Choosing Watercolour Papers

Arches cold press

How to choose the right watercolour paper?!  It is a frequently asked question,  especially by brand new beginners at watercolour painting.

I’ll share my suggestions for the best choices for watercolor papers and my reasons why.

division of space
Rough 640gsm Indian Village paper,




About Watercolour Paper

3 Common Watercolour paper surfaces are:    Hot Press, Cold Press and Rough.

Each surface has its own unique quirks, assets and characteristics that are fun to explore.    Experimentation  i.e.  “research and development”  with the diverse range of surfaces and brands will definitely help you Learn As You Go!


Paper Ingredients – Make All The Difference

You can see immediate improvements when the change is made to 100% cotton paper  from the old ‘student cellulose’ papers.   I encourage students to see for themselves!

The Encouragement factor  of 100% cotton paper has for the absolute beginner is unbelievable.

Plus with Arches rough, you can paint on it front side and back side; rinse/scrub it off and start again!

It can take quite a lot of mishandling and can still look great. Not so much,  with cellulose non cotton ‘students’ papers.

I say this…. after decades, of trial and error. Money spent and labor lost!


Why is 100% cotton so much better?

Cellulose, wood pulp, practice “student” paper may be cheaper – but at a price.

It isn’t forgiving to the beginner, leaving rough streakiness, blotches, uneven tones that are extremely frustrating.

Liftability and ease of corrections is nearly zero.   Not beginner friendly, in my opinion…..

Thats why, I suggest Arches rough 100% cotton for all newbies. All those ‘just starting.’



Watermark – right side

Artist quality 100% cotton paper generally will have a watermark. See photo below of Arches Cold Press.

Hold the paper up to the light so that you can easily see the name illuminated the right way; if its in reverse, its the wrong side of the paper to paint on. Just turn it over.

Arches cold press
Arches Cold Press
3 Watercolour Paper Surfaces

Cold Press paper is mildly textured.

Its been considered the standard all rounder, general purpose paper.  Soft edges on Cold Press are easy to achieve, corrections and lifting paint off is easy as well.  Great for wet into wet techniques.


Hot Press paper is silky smooth, slick.

This paper is ideal for detailed work,  botanical, architectural & drawing styles.

Its hard smooth surface helps to provide the detail artist a fantastic strata to work on.

Hot Press makes colours more vibrant as they will sit on the surface of the dry paper quite well and not sink in. It isn’t the most absorbent paper,  so getting soft edges is more difficult.

Corrections, lifting paint off, is also much harder with Hot Press. For that reason, its generally not one I suggest for Beginners right off the bat.

Twinrocker Feather Deckle
Twinrocker Feather Deckle paper

Twinrocker Feather Deckle is a stunning two sided handmade 100% cotton paper  Hot Press  on one side Cold Press the other… ooh la la!


Different brands – have quite different looks and feel to them. With these brands’ surface variations, come variations in your painting results as well.

Rough Watercolour paper  is quite textured with pits and valleys in the paper.   Sensational  textural effects;  especially landscape subject matter can be created with Rough paper.  Dry brush is quite easy, as is wet in wet and corrections.


Personal favourite –  love Fabriano Rough!




Fabriano Rough is very rough, while Saunders Rough is much less so. Shizen rough paper is also a very rough dimpled paper.


Arches Hot Press is super slick smooth, whereas Saunders has slightly more ‘give’  and absorbency to it.

Paints can run and flow quite nicely.

abstract petals in blue watercolors,
abstract floral petals,


Masa paper has a moderate ‘tooth’ to it, just a slight roughness, which makes it ideal for me to use with watercolours, inks, gouache, collage and using a variety of robust techniques.

Masa paper….. so versatile!!

watercolor impressionist landscape, mountain in summer,
Watercolor A Mountain In Summer,

Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at and,

11 thoughts on “Choosing Watercolour Papers

  1. I have a question for you about stretching your watercolor paper….I have done it so many times in the past and then yesterday and well, it is a hoax! this so called stretching it to eliminate buckling paper? yeah….right. NOT for me. It buckles like a little bugger. I usually deal with it but I figured that since I am getting serious about this watercolor thing, I need to do the “proper” thing and stretch my paper. Am I doing something wrong? Anyhoo, I have asked Laura to get your email address if you don’t mind….or if you can answer my question here. What to do about buckling supposedly stretched paper….:)

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    1. I never stretch paper. period. I’d rather spend extra for heavy paper if I have to… than the tedious and Goldilocks, process of stretching. and the thing with stretching is if you leave one tiny little air bubble…. thats it!! it wrecks it. my time, and sanity, and Smile, zen…. is worth more. LOL

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      1. HA! I knew it! I don’t even want to deal with it ever again……so why does it buckle anyway? see, I think that someone thinks that if everyone is busy stretching and “doing” that they can make some good money off from the equipment to stretch their paper! lol I know, I am trying to throw in a conspiracy theory but geez, I have tried many times and it still buckles. So, I don’t even want to bother anymore. I will get the heavier paper from now on. Even the Saunders 200# never buckles on me……so happy to hear this because I am done with this stretching thing. Too much fuss and too much time spent and then to have it buckle on me anyway. Thank you! 🙂 You are the Zen Master….peace sister!

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      2. stretched paper will buckle if you miss air pockets, even teeny ones. and its not goldilocks flat. But, when done right(not me) its lovely to use. just not my cup of tea to do this. debi-zen or river friend. lol

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