A Guide to the Different Grades of Watercolor Paper

Do you know that not all watercolor papers are the same? Are you aware that the paper you use can make the difference in how awesome your products will turn out? Here is a guide to the different grades of watercolor paper for you.

The most common mistake beginners make with watercoloring is using the wrong paper.  The texture of the paper is what sets watercolor paper apart from others kinds of paper. However, it can be used for more than just watercolor paint.  It’s great for:

  • acrylics
  • gouache
  • pastels
  • pencils
  • graphite
  • charcoal
  • and can also be primed for oil paint.

Three ways watercolor paper is different

  1. Thickness and weight. Watercolor paper is different from other papers in it’s thickness also known as its weight.   On the packaging of any type of watercolor paper – you will find numbers such as 140 lbs or 300g. This means that during the process of making the paper, a stack of 500 full sheets will weigh 140 pounds.  The higher the weight, the better quality of the paper and also the more expensive. The standard weight for watercolor paper is 140 lbs/300g. In comparison, computer paper and drawing paper are much thinner and thus lighter in weight, normally 16 – 60 lbs.
  2. Material. Most standard paper uses recycled wood shavings alone or mixed with a small amount of cotton. This creates its super fine and thin appearance.   However, watercolor paper needs to be more absorbent than traditional paper.   This is why watercolor paper uses cotton intertwined in its fibers.  This is also the reason watercolor paper doesn’t warp or buckle under water as quickly as traditional paper. More on this later.
  3. Texture. The texture of watercolor paper is what sets it apart from others.  Texture is key when painting with watercolor. The more bumps to the paper, the more absorbent the paper will be. If you would ever like to try this out for yourself, try painting on some Bristol paper with watercolor.  Bristol paper is completely smooth (which is important when coloring with markers or even inking with a fine tip pen). The lack of texture helps the ink appear smooth and sharp.  However, add watercolor paint to this paper and you will have absolutely no control of your paper or where the paint runs to. Instead of absorbing into the paper, the paint will sit on top creating cool abstract textures and details.   Also, since the paper is smooth, the paint takes forever to dry and is nearly impossible to use any heat source to quicken the process. It runs all over the surface.
100% Cotton, naturally acid free (on the left) Cotton and Linen Rag (on the right)

Why does paper buckle and warp when wet?

Buckling occurs because the paper fibers expand when wet. If you use very little water in your technique, then very little buckling will occur, if any. For more watery applications, a heavier weight paper, greater than 425gsm, will buckle less.

In our upcoming class, we will be teaching you how to control the amount of water you use. This will also help you obtain better color. More water dilutes your color and creates warping. As you get better and learn to control your watercolor paint, you can add more water. We will also be teaching you more about:

  • when to wet your paper before coloring
  • what type of ink to use before using watercolor paint
  • mixing colors for better blending
  • Making your own color using a color wheel

To get your first complete watercolor kit, instruction, stamping ink spot, and class instructions join our upcoming watercolor class.

Class dates are:

  • August 17th 2 pm and repeated at 7 pm EST at Pelletier Craft Studio.
  • August 28th 7 pm EST virtual (link will be sent). This class is recorded and kept for future viewing. You will learn something new every time you watch it. So be sure to mark it as a favorite and subscribe.
  • September 9th 10 am EST at Pelletier Craft Studio.

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to stay up-to-date on all our classes.

If this blog post help you learn more about watercoloring, be sure to comment below.

Happy Scrappin’ and Yappin’

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