When starting out in watercolours you may find the different types of watercolour papers and the various terminology confusing. We have selected some of the most popular papers for beginners below, they are all good quality - but more economical when you are just starting out. Our practice paper is an excellent starting point, the paper will allow you to paint freely and try things out, without worrying about the cost of each sheet! We also have some starter packs of paper, which allow you to try out a number of different types of watercolour papers, without committing to buying a whole pack of one type.
For more information on choosing watercolour paper, read our blog.
These terms refer to the surface texture of the paper.
HP stands for Hot Pressed and is the smoothest watercolour paper available. It is good for painting fine details.
NOT or 'Cold Pressed' paper has a medium surface texture and is suitable for a whole range of techniques.
Rough paper has the most textured surface which allows the pigment to sit in the pits of the paper and is a good choice for loose or expressionist styles.
The type of surface you choose to paint on will depend mostly on personal preference and the types of techniques you wish to employ in your paintings, but a NOT surface is a favourite for beginners.
In general, watercolour papers are made from one of two materials; cotton or wood pulp. 100% cotton papers are professional quality, and are considered to offer the very best painting surface. Cotton gives incomparable stability and ensures that you work will stand the test of time. Wood pulp (also known as woodfree) paper is made using a chemically treated pulp with lignin removed. This paper is an inexpensive alternative to cotton paper and is a good choice for amateurs and beginners.
Paper is usually measured in pounds lb or grams per squre metre (gsm). The heavier the weight of the paper, the wetter it can get without the paper buckling. However, heavy weight paper is much more expensive than lighter weight paper. Generally, paper under 200lb will require stretching to prefent it from buckling when painting on it.
If you haven't stretched your watercolour paper or haven't stretched it effectively, you will notice that the paper buckles (or cockles) with the application of water. This is particularly noticeable in lighter weight papers; weights above 200lb should not need stretching.
If water is applied to un-stretched watercolour paper it will cockle. This is because the water on the paper will cause the paper fibres to expand slightly. Areas that are dry will not expand. The paper moves and buckles to counteract the expansion of the wet areas, causing unsightly wells and troughs in your finished painting. If you continue to paint on the cockled paper you will notice that the paint settles into the wells, leaving uneven washes.
The length of time you should soak your watercolour paper will depend on the weight of the paper. We would recommend that 90lb the paper should be left for 3 minutes, 140lb the paper should be left for 8 minutes and for heavy papers like 300lb, the paper should be left for 20 minutes.
The main difference between a Watercolour Paper Pad and a Watercolour Paper Block is that a Pad will only be gummed or bound at one edge. A Block, on the other hand, is glued along all four edges; this eliminates the need for stretching your paper if only moderate amounts of water are being used. Using a block should not be considered a substitute for stretching however, as if particularly wet washes are being used the paper will still be likely to cockle.
It is generally accepted that the correct side of the watercolour paper to paint on is the side from which the watermark is legible. For example, if you are using Saunders Waterford paper, the correct side would be the side on which the 'Saunders Waterford' Watermark is displayed the right way round. This side will be the 'Felt Side' and should noticeably have more texture. You will notice that the reverse side will have less texture, as this side will have been in contact with the mesh of the cylinder mould.