The Best Hot-Press Watercolor Blocks for Portrait Painting

Of the three main types of watercolor paper, hot-press paper is the smoothest. This makes it a popular choice of portraitists and other artists who use precise details in their work, even though it takes some practice to get used to. Plein air painters, and anyone who enjoys the convenience of a pre-secured surface, often choose watercolor blocks: pads of paper that are glued on two or all four sides to present a surface that won’t slip or buckle. If a hot-press block sounds good to you, read on for our top recommendations.

Arches Watercolor Blocks
Chances are, if you ask a watercolorist what his or her favorite paper is, the answer will be Arches. The selection, quality, and consistency of this brand are impressive enough to take artists from beginner to professional level. Although you pay more for quality paper, Arches’ hot-press blocks, distinguishable from its other offerings by an orchid-colored cover, are not exorbitantly priced. Each one has 20 sheets of 140-pound paper, and there are a whopping 13 sizes to choose from, ranging from about 4 by 10 inches to 18 by 24 inches. They provide a smooth, exquisite surface on which paint stays wet for easy blending. The paper, made in France, is 100 percent cotton, acid-free, and sized with gelatin.

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Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Blocks
Winsor & Newton’s hot-press watercolor paper has enough sizing to be extra durable without sacrificing the natural paper feel. Each 20-sheet block is secured on all four sides to provide a flat and even surface wherever you settle down to paint. The color is a very bright white, which is surprising considering that no brightening agents are used. If you seek a high-quality paper that is similar to Arches but not quite as expensive, this professional, all-cotton, 140-pound option is well worth trying.

Acquerello Portofino Watercolor Blocks
The 100 percent cotton Acquerello Portofino paper has a distinctive natural feel. This hot-press paper is not heavily sized, so it feels flexible and absorbs paint a bit. Made in Italy, the 140-pound paper is acid- and chlorine-free. Each block contains 20 sheets that are glued on all four sides for stability and portability. They come in four sizes, from 7 by 10 inches to 14 by 20 inches.

Sennelier Watercolour Paper Block

Sennelier’s hot-press paper can take a lot of rough handling. The odorless, 100 percent cotton, acid-free paper can withstand a good amount of lifting and rubbing without being damaged and is brighter than many brands. A tip: To avoid ripping, use a sturdy credit card to remove the page from the block. Available in 4.5-by-9.5-inch and 12-by-12-inch sizes, the blocks are glued on all four sides to prevent buckling and for use en plein air.

L’Aquarelle Canson Héritage Watercolor Blocks
If you tend to paint in layers, hot press paper can be a challenging choice. The Canson Heritage hot-press paper has a surface that stays wet enough to blend paint on the page. This quality also allows you to create beautiful feathered edges for fluid and expressive paintings. Once dry, the colors remain as vibrant and bright as when they were applied, minimizing the need to add more pigment on top. Each block contains 20 pages of 140-pound paper, and they are available in four sizes, from 9 by 12 inches to 14 by 20 inches.

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