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Watercolor Paper Help

Watercolor paper isn't the only surface you can paint on. There are now numerous surfaces on which a watercolorist can paint. 

I can remember many years ago, there weren't even any acid free papers on which to paint, and if you see some of the exhibits in museums of famous painters that were doing watercolor sketches in preparation for their oil paintings, the watercolor paper has turned yellowish brown due to the acid content of the fiber.

For many years now, there have been wonderful strides in making paper with cotton and linen fibers. We still call it "paper", but it is actually "rag". It is made in the same way that watercolor paper is made, but not from wood pulp like the original papers used

There are also buffers added to paper to keep it from turning yellow. They are used on wood pulp papers, but the most important thing is that the paper be lignin free. Watercolor paper I have tried and recommend highly (remember that each paper has different qualities and your approach to painting, as well as the result, will be different) are all acid free "rag" papers. Most of them come in 90 lb., 140 lb., 300 lb.

All papers, except Bockingford and the Strathmore Board, are made with different surfaces…..Hot Press (very smooth), Cold Press (slight texture) and Rough (self explanatory!)

  1. D'Arches: a handmade watercolor paper from France. It has a nice texture and doesn’t appear to have a waffle-iron print on it (as some of the cheaper papers that come in tablets)


  2. Waterford: made by T.H. Saunders Co from England. This one is made in 200 lb, as well as the other weights. Its texture is very much the same as d'Arches, and is a bit whiter in appearance, allowing for more brilliance to the finished work.


  3. Bockingford: this is made by St. Cuthbert's Mill in England, and is advertised to be a student grade paper. It is a brilliant white cotton fiber, and feels somewhat like a blotter, but the amazing thing is that it does not absorb the pigments, as do other papers. This allows for more correction by the artist. The downside is that glazing one color over another is very difficult, but can be done carefully. Direct painting works better on this surface than glazing.


  4. Series #500 Strathmore Illustration Board (paint either side): I discovered this surface for watercolor back in the 1980's when I felt I wanted a change. It is bright white. It also does not absorb the pigment; therefore, corrections are easily made. Glazing is difficult. I painted a series of crystal, broken glass, and shiny subjects on this paper and it was very effective.


  5. Fabriano: This is an Italian bright white paper and is very popular with many famous artists. It comes in several qualities: Fabriano Artistico, Fabriano Uno, Fabriano Studio, (the most modest price for students). Fabriano has expanded its collection to include one called Soft Press.

  6. RTISTX watercolor board is a very unique and revolutionary watercolor surface with a proprietary, patented and specially formulated acid-free, archival PH neutral coating. This surface delivers the artist beautiful, bright and true color intensity.

    It's smoother than Hot Press watercolor paper or illustration board. Washes are rich and clean without puddle or blossom. The artist can rework an area, and depending on water content can either lift or over paint with ease. Liquid frisket can be used just as an artist would use it with any other watercolor surface.

    Washes dry faster than any other surfaces allowing the artist to complete more work. Rtistx is the professional choice, whatever the medium: Oils, Acrylic, Charcoal, Pencil, Pen & Ink, Graphite, Conte, Oil Pencils, Pastels, Oil Pastels, Water Color, Gouache

  7. Strathmore Aquarius: A beautiful clean white 80lb. watercolor paper made of a unique combination of cotton and synthetic fibers. This sheet works beautifully with all watercolor techniques and will not buckle, swell or shrink even when totally saturated. Neutral pH.

Personally, I only work on 140# and 200# papers. But, in addition to paper, I've experimented on other surfaces that have been formulated for this medium. The first one that I tried was Watercolor Canvas manufactured by the Fredrix Co of Tara Materials in Lawrenceville, GA. It is truly an innovative surface, and accepts watercolor and corrections with ease. Like Bockingford and the Strathmore Board, glazing can be problematic, but it is an exciting surface.

Watercolor on Canvas?

Watercolor canvas is manufactured in rolls (the most cost effective), panels, and pre-stretched canvases. Watercolors can maintain their transparency, or they may be painted with heavier pigment to resemble oils or acrylics. To protect the finished painting, there are acrylic and/or chemical glazes that should be applied. Gel Mediums may also be applied as a final finish. The choice is up to the artist.

With these final finishes, no glass or plexi needs to be used in framing. And if the painting is done on a canvas that is wrapped around stretcher bars and stapled on the back (gallery wrap) and painted around the edges, no frame is needed. No glass..no glare! I love it! Here's a great place to find it.

Watercolor on Claybord ®

Claybord®: Manufactured by the Ampersand Co., this product is made with two different surface, smooth and textured. Each type lends itself to different subject matter, and that is how I use it. For shiny or smooth objects I prefer the smooth surface. Landscapes lend themselves to the textured variety. Paint is easily lifted, though some of the color remains. Razor blades may be used for textures, as it once was used for Scratchboard techniques for illustrators.

It is both challenging and fun to work with, and also needs no framing after a watercolor varnish has been applied. It comes in panels and boxes. The wood of the box accepts watercolor beautifully, thereby achieving the "gallery wrap" effect, and can be hung on the wall without framing. Of course, very small pieces look better with a frame, to draw attention to the piece.

Synthetic Watercolor Paper

Yupo: More than thirty years ago, Yupo Corporation Japan embarked on a journey to create a synthetic paper that would stand out among competitors. Now All the world is having fun with Yupo. It was never designed as a watercolor paper. It's an inert plastic! (100% polypropylene). It acts much like the smooth Claybord®, but NOTHING sticks to it! You can paint abstractly, realistically (more difficult), and watch the paint flow. Spray it with alcohol, salt, or water. Lift textures with a tissue or other objects. It is a hoot!

In some of my lessons, I will talk about the surface on which I am painting, it positives and negatives and my personal approach. Don’t go out and buy them all. Try one at a time. Learn to use it, love it or hate it. Then move on to another. Life is a challenge. So is painting! Accept the challenge with vigor and enjoy! Try watercolor paper first.

Return to Watercolor Painting Tips from Watercolor Paper

My E-Books

Learning the Basics of Watercolor
Learning the Basics of Watercolor

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Painting Flowers in Watercolor

Painting on Watercolor Canvas

Painting on Watercolor Canvas


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