Beginner Art · Painting · Resources and Materials · Watercolours

Watercolour Papers Explained

There isn’t just one type of watercolour paper and if you have been into the art shops you will know this when you see the shelves of paper.  So where do you start on choosing the right paper?  I will explain the differences and the features of each type of paper…

What is special about watercolour paper and do I need it?

Yes, watercolour painting does require good watercolour paper, especially if you are going to be using lots of washes (watery paint layers).  You can stretch watercolour paper to help cope with buckling (I will be explaining how in another post).

Don’t be tempted to use cartridge paper for watercolour painting.  Watercolour paper is made for very watery layers of paint and is extremely absorbent which means it won’t buckle like cartridge paper.

What are the different sorts of watercolour paper? 


Above of some of the types of watercolour papers that you could see in the art shop:

Rough – watercolour paper with a rough surface

Smooth – watercolour paper with a smooth surface

Hot-pressed – An ultra smooth surface, yet still absorbent

Cold-pressed – Fine grained and semi-rough

Bockingford – A popular brand of watercolour paper, often thought of as the best paper for watercolour.  Known for thick, heavy weight paper.

The type of surface you choose often depends on the type of painting you do.  Those that like detail and use dry brush techniques might like hot-pressed watercolour paper, traditionally it is used for botanical illustrations and other detailed studies. Those that like a more loose ‘wet on wet’ style with less detail and more washes, might like rough surfaces.  Experiment to see what works best for you and your work.


Weight in watercolour varies too, weight means how thick the paper is.  The thicker (heavier) weight paper has more absorbency and is designed for heavy use of washes and more vigorous styles of painting.  This heavy weight paper can cope with more like washing off, lifting off (removing  pigment) without the surface losing its absorbency.

Also see my post What is Watercolour? for more advice.

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