5 Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners | Pros and Cons

Are you new to watercolors and looking for the best watercolor paper to practice? Or maybe you're a seasoned artist looking for a quality paper that will allow your artwork to shine. Either way, you're in the right place. This blog post will explore some of the best watercolor papers for beginners and share our top picks. So, whether you're just starting out or looking for an upgrade, read on for some great suggestions!

Watercolor Paper Pad, 12 watercolor pan set, and Paint-A-Flower stamp set from Altenew

Watercolor Paper Pad and Other Watercolor Supplies

What Is Watercolor Paper?

Watercolor paper is a type of paper that is specifically designed for watercolor painting. It is made from various materials, including cotton, linen, and rag, and comes in different weights and sizes.

One of the benefits of using watercolor paper is its high absorbency, which allows the paint to dry quickly and evenly. This is important for preventing the colors from bleeding into each other or becoming muddy.

When it comes to choosing the best watercolor paper, there are a lot of different factors to consider. Not only do you have to choose between different types of watercolor paper, but you also need to decide on the right watercolor paper size for your project. We’ll explore some of the best watercolor papers on the market and explain why they’re a good choice for beginners here, so keep on reading!

Watercolored iris flower A2 watercolor loose paper and 3 round pans of watercolor

Wonderful Watercolor Full Release Bundle

What Is the Best Watercolor Paper for Beginners? 

We recommend starting with a cold press watercolor paper. Altenew’s A2 cold press watercolor paper has a smooth surface ideal for painting techniques requiring fine detail. Plus, the smooth surface makes it easier to achieve even washes of color. 

There are a few different types of watercolor paper that you can choose from, depending on your needs. Here are some of the best watercolor papers for beginners:

Watercolor Paper Brand Features  Perfect For
Altenew Watercolor Paper Pad
  • It is a cold-pressed watercolor paper, providing a slight texture that is just perfect for stamping and coloring with any watercolor medium. 
  • It comes in a 9"x 12" watercolor paper pad and a set of 24 A2 loose sheets.
  • 100% Cotton - durable and easy to lift
  • 300 GSM (140 lb)
  • Acid-free & archival 
  • It is budget-friendly.
Beginners and Professionals
Canson XL Watercolor Paper
  • It is reasonably priced and comes in a variety of different weights and sizes.
  • The paper is made from 100% cotton rag, which makes it very absorbent and durable.
  • It can withstand repeated washes and various watercoloring techniques.
  • It is cold-pressed.
  • Each watercolor paper pad has 30 sheets of 140lb (300 gsm) student-grade watercolor paper.
Beginners
Arches Watercolor Paper
  • It is made from 100% cotton rag.
  • Archival and acid-free
  • Mold-made
  • Available in various weights and sizes. 
  • The paper has a very smooth surface, making it ideal for detailed painting.
  • It suits layering but isn’t ideal for wet-on-wet techniques.
  • It is quite pricey.
Beginners and Professionals
Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper
  • 100% cotton paper and archival
  • Cold-pressed watercolor paper (but with a lighter texture)
  • Sturdy surface with less bucking compared to other watercolor paper brands
  • Its drying time is a bit slow, so it requires patience when doing layering technique.
Beginners and Professionals
Fabriano Watercolor Paper
  • Student-grade watercolor paper
  • It is cold-pressed and has a toothy surface.
  • 300gsm/140lbs
  • Some varieties are made from100% cotton, and some are mixed with 25% cotton.
  • It is acid-free and absorbent.
  • Good quality for beginners.
  • It is budget-friendly.
Beginners


No matter which watercolor paper brand you choose, make sure to test it out first to see how the paint reacts. Every paper is different, and you may find that one type of paper works better for you than another. Experiment and have fun!

Did You Know? Cotton paper absorbs water beautifully and helps painters accomplish that trademark “watercolor look” when painting.

Painted iris flowers on a Mother's Day card with watercolor paper pad and watercolor pans on the background

Courageous Colors Stamp and Watercolor Bundle

Types of Watercolor Paper

When it comes to watercolor paper, there are three main types to choose from:

  • Student-grade
  • Professional-grade or Artist-grade
  • Handmade
  1. Student-grade watercolor paper is the most affordable option and is perfect for beginners. It's typically made from a combination of cellulose and wood pulp, so it doesn't retain color or detail as well as artist-grade watercolor paper. However, it's an excellent option for experimentation and practice. This machine-made watercolor paper usually has less texture than cold-pressed artist-grade watercolor paper.
  2. Professional grade watercolor paper is usually mold-made from higher quality paper stock and can handle more paint without buckling or warping. This watercolor paper pad is made from 100% cotton, so it retains color and detail better than student-grade paper. If you're planning on doing serious painting, professional-grade watercolor paper is the way to go.
  3. Handmade watercolor paper is just what it sounds like - paper that's been handmade by an artisan. It's the highest quality watercolor paper you can buy, and it's perfect for those who want the best results possible. However, it's also the most expensive option.
Did You Know? Most student-grade watercolor papers are almost always non-archival. In most cases, it is also not pH neutral, so it will turn yellow over time.

Can you do watercolor on normal paper?

Absolutely not! Regular copy and printing paper only weighs 24lb or 90-120 GSM. Thin paper cannot withstand the application of water and will cause it to warp and tear.

Memory-keeping journal with a watercolor wash background, and liquid watercolors, stamp set, and watercolor paper on the background

Create a Watercolor Wash Background with Liquid Watercolors

Watercolor Paper Sizes

Watercolor paper comes in a variety of sizes, from tiny postcard-sized sheets to large pieces measuring 22 x 30 inches. The most common size is 9 x 12 inches, which is a good size for both beginners and experienced artists. In the US, the most common watercolor paper sizes are:

  • 9" x 12"
  • 10" x 14"
  • 11.7" x 16.5"

Large watercolor paper can be intimidating for beginners, while smaller sheets can be challenging to work on, and may not provide enough space for your paintings.

cold pressed watercolor paper pad and A2 watercolor paper set from Altenew

Cold-Pressed Watercolor Paper Pad Bundle


When choosing a watercolor paper size, consider the type of paintings you want to create. If you plan on painting large landscapes or portraits, then a larger watercolor paper is necessary. For smaller paintings or sketches, a smaller watercolor paper will suffice. Altenew offers A2-sized loose watercolor sheets that are ideal for card makers who want to incorporate watercolor art into their handmade greeting cards.

Night sky watercolor art on a handmade card, with watercolor 36 half pans and a watercolor brush

Watercolor 36 Pan Set

Watercolor Paper Weights

Not to be confused with its physical size, the weight of watercolor paper is measured in pounds and refers to the thickness of the paper. The three most common watercolor paper weights are 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb.

  • 90lb watercolor paper is thin and lightweight, making it easy to transport and ideal for projects that require a lot of painting. However, it's also more likely to buckle and warp when wet, so it's not the best choice for beginners.

thank you card with watercolor flowers, a few gems and sequins on a triangle plate, and a watercolor pan set in the background

  • 140lb watercolor paper is thicker and more durable than 90lb paper, making it an excellent choice for beginners. It can still buckle and warp when wet, but it's less likely to do so than thinner papers.
  • 300lb watercolor paper is the heaviest and most durable option. It's ideal for paintings that require a lot of water or wet-on-wet techniques. It's also less likely to buckle and warp when wet, making it a good choice for artists.

Handmade card with watercolor flowers and a watercolor 36 pan set and watercolor pencils in the background

Woodless Watercolor Pencil Set

Watercolor Paper Textures

Watercolor paper comes in two main textures: hot press and cold press.

Hot press watercolor paper has a smooth surface ideal for detailed paintings. It's also less likely to buckle and warp when wet, making it a good choice for wet-on-wet techniques.

Cold press watercolor paper has a slightly textured surface ideal for more expressive paintings. While most cold-pressed watercolor papers are more likely to buckle and warp when wet, Altenew’s A2 watercolor paper sheets are still super smooth so it’s perfect for both beginners and professionals. 

Did You Know? The cold-pressed watercolor paper is also referred to as “Not Paper,” which means that it is not hot pressed. It is named “cold press” because of the process that is used to manufacture it.

Hot Press vs. Cold Press Watercolor Paper

Hot Press Watercolor Paper  Cold Press Watercolor Paper
Smooth surface Textured surface that is slightly bumpy
Less absorbent More absorbent
Easier to lift off paint and make corrections Lifting off paint isn’t as easy
More vibrant colors Colors are flatter
Perfect for watercolor paintings that require more precision and accuracy (ex. portrait paintings) Ideal for different watercolor painting styles
Fast drying time, so you won’t have much time to play around with the paint. Slow drying time so you can have more time to move the paint around and play with it

 

Watercolor paper pad, A2 watercolor paper loose sheets, and handmade card with painted watercolor flowers

Soothe and Smooth Watercolor Paper Bundle

What to Consider When Choosing Watercolor Paper

When it comes to choosing the best watercolor paper, there are a few things you need to consider. Let's walk you through the basics of what to look for when selecting your watercolor paper pad and give some tips on what will work best for your needs. Here are a few tips on choosing the best watercolor papers for beginners!

handmade card with watercolor geometric pattern and watercolor swatches on the background

  1. The first is the type of watercolor paper. Watercolor paper comes in two main varieties: cold press and hot press. Cold press paper has a more textured surface, while hot press paper is smoother. If you're just starting, it's best to choose a cold press paper because it will be easier to control your paint on a textured surface.
  2. The next thing to consider is the weight of the paper. Watercolor paper weights vary from light to heavy. If you're just starting out, choosing lighter-weight paper is best because it will be easier to control your paint on a lighter sheet.
  3. Finally, you need to consider the size of the paper. There are large watercolor paper pads and small ones. If you're just starting out, it's best to choose a smaller size paper because it will be easier to control your paint on a smaller sheet.

Thank you card with watercolor flower on the card front, and a watercolor coloring book and watercolor pan set in the background

Watercolor Coloring Book

Find the Best Watercolor Paper for Your Watercoloring Needs!

For a beginner watercolorist, knowing which paper to choose can be daunting. There are so many brands and types of watercolor paper on the market, each with its own pros and cons. We’ve explored some of the best watercolor papers for beginners and explained their features. Make sure to experiment with different types and sizes of watercolor paper until you find the one that works best for you. And don't forget to have fun!

Drop by our All About Crafting page if you need more watercolor painting ideas, tips, and tricks!


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