Watercolor painting assumes different characteristics depending simply upon the different weight and textures of the paper. Therefore, selecting the right paper is a very important point of consideration for any watercolor artist. Paper variety includes smooth finishes, slightly and heavily textured finishes-- from blocks and full sheets and rolls over a yard wide to small, and postcard-sized pieces. Some papers use synthetic fibers for strength and texture and sheets toned in soft colors rather than the customary white tones. Depending on your theme and particular requirements – the painting paper should be chosen.
Professional painters often use a heavy, cotton fiber sheet for their paintings to have a long and lasting life. High cotton content in these kinds of papers insures two things. Cotton being naturally acid free, offers longevity and color retention. Papers that are not high in cotton fiber are not acid free, and they often change composition, turning brown and causing a major change in the look of the artwork created upon that surface.
Weight of the paper is another important point in consideration. Professional paintings might be done on a heavyweight paper. Generally people choose 300 lb. paper, but some manufacturers offer even heavier-bodied papers.
Paper textures include rough or both hot and cold press surfaces. Hot press is a designation used to categorize a very smooth, pressed finished. Cold press indicates a medium textured surface, which offers interesting, random texture for the watercolor to settle into. Papers with rough textures have extra-rich textured surface that catches and holds tiny pools of watercolor applied in a liquid state.
Less important paintings like studies or sketches might use 90 lb. paper with either cold press or hot press. 90 lb. paper often includes two deckled sides and will stand up fairly well to reworking and paint removal. The second weight description is 140 lb. paper. It is heavier in weight, considered a medium weight in watercolor applications, and is available in rough, hot or cold press finishes. This weight has excellent surface strength and random texture in all finishes except hot. This paper is easily torn by dampening along a line with a water-charged brush, allowed to rest and absorb, and then torn along that line. It is ideal for studies, field sketches and finished work. Although not as strong as 300 lb. or heavier paper, 140 lb. is a great all-around work weight that stands up well to reworking and paint removal.
300 lb. paper is sturdy and highly absorbent in painting set-up preparation. It holds moisture during long painting sessions and is ideal for large-scale works or those for commissions or competition. Because of the heavy weight and four deckled edges, 300 lb. paper is the choice of most professionals, even for study work. There is no better weight for fieldwork, because its structure, when well soaked, allows painting in outdoor conditions without excessive drying. It is also long lasting and durable.
The better the paper, the better the finished painting piece will look. The choice in paper is essential to great presentation. Select the best you can and you will be the most satisfied after executing your dream painting.