The Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners

Aug 3, 2021 | 1 comment

Now that you got your watercolor paints, you’ll have to get the watercolor paper. What’s the best watercolor paper for beginners anyway? Let’s find out!

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Table of Contents

What is watercolor paper?

A Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for When Buying Watercolor Paper

Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners

Frequently Asked Questions

Final Thoughts



What is watercolor paper?

When you are painting with watercolors, you can’t just do it on any paper. There’s a specific paper made only for it which is the watercolor paper. This paper is specially designed to withstand paint and paper and is made up of cotton and fibers like wood pulp.

Watercolor paper is essential, it allows the artists to fully make use of the features of watercolor paints. 

Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners (1)

A Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for When Buying Watercolor Paper

Choosing the best watercolor paper for beginners can be a little bit confusing and overwhelming. There are just too many kinds, and too many descriptions to follow that can be unfamiliar with if you are just starting out.

Here are some factors you need to consider and look out for when you are buying watercolor paper for your first project.

Material

Watercolor papers are made from pure cotton pulp or a mixture of cotton and cellulose fibers. The best material for a watercolor paper that’s artist-quality is made out of 100% cotton fiber. It performs better than others and is more resilient, but it is also more expensive than those with mixtures.

Student-grade papers are usually made with wood pulp or a combination of cotton and other fibers. These are cheaper and are great for beginners. They may not be as great as papers made with 100% cotton, but for beginners, they are enough.

Paper Quality

There are two types of watercolor paper quality: student- and artist-quality.

Artist quality watercolor papers are acid-free and treated with anti-mildew agents. These papers have superior quality and are more long-lasting. They are also made from 100% cotton fiber that makes them durable.

Student-quality papers are made for beginners and students who are still experimenting with watercolor painting. These papers are made from a blend of cotton and other cellulose fibers like wood pulp. The performance isn’t as great compared to the artist-quality papers although, for beginners, it’s pretty good. Just know that the painting in this paper won’t last as long as a painting made on pure-cotton professional-quality paper.

Manufacturing Method

There are three different ways that watercolor paper is manufactured – by hand, by mold, and by machine. Depending on how they are manufacture, the quality of watercolor paper has distinct differences.

Handmade watercolor paper is by far the best and mold-made paper comes in second. Both manufacturing method creates long-lasting and durable watercolor paper that does not distort under heavy washes. Professional-grade papers are made either by these methods.

Machine-made watercolor paper is cheaper and more susceptible to warping when exposed to moisture. Student-grade papers are primarily machine-made.

Paper Texture

There are two commonly used textures in watercolor papers: hot-pressed and cold-pressed. For beginners, you are going to want cold-pressed paper.

The cold-pressed paper has a rougher texture. The bumps absorbed the paint and water a bit faster giving you more control of your watercolor.

The hot-pressed paper has a very smooth yet hard surface. It’s great for detailed work and fine line drawing. Beginners might find it difficult to handle and control your paint in this type of texture because hot-pressed papers are slippery.

Paper Weight

Watercolor papers vary in weight and most beginners neglect this factor. We are here to tell you, it’s just as important as other factors to consider.

There are thin, lightweight, and heavyweight watercolor papers. If you are going to deal with more water, you will have to get heavyweight paper. A heavy paper (300 pounds/600 GSM) can accommodate a greater amount of paint and water, and professional artists favor it.

As for beginners, you can opt to buy lighter paper which is around 140 pounds (300 GSM). This is also cheaper than heavyweight paper.

Paper Tint

Watercolor papers come in varying degrees of white. Some have a slight whitish color and some have a cream tint to them. The purpose of this is to allow you to reflect the light of the paper’s surface.

You can experiment and customize your artwork. Papers of different tints can help create artworks of different moods.

painting on a watercolor paper
An abstract painting on a watercolor paper

Form

Watercolor papers can be in pads, blocks, rolls, panels, or individual sheets. As a beginner, you’ll want to have more space to practice your painting skills.

Watercolor paper in pads or blocks is recommended. Both of these are ideal for practicing your watercolor skills.

Pads are stacks of papers held together on one side. When working on a watercolor pad, you’ll have to take a page off the pad and stick it down with masking tape to give them stability and to prevent the paper from warping and buckling.

Blocks are glued together on all four sides and as the papers are well secured and stabilized, there’s no need to remove them and stick them down on a surface with masking tape. You can just paint on them and then remove the paper when you are done. Blocks are ideal for larger-scale paintings.

Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners

Canson XL Series Watercolor Paper

This watercolor pad is made for student artists in mind and, in our opinion, is the best watercolor paper for beginners.

The Canson XL Series is a 300-gsm watercolor pad with 30 sheets of paper with a measure of 11×15 inches. For only under 20 bucks and 30 sheets of paper, this is one of the most affordable and quality watercolor papers you can purchase.

The watercolor paper has superb quality, you can erase and wash the paper repeatedly without disintegrating it. It is also acid-free and has a cold-pressed texture – perfect for beginners! And even though the papers buckle as you work, they will dry flat eventually.

What We Like:

  • Affordable price
  • Superb paper quality
  • Durable cover
  • Cold-pressed texture
  • Acid-free
  • Colors blend beautifully on paper

What We Dislike:

  • Not for all types of paintings


Arteza Watercolor Paper Cold Press

Many beginners, like me, like the smooth, cold press texture and that is why the Arteza Watercolor Paper made it at the top of our list. This paper takes on paint and water very well and blends the colors wonderfully.

The Arteza watercolor paper is thick with a paperweight of 300 gsm, which is suitable for watercolor paintings. It holds and absorbs water well so you can apply many washes without disintegrating the paper.

Like most student-grade paper, this product is made of wood pulp. The material is excellent and the product is safe and stable. Arteza watercolor paper is acid-free so it’s durable and long-lasting.

What’s even greater is this pack comes with two (2) pads! One pad has 32 sheets, so with 2 pads, you have more than enough papers to practice your washes and make your watercolor masterpiece.

What We Like:

  • Comes in 2 Pads with 32 sheets each
  • Cold-pressed with just the right tooth
  • Great paperweight of 300 gsm
  • Acid-free and long-lasting
  • Binding is sturdy
  • Worth the price

What We Dislike:

  • The other side of the paper is rough and weird, seems like it’s unsuitable for painting


Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Pad

The Strathmore 400 series is also one of the best watercolor papers for beginners and experts alike as it can handle heavy washes.

If you’re the type to use a lot of water and paint, you’ll find this paper a delight to use because it does not pill or bleed. The paper texture is cold-pressed and a little rough which allows you to add texture to your creation.

This watercolor paper is made of wood pulp and its sheets are thick and durable. Pigments flow well on the surface and it can take a solid amount of water with minimal warping.

With a paperweight of 300 gsm, this watercolor pad is the perfect choice for beginners. The paper is acid-free which means it will last long. It is wire-bound and comes with a sturdy cover and backing that can act as your portable easel.

What We Like:

  • Cold-pressed and acid-free sheets
  • Holds water very well
  • Has a sturdy and protective cover
  • Great for both beginners and experts
  • Suitable for acrylic paints, too
  • Affordable

What We Dislike:

  • Not that many pages


Bellofy Watercolor Paper Pad

The Bellofy Watercolor Pad provides great quality and affordability. If you are only getting started with watercolors, getting premium papers would be excessive. It would be much better to get a student-grade paper to practice your skills. This is the reason why Bellofy made it to our list of best watercolor paper for beginners.

The papers are 190 gsm, cold-pressed, and affordable. The paper is lightweight so it means it can’t handle much water, but beginners don’t usually deal with a lot of water while painting. So this product is a great option. The product comes in a sturdy and durable pad so handling it is very easy.

The great thing about the Bellofy watercolor pad is even though it’s lightweight, the paper can handle the wet-on-wet technique. The paper does warp but it can manage several washes.

The paper is acid-free and environmentally friendly as it is constructed from recyclable paper.

One side of the paper is smooth and the other is textured but both sides can be used.

You can opt to remove the sheets from the pad when painting and stick them with masking tape to avoid the paper from bending.

What We Like:

  • Has 50-sheets
  • Made from acid-free and recyclable paper
  • Handles wet-on-wet efficiently for a 190-gsm paper
  • Great for beginners and kids
  • Affordable
  • Compatible for paints and markers

What We Dislike:

  • Can warp/bend if not taped down


Canson Montval Watercolor Block

If you are someone who loves going on walks and painting nature scenery under a tree or at the bench of a park, you’ll need a trusty watercolor paper that you can take anywhere. With a design so durable and portable at the same time, this watercolor block is perfect for you.

This 15-page paper block that measures 6 x 9 inches boasts excellent thickness, great texture, and color absorbency. Perfect for both beginner and professional artists, the Canson Montval watercolor paper variant lets you try different painting styles as it accommodates both wet and dry media.

The paper is cold-pressed, 300-gsm thick, acid-free, and of great quality. It can tolerate frequent washing, scraping, and erasing, and the paper does not pill or bleed.

The texture is not too rough nor too smooth. The paper holds paint and water very well and does not deteriorate under wet washes.

What We Like:

  • Small and portable, great for outdoor painting
  • 300-gsm cold-pressed sheets
  • Great paper texture
  • Comes in different sizes

What We Dislike:

  • Not as durable as other blocks


Fabriano Watercolor Paper

Fabriano watercolor papers are great when it comes to handling water. The paper is heavyweight (300gsm) and is cold-pressed with textured surfaces.

It is constructed with 100% cotton so you won’t have any pilling problems. The paper has great absorbency and is acid-free and has a neutral pH which makes it hold our artwork for a long time.

One great thing about this paper is its tint which is bright white. It brings out the pigments of your watercolor and gives you amazing highlights, making your creations beautiful and crisp.

This paper is in a block glued on all sides which makes it stable and ready to use. You can then remove the top sheet with a knife when you are done with your piece.

What We Like:

  • 300-gsm and cold-pressed
  • Manages several washes very well
  • There are 4 available textures you can choose from: satin, fine, rough, and softened surface
  • Made from 100% cotton
  • Paper tint is a natural bright white

What We Dislike:

  • The paper is not glued well so you might need to tape the edges of the paper before starting your work


Arches Aquarelle Watercolor Paper

Here’s another watercolor paper block that made to our list of best watercolor paper for beginners, the Arches Watercolor Block. As mentioned earlier, blocks are convenient because they are ready to use. You don’t have to tape down the sheet before starting because it’s already fastened on all sides. Watercolor blocks offer stability and this particular product uses natural cotton, has 300 gsm weight, and is 9 x 12 inches in dimension.

The heavyweight of the paper provides you a great watercolor experience. It is also cold-pressed to the texture of the Arches watercolor paper is somewhat rough. This texture delivers great consistency when painting and it holds paint and water very well.

The pack contains 20 high-quality sheets so you have plenty of paper to create your masterpieces on.

What We Like:

  • Cold-pressed texture, the surface is great for watercolor
  • 300-gsm
  • Ready and easy to use
  • Acid-free and long-lasting

What We Dislike:

  • On the expensive side
  • The surface may not be for everyone


Winsor & Newton Watercolor Paper Journal

Winsor & Newton may be popular for their watercolor paints, but they also have great watercolor paper products.

With cylinder mold-made papers, their products are strong and durable able to withstand repeated washes without pilling or disintegrating. The papers are made with 100% cotton and are acid-free, making them durable and long-lasting. The absorbency rate is excellent and the color blends beautifully.

This product is cold-pressed with a toothy texture that’s just right and uniform. The surface seems hot-pressed and the colors are gorgeous when dry.

The watercolor pad has 15 sheets inside with a dimension of 5 x 7 inches. The price point might be too high for just 15 sheets but the quality of the paper is superb making up for its cost. The paper does not pill or bleed and the color control it offers is great.

What We Like:

  • No pilling and bleeding
  • Durable and resilient
  • Cold-pressed, 300-gsm, and 100% cotton
  • Excellent paint control

What We Dislike:

  • Size is smaller so it’s limiting

U.S Art Supply Premium Heavy-Weight Watercolor Pad

This watercolor pad is great for both dry media and wet media. This pack comes with two pads with 12-sheets in each pad. The paper has a heavyweight surface (300 gsm) that can hold a lot of water without deteriorating and reducing the quality of the paint.

The sheets are in a natural white tint. It is cold-pressed, has a neutral pH, and is acid-free. It can be used for a lot of painting styles and techniques, perfect for beginners to practice on.

The pads measure 11 x 14 inches which are ideal for both beginner and professional painting.

What We Like:

  • Reliable student-grade watercolor paper
  • Relatively affordable
  • Acid-free and has a neutral pH
  • 300-gsm and cold-pressed

What We Dislike:

  • The paper can warp when too much water is used
  • Water absorbency is not that great


Bee Paper Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper Pad

If you are looking for a watercolor sketchbook, this 6 x 9-inch pad may be the one for you. Bee Paper offers an artist-grade quality watercolor paper that won’t break your bank. Each pack includes 50 sheets of paper with 300-gsm weight.

This is an absolute steal as this product is made up of pure cotton and is cold-pressed allowing it to have a somewhat rough texture that makes it great for both watercolor and gouache.

Many artists rave about this product because its performance can be comparable to popular brands like Canson and Arches.

If you are looking for affordable but at the same time high-quality watercolor paper, this is the paper for you.

What We Like:

  • 50 sheets of 300-gsm paper!
  • Cold-pressed and made with 100% cotton
  • Holds water very well
  • Bright white paper tint
  • Affordable

What We Dislike:

  • Not that great for lifting technique


Frequently Asked Questions

Which Kind Of Paper Is Best For Watercolor?

Most professionals prefer 100% cotton papers but for beginners, student-quality papers that are made of a combination of cotton and fibers like wood pulp work great.

Papers made with 100% cotton have better stability and work quality. While paper with wood pulp utilizes chemicals for manufacturing and is less effective. So 100% cotton paper is, therefore, the best for watercolor. The downside here is cotton paper is much more expensive than wood pulp paper.

What makes watercolor paper special?

Watercolor paper is made from either 100% cotton or a blend of cotton and wood pulp, which aids in the absorption of paint and water. The paper is thick to prevent it from buckling. It is designed to hold watercolor paints and last longer.

What Is The Best Weight For Watercolor Paper?

The best weight for watercolor paper is 300 lbs (~638 gsm) as it can absorb more water. Although 300 gsm is already great for beginners.

Can You Use Normal Paper For Watercolor?

No. Normal paper will not be able to handle the water needed to paint watercolors. As ordinary paper are usually thin and lower in weight, it will buckle and tear when a lot of water is introduced. That’s why watercolor papers are manufactured.

Hot-Press or Cold-Press, Which is Better?

Both have their own uses and pros and cons. For artists who prefer painting on a smooth surface, they should try hot-pressed paper. For people who like to paint on a slightly rough surface, cold-pressed paper is the best. The paint will also dry faster on hot-press paper.

Can You Use Both Sides of Watercolor Paper?

You need to check the paper quality and functionality to know if both sides can be painted. Most watercolor paper has similar sides but it doesn’t mean that you can paint on both. Although most manufacturers today make dual-purpose watercolor paper so papers have both smooth and textured sides (which can both be painted on).

How important is it for the watercolor paper to be acid-free?

Acid gradually “eats” the paper so if a paper isn’t acid-free, it will not be very long-lasting and so will your artwork.

Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners (2)

Final Thoughts

And that is it for the best watercolor paper for beginners. We have finally arrived at the end and I hope you have learned a thing or two from this article.

Personally, I love the Canson watercolor paper. It’s affordable, functional, and great for watercolor amateurs like myself. But all of the brands mentioned above are also great. If your budget allows it, try the more expensive ones like Arches and Fabriano.

As you narrow down your option, don’t forget to consider the factors before making your purchase. These will help you get the best watercolor paper for yourself.

If you liked this article, do share this with your friends and family. For more articles like this, visit our blog!

Renee Alexis

20-something Filipina, an introvert who loves young adult fiction, brush pens, Taylor Swift, and Mobile Legends. Coffee runs in my bloodstream.
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1 Comment

  1. Tawnya

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    Reply

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