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Choosing a Watercolor Paper

With so many different watercolor papers available today, it’s difficult to find a paper that works for your work. As watercolor paints are semi-translucent, papers play a key role in the finished work of art. The paper’s brightness and texture are just as critical as the choice in pigments. Papers most suitable to this water-based medium accept a watercolor wash evenly with reproducible results. We always recommend testing different papers to discover what works and doesn’t work for you. Look out for some of these key factors.

Here's a list of different watercolor papers Legion stocks. 

And here's a sampler if you're looking to test a bunch of different watercolor papers. 

choosing a watercolor paper


The key ingredient that that makes a high-quality watercolor paper stand out as exceptional is the sizing - the invisible material used in the paper-making process to make the paper more resistant to water.  The sizing enables the washing out of color and reworking the same area, which is key for a watercolor paper.  Substantial sizing also prevents the fibers from buckling.  


There are a variety of surfaces for different watercolor applications, but for the most part watercolor papers are classified as:

Hot Press (HP) exhibiting a smooth surface, which is perfect for fine detailed images.

Cold Press (CP) having a more textured surface.

Rough (R), as the name implies, a highly textured surface.  








Most watercolor papers come in three different weights- 90lb., 140lb., and 300lb.

90lb sheet is better for drawing techniques but not ideal for heavy watercolor.

140lb is most commonly used, but may buckle without stretching.  

300lb could withstand more water and is better when using a heavy wash or soaking the sheet. This paper will be more expensive.  

Who better to hear it from than other artists?

Jenna Rainey, Monvoir Studio, Author of Everyday Watercolor

Jenna Rainey Monvoir painting on Stonehenge Aqua

What’s your paper of choice? Stonehenge Aqua Coldpressed! It's the perfect texture for what I like to do!

What is your style of work? I mostly work wet on wet, with wet on dry also in the running. I love blending and diffusing color with wet on wet though! It's magic!

What criteria/standards do you look for in a paper? The surface and texture of the paper is really important to me. I like clean and smooth coverage with the majority of my strokes, so both hotpressed and rough paper don't lend too well with what I like to achieve. It's also important to me that the pigment lifts well off the paper. 

What is your process in choosing a paper? I honestly don't have much of a process! Ha. If it's a trusted branded, I'll usually order samples and try it out using a few different methods (washes, wet on wet, wet on dry, etc.) and then decide if it will work for me. But I tend to find something I like (like Stonehenge Aqua), and stick with it!

Dante Orpillia painting on Yupo Paper

What’s your paper of choice? I choose paper based on the emotion I'm trying to chase. Most of the time that emotion is violent, unpredictable, madness so I use Yupo to paint soft, traditionally beautiful things.

What is your style of work? Starts wet on wet, I let the pigment and the paper do their lil dance, and then when a foundational form has dried I'll go in with detail. The paper very much plays a crucial part in the process because dried paint lifts off of Yupo, and on cotton the choices you make are quite permanent.

What criteria/standards do you look for in a paper? I look for paper that tells it's own story without changing the narrative of my own.

Jessica Park, Watercolor, Illustration Calligraphy & Workshops

Jessica Park ( Jeshy Park) painting on Stonehenge Aqua

What’s your paper of choice? It really depends on the work I’m doing. For professional work, I usually use Arches Cold Press and Rough Press 140lb watercolor paper. For ink and watercolor pieces, I like to use Legion Stonehenge Aqua 140lb cold press paper. It has a smoother finish and doesn't snag. 

What is your style of work?  How does this affect the paper you choose? It depends as I do like to change things up from time to time. But typically, I do a lot of wet on wet and not so much fine detail. This means I need paper that doesn't buckle so I prefer to work with blocks. I also prefer paper with a bit of texture for absorbency and softer blends. There are times when I work with ink or calligraphy so I also need a different type of paper that wont ruin my pens. In this case, I look for paper that has most of the qualities I'm used to but with a smoother finish.

What criteria/standards do you look for in a paper? I prefer paper that is 100% cotton, and textured for my wet on wet washes. For professional work, I want paper that is of archival quality. This ensures that my clients are receiving paintings that will last for years without changes in coloration.

What is your process in choosing a paper? I don't do anything fancy. I just paint with it a few times. If I find the paper is working against me--I don't use it again. 

Choosing paper is such a personal decision. Especially because everyone paints differently with a varying amount of water and paint, you really have to try out paper to see what works for you. I really believe that paper is the most important supply when it comes to watercolor. A good paper can work with you, a lower quality paper can cause frustration. So see what's out there and don't choose something solely based on one artist's opinion.

Beth Winterburn (EBW Art) painting on saunders waterford

What’s your paper of choice? My favorites are Saunders Waterford and Lanaquarelle

What is your style of work? Wet on wet, wet on dry.

What criteria/standards do you look for in a paper? Absorbs quickly and definitively while maintaining bright color (doesn't mute color); enables really nice watercolor blooms; open fibers; 140lb. for stretching, rolling and easy transport; cold press generally; bright white paper color; archival; acid free.  

What is your process in choosing a paper? Trial and error. I test them all to see what I like. It's based on feel, texture, and of course, results after playing a bit.