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Understanding the Differences in Watercolour Paper – Art Academy Direct
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Understanding the Differences in Watercolour Paper


There are so many options when it comes to choosing the right watercolour papers for you. Hot pressed, cold pressed, smooth, rough...etc. What do these all mean? 

How is Watercolour Paper Made?

Watercolour colour is primed with a hard size, made of gelatine, on the top of the paper, which allows the water the penetrate, while the pigment remains on the surface. This also helps you make corrections if needed. The paper is sometimes also internally sized, meaning the gelatine and water mixtures is mixed with the paper pulp. This guarantees that if the surface is no longer intact due to scratching of scrubbing, the absorbency of the paper is not effected. Usually when purchasing high-end paper, it is size internally and externally.

The different textures of paper available are: Hot Pressed, Cold Pressed and Rough. Paper weight is either measured in grams per square metre or by lbs per ream. The weight of the papers usually range between 90 lb to 400lb. If calculating in GSM the range is between 243 gsm to 850 gsm. The most common watercolour paper found is 300 gsm, however the higher the better the paper handles the water.

Papers can also vary in whiteness, from bright white to creamy off-white. A paper that is called extra white still cannot be described as being bright white, however are whiter than other watercolour papers. If a paper is actually very white, this is achieved by adding bleach to the paper and titanium dioxide pigment. Some lower cost papers add optical brightening agents, which when exposed to light, turn yellow.

Here's a basic guide on the different kinds of watercolour paper textures:

Image of Hahnemuhel watercolour papers with different the different textures. Starting from the top it shows rough, cold pressed and hot pressed. 


Hot Pressed Paper

Hot pressed paper is a smooth paper, which is favoured by artists who enjoy painting intricate details. The paper is smooth as the paper is pressed between 2 hot metal rollers.

Cold Pressed Paper

Cold Pressed Paper is also known as 'Not'. The paper has a slight tooth to it, which allow the paint to sink into the texture a little while allowing some detail in the work.

Rough Surface Paper

This is the roughest form you paper you can find as it pressed between textured sheets while being dried. The rough texture allows any effects to become enhanced, therefore it is ideal for more expressive and less detailed paintings.

What Formats can you find to buy Watercolour Paper?

  • Glued Pads - This type is glued only on one size.
  • Block Pads - This type is glued on all 4 sides, usually have a small break in the binding. This allows you to insert a palette knife and slice the page away, once you're finished with your painting. This is a practice form as you don't need to stretch your paper prior to painting. While painting, the paper may buckle as it absorbs more water while you work on it. However once the water evaporated, the binding holds the paper in place, allowing it to dry flat and it returns to the original position.
  • Single Loose Sheets - These are often available for larger sizes. The larger the size, the more susceptible to cockling, depending on the amount of water used.

What does 100% Cotton Paper mean?

Paper made of 100% cotton means that the fibres that make up the paper, are longer and more durable than wood-free cellulose fibres. If the paper is scrubbed and saturated with water, you have a guarantee that the paper will not be damaged. 100% cotton rag is considered the best quality paper, compared to wood-free paper and bamboo paper.

What is Watercolour Ground?

This ground can be applied to any absorbent or semi-absorbent surface, and you can paint with your watercolours. This means, you can apply the ground on wood, canvas, fabric etc, which will act the same way as your paper. Some grounds can create a smooth texture and some can create more texture. For example, QoR Watercolour Ground can be applied smoothly, while the QoR Cold Press Ground creates a unique rough texture, and looks and feels like handmade paper. You can also create texture with the QoR Light Dimentional Ground