Navigating the different types and brands of watercolour paper is no easy task, and it’s important to find the one that’s best for you. The choice depends on many different factors. If you’re on a budget you may choose not to paint on a specialist watercolour paper at all. The results won’t be the best, but you’ll still be able to practice and develop your technique. If you’re still new to the medium, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s also good to practice your painting on a quality paper to compare to an ordinary paper. The differences can be stark, somewhat like driving an ordinary car, compared to a high end luxury model.
When starting out, you might want to try a bit of both. Most people quickly decide to use a quality paper, in order to produce finished works of art. There’s always the chance that you’ll produce an amazing piece of work that someone will want to buy or keep. On an average piece of paper it isn’t going to stand the test of time. If you’re painting on ordinary paper, it’s best to use one that’s acid free, so that you later won’t have to watch your work turn an aged yellow, from a once pristine white.
If you do decide to use watercolour paper, you’ll also need to choose which size, texture, and weight to purchase, and of course decide on a brand. The brand is mainly a personal preference, although there are some quality differences as well. Some of the brands to consider are Arches, Saunders Waterford, and Strathmore.
Papers can be found in many different shapes and sizes. You can buy in a roll, sheet, pad, or block. Blocks are an excellent choice for outdoor use as they’re ready for painting, and quite portable. If you paint in large sizes a roll or sheet will most likely be the best option.
300gsm is generally a good weight for most applications, unless you paint with a lot of water. If this is the case you might want to opt for a heavier weight like 640gsm that will stand up to repeated soakings without warping. 300gsm will take a fair amount of water, so generally it’s fine to use this one. If you can afford it, it’s good to have a variety of papers on hand for different applications. Hot pressed papers work well for detailed work, and have a very smooth finish. If you like painting subjects such as food, still life, plants and small animals hot pressed paper should be to your liking. They can also work well for different styles of architectural and landscape painting depending on your style. There are watercolour papers of less than 300gsm, but these will need to be stretched to prevent warping.
Cold pressed or NOT paper is basically a paper of medium texture. The NOT means that it’s not hot pressed..one of those interesting naming conventions. Medium paper works well for most applications, and as it has a bit of texture, and looks good with washes, but isn’t so rough that you can’t clearly define detailed areas. If you have a looser painting style or mainly paint washes you can use a rough paper. If you like to paint outdoors or plein air, another excellent investment can be to have a watercolour sketch book on hand like the one below. You’ll never miss an opportunity to capture the moment with paint!