How do I know what type of watercolor paper to use?

Reader Question: I am a beginner watercolor painter and I'm not sure what type of paper to buy. It seems like there are so many that it's almost overwhelming. I want to make sure I buy the best thing. How do I know which is a good watercolor paper to choose?

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There are indeed many different types of watercolor papers available - this is part of what makes watercolor painting so fun! If you have the budget, you can experiment with all different types of watercolor paper, using a bunch of different watercolor techniques, to get a feel for what you like best. That is one way to narrow it down.

To give you an overview, watercolor paper comes in four forms: as single sheets, in a pad, in a block or as a roll. For a beginner to watercolors, I would suggest trying the first three, with rolls applicable only when you know what you like and prefer to buy in bulk.

Next, there are two "qualities" of watercolor paper: student quality and artist quality. Your budget will dictate which one you should buy; just keep in mind that artist quality watercolor paper will be better than the student quality.

Your last choice is what type of watercolor paper to buy. There are 3 main types of watercolor paper - Hot Press, Cold Press and Rough Press. Most watercolor artists tend to use Rough or Cold Press watercolor paper, because they are absorbent and have a nice ridged/textured look and feel. The Rough Press will be more textured than the Cold Press. Other artists like the smooth quality of the Hot Press watercolor papers.

My personal favorites are the watercolor papers by Fabriano and Arches. Both are reliable brands that produce top quality watercolor paper.

For more info, visit my comprehensive Guide to Watercolor Paper