When we paint with watercolors, we cannot simply used any paper lying around that we have. Watercolor painting calls for special papers suitable for immense water absorption and color stability. In line with this, let's test out different papers to know the characteristics to look for when choosing the right watercolor paper.
There are a number of aspects to watercolor paper, we'll discuss a few while comparing some of our papers. Below is a set of the tests we made with the corresponding papers. The top is to see how vivid and even we can make a swatch on the paper. Next is to see how the paper handles layers (seen with the red streak). Below that we scrubbed a dried wash of blue to see how papers handle scrubbing resulting to pilling and the bottom part is lifting softly on the washes while they were still wet. Go ahead and do these tests with your papers too.
Aspects of Watercolor Paper
- Fiber Content
Different pulps are used in the production of paper. This quality of paper performance is determined by its fibers. Common papers are made of cellulose, wood pulp, synthetic blends or combinations of these with different amounts of cotton. The highest quality paper is made of pure cotton rag which makes up most artist-grade papers.
There are different colors available when buying watercolor paper from Ivory white to white, cream and an even more yellowish tone. More yellowish papers offer a more cohesive tone for paintings. Some artists prefer to do a wash of a color as preparation before painting. This creates a sort of "stain" that makes their paintings more homogenous in terms of colors. Meanwhile, white papers to Ivory white offer full brightness and clarity of watercolors which are best for illustrators looking for vividness and accuracy of colors.
Sizing refers to a layer of gel that preserves and protects watercolor paper. It's what keeps paper from fully soaking up paints or from over blotting. Different brands have different amounts of this on their papers. Some have more than others, which can be difficult to paint on with soft brushes.
Thickness of papers vary from 160GSM, 300GSM, to 600GSM or higher, the higher the number, the thicker the paper. It is important to know that thinner papers buckle when soaked with water which may pose as a problem when painting.
When paper warps, it is hardly possible to flatten it again for framing. This can be solved by pre-stretching the paper or using artists tapes to pin the paper down flatly. With 300GSM or higher, warping is not a problem as they're thick enough to keep flat on their own.
Different formulation of papers create different surfaces. Some are more compact and durable thus they do not get damaged easily when scrubbed whereas others are more loose and can get extreme pilling when certain techniques are done.
As a test, we created swatches of a single color on the different papers to compare durability.
Bee Paper 200 GSM displays minimal pilling when intensely scrubbed with a stiff brush
Bee Paper postcard paper shows more pilling when scrubbed immensely with a stiff brush.
- Paper Stability
Certain papers that are acidic change in color and yellow over the years, ruining precious paintings. Because of this, it's best to choose archival, acid-free papers that do not risk you of changing color over time. Fortunately, all our paper are just that!
Now let's compare the papers that we have:
Painting on the papers, you can see below the quality of what you can achieve on them:
Painting on the Strathmore 500 series is hard with a very soft brush and it is recommended that you soak it in water/ stretch it first or use a stiffer synthetic brush to apply paint easily especially if you're looking to create single stroke paintings. Bee Paper texture is comparable to that of the Cold Press and Hot Press Sennelier blocks whereas the Rough Sennelier block's texture is evident and it can hold more layers very well. These are just some of the qualities of select papers that we have.
Feel free to browse through our site, and create comparisons yourself!