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How to Choose the Right Kind of Watercolour Papers?

How to Choose the Right Kind of Watercolour Papers?

How to choose the right kind of Watercolour papers? 

Paper manufacturing began during the first century BCE in China. That is when the technique for producing paper from hemp fibres started to standardize. The initial true sheets of papers were seen to be experimental papers made from bark, hemp, rag, or fishnet pulp by the Chinese court eunuch Ts'ai Lun in 105 CE. Later in the 8th century CE, this technology migrated along the Asian silk routes to Samarkand and Arab northern Africa shortly after. Before papermaking entered Moorish Spain in 1036, the Arabs developed the wire mold and standard paper sizes. Later, paper mills were established in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and England.

Paper is literally the ‘life’ of any beautiful masterpieces. And with watercolours being an ‘alive’ medium, it becomes even more essential to choose just the right kind of watercolour paper. Watercolours act according to how it is used in multitudes of various ways. Perhaps the greatest variety in the conduct of watercolour is really not because of watercolour itself, but the surface on which it is applied. The watercolour paper is one of the crucial elements of the big puzzle. If you are painting with aquarelle you should learn about various sorts of paper, with the goal that you can pick the best paper that is appropriate for your style or for a specific piece. And that’s exactly what we are going to talk about in this blog.

The Materials Used to Manufacture Watercolour Paper 

Watercolour Paper is a unique kind of paper made of cellulose, which is the substance that genus tree bark, and plant species use to produce their leaves and stems. The cellulose can be obtained from other fiber sources, but today we will explore the 2 most common fibers used for watercolour paper.

The most popular watercolour papers are produced from the cellulose extracted from cotton and wood pulp. Cotton is much stronger than wood pulp, and pH neutral as well, which means it is typically acid-free.

Wood pulp isn't as tough as cotton and is likewise acidic. The wood pulp must be chemically prepared during the assembling procedure to make the paper acid free. In case you ask what does acid-free entail, it’s nothing but pH-scale neutrality. Residual acid can cause the paper to go yellow and brittle with age. So, consider buying watercolour papers that are acid-free to prevent deterioration. Watercolour paper with more cotton content has better quality and corrosive free properties. At King’s Framing & Art Gallery, you can find a wide range of watercolour papers with 100% cotton content. 

We will explore two types of watercolour papers available in the market:

  1. Student Grade Watercolour paper which may contain a percentage or combination of straight pulp or may not be acid-free, and is cheaper.
  2. Artist Grade Watercolour paper is usually acid-free and can be a bit expensive due to the quality of the paper, containing 100% cotton or rag fibers and processing measures.

How is Watercolour Paper manufactured? 

Singular cellulose strands are isolated by beating and swishing the pulp in a chemical blend of boiling water making the fibers malleable and separating the lignin, a glue-like substance that binds the paper, but becomes acidic. Wood pulp cellulose extraction usually involves cooking the wood chips in a bath of various chemicals like acid (sulfite) or alkaline (sulfate), which liquifies the lignin so that it can be rinsed out, rendering the paper acid free. Look for a pH neutral scale is around 7.5. The amalgamated chemical concoction may comprise of bleaches, dyes, and fillers such as chalk, clay, or titanium oxide, and sizing’s such as rosin, gum, and starch. 

When the fibers are totally pulverised, the batch is moved into a Vat and a diversity of chemical and sizing formulas are utilised by individual manufacturers of specialty papers, depending on the subsequent use of the paper. The sizing modifies the way the paper will react with various applications of wet media. A sizing such as starch or gelatin makes the paper resistant to water-based media that needs to sit on top of the paper like watercolours. Without any sizing at all, a paper will be too absorbent and bleed for most uses except in special effects, printmaking and Chinese techniques or ink blotting paper.

Handmade or mould made papers, the fibers are spread on a frame by hand and called couching, the thin sheet of pulp is flipped onto a moist felt and sandwich or blotted, and then hung to air dry or piled up to 80 sheets with a board adding pressure on top keeping the papers flat, or mechanically pressed. The variety of the textured papers is due to the random direction of the fibres and underwired mesh screens used in the process.

Whereas the machine-made paper has a uniform surface since the fibres are aligned in one direction and fed into the Fourdrinier machine and squeezed through a fine mesh screening with a series of rollers. Watermark, a dandy is used to emboss a logo motif into the paper, and then may be pressed between rollers of wool felt, and subsequently passes over a series of steam-heated cylinders (calendar rollers) to complete the final drying process for hot press watercolour paper.

If the paper is made with a cylindrical mould, you’ll notice a difference in its thickness that will be greater than paper produced by machine, yet less than paper made by hand. Generally, as a rule, the hand-made paper would have deckled edges on every one of the four sides, the mould-made paper would have it on two sides, and machine-made paper would have none.

More often than not the machine-made paper is sold as student quality paper, while the mould made and hand made assortments are sold as artist grade paper.

Sizing the Paper:

After the paper is dry, it is treated with Sizing. Sizing is intended to slightly retard paper's water absorbency or porosity. The watercolour paint does not absorb in the same way as any other cheap quality paper. The paint should sit on the surface for a while before drying and slowly soaking in.

Sizing provides time to work the paint if changes need to be made. Sizing may be "Internal" or "Surface" or both internal and external sizing is applied. Upon moulding, as the terms mean surface sizing is applied to the paper sheet, while internal sizing is added to the fiber pulp while they are still in the mould. Paper that has both sizing added will stand better to abuse, like wet on wet and scrubbing techniques.

In Asia, paper manufacturers used various kinds of starch to do sizing. The Arabs used to surface with wheat flour, wheat starch, a mix of starch and chalk, and varnished to produce a shiny surface. Spanish papers as influenced by Arabic style, were coated with thick starch. Thereafter, Europe in 1276 started using gelatin to surface size their paper. It was often used with preservatives or additives like alum in a high concentration. This helped stabilize size viscosity, increased resistance to inks, and prevented gelatin solution from spoilage.

In current times, Methylcellulose and alkyl ketene dimer (AKD) are some of the popular choices of papermakers since they are stable, easy to get, cheap and resist vermin.

A few key advantages of sizing the paper are: 

  • It prevents fibers from breaking down due to oxidation. 
  • It adds adhesive qualities 
  • It provides strength to the paper

How does the Weight & Size of Watercolour paper make any difference? 

Here are some of the most utilized guidelines to determine the size of watercolour papers.


Size in Inches

Full imperial

22 x 30

Half Imperial

15 x 22

Quarter imperial

11 x 15

Elephant (USA)

27.75 x 40

Double Elephant (USA)

29 x 41

Double Elephant (UK)

27 x 40

Emperor (USA)

40 x 60


Denser watercolour papers can withstand unpleasant use, clasping and twisting because of the impact of water. Henceforth watercolour paper is likewise determined by its thickness utilizing a term called Grams for each Square Meter or GSM. It is characterized as the heaviness of a 1 x 1-meter paper in grams. Now and then you may run over another term called pound per ream or just lb. This is characterized as the weight in a pound of 500 sheets of full imperial size. The Arches Watercolour Sheets & Fabriano Artistico Watercolour Sheets is a beautiful watercolour paper, mould made, high archival and double sizing (internal and external) that can take abuse at an affordable rate. White in colour and has an ideal 140lbs/300gsm or 300lbs/640gsm weight.

Here is a portion of the normally utilized watercolour paper as indicated by their GSM particular.

Relative weight


Pounds per Ream





Used for large works. Does not need stretching.




Used for small to medium size works. May need stretching.




Used for small size works. It needs stretching.


Surface Finish of Watercolour Paper

This is the most fascinating component of watercolour paper and this is going to assume the greatest job as a result of your watercolour works. When the mould-made watercolour paper has dried, it is either squeezed through a press or a roller. Contingent upon the surface of this press or roller the paper gets its surface. In the hand made type, the paper is left to dry all alone and the surface is shaped as a result of the common variety of the cellulose as it dries. 

There are three sorts of surfaces that you get in the stores. The paper is called 'Rough' with maximum surface roughness or texture. This is commonly rolled or squeezed between a felt material from where the surface of the paper is determined. The paper with a smooth surface is called 'Hot Pressed'. Paper is squeezed between smooth plates when the plate is hot. Thus, the name Hot squeezed. Furthermore, the one having roughness in the middle of these two is called 'Cold Pressed' (called 'Not' in the UK). This is squeezed utilizing a mechanical press with better grains or moved with a roller secured with felt material of better surface than what is utilized to dry Rough paper. Here is a correlation table indicating the distinction of these surfaces from the paint application perspective.


Surface Finish



  • Highly absorbent. 
  • Even watercolour wash as surface gathers aquarelle pigments. 
  • Works best for dry brush practice. 
  • Not good for corrections and lifting. 
  • Best suited for aggressive techniques. 
  • Not for highly detailed work since the surface texture prevents you from painting the correct form. 
  • Suits all painting consistencies.

Cold Pressed

  • Medium absorbency. 
  • Good for washes as rough paper. 
  • The dry brush technique works to a certain limit. 
  • Limited Lifting and corrections can be done. 
  • Can take the majority of aggressive brush technique. 
  • Detailed work can be done. 
  • Works well with all consistencies. 

Hot Pressed

  • Least absorbent. 
  • Uneven washes, but gives a great juicy look. 
  • Not good for dry brush technique. 
  • Best for lifting and corrections. 
  • Light and delicate brushwork. 
  • Best for highly detailed work. 
  • Does not support undiluted paint. 

The Montval Watercolour Paper is the best cold-pressed French paper that performs beautifully with all wet media.  Its surface withstands scraping, erasing, and repeated washes.

The Fabriano Artistico Traditional White Watercolour Blocks are made from 100% cotton, are double-sized and are acid-free. They are available in cold-press and hot-press surface finishes.

Not to miss the amazing Winsor & Newton Classic Watercolour Cold Press Pads. This watercolour paper will not warp or cockle even when saturated with large volumes of water.

Arches watercolour paper is known as your workhorse, the best of the best in the industry, it can take excessive use. Can’t beat Arches Watercolour Blocks: This 100% cotton watercolour paper has been the benchmark and standard that all other watercolour papers rival.

Watercolour Paper Formats: 

You can buy loose, individual sheets, pads, rolls, or blocks of watercolour papers at King’s Framing & Art Gallery. 

Watercolour Sheets: A regular imperial sheet is 22 x 30 in (56 x 76 cm) (this is marginally smaller than A1) Perfect if you want to make large drawings, or if you want to cut the paper down to a limited scale. Know, aim for 300 gsm or heavier paper before you paint on it, something lighter would need to be stretched! The Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Papers have wood-free fibres ensure the paper is 100% acid free, increasing the longevity of your paintings.

Watercolour pads are great to work or practice on every day. The paper is glued together on one edge, and it is easy to peel away and remove individual sheets. When buying a pad-make sure it is acid-free. The Fabriano Aquarelle Studio Watercolour Pads feels like a professional-grade paper priced for students or beginners. Machine-made in Italy from 25% cotton and 75% alpha cellulose, the sheets have an improved cotton content, combined with professional internal/external sizing and slower production speeds, resulting in a surface that feels like 100% cotton rag, at a value price.

Watercolour blocks: Several sheets of watercolour blocks have been glued together on all four edges. The idea is to paint on the top sheet and you use a palette knife to slice gently through the glue and remove the top layer, leaving a new sheet underneath. The Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Blocks a collection of pre-stretched watercolour sheets that are acid-free. Blocks hold 20 sheets. 140 lb (300 gsm).

Watercolour boards are fundamentally a set of watercolour sheets that have been stuck to a mount board and are another extraordinary method to evade the issue of stretching paper. Simply ensure you search for archival paper/sheets with the goal that your work of art keeps going! Look at the Ampersand Aquabord Panels for watercolour and gouache, acid-free textured clay surface that absorbs watercolours like a fine paper. Colours retain their purity and vibrancy in a way that even the finest of watercolour papers can't match. Fredrix Archival Watercolour Canvas Boards that is a revolutionary new watercolour surface made of 100% cotton perfect to carry your next masterpiece that is in your head!

It’s decision time! Shop a variety of watercolour papers at King’s Framing & Art Gallery at amazing discounts as we celebrate our 12th anniversary! 

Keep in mind, pay special attention to the paperweight, size, colour, and surface texture. Consider the sort of painting you need to do and which kind of paper will add to the overall impact of your completed piece.

We hope we made choosing the right kind of watercolour paper easy for you! 

Happy watercolour month! Happy heART to you! 

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