The best watercolour paper is crucial because it needs to hold up against wet media. For this, it needs to be hardy but also needs to allow the colour to shine brightly. Low-quality watercolour paper may be too thin and rumple under the water, with the colour pooling unevenly as a result.
Usually, you'll want heavyweight paper (around 300gsm/140lb), although speciality or student paper will often be lighter. While they're formulated for watercolours, the best watercolour paper can also be used for other techniques, especially water-based media like the best watercolour pencils.
Below, we've selected the best watercolour paper for various approaches. Our reviewers have tested them in their own work for quality, and we've also considered value. For pointers on choosing between hot and cold press papers, scroll down to the question section at the bottom.
Keep in mind that, while working flat is best for washes, one of the best easels gives a useful vertical view of your work. If you are looking to brush up on your skills, see our guide to watercolour techniques. You might also want to invest in the best watercolour paints.
The best watercolour paper available now
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Best watercolour paper overall
Texture: cold press
This excellent quality watercolour paper has a strong surface. Though a cold press paper, the texture is on the lighter side. It is a little off-white, and colours look bright and crisp on this surface. Wet-on-dry textures are easy to create. It feels absorbent, holds water well and doesn't buckle easily.
Best watercolour paper for quality
Texture: hot press
This surface is a treat to work on: it washes well and doesn't buckle easily, so the colour lays down evenly. It's a fairly absorbent paper, so there's less pooling of water on the page. Colours show up especially well and look vibrant. This is ideal for more layered approaches, as colour tends not to lift or change once dry.
Best for smooth surface
Texture: very smooth
Weight: 200gsm/74lb (others available)
Unlike traditional cotton watercolour papers, this is made from polypropylene, a type of plastic. It's very smooth and watercolour paint can be wiped off the surface, making it very forgiving. IIt also helps make up for the cost, as paint can be washed off and the paper reused. It's slower to dry.
Best mounted board
Texture: medium, toothy
Weight: 3m board (others available)
This unusual option is more like gesso board than conventional paper, with the texture of the clay surface being somewhat gritty or 'toothy'. They are well suited to float frames, can handle heavy washes, and colours look wonderfully bright. They are expensive compared to paper, making them best for finalised work.
Best watercolour paper for wet-in-wet
Texture: cold press
This has a bright white surface, with a typical cold press texture. It's particularly suited to wet-in-wet techniques as colour spreads easily. It stays wet for a good time and produces blooms readily – perhaps frustrating for some, but very effective for those wanting these textures. It's prone to buckling but is stable for adding layers.
Best watercolour paper sketchbook
Texture: cold press
This is one of the few watercolour notebooks with 300gsm paper, making it considerably more sturdy than many. The cover is solid, so the sketchbook can handle being carried around and supports the paper when you are working. It can handle a reasonable amount of water, though too much will cause it to buckle as it's cellulose-based.
What's the difference between cold and hot press papers?
Hot and cold press papers are manufactured differently. Cold press papers are textured and more absorbent (suiting a wide range of approaches), while hot press paper is smooth and suits more precise work as it displays detail well.
What is watercolour paper made of?
Traditional papers are made of cotton or cellulose, or a blend of these. Cellulose papers tend to be more affordable, while cotton papers are of higher quality, as they are stronger and archival, making them suitable for finished work.
What's the best watercolour paper?
At the top of our list is Saunder's Waterford's excellent quality watercolour paper. It has a strong surface and a light texture for a cold press paper. Colours look great on it and it doesn't crumple with too much wet.