Choosing the Right Watercolour Paper By Marie-Hélène Pelletier

Paper is essential to watercolour painting! Marie-Hélène, our DeSerres expert, put together some useful tips on how to find the right paper.
Cellulose or cotton?
Cotton fibres are more resistant and absorbent than cellulose fibres (wood pulp). A 100% cotton paper is therefore preferred, especially when working wet-on-wet techniques. Its surface will react less to friction and multiple layers, and to the use of masking fluid. Some mid-range papers have a mixed composition containing 25% cotton, such as the DeSerres pad, an excellent choice with the best price-quality ratio. In any case, it’s essential to choose an acid-free paper, to avoid any colour change over time.
Paper weight
The weight of a paper corresponds to its thickness, calculated in grams per square metre of surface area (European measurements), or in pounds per 500-sheet ream (American measurements). The most common watercolour paper weight is 300 g/140 lb. Resistant and absorbent, it can be completely immersed, stretched so that it retains its shape, and used for wet-on-wet techniques. A 600 g/300 lb paper is twice as thick and should not be stretched. Much more absorbent, it allows you to work wet techniques on a large surface. However, it cannot be entirely immersed in water because the fibres will swell too much and break. A thinner paper (200 g or less, for example) will warp more easily, and will be less resistant to the use of large water quantities, or to multiple layers.
Paper category: paper grain, hot-press and cold-press
Most manufacturers offer three paper categories: - Hot-press or high-satin finish: This paper offers a smooth surface that I like to use when creating high-detail illustrations. With wet techniques, the colour doesn’t spread as much, and allows for better control. It also makes it easier to create highlights. I like using it for mixed media techniques, in combination with pencils or transfer solutions. Its surface is a little more fragile, and I recommend careful use of masking fluid, or masking tape. - Rough: This very pronounced texture is perfect for sedimentary watercolour pigments. Often used for landscapes or more abstract pieces, it offers very interesting creative possibilities, but is less suitable for highly detailed work. - Cold-press or fine grain: Very versatile, this paper is an excellent compromise between the other two options. It offers a light texture, often a little different on both sides, at the artist’s preference. It’s my paper of choice for wet-on-wet techniques. Resistant, it supports multiple paint layers, and allows for good colour diffusion.
Choosing a surface Pad
Glued on all four sides, the paper doesn’t need to be stretched. Can be worked on directly. Only one corner remains open, allowing you to slide a blade, or a painting knife to gently peel off the sheet once finished.
Loose sheets
Available in large sizes, they’re more economical than pre-cut paper pads or blocs.
Yupo paper
This multimedia paper is made of 100% polypropylene. Non-absorbent, it offers very varied watercolour possibilities, and colour can be endlessly manipulated. Available in translucent or opaque versions.
Mineral paper
Made from calcium carbonate, mineral paper offers similar creative possibilities to Yupo paper. It’s slightly more velvety and absorbent. As they dry, watercolours enhance the wavy paper grain. A real gem!
All-new, this museum-quality paper simulates the absorption and texture of cold-pressed paper. It’s a multimedia panel that’s suitable for watercolour and gouache. Another gem!
Canvases or wood panels
You can prep surfaces for watercolour paints using an absorbent primer. When using watercolour on canvases or wood panels, the colours spread the same way they would on real watercolour paper. This primer is also available in a transparent finish (Schmincke) if you want to keep the appearance of natural wood. Side note: I sometimes use it to make small corrections on paper. It blends quite well with colours and cold-pressed paper and allows me to paint over it.

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