Ideal Watercolor Paper Weight Guide – Find the Best

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 12 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

When it comes to creating beautiful watercolor paintings, choosing the right paper is essential. One important factor to consider is the weight of the watercolor paper. The weight of the paper affects its thickness and how it reacts to water and paint. Understanding the different ways paper weight is measured, such as pounds per ream and grams per square meter, can help you make an informed decision. Let’s explore everything you need to know about watercolor paper weight.

Key Takeaways:

  • The weight of watercolor paper determines its thickness and how it reacts to water and paint.
  • Lighter weight paper may buckle and warp when wet, while heavier weights are more resistant to warping.
  • The most commonly produced weights are 90 lb, 140 lb, and 300 lb, with 140 lb / 300 gsm being a versatile option.
  • Personal preference and painting style also play a role in choosing the ideal weight for your specific needs.
  • Watercolor paper quality, surface type, and format are additional factors to consider.

Understanding Watercolor Paper Weight

When it comes to watercolor paper, weight plays a crucial role in determining its thickness and overall performance. Understanding watercolor paper weight helps you make informed decisions about the type of paper that best suits your artistic needs.

Watercolor paper is available in various weights, ranging from light to heavy. Lighter weight paper, such as 90 lb, is more prone to buckling and warping when wet. This can be problematic for artists as it creates uneven surfaces and affects the final outcome of the artwork. To tackle this issue, artists often stretch lighter weight paper before painting on it.

On the other hand, heavier weights, like 300 lb, offer more stability and resistance to buckling and warping. They provide a sturdy surface that can handle multiple layers of paint and wet washes without compromising the integrity of the paper. However, keep in mind that heavier weight paper tends to be more expensive.

“Understanding the weight of watercolor paper allows you to choose a paper that will provide the best results for your painting technique.”

To achieve the best results, many artists prefer to use artist quality watercolor paper. Artist quality paper is often made using the traditional cylinder mould process, which ensures a uniform surface and high quality. This process is especially beneficial when producing heavier weights of watercolor paper.

By understanding watercolor paper weight, you can choose the right paper that suits your technique, prevents buckling and warping, and enhances the overall quality of your artwork.

Advantages of Lighter Weight Paper:

  • More affordable option
  • Easy to carry and work with
  • Suitable for sketching and dry media

Advantages of Heavier Weight Paper:

  • Provides stability and resistance to buckling
  • Can handle multiple layers of paint
  • Allows for wet-on-wet techniques and large washes

Measurement Units: Pounds and Grams

When it comes to measuring watercolor paper weight, there are two main units of measurement: pounds (lbs) and grams per square meter (gsm). The imperial system, commonly used in the United Kingdom, measures the weight of paper in pounds per ream. A ream consists of 500 sheets of paper. The weight mentioned on the paper label indicates the weight of 1 ream of imperial full-size sheets, which typically measure 22″ x 30″ inches.

However, it’s important to note that not all papers have the same basis size for a ream. This can result in variations in weight for different types of paper. To provide a more standardized measurement, the metric system uses grams per square meter (gsm) to measure paper weight. This system compares the weight of a single sheet of paper that measures 1 square meter. By using gsm, the variations caused by different basis sizes are eliminated, making it easier to compare weights between different types of paper.

Watercolor Paper Weight Conversions

Converting watercolor paper weights between the imperial and metric systems can be helpful in understanding the equivalent weights. Here are some common watercolor paper weight conversions:

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Imperial Metric
90 lb 190 gsm
140 lb 300 gsm
300 lb 638 gsm
400 lb 850 gsm

Understanding these conversions allows you to compare watercolor paper weights more easily. For example, if you are accustomed to using 140 lb paper, you now know that its metric equivalent is 300 gsm. This knowledge can help you when shopping for watercolor paper and selecting the appropriate weight for your artistic needs.

Choosing the Best Watercolor Paper Weight

The best watercolor paper weight is subjective and depends on your personal preference and painting style. However, many artists find that a weight of 140 lb / 300 gsm is a good balance between thin and thick paper.

This weight is often considered to be the medium option, providing stability and resistance to warping while still allowing for a variety of watercolor techniques. Lighter weight paper, such as 90 lb, is more suitable for sketching and dry media, while heavier weights, like 300 lb, are better suited for large washes and wet-on-wet techniques.

Ultimately, the best watercolor paper weight for you will depend on your specific needs and the type of painting you want to create.

Advantages of Different Watercolor Paper Weights

  • Thin paper (90 lb): Great for quick sketches and dry media.
  • Medium paper (140 lb): Balances stability and versatility, suitable for most watercolor techniques.
  • Thick paper (300 lb): Provides extra support for large washes and wet-on-wet techniques.

Experimenting with different paper weights can help you discover the one that works best for your artistic style and desired effects.

The Importance of Watercolor Paper Quality

Watercolor paper quality is crucial for achieving the best results in your paintings. High-quality watercolor papers are typically made from cotton fibers or a mixture of cotton and cellulose. Cotton papers, such as those from brands like Arches and Saunders Waterford, are considered to be the highest quality due to their strength, durability, and archival properties. Cellulose papers, which contain chemically treated wood fibers, are more economical but may not have the same level of performance.

The sizing in watercolor paper plays a significant role in keeping the water and pigment on the surface, allowing for blending and even drying. Good quality watercolor paper helps colors appear vibrant and ensures that your artwork stands the test of time.

When it comes to watercolor paper, cotton and cellulose are the two main types of materials used. While cotton papers are considered to be the gold standard, cellulose papers offer a more affordable option. It’s important to note that cotton papers tend to have a higher rag content, making them more durable and resistant to aging.

Cotton papers like Arches and Saunders Waterford are highly regarded in the watercolor community for their exceptional quality. These papers are made using pure cotton fibers, resulting in a strong, absorbent, and acid-free surface that allows for excellent color retention.

On the other hand, cellulose papers are made from wood pulp that has been chemically treated. While they may not have the same level of durability and longevity as cotton papers, they can still provide satisfactory results for artists on a budget.

In addition to the choice of materials, the sizing of watercolor paper is another crucial factor to consider. Sizing is a gelatinous substance that is applied to the surface of the paper to prevent the excessive absorption of paint and water. It helps to keep the pigment on the surface, allowing for better color control and blending. Without proper sizing, the colors may bleed and spread unevenly on the paper.

Paper Type Pros Cons
Cotton Durable, archival quality, vibrant colors Higher cost
Cellulose More affordable, suitable for practice Less durable, less archival

Cotton vs. Cellulose Papers

While both cotton and cellulose papers have their advantages and disadvantages, the choice ultimately depends on your specific needs, budget, and artistic goals. If you prioritize longevity, vibrancy of colors, and superior performance, investing in high-quality cotton papers is recommended. However, if you are just starting out, experimenting, or looking for a more affordable option, cellulose papers can still provide satisfactory results.

It’s important to note that not all cotton papers are created equal. Different brands and manufacturing processes can result in variations in quality, texture, and performance. It’s worth exploring different brands and experimenting with different papers to find the one that suits your personal style and preferences.

Remember, the quality of your watercolor paper can greatly impact the final outcome of your artwork. It’s worth investing in good quality paper to ensure that your colors appear vibrant, your brushstrokes blend smoothly, and your artwork stands the test of time.

Surface Types: Hot Press, Cold Press, and Rough

Watercolor paper surfaces come in different types, each with its own characteristics and textures. Understanding the different surface types is essential for choosing the right paper for your watercolor paintings. Let’s explore the three main surface types: hot press, cold press, and rough.

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Hot Press

Hot press watercolor paper has a smooth surface that is created by passing the paper through hot cylinders during the manufacturing process. The heat and pressure applied result in a paper with minimal texture and a refined finish. This surface type is ideal for artists who prefer detailed work and creating fine details in their paintings. The smoothness of hot press paper allows for precise brushwork and delicate techniques. If you enjoy painting intricate subjects or botanical illustrations, hot press watercolor paper is a great choice.

Cold Press

Cold press watercolor paper, also known as “not” paper, has a slight texture that falls between the smoothness of hot press and the roughness of rough paper. It offers a balanced surface that allows for controlled absorption of water and paint. This texture gives your paintings a more natural and organic look, as the slight tooth of the paper provides subtle variations in brushstrokes. Cold press paper is the most popular choice among watercolor artists due to its versatility. It is suitable for a wide range of techniques, from fluid washes to detailed work. If you prefer a surface that strikes a balance between smoothness and texture, cold press watercolor paper is the way to go.

Rough

Rough watercolor paper has a heavily textured surface that adds character and interest to your paintings. This surface type is achieved by the natural air-drying process during paper manufacturing, which results in a pronounced tooth or texture. The rough texture of the paper creates unique effects and enhances the appearance of landscapes, textured backgrounds, and expressive brushwork. It allows for more paint to sit on the surface, creating interesting pooling and granulation effects. If you enjoy working with a loose and expressive style or want to add texture to your artwork, rough watercolor paper is an excellent choice.

When selecting the surface type for your watercolor paintings, consider your personal preference and the desired effect you want to achieve. Whether it’s the smoothness of hot press, the balanced texture of cold press, or the pronounced tooth of rough, each surface type offers a distinct look and feel to your artwork.

Surface Type Texture Best For
Hot Press Smooth surface with minimal texture Detailed work, fine details, botanical illustrations
Cold Press Subtle texture for controlled absorption Versatile techniques, fluid washes, detailed work
Rough Heavily textured surface for unique effects Expressive brushwork, landscapes, textured backgrounds

Different Formats of Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is available in various formats to suit different preferences and needs. Whether you’re an artist on the go or working on a large-scale project, there’s a format that will meet your requirements.

Pads

Pads are a popular choice for artists who value convenience and portability. They consist of individual sheets of watercolor paper bound together with a spiral ring or glued at one end. Pads are lightweight, easy to carry around, and provide a flat working surface wherever you go.

Blocks

Watercolor blocks are similar to pads but offer an additional benefit. They have all four edges of the paper glued together, creating a sturdy block that prevents the paper from buckling and warping when wet. This unique design allows artists to paint directly on the block without the need for stretching the paper.

Sheets

Individual sheets of watercolor paper are sold in large sizes and provide the flexibility to cut the paper to your desired dimensions. Sheets are an excellent choice if you prefer working on a specific size or if you need custom-sized pieces for your projects. They offer versatility and the freedom to create artwork in various dimensions.

Rolls

Rolls of watercolor paper are ideal for artists who require custom sizes or are working on large-scale projects. These rolls allow you to cut the paper to your desired dimensions, providing flexibility and the ability to experiment with different sizes. Rolls are particularly useful when you need to create expansive washes or panoramic artworks.

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When choosing the right format for your watercolor paper, consider factors such as portability, convenience, and the desired painting size. Whether you opt for pads, blocks, sheets, or rolls, each format offers unique benefits to enhance your artistic process.

Conclusion

Choosing the best watercolor paper weight is a decision that depends on your personal preference, painting style, and project requirements. The weight of the paper plays a crucial role in determining its thickness and resistance to warping when exposed to water and paint. Many artists find that a weight of 140 lb / 300 gsm strikes a balance between thin and thick paper, making it a versatile option that can accommodate a variety of techniques without excessive warping.

However, it’s important to note that personal preference and painting style also come into play. Some artists may prefer lighter weight papers, such as 90 lb, for sketching or dry media applications. On the other hand, heavier weights like 300 lb may be more suitable for artists who work with large washes and wet-on-wet techniques. It’s all about finding the weight that works best for you.

In addition to weight, other factors such as paper quality, surface type, and format also contribute to the overall performance of watercolor paper. Choosing a high-quality paper made from cotton fibers or a cotton-cellulose blend can ensure durability and vibrant colors in your artwork. Consider the surface type—whether it’s hot press, cold press, or rough—based on the desired effect and texture you want to achieve. Lastly, select a format that suits your needs, whether it’s pads, blocks, sheets, or rolls.

Ultimately, the best watercolor paper weight is a matter of personal preference and experimentation. By trying out different weights, brands, and styles, you can discover the perfect fit for your artistic endeavors and create stunning watercolor paintings.

FAQ

What is the best weight for watercolor paper?

The best weight for watercolor paper is often considered to be 140 lb / 300 gsm, as it is not too thin and not too thick, making it suitable for a variety of painting techniques without excessive warping.

How does watercolor paper weight affect performance?

Watercolor paper weight refers to the thickness of the paper and has a significant impact on its performance. Lighter weight paper may buckle and warp when wet, while heavier weights are more resistant to warping.

How is watercolor paper weight measured?

Watercolor paper weight can be expressed in two different measurement units: pounds (lbs) and grams per square meter (gsm). The traditional British Imperial system measures weights in pounds per ream, while the metric system measures paper weight in grams per square meter (gsm).

What are some common watercolor paper weight conversions?

Here are some common watercolor paper weight conversions:– 90 lb = 190 gsm– 140 lb = 300 gsm– 300 lb = 640 gsm

What factors should I consider when choosing the best watercolor paper weight?

When choosing the best watercolor paper weight, consider factors such as your personal preference, painting style, and specific project requirements. Lighter weights are more suitable for sketching and dry media, while heavier weights are better suited for large washes and wet-on-wet techniques.

Why is watercolor paper quality important?

Watercolor paper quality is crucial for achieving the best results in your paintings. High-quality watercolor papers, often made from cotton fibers, provide strength, durability, and archival properties. The sizing in watercolor paper plays a significant role in keeping the water and pigment on the surface, allowing for blending and even drying.

What are the different surface types of watercolor paper?

Watercolor paper surfaces come in different types, including hot press (smooth surface), cold press (slight texture), and rough (heavily textured). Each surface type has its own characteristics and textures, which can create different effects in your paintings.

What are the different formats of watercolor paper?

Watercolor paper is available in various formats, including pads (individual sheets bound together), blocks (all four edges glued together), individual sheets (sold in large sizes), and rolls (for custom sizes or large-scale paintings). The choice of format depends on factors such as portability, convenience, and desired painting size.

What factors should I consider when selecting the best watercolor paper weight?

When selecting the best watercolor paper weight, consider factors such as personal preference, painting style, quality, surface type, and format. Experimenting with different weights and brands can help you discover the best fit for your artistic endeavors.