Thursday, March 26, 2015

What I Know about Watercolor Paper

After Sue C. asked about watercolor paper, I thought it would be pretty easy to write a post on the subject, but it's not been easy at all. This post might just confuse you with too much information. Sorry about that. If you don't care about watercolor paper, scroll to the bottom of the post to see today's cards.

1. You get what you pay for, and there's a reason good watercolor paper is expensive. For our purposes in paper crafting and card making, quality may or may not matter quite as much as it does for fine artists like my mother, who only uses Arches brand for her watercolor paintings. It really depends on what you're doing and how finicky you are.

I've used very fine, professional-grade watercolor paper, and it's shocking how much better it is than the student-grade stuff. If you want to start cheap, fine. But don't be surprised if pigments don't move well or paper starts to pill when worked too much. If results don't satisfy with the cheap stuff, upgrade.

2. Watercolor paper comes in different weights: 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb are the most common.

3. Watercolor paper comes in three different textures: rough, cold press, and hot press. Rough is, well, rough. Hot press is very smooth. Cold press is somewhere in between.  You'll get better stamp impressions (I find) with hot press. Paper from different manufacturers will vary, so don't expect a cold-press paper from one company to look the same as cold-press paper from another. Colors will vary as's amazing how many shades of white there are!

4. Watercolor sheets come in pads or individual sheets. You can find the single sheets (generally 22" x 30") in large paper racks or drawers at art supply stores or big box craft stores. Pads, which come in various sizes, are either spiral bound or glue bound, and you just tear a sheet out to use it. Pads are probably handier for most paper-crafters, but I usually prefer the individual sheets. You can try different brands/weights/finishes for less money that way, but they are difficult to store and cut unless you have a large cutting mat and large rulers.

5. To minimize buckling of the paper, buy a watercolor block instead of individual sheets. Blocks have sheets of watercolor paper bound together in a block with glue or rubber edging almost all the way around to create a rigid painting surface. I've used 140lb hot-press Arches blocks and been very pleased. Just let everything dry before removing the sheet from the block. There might be some buckling, but it's generally not too bad. To remove the dried sheet from the block, I use a butter knife and follow the instructions from Cheap Joe on this short video.

6. If you really want to use a lot of water without any buckling, get 300lb paper. It's really rigid. Because of the heavy weight, it's no good for folding into cards, but it's great for making single-panel cards.

7. You get what you pay for. Oh, yeah. I already said that. But it bears repeating. For stampers like myself, the expense of high-quality paper is occasionally justified. I bought 2 blocks of 9" x 12" Arches at Hobby Lobby when they were on sale years ago for about $17 each. I've used them both up, and when I went looking for more, I discovered Hobby Lobby isn't carrying the blocks anymore. Neither is Michael's. Bummer. Given how rarely I use these (the two blocks lasted me about 12 years!), I'm having a hard time justifying $38 on sale for a new block from Cheap Joe's.

8. I've met Joe of Cheap Joe's and he's a dear man. My mom takes classes at their North Carolina mountain studio every year. His company does good things for artists, too. I highly recommend them.

Now, are you thoroughly confused? Let me give you my bottom-line, best advice on watercolor paper:

  • Buy a little bit and play. If you have fun, buy some more. Experiment with different weights and textures and brands. Go in with friends to share pads or large sheets. If you're feeling really adventurous and also determined to prevent warping, watch this video on stretching paper and play around with that. Play, play, play. You'll make mistakes and that's okay. Just play. 


Finally, I present today's cards, which use completely random, unlabeled scraps of watercolor paper from my stash. All I know is that it isn't Arches, but it worked for these cards nevertheless.

These scraps were really rough (and I don't ever remember buying rough watercolor paper, so that's weird), and with some colors of the crayons, the pigment simply wouldn't spread no matter how much water I put down. I suspect the paper is cheap stuff 'cause the crayons aren't.

To get good impressions from the stamp, I inked it well with Memento Luxe pigment ink. Not all the panels stamped out well because of the rough texture of the paper, but I got four usable out of six, which isn't bad.

When the watercolor pieces were mostly dry, I put them between two sheets of waxed paper, then between two squares of good-one-side plywood, and then I put an eight-pound dumb-bell on top. The next day, I had mostly flat panels to put on cards.

Adding glue might have caused additional warping, and my tape runner wouldn't have held this together well at all. So after gluing the cards together, I put them under the weight to dry, and they came out just fine.

Whew, again.

I hope this post was useful and not too confusing. Feel free to leave questions in the comments, and I'll answer them as I can. Those of you who are fine artists and know more than I do...please feel free to weigh in!

stamps: Papertrey
ink: Memento Luxe 
paper: unknown watercolor, SU black, cool Caribbean, pretty in pink
accessories: watercolor crayons, paintbrush, glue


  1. My go to paper is 300 gsm Fabriano Artistico..Hot Press..wonderful stuff and costs a fortune but very necessary for calligraphy and I use it for watercolour for cards....just a panel on the front of a basic card.
    Have a blessed Easter.

  2. Susan, this is a very useful post and I enjoyed reading your information and opinions! I am just starting to try my hand at water coloring and have enjoyed it. Your cards are beautiful, as always! :)

  3. Your water colored backgrounds are so delicate and soothing. They nicely highlight the sentiments. Thanks for the paper info. I just use the inexpensive paper from Michael's as I don't water color much. I also have some from Tim Holtz, which I seem to be hoarding...

  4. Very useful information about watercolor papers. I did not know that hot press would be smoother than cold press. Something for me to keep in mind as far as my budget will allow. I don't watercolor much so the expense of very good paper is not worth it for me. But what I really want to comment on is: HOLY COW! YOU USED COLORED PAPER FOR CARD BASES! :-) I know it happens occasionally, but still; a little shocking! LOL :-)

  5. Just a couple of ideas...I use masking or painters tape to tape down all four sides of my watercolor paper before painting then let try completely. This really helps limit the warping. I then attach my water colored panel with tombow Extreme runner tape. It is very strong and will remove any warping that is left and will not come off. Hope this helps.

  6. Wow, so much to know! I have a couple of different pads from Michael's. just whatever happened to be on sale. I'm not even sure what the weight is? Probably 140. Anyway, one is definitely rougher than the other, but I sometimes flip it to the smooth side if I'm wanting to stamp something on it that is more detailed. It seems to absorb water just as well on that side. I have discovered that if you do get warping, ironing your panel between a couple of sheets of scrap copy paper does a lot to straighten it out.

  7. When shopping, I forget which is smooth and which is rough watercolor paper, and I can't usually feel much difference with the touch test. I decided that cold press is COLD and gives you GOOSE BUMPS. Hot press is HOT and makes you sweat so your skin feels SMOOTH. I use hot press for coloring stamps with water color pencils.

    And off the subject, I thought of you Susan, when I saw a stamp that said

    Lets eat Grandma.
    Let’s eat, Grandma.
    Commas save lives.

  8. I love both of your cards, so peaceful looking! It isn't easy for me to get watercolour paper where I live and as you have said, it is very expensive. So I tend to stretch cartridge paper, which is a decent drawing paper, but I use a quicker and different technique than the video link.I prepare everything first, 4 strips of brown gummed tape, a clean sponge, clean towel and board. With the board laid over the bath I soak my paper under the bath tap and lay it quickly flat onto my board. I then dampen one long strip of gummed tape with my sponge and tape down my paper on one side, repeating on the opposite side and then the other two sides. NOTE: you can skip the tape and use drawing pins, (thumb tack) instead. I use the clean towel to dab off excess water and leave the paper to dry. You can speed this up by using a hair-dryer but I prefer to let it dry naturally. Drawing paper is smooth, lightweight and much cheaper than watercolour paper but obviously it isn't the same as a good quality watercolour paper.

  9. I use watercolor paper all the time but never really knew the difference other than the weight.Thanks for making it simple to understand.

  10. Good advice on watercolour papers, Susan! I've tried all types of paper and I've decided that I will ALWAYS pay extra for the good quality, heavy paper. I have also discovered it is worth spending a bit extra on the paint, too. I use Derwent Inktense or Winsor & Newton Cotman when I actually want to use real watercolour vs my stamping inks, depending on the effect I want. I haven't tried paper blocks yet, but I'm so tempted. The cost is huge, though, so they're still sitting on my wishlist. :-)


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!