Choosing the Best Watercolor Paper: A Guide to Cold Pressed vs. Hot Pressed

"After a thousand watercolors, you will find you have fallen in love with paper and paint." - Rex Brandt.

If you're an avid lover of watercolors, you're probably already familiar with the struggles of finding the right paper. You may find yourself asking, "Why do my colors turn muddy, and why does the paper pill and tear?" With the weight of the water, combined with the layering of pigments, using just any regular paper just won't cut it! 

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In watercoloring, using proper watercolor paper can make all the difference in your creative journey. And there's not just one type of watercolor paper available - there are actually at least two: cold-pressed and hot-pressed! Today, we will explore the difference between these two watercolor papers - their textures, their manufacturing process, and how they affect the outcome of your artwork. So grab your paints and brushes, and choose the perfect surface for all your water-based masterpieces!

How Does Watercolor Paper Differ From Regular Paper?

Watercolor paper is not your run-of-the-mill paper; it's specially designed to handle the unique properties and challenges of watercolor painting. Unlike regular paper, it boasts greater weight and thickness, available in various measurements, typically measured in pounds or grams per square meter. This thickness is crucial because watercolor painting involves significant moisture, and the sturdiness of watercolor paper ensures that it won't warp or deteriorate. 

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Additionally, watercolor paper is designed with absorbency control, which ensures that water and pigments are absorbed uniformly, resulting in predictable and beautiful color effects. Its durability, attributed to its archival and acid-free features, also prevents the artwork from yellowing or deteriorating over time.

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In contrast, regular paper lacks the ability to handle the repeated application of wet washes and layers of paint without warping or tearing. It doesn't possess the necessary surface texture to hold watercolor pigments in place, resulting in less control over the final appearance of the artwork. 

While regular paper may be suitable for everyday writing and printing, it falls short when it comes to the demanding and nuanced artistry of watercolor painting, where watercolor paper's unique qualities are essential for achieving your desired effects.

Hot Pressed vs. Cold Pressed: What’s the Difference?

Hot-pressed and cold-pressed are two of the most common types of watercolor paper, and they offer distinct textures and characteristics that can significantly influence your watercolor paintings. If you're wondering what watercolor paper is best for you, here's a breakdown of the key differences between hot-pressed and cold-pressed watercolor paper according to texture, absorbency, and suitability for different paintings:

Manufacturing Process

Hot-pressed watercolor paper is created through a process that involves pressing the paper pulp between very smooth, heated rollers. These rollers are responsible for the paper's smooth and fine-grained surface. In contrast, cold-pressed paper pulp is pressed between textured rollers, which impart their characteristic small ‘bumps’ and dimples to the surface.

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Hot-Pressed Cold-Pressed>
has a smooth and fine-grained surface has a textured, slightly rough surface often described as "bumpy" or "pebbly
allows for sharp details and fine lines in your paintings well-suited for creating texture effects like foliage, clouds, and other natural elements
works well with the combination of other mediums like pen and ink provides more tooth for the paint to grip onto, making it ideal for a wide range of watercolor techniques


Hot-Pressed Cold-Pressed
has a relatively smoother surface, so it tends to be less absorbent absorbs paint and water more readily, dries faster
the pigments and water may sit on the surface slightly longer create interesting watercolor effects as the pigments easily spread and diffuse
allows for more lifting, with layers building up in more precise ways colors mix easily, and washes blend more quickly
allows for more control over washes and color blending produces softer edges and gradients

Painting Style

Artists who prefer highly detailed and controlled work often opt for hot-pressed paper, making it a favorite choice for botanical illustrations, portraits, and any artwork that demands precise lines and intricate details. On the other hand, cold-pressed paper is versatile and suits a broader range of styles, making it popular among landscape painters and those who appreciate the organic, natural look of watercolor. The surface of cold-pressed lends itself well to creating a variety of textures in your paintings. 

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Overall, the choice between hot-pressed and cold-pressed paper often comes down to personal preference. Some artists prefer the smoothness of hot-pressed paper for its precision, while others appreciate the character and versatility of cold-pressed paper.

Find the Perfect Paper for All Your Watercolor Needs Here!

All in all, there's no one-size-fits-all answer when choosing between hot-pressed and cold-pressed watercolor paper. Everything just boils down to your own preferences and needs as an artist. After all, each type brings its unique charm and versatility to your creative journey! 

So, we urge you to explore, experiment, and enjoy the wonderful world of watercoloring, armed with the knowledge of these two fantastic paper options. Just enjoy the process and go with the flow! 

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For more inspiration and tips on finding the best watercolor supplies and techniques for beginners, remember to drop by our ABCs of Art page.

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