hot Press 10-Pack
The only hot-press option on this list, this paper has a smooth, fine-grained feel. This pack includes ten sheets per pack, and each piece measures 22 by 30 inches. Machine made, this paper is deckled on one side and has an extra-bright white tone to retain the true color of your pigment. Super durable, this paper is made of cotton rag fibers rather than wood pulp, so it withstands scrubbing and reworking.
2. Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper
Arches is a go-to paper brand: their iconic pads with a bright cover and black-and-white floral border is a staple in every artist’s studio. This particular product of theirs includes 10 loose-leaf sheets, measuring 22 by 30 inches each. Deckled on all four edges, this paper has an authentic look. The durable cold press texture allows for repeated overworking and overpainting, without feathering or pilling, so you don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake or two.
3. Canson XL Series Watercolor Paper Bulk Pack
A great option for art demos, events, and classes, these watercolor sheets come at a great price and have 100 sheets per pack. This paper is available in dimensions ranging from 9 by 12 inches to 18 by 24 inches, which means you’re sure to find the perfectly sized sheet to suit your needs. Suitable for light washes and dry media alike, this cold-press paper has a fine-toothed surface and clean-cut edges.
4. Strathmore Artist Watercolor Paper
This option features ten sheets of cold-press paper with a heavily textured surface measuring 22 by 30 inches each. Two deckled edges lend an artistic feel, and the surface is ultra-resistant to rubbing and reworking. A great choice for beginners, this paper won’t pill and comes at a reasonable price compared to similar options.
5. Indigo Artpapers 100% Cotton Cold-Pressed Handmade Paper
This ivory-toned paper is ultra-thick and made of cotton rag. Handmade in India by a cold-press process, this paper is premium quality and extra-durable. Deckled on all sides, it has an artisanal feel and can withstand multiple layers and hard scrubbing. Measuring 22 by 30 inches, this option comes with five sheets per pack.