by | Oct 19, 2020 | Crafting, Reviews, Z

Last Updated: Oct 26, 2020 @ 8:40 pm.

What's the best watercolor paper? We asked the experts—students and artists who do watercolor painting—for their favorites. We learned there are different grades of paper, as well as how the paper is bound (blocks, pads, sheets). Here are the watercolor papers we'd recommend.

FYI: We've been reviewing and rating products for the kids and families since 1994. To keep things independent, we don't take money or freebies from brands we review! Our work is 100% reader-supported!


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Best Watercolor Paper For Framing

A nice splurge or gift
We like this cold press watercolor paper block for ease of framing—just use a dull edge knife around the edges to remove your artwork. The block style paper doesn't warp or bleed.
$44.89

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Best Watercolor Paper For Framing: Arches Watercolor Paper Block

Let’s talk paper for watercolor paper.

As writers whose watercolor painting days were limited to kindergarten, we realized we needed help from experts (students and artists) to get the skinny on the best watercolor paper. So we asked a few folks who are watercolor paint enthusiasts for their favorites.

We learned there are three types of watercolor paper: hot press, cold press and rough press. The basic difference is the texture and how the papers absorb water. Most folks prefer cold press since rough press can be too, well, rough while hot press is too smooth. So this article focuses on cold press watercolor paper.

As you might expect with any art supply, there are two basic grades for paper: student and artist. The former is less expensive, while artist paper is higher quality (example: 100% cotton) . . . which is also more pricey, as you’d expect.

Finally, watercolor paper comes in various forms: blocks, pads, rolls and sheets.

We found a good explanation of watercolor paper block from the web site Draw And Paint For Fun:

A watercolor block is a pad of watercolor paper that’s bound on all sides with a coating of a rubber like material. You paint on the top sheet of paper and then remove it after it dries flat. To separate the painting from the block, insert a dull palette knife into the gap in the binding and run it around all four edges.

Why would you get watercolor paper in block form versus pads (bound at the top) or loose sheets? 

Watercolor paper has a tendency to buckle when it gets wet. One way to get watercolor paper to dry flat is to stretch it. This is somewhat of a tedious task, and a watercolor block will allow you to skip this process.

For the best watercolor paper block, we’d recommend Arches. This well-known paper made in France is our pick for best for framing—that’s because it can absorb a good amount of water without warping or bleeding. 

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Works well for several techniques, including wet on wet.

• 100% cotton.

• Great for intermediate students.

• Light grain and texture.

• Sized with gelatin to prevent tearing.

What Needs Work

• Pricey. Yes, this paper is a splurge . . . but great if you want to take watercolor painting to the next level.

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Best Budget-Friendly Paper

Sturdy and thick
For the best watercolor paper pad, this paper is hard to beat—and easy on the wallet. Great for wet and dry technique, as well as acrylic and pen & ink projects. Acid-free, 140 lb. paper.
$5.97

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Best Budget-Friendly Paper: Canson (100510941) XL series Watercolor Pad

No, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good watercolor paper—we liked Canson’s affordable watercolor paper pad as a great quality paper at a price that is easy on the wallet. Yes, this is student-quality paper, but it is still quality paper. Several watercolor students we interviewed for this articles said Canson is their go-to brand.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Best for wet on dry technique.

• Also great for acrylic, pen and ink, charcoal or pastel painting.

• Acid-free paper.

• Thick, sturdy paper.

• Affordable.

What Needs Work

• Not good for wet on wet technique.

• Pulp-style paper (that is, not 100% cotton) that isn’t as absorbent as other more pricey papers.

• Cream color. Some folks are disappointed this paper is more an off-white, rather than bright white.

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Best for Beginners or Students

Made in the USA
This cold press watercolor paper in loose sheets is our pick for the most kid-friendly option. Made in the USA and acid-free, this thick paper has good, consistent quality.
$10.99

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Best for Beginners or Students: UCreate Watercolor Paper

If you are just starting out, this watercolor paper is a good place to begin—made in the USA, this sturdy paper doesn’t shrink when it gets wet. Perfect for students or just those who are watercolor paint curious!

FYI: These are watercolor paper sheets—that is, loose sheets of paper. They are not bound into a pad.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Thick, 140 lb. weight paper.

• Doesn’t shrink.

• Acid-free.

• Made in the USA.

• Easy on the wallet. 

• Cold-press quality paper. 

What Needs Work

• No texture. Some watercolor students told us they prefer a bit of texture to their paper, as that eases the learning process!

• Doesn’t blend as well as fancier papers.

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Best Watercolor Paper for Kids

Tried and true brand
This cold press watercolor paper in loose sheets is our pick for the most kid-friendly option. Made in the USA and acid-free, this thick paper has good, consistent quality.
$7.19

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Best Watercolor Paper for Kids: Strathmore Paper 300 Series Watercolor Class Pack

This brand is well known among students of watercolor painting—it has a great tried-and-true reputation for quality. We pick this as the best watercolor paint for kids because it comes in single sheets (pads are harder to use for kids, in our opinion).

At 24 sheets per pack, it is affordable . . . yet still thick enough to be a great opitons for kids or young students just starting watercolor painting.

What We Liked

• Heavy 140 lb. weight.

• Loose sheets.

• Acid-free.

• Made in the USA.

• Tried and true brand.

• Cold press.

What Needs Work

• Sometimes warps or buckles when wet. 

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. For this article, we did seven hours of researching, interviewing both students and advanced watercolor paint artists. We asked their advice on what paper is best for beginners, kids and for framing. We then researched their recommendations, comparing quality and affordability

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here's another key point: we don't take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no "partnerships." Our work is 100% reader-supported!

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