The Skinny on Paper Surfaces

Q. I?m a beginning watercolorist and trying to decide which kind of paper to use. Right now, I?m painting on cold-pressed paper, but I?d like to experiment. Can you explain the differences between the papers?

A. The three most commonly used surfaces are rough, cold-pressed and hot-pressed. I?ve painted on all three to show you how the paint reacts on each one.

As its name implies, ROUGH PAPER has more texture than the others and seems to soak up more paint, leaving the color on the light side. This is no big deal?just adjust the amount of paint to get the color you want. Once you get to know your paper, you?ll automatically know how much paint it will take.


COLD-PRESSED PAPER is a little smoother than rough, but it still has a bit of texture. Among watercolorists, cold-pressed, 140-lb. paper is used most commonly. This paper doesn?t absorb as much paint as rough paper, so the colors tend to be brighter.


HOT-PRESSED PAPER is smooth and slick, as if you?d ironed out all the texture. Paint sits on top of this surface and makes interesting puddles when left to dry naturally. Although many well-known artists prefer hot-pressed paper, I would not recommend it for a beginner because it?s difficult to control paint on the slick surface.

Artist and engineer John Bickford lives in Middletown, Connecticut, and on the Maine coast, where you have to get familiar with rocks if you?re going to paint.

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