What is Watercolor Paper?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Watercolor paper is artists' paper which has been designed specifically for the watercolor medium. It is usually specially treated to make it less absorbent, so that the paint will not bleed and muddle together on the paper. This paper comes in a number of different grades and styles, and most artists experiment with several different types before they find a style which works for them.

Watercolor paper is designed specifically for the watercolor medium.
Watercolor paper is designed specifically for the watercolor medium.

Many art supply stores carry this type of paper, as do online retailers. When first working with watercolor paper, it is a good idea to go into a store to pick some out, so that you can feel different textures. Once you find a type that works for you, you may be able to find it more cheaply using your favorite search engine.

Watercolor paper is specially treated to ensure the paint doesn't bleed or run together.
Watercolor paper is specially treated to ensure the paint doesn't bleed or run together.

There are three primary components which impact the look and feel of watercolor paper. The first is how the paper is treated, the second is how the paper is processed after manufacture, and the third is weight. All three of these factors should be taken into consideration when selecting paper. In addition, artists should be aware that this product comes in both loose and bound forms, and in different sizes. The paper is also available in the form of a watercolor block, which is glued down on all four sides, making it like a portable clipboard full of paper.

Most watercolor paper is treated with gelatin, which coats the fibers of the paper so that they cannot absorb water as readily. When the gelatin is mixed in with the fibers before the paper is made, the paper tends to be of a higher quality. Other manufacturers paint a coating on later, which can become an issue if an artist scratches or gouges the paper.

A lot of companies still hand form watercolor paper on paper screens. When the paper is pulled out of the screen, deckled edges are created along the edges of the paper. These edges are soft and wavy, and are favored by some artists for although they do not have an impact on the quality of the paper. With a light hand, deckled edges can be dyed to contrast with the piece or be more ornamental.

After paper is removed from screens, it may be cut and packaged for sale as is, creating “rough” watercolor paper. This has pits and grooves in which paint and pigment can pool, creating a rougher finished piece. It may be further processed by being run through rollers to relax and smooth the fibers. Cold pressed paper is run through cold rollers, while hot pressed paper, the most smooth kind available, is run through hot rollers.

Well labeled watercolor paper will indicate which processing technique, if any, was used. In addition, the label will have information about the weight of the paper. Weight is determined by the combined weight of 500 sheets of paper of a standardized paper. Heavier paper is less likely to curl and warp, although that with a high rag content will need to be stretched before use, or it will buckle. To stretch watercolor paper, the paper is moistened and fastened to a dry board, pre-treating it so that it will not shrink when it is painted.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@littleman -- I assume you are trying to print out some artwork? That is what you would use watercolor inkjet paper for, to get that same "art" look when printing a piece off your computer.

The 300 gsm refers to a weight of paper. I believe that Hahnemuhle makes a watercolor paper like that for printers, as does Epson.

Best of luck!


What is watercolor inkjet paper? My friend recommended me to get as close to a 300 gsm watercolor paper, but I'm not sure what that is. Can somebody help me out?


When choosing a watercolor paper roll for bulk use, which brand should I go with?

I have looked at both Yupo and Strathmore watercolor paper, and am just not sure which one to go with.

Any advice from you wisegeek readers?


The description is very good! Just add a note about

"acid-free" and "price tag" to it, and it is perfect. Fine art in all media, can be distorted, even ruined by chemical corruption that happens from something present or absent in the paper, paints, brushes, frame or environment. Even with all such issues carefully minded by the artist at the time of making, most artists simply guarantee their work to cover such possibilities. Such issues can be insidious and can never be totally controlled or prevented, in an imperfect world.

A high price tag does not guarantee quality. A great buy does not need to mean that the quality is less than great.

Still, when an artwork or artist mentions quality supplies or training or experience, it's not fussing, but good business. The intent is to

produce and share a top quality artwork that will last for a very long time, and be a delight to all.

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