It’s important to buy the right kind of art supplies to fit your needs. For pencil sketches and coloured pencil drawings, you can draw on pretty much any paper, as long as it’s smooth. Gouache isn’t that picky when it comes to its canvas: lower end watercolor paper will do the trick. But when it comes to watercolors, quality paper matters. So now that we know this, let’s find out the difference between cold-pressed and hot-pressed watercolor paper. And also: is textured watercolor paper better?
Cheap vs expensive paper
Ever find yourself thinking your colors don’t look bright? Chances are, you’re using the wrong paper.
Lower end watercolor paper
Lower end watercolour paper is made from wood pulp (cellulose). It often has some kind of texture. Cellulose paper doesn’t absorb water and pigment very well, which is why it prefers single layers. The paper tends to pill if you add more than 2 layers and the colours won’t look as bright. The big advantage of cellulose paper is that it’s very affordable, so it’s ideal for children or absolute beginners. You’ll find this kind of paper at dollar- and cheap craft stores. If the label doesn’t mention what kind of paper it is you can assume it’s cellulose.
I personally use lower-end paper to practice sketches and to swatch mixtures. I wouldn’t call this one a student grade version simply because it won’t do your watercolors any justice.
Mid-end watercolor paper
The Canson Montval watercolor paper block is an example of 100% cellulose paper. This I would call student-grade version. Whilst it is made from cellulose, it is much better than the ones you find at the dollar store. It’s also a bit more expensive, but still affordable.
If you’re serious about your watercolors but you’re still a total beginner I’d definitely recommend this one. You can get away with more techniques without damaging the paper.
High-end watercolour paper
High-end watercolor paper is made from cotton. Cotton absorbs water and pigment very well. It’s perfect for lots of layers and pretty much any technique you can think of. This is the paper you should use if you’re going to sell your artwork. Not only is the paper sturdy it’s also acid-free, which means It won’t yellow over time.
A great example is the Arches watercolor series. It’s expensive but oh so worth it!
So, quality matter?
If you use watercolors and watercolor paper from the dollar store it won’t look good. If you use artist-grade watercolors on dollar store watercolor paper it won’t look good. BUT using dollar store watercolors on quality (meaning more expensive) watercolour paper the dollar store watercolours will look significantly better.
The difference between cold-pressed & hot-pressed watercolor paper
The terms cold-pressed and hot-pressed refers to how the paper was made. Depending on the technique of how it was made the watercolor paper will have either a smooth or a textured surface.
Cold-pressed watercolor paper (textured)
Cold-pressed paper is the one that’s textured. You can remember this by thinking of how your skin looks when you’re cold. You’ll get goosebumps, so your skin looks extra textured. Cold-pressed paper is made without the use of warmed (hot) metal plates, causing it to get a textured surface. Cold-pressed paper absorbs water quicker than hot-pressed making it ideal for lots of layering.
It also absorbs pigment better than cold-pressed paper, which means that the colors will come out slightly duller than hot-pressed paper.
Hot-pressed watercolor paper (non-textured)
Hot pressed paper is very smooth. You can compare it to smooth bristol paper. It’s made with the use of hot metal plates that causes the paper to have a non-textured surface. This smooth surface allows you to paint very precisly. It’s ideal to use for mixed media. I often use watercolors with colored pencils, which on cold pressed paper would be a lot harder.
Is textured watercolor paper better?
Nope! Textured watercolor paper is not necessarily better. It’s all a matter of preference. Think of what you want to paint. Do you want to use a lot of layers? Then I’d go for textured (cold-pressed) paper. Do you want to go in with colored pencils as well? Then I’d definitely go for smooth (hot-pressed).
A lot of artists including myself own cold-pressed as well as hot-pressed paper. It just depends on what I am going to paint.
I wish you all the luck on picking you’re perfect watercolor paper.