Understanding the Different Watercolor Papers and How They Impact Your Paintings

When setting out on an artistic journey with watercolors, one quickly learns that the type of paper chosen can have a monumental impact on the final artwork. Through my exploration, I’ve found that the choice between cold pressed and hot pressed watercolor papers is not merely a preference but a strategic decision that affects the application and perception of my watercolors. Major paper makers like Arches and Canson offer high-quality options in both textures, allowing me to tailor my materials to my creative vision.

Cold pressed watercolor paper is recognized by its lightly textured surface. This unique characteristic gives it a certain tooth that grips the watercolor pigments interestingly, allowing for the spontaneity and subtlety that I often seek in my washes. The irregular surface of the cold pressed paper creates a diffuse effect as the pigments settle into the small grooves. This quality is delightful for creating soft gradients and organic textures. When working with Arches cold pressed paper, I notice that it can handle a good amount of water without warping, which is vital for my wet-on-wet techniques.

Arches cold pressed watercolor paper
Arches cold pressed watercolor paper with watermark.

In contrast, hot pressed watercolor paper presents a smooth, almost shiny surface. The absence of texture allows for intricate detail and sharp, crisp lines, making it my go-to option for more graphic and precise watercolors. The sleek surface of hot pressed papers like those from Canson is perfect for pen and ink combined with watercolor, where every pen stroke is as critical as the brushwork. Moreover, when applying layers of color, hot pressed paper allows for more control and less color bleeding, thus maintaining the vibrancy and sharpness I desire.

watercolor deckle edge paper
Artist Dick Crispo.
watercolor deckle edge paper corner close up
A close up of the corner of a deckle edge cold pressed watercolor.
hot pressed watercolor paper with Dick Crispo
An example of hot pressed watercolor paper with a more graphic application of watercolor paints.

But it’s not just the textural quality that differentiates these papers. Arches, for instance, is celebrated for its 100% cotton cold pressed papers that exhibit excellent absorption and resilience. Such robustness is especially beneficial when it comes to lifting techniques or when I aim for extensive layering. The watercolor papers from Canson also offer this robustness but with slightly different characteristics due to their composition and manufacturing process.

If you’re moving from soft, expressive brushwork towards sharper, more defined imagery, venturing into hot pressed papers can be an enlightening shift. On the other hand, if your technique thrives on the wonderfully unpredictable and organic results that watercolors can provide, embracing the texture of cold pressed paper may serve you best.

Original watercolor artwork by Dick Crispo
One of Dick Crispo’s original watercolor paintings on cold pressed watercolor paper.

Considering the nuances in texture and performance between cold pressed and hot pressed watercolor papers, I always keep in mind the vision I have for my artwork when making my selection. With high-quality options available from pillars of the industry like Arches and Canson, it ultimately comes down to my personal artistic approach and the feel I want to evoke in my watercolor paintings.