by Nicole Hansen, Education Director
Artist-grade paper is made of 100% cotton, which makes it strong and pliable. This paper is best for artworks that are intended to be permanent, entered into exhibitions, or if you plan to scrub and scrape the paper frequently.
Student-grade watercolor paper is made from wood pulp or a combination of fibers. This paper is suitable for practice or beginners, but artist-grade paper responds differently to water and paint. If your goal is to create professional work, practicing on artist-grade paper will be necessary as well.
Hot pressed paper is the smoothest. It has a smooth, hard surface and is good for fine detail and reproduction. Some artists find it slippery and hard to control the paint.
Cold pressed paper is medium textured. It can be used for a variety of styles and is often considered the most versatile and popular.
Rough paper is the most textured of the three papers. Grains from granulated paints get stuck in the pits, which adds depth and interest, but can be challenging to remove.
The most common watercolor paper weights are 140lb (300 g/m2) and 300lb (638 g/m2). The heavier weight can hold more water but is more costly. The lighter weight holds less moisture and may buckle if it’s not stretched correctly, but its lower cost is a preferred choice for practice.
“Why” an artist might choose to use one paper over another is extremely individualized based on creative goals. The above can guide the technical choices, and the following tests may help with the decision:
Erasing: Erasing can cause damage to watercolor paper. If you sketch in graphite or other materials try sketching, erasing and then painting a wash over the paper to determine if the erasure marks can be seen after the watercolor paint is dry.
Smooth Washes: Many artists require smooth washes. Artist-grade paper is more likely to create a smooth wash, as student grade papers may create streaky washes. Try creating washes on your paper before creating an artwork.
Wet or Dry Lifting: The ability to lift color is an important part of watercolor artwork. Paint two areas. Allow one to dry. A clean, damp brush or soft rag can immediately lift wet watercolor. A clean, damp brush wiped six-eight times over a dry area should also lift color from a dry area.
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