How is Watercolor Paper Different From Other Paper?

What makes watercolor paper so special? And why is paper so important?


Probably the most common (yet easily fixed) mistake beginner’s make with watercolor is using the wrong paper.   I mean paper is paper right?  Well, if you think that – then you’re sadly wrong and your painting will suffer.  Not to mention your level of frustrations will soar.   I find this thought process slightly humorous.  I mean we would never think about using oil paints on computer paper.  Yet, so many forget that watercolor paint (though it may appear simplistic and almost elementary in nature) requires a special type of paper.    So, what is the difference between watercolor paper and regular paper?  


For time sake, I’m only going to cover 3 ways watercolor paper is different from other types of paper – such as computer paper, drawing paper, and even Bristol paper (which is commonly used for Copic Markers and inked illustrations)


The first (and usually the most obvious) way watercolor paper is different from other paper is in it’s thickness also known as it’s weight.   Somewhere on the packaging of any type of watercolor paper – you will find the numbers  140lb or 300g. This basically means that during the process of making the paper – a stack of 500 full sheets will weigh 140 pounds.  As you would probably guess the higher the weight – the better quality of the paper and also the more expensive.  140lb and 300g is considered the standard weight for watercolor paper. In comparison, computer paper and drawing paper – are as you would guess are much thinner and thus lighter in weight compared to watercolor paper.



The second way watercolor paper is different from other paper is in it’s material (or make-up).   Most standard paper uses recycled wood shavings alone or mixed with a small amount of cotton – to create it’s super fine and thin appearance.   However, watercolor paper – since it uses water – needs to be more absorbent than traditional paper.   This is why watercolor paper uses cotton intertwined in it’s fibers.  This is also the reason watercolor paper doesn’t warp or buckle under water as quickly as traditional paper – such as computer paper, drawing paper, and even Bristol paper (which is much thicker in appearance compared to other papers).



And finally, the texture of the paper is what sets watercolor paper apart from others.  Texture (also known as the “tooth” of the paper) is key when painting with watercolor.  As one would guess – the more “tooth” or bumps to the paper – the more absorbent the paper will be.  This is where the terms cold and hot press come from – which I will talk about in more detail in a future post.  For now, just know, the bumps do matter. :)   If you would ever like to try this out for yourself – try painting on some Bristol paper with watercolor.  Bristol paper is completely smooth (which is important when coloring with markers or even inking illustrations with a fine tip pen) – the lack of texture helps the ink appear smooth and sharp.  However, add watercolor paint to this paper and you are going to have absolutely no control of your paper.   Instead of absorbing into the paper – the paint will sit on top creating cool abstract textures and details.   Also, since the paper is smooth – the paint takes forever to dry and is nearly impossible to use any heat source to quicken the process – to the the blast of air pushing the paint around as if it’s on ice.  If you want to experiment and play – I highly recommend playing around on some cheap Bristol paper.  After you are done – you will appreciate watercolor paper so much more.

Well, that is it for this post!  I hope you learned something new. If you would like to learn more about paper – make sure to check out the post below. Click the image to hop over to the next blog post! 



About Author

Hi there! My name is Carrie and I'm a Watercolor Misfit! What's a Watercolor Misfit? Well, anyone who is willing to try new things and not afraid to get their hands covered in paint! So what do you say, are you a Misfit-ian?


  • Sharon
    September 5, 2017 at 12:52 am

    My dear mum brought me some “art” paper for my watercolors and well…it was interesting. I think it was meant for finger painting or perhaps spray inks that you would dip or lay other papers on. It bore a close appearance to freezer paper and I did TRY to do something with it. I did find that it was awesome to cover my table so my surface stayed stain free. Voila! Useful!

    • Misfit
      September 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Awesome! :D

  • Dick Fremberg
    September 5, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    140 pound means a stack of 500 full sheets weigh 140 pounds.

    • Misfit
      September 6, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Thanks :D I’ll fix that!

  • s
    September 6, 2017 at 4:01 am

    Very happy to read your blog. Wishing you every success and please continue with your youtube videos as I am learning a great deal.

  • Donna Culver
    September 9, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    Love your blog, YouTube and your teachings!
    Donna C

    • Misfit
      September 12, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks Donna! :D


Leave a Reply