When you’re working with watercolor, the type of paper you use is just as crucial as the paint. Watercolor paper is designed to handle the special pigments and properties of watercolor paints. It absorbs less water (preventing your colors from bleeding into a muddy mess) and is less likely to warp or fray.
There are many different kinds of watercolor paper, which will produce different effects and textures. Here’s a simple guide for beginners.
Hot press vs. cold press watercolor paper
Hot-press watercolor paper is smooth, with a very fine grain. It is fantastic for artists who want to make very large and even ‘washes.’ But
for those who prefer more textured effects, try the ‘toothier’ cold-press watercolor paper.
Weight of watercolor paper
You will hear many artists talk about the ‘weight’ of the paper. Actually they mean the thickness, which is typically measured in gsm (grams per square meter) or lb (pounds per ream).
You can pick from 190 gsm (90 lb), 300 gsm (140 lb), 356 gsm (260 lb) and
638 gsm (300 lb). The thicker the paper, the better. If you use any paper that weighs less than 356 gsm (260 lb) it’s important to stretch the paper to avoid warping. Many artists will first wet the paper then tape it on a board, then allow the paper to dry.
You can buy watercolor paper in blocks. However, the lighter weights tend to warp or bulge, so if the blocks are bound on all sides of the paper, run a cutter through the binding and leave just one side connected to the pad.
Sizing of watercolor paper
Sizing refers to how much water your paper can absorb. The higher the sizing, the longer the watercolor ‘sits’ on the surface. On the one hand, it allows you to rework your paint—lifting off excess, or adding another layer of pigment On the other hand, too much sizing makes it difficult to work the paint at all since the paper ‘resists’ the brush strokes. You’ll also see the water bead up on the surface.
That’s why it’s important to know the particular sizing of any paper you’re using. If you’re trying out a new brand, try your paints on a small corner. If you observe too much sizing, take a clean, damp sponge and wet the surface of the paper. Allow it to air dry before painting on it.
Watercolor can also be used for stamping, especially if you want to use watercolor crayons on wooden stamps.