Watercolor Paper – The Many Types

By Nicole Tinkham

As a beginner watercolor artist, your main concern is probably getting the correct type paints and brushes. While these are important and come in a variety of different choices, it’s also important to consider your paper options in the same manor. The material in which you paint on can make or break your painting and when it comes to watercolor, the paper options are endless. You’ve got hot press, cold press, rough, pads, blocks, 140lb, 300lb, etc. When it comes down to it, there’s no “correct” paper to use – it’s all about personal preference. Here we will discuss the different watercolor paper options available so you can make an informed purchase decision (and become a paper expert).

How do they come?

There are three main ways in which watercolor paper comes: individual sheets, in a pad, and by the block. Purchasing by the sheet can save you money but pads and blocks have their advantages as well.

By the sheet


Watercolor paper can be purchased by the sheet (we recommend Arches). These sheets are often 30” x 40” but can easily be cut down. If you have a lighter pound paper (like 140lb) it can be folded and torn down to the correct size. Otherwise, you can cut it down with a blade.

In a pad

Watercolor pads come in various sizes with several sheets that can easily be torn out. These are great for traveling plus you can keep all of your paintings together in one book.

By the block

A watercolor block is similar to a pad in that it has multiple sheets. However, the blocks are glued on every side with a sturdy base that allows you to use it as your drawing board.


There are different weights and thicknesses of watercolor paper, commonly measured in pounds and occasionally by gsm (grams per square meter). You will often see the following watercolor paper weights:

  • 90lb
    This is the lightest paper of the three and will be less expensive. However, if you are a beginner this weight could cause you more trouble. With heavy washes, this weight paper would have to be stretched so hold off on this one until you are comfortable with stretching the paper every time.
  • 140lb
    The 140lb and 300lb papers are the most common weights when it comes to watercolor paper. The 140lb paper is not as heavy as the 300lb but still does not require stretching prior to painting.
  • 300lb
    This heavy watercolor paper has many bonuses when it comes to durability. It can withstand the removal of color and reworking, plus it doesn’t need to be stretched prior to painting. The 300lb and 140lb papers are highly recommended but it’s left up to you to decide which to use.


You may notice that no matter the weight, the texture of watercolor paper varies. This is due to different types of rollers the paper is put through. For example, hot pressed paper is very smooth because it’s put through a metal roller. Why does texture matter? Texture allows the paint to settle on the paper in different ways providing a different look depending on which you use (hot pressed, cold pressed, or rough).  Just another thing to keep in mind when shopping!

  • Hot pressed
    This will give you a smooth surface perfect for details and pen work!
  • Cold pressed
    With moderate texture, cold pressed watercolor paper is the most commonly used. It’s great for both beginners and professionals.
  • Rough
    Rough watercolor paper will give you the most texture. This paper is perfect if you want to run your paintbrush over the painting very lightly. You will tend to get a white speckled look.

The best way to determine your favorite type of watercolor paper is to try a few out and see which one you prefer! Of course our art department is always here to help with their expert suggestions so feel free to stop in, give us a call (941-747-2995), or ask a question in the comment box below! And don’t forget to follow our blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Pinterest!

Fun fact: Watercolor paper is not exactly the same on both sides. To identify the front, hold the paper up to a light to see if the watermark reads the correct way. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using the back if that’s what you prefer!

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