Is there a correct side of watercolor paper that you are supposed to paint on? Or is there one side of watercolor paper that is better than the other when it comes to painting?
The Correct Side of Watercolor Paper
When talking about pads and blocks of watercolor paper – the answer is pretty obvious that manufacturers prefer you use the sheet of the page that is pointed up – also known as the “front” side. But what about when it comes to sheets of watercolor paper? Is there a correct side and if so how do you know?
Well, after some research I found that when purchasing sheets of watercolor paper the manufacturer will stamp their logo usually onto the corner of the sheet to signify that this is the “front” side you are supposed to paint on. Basically – if you can read the logo – that is the correct side – or the side the manufacturer designates as the side which you are supposed to paint on.
Is There a Difference
That got me wondering – if there is a “correct/front” side to watercolor paper – what would happen if you painted on the opposite or “back” side. Is there a difference and if so what is it?
After laying down a small swatch of color on both sides – I began to see subtle differences.
- First – the paint lay on the “back” side slightly smoother than the “front” side
- Second – dry time seemed to last a bit longer on the “back” side compared to the “front” side
- Third – the “back” side seemed to show more blossoms and blooms when compared to the “front” side.
- The Biggest Difference however was the smooth “tooth” or texture of the “back” side compared to the “front” side.
Why is there a Difference?
So why is there a difference between the two sides? Without getting into too much detail – it mainly comes down the how the paper is processed. One side is usually squeezed against a wire mesh while the other is pressed against felt. As the paper is processed – it typically retains the slight pattern or groove of the wire mesh on the front side and remains smooth or flat on the felt side or back side. Thus creating the two distinct sides.
Which Side is Better?
It's really up to the artist. Personally – I preferred painting on the smoother or “back” side of the watercolor paper since my paintings tend to have a good amount of fine details. I also like to work with Mixed Media elements such as pencils, pens, and inks – which work easier on smoother surfaces. So – if you like the smoothness of hot press paper but the absorption of cold press – flipping your cold press over onto the back side is kind of a happy medium. You get the absorption of cold press paper but a smoother texture similar to hot press.
But ultimately the choice is up to you! So take a chance and try it out for yourself! Also, keep in mind that different brands have varying degrees of texture. I used Arches and Fabriano cold press 300lb paper as examples for this post – but other brands can have different results. So explore and have fun during the process!