What is watercolour paper?



Hi friends,

Many of you have been asking me what exactly is watercolour paper after I wrote my first blog. One of the first art supplies you would need as an aspiring watercolour artist is watercolour paper, along with your watercolours, brushes and palette. Today lets know our watercolour paper.


We can classify watercolour paper into three depending upon the surface texture on them,

  • Hot pressed
  • Cold pressed and
  • Rough.

Hot Pressed Paper

The term “Hot pressed” is regarding the method of fabrication used for making this type of watercolour paper.The sheets are pressed between smooth heated rollers in this method.Hence the word hot pressed. Illustrators and designers who love detail use hot pressed paper as the hot pressed paper has a very smooth flat finish and hence it is very good for reproduction. This paper is very good for pen and ink method and those showing high level of brush detail.

Cold Pressed Paper

Cold pressed paper has medium texture and is a favorite among beginner water colour artists as this is very useful to try out different techniques. Good for diffused wet on wet techniques. Glacing technique does not come out very well on this paper.

Rough paper

The rough watercolour paper is most suited for those with a loose style as there is lot of granulation in this paper. Rough paper as the name suggests is the most textured of them all. This paper is very good for wet on wet techniques and also for glazing but does not work well with lifting of paint.


Paper Weight

We can choose our watercolour paper by the paper weight which is usually represented in lbs ( pounds) or in “gsm” which means grams per square meter. Lightweight papers are cheaper but they would require stretching and heavyweight papers will take up more washes of water. As a general rule, any paper below 425 gsm would require stretching.


Paper material

Watercolour paper is usually made in cotton or with wood pulp the professional grade watercolour paper is usually 100% cotton and considered to be the best painting surfaces. Wood pulp is chemically treated pulp which is much more inexpensive than cotton and a good alternative for beginners.
Watercolor paper can be made of wood pulp exclusively, or mixed with cotton fibers. Pure cotton watercolor paper is also used by artists though it typically costs more than paper. It is also available as an acid-free medium to help its preservation.



Paper make

Watercolour paper can be


  • handmade watercolour paper
  • mold made watercolour paper or
  • machine made watercolour paper.





Handmade paper

Handmade is rare and its strength comes from its fabrication process.. Two frames are used in the handmade process. The first is a mold covered with mesh and the second, a deckle frame as seen in the picture above. The frames are dipped in a pulp vat where pulp is moved back and forth and side to side. This unique action means that the fibers in handmade paper are interlaced completely. It makes the paper ideal for the water colorist since it’s very strong and very even. The pulp is layered and moved until precisely even and the correct level.The deckel is then placed on the mold . this ensures that the wet pulp is within the wire mold boundary and it helps in the control of paper size in the finished sheet.

The paper maker moves the paper back and forth in two directions , so handmade paper has no directional grain.
The paper is then rolled off onto felt to start drying. It is alternately pressed and air dried in a loft, depending on the finish required. Air drying slowly is important since it gives a beautiful texture to the paper. The paper is dried for a time, dipped in sizing, then air dried again.

All four sides of hand made paper have deckled edge.

Mold made Paper

Pulp is pressed onto wire meshes in the form of cylinders, then rolled onto a felt conveyor belt and dried. The cylindrical wire mesh is rotated at slow speed and a layer of pulp is deposited onto the moving belt of felt. Mold made paper can only have 2 deckle edges, naturally formed on the cylinder sides as the  paper is made.  the other two are cut edges, however, in some cases the other 2 “deckles”are artificially created by cutting with a water jet. Since mold made paper is pressed between cylinders to form it, it always has a grain the paper is pressed in. This grain affects how your paint flows over the paper. With this method, the cellulose fibers interlace fairly randomly resulting in reasonably good paper strength.

Machine made watercolor paper

This process is completely automated and it injects pulp onto a mesh wire cylinder. The paper is  then sandwiched between two layers of felt, dried by hot rollers, and cut and dried.

The cellulose fibers are not very well interlaced with this process  and  align only in a single direction, resulting in lesser strength of paper.

We make sketch books using these machine made papers.  These sketch books turn out cheaper but not the same quality as the real paper.

Watercolor blocks are handy for plein air painting and transporting to workshops. However the Paper with lesser weight do tend to buckle.

So we finally we come to the question of how to choose a watercolour paper?

There is no right or wrong watercolour paper. So it all comes down to trail and error. My suggestion is that you try out few different watercolour papers. Hence it is a good idea to see what best suits your needs and for you and go with it. i personally feel it is best to use 100% cotton, acid free papers for your final paintings. i personally love it. Also think in terms of the techniques that you are going to use for a particular painting. Is it a hyper realistic painting or is it loosely washed painting? Choose your watercolour paper wisely depending on all these factors,  Happy painting!

Here’s the link below, in case you missed out on my earlier blog on five tips for beginner watercolour artists,

Five tips for beginner watercolor artists(Opens in a new browser tab)


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