The Best Watercolor Sheets for Painterly Experimentations

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Dip your toe into the wide world of watercolor. Paint without worry of ripping, tearing, and warping with paper specially designed to hold the medium. While ordinary paper is smooth and thin, watercolor paper is heavier and has some texture, so that it absorbs pigment, holds up well to moisture, and doesn’t create feathering. 

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In order to determine which paper is best suited for your needs, it’s first important to understand some key characteristics and terms. All artist-quality paper is acid-free, which means it won’t yellow or fade your pigment over time. The thickness of watercolor paper is indicated by its weight, measured in pounds per ream. The standard machine weight is 140-pound weight, and all the options below adhere to this specification. Watercolor paper can be made by hand, by cylinder-mold machines, or by machine. The pages made by hand feature four rough, uncut edges, called deckled edges, which lend an antiquarian feel, and the fibers are randomly distributed on the page, rendering handmade paper the strongest. Papers made by mold have two deckled edges, and the fibers are also randomly distributed, though mold-made paper isn’t quite as strong as handmade paper. Machine-made paper is made in one continuous process, so all the fibers are oriented in the same direction. All edges of machine-made paper are cut, though some may feature artificially deckled edges.

Another aspect to consider is whether you want hot press or cold press paper. Hot-pressed watercolor paper has a fine-grained, smooth surface, with almost no tooth. Paint dries very quickly on it, which makes it ideal for one or two light washes of color or a pen-and-ink wash. Cold-pressed watercolor paper has a more textured surface, which holds both light washes of paint and fine-detail work of multiple layers. Watercolor paper is sold in pads as well as sheets. Browse our roundup of the best picks for the latter here.


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