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The Difference Between Hot and Cold Press Watercolor Paper (TIP#01)

posted by Misfit December 10, 2015


If they were, we wouldn’t be tempted to give up so easily.  Starting something new is often overwhelming and terrifying all at the same time.  This is precisely the reason why I decided to make this new series mainly focusing on beginner’s, or as I call them newbs, in the watercolor world.   Looking back on my art journey – I know I could have excelled so much faster and with far less stress if someone had just taken the time to walk me through the absolute basics.  So that is what I’m doing here… in this new series – I’ll be tackling 30 different ways to improve your skills at watercolor in short informational videos. 

For today’s topic we are going to be discussing watercolor paper.  This is an easy fix for any watercolor beginner.  If you aren’t painting on the right paper – it won’t turn out well for you.  Let’s admit it, watercolor is already hard – let’s not make it even harder.  So what should you use? Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor?

Well, before I get into Hot and Cold Press Watercolor Paper…let’s talk about how it is different from other types of paper – such as Drawing or Mixed Media.   

arches cold press watercolor paper


Without getting into a lot of detail – the main difference is the weight (or thickness) of the paper.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed paper and water don’t really mix well.  Watercolor paper was specifically designed to withstand a good amount of water without warping beyond use.   Note, all paper will warp under water – even watercolor paper.  But due to its weight – watercolor paper can take ALOT of water abuse before becoming unusable.  A good watercolor paper weight is 140lb/300gsm.   


Now that we have determined the difference between regular paper and watercolor paper – let’s look into other ways we classify or sort watercolor paper. 

Quality  – Student Vs. Artist

You may have heard the terms artist and student grade paper tossed around a bit when referring to art supplies.  These terms are referring to the quality.  Student grade tends to be cheaper because the quality of the paper is not as good.  This type is great for experimenting and learning watercolor. Artist grade (as I’m sure you can imagine is more expensive).  This is a high quality paper that can take ALOT of abuse and is often used by professionals since it allows them to push the limits of water to paper ratio.   

Here’s an example of a Hot Press vs. Cold Press Watercolor Paper:

hot vs. cold press watercolor paper

Packaging  – Pads & Blocks

Another way watercolor paper is classified is by it’s packaging.  You may have seen watercolor sold in pads and blocks. 

  • Pads – These are the least expensive option and are as they sound – a stack of papers held together on one side. This is my preferred packaging type because I like to trace on my drawings onto my watercolor paper rather than drawing directly on the paper.  The reason is because – I tend to be a pretty heavy pressure drawer which is problematic when erasing pencil grooves.  Just something to keep in mind.
  • Blocks – Blocks are the next option of packaging.  These papers are glued on all four sides to stretch before you paint. Each paper can easily be removed form the block by a small slit on the bottom of the block with a palette knife or something similar to a mail opener. These are great for larger paintings since it prevents it from buckling. 

Texture  – The “Tooth” 

The last way watercolor paper is classified is by the Texture (also known as the “tooth”).  This is where Hot and Cold Press come in.    

  • Watercolor paper that feel smooth to the touch – similar to Mixed Media or Drawing is called Hot Press Paper.  Think of it being HOT “ironed” flat.
  • Bumpy watercolor paper is known as Cold Press Watercolor Paper. I like to think of Goosebumps for Cold Press Paper when keeping the two straight.   

hot and cold press watercolor paper


Now you are probably wondering, okay… why does the texture of the paper matter? 

HOT PRESS  (Smooth Paper)  – Well, hot press, due to it’s smooth texture, is great for detail line work and inking. The reason is because you are not having to fight the grooves of the paper.  Hot press paper also doesn’t absorb water as quickly – this means your paint kind of sits onto of the paper for a while allowing you to play around with the paint on the paper and even remove the paint before dries. 

COLD PRESS  (Bumpy Paper) – Cold press watercolor paper, on the other hand, is like a sponge-quickly absorbing the water placed on it.  Although you have less play time with your paint and it dries faster than Hot Press –  Cold press watercolor material allows the artist to have a great deal of water control while painting.  For this very reason, Cold Press is the most popular type of watercolor paper is recommended as the best paper for beginners. 

difference between hot press and cold press watercolor paper


AND THAT IS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WATERCOLOR PAPER.  SO NOW, YOU ARE PROBABLY WONDERING WHAT IS BEST FOR ME? Well, if you are a beginner, I recommend starting on Cold Press in a size range around 9×12 inches.  This size is big enough to allow you to play with your washes, yet not to large to become overwhelming.  Also, the smaller your painting – usually the faster you can complete it.  ? If you have been using watercolor for some time and want to try adding ink lines or finer details to your paintings – I recommend trying Hot Press instead of Cold Press watercolor paper.  Ultimately, the type of paper you use will be based on your personal preference and art style.  So, I hope that clears up some things and helps you have a better understanding of Watercolor Paper. 




Cheryl Turtlemoon March 18, 2016 at 7:04 am

Aha! I wish id seen this yesterday when I went shopping 🙂 thank you!!!

Misfit March 23, 2016 at 3:08 pm

You are welcome 😀

Deborah Kondelik July 24, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Thank you! Great clarity.

Vasco November 2, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Thanks! Very helpful.

Barb December 11, 2016 at 8:51 pm

This is so helpful, thank you. I have to artistic daughter-in-laws and I want to get them good supplies. Now I know what I am buying and I might try it too. Thanks for your professional and clear explanations.

Misfit December 12, 2016 at 11:43 pm

I’m so glad the information helped! 😀 I’ll be adding more of this type of content soon. So be on the look out!

NdukaOmeife March 29, 2017 at 11:56 am

The information is very useful. Thank you!

Colette February 14, 2018 at 10:11 pm

Your explanation is clear and concise. Thank you for your help.

Misfit February 15, 2018 at 11:19 pm

I’m glad Colette, and welcome 🙂


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