Why paper is the most important thing in Watecolor

Feb 21, 2023

When it comes to choosing the art supplies for watercolor painting, we usually think about choosing the paint first. But before spending a lot of money on premium watercolor paint sets, let’s talk about the paper. I think the paper is the number one thing you should invest in if you’re serious about your passion for watercolor. Stick with me, and I will explain to you why! 

First, let’s see what kind of watercolor papers are available. There are three main options: cellulose paper, cotton paper, and mixed paper (cellulose + cotton). In terms of quality, the best paper is made of 100 % cotton. Your paper’s quality will impact your artwork, especially if you want to achieve a realistic result. Cotton paper is made of cotton fiber and compared to cellulose paper is much more resistant and allows you to create a lot of watercolor layers or even remove some paint from the paper surface without damaging your paper. This is especially important if you want to create realistic and highly detailed paintings.

A pack of good cotton watercolor paper is an investment, especially if you’re just starting out as an artist. If this is your case, consider buying some inexpensive cellulose watercolor paper for regular daily practice first. The fear of wasting an expensive sheet of paper may put too much pressure and create unnecessary stress. And we don’t want that because you need to be relaxed when you paint!:) Practice on less expensive paper in the beginning and when you feel a bit more comfortable, upgrade it to a more high-quality paper.

If you’re an intermediate artist, consider using an inexpensive block for daily sketching and creative experiments and then use high-quality paper for the finished artworks. 

If you’re more advanced, consider using the same method as for the intermediate artists or switch completely to high-quality cotton paper for all your work if you have the budget. 

By inexpensive paper, I mean cellulose watercolor paper that can be purchased in sheets or blocks. There are a lot of brands out there, I usually use Canson 300 gsm cellulose watercolor paper. You can find a similar products from other brands too. Watercolor paper is available in different grains (or textures like “fin” or “torchon”), I suggest choosing “fin” if you want to create detailed and realistic paintings. 

 After over 10 years of trial and error, I found my perfect watercolor paper: Arches 100% cotton, 300 grams or more (grams means the thickness of paper) with a satin finish. Satin paper is very smooth, that's why it allows you to create even tiny details without being bothered by the texture of the paper. This paper exists in blocks, or you can buy single sheets, which might be less expensive. 

 My second choice: Fabriano Artistico, 100% cotton, 300 gsm or more, satin finish.  It is a lovely paper, but the only inconvenience of it is that if you want to lift off some paint from this paper, it will be very difficult or even impossible. For example, if you’ve accidentally colored a highlight or made a mistake and want to remove the paint from that area, it will not let you do it as Arches does. 

If you can’t find these brands online or in your area, you can try other brands, and maybe you will find your favorite paper! Try to buy paper by sheets or request some paper samples. This way, you can try different paper types without spending a lot of money on expensive paper blocks that you may not like. 

 I hope this was helpful and that you will find your favorite paper brand very soon! If you have other brand suggestions or other considerations, please leave them in the comments, I would love to hear from you! 

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