Become a Paper Pro

13 Qualities of Art Papers Every Artist Should Know

The surface an artist chooses to work on has an incredible and powerful impact on the end result. Each artwork you make on a different surface will turn out differently, as any master artist knows. That means discovering all there is to know about art papers and discovering how to choose the best of the best (for you).

Once you start to ask questions and explore your options in art papers, you’ll quickly discover that the different qualities you’re looking for are generally best discussed using the proper paper “lingo.” Here are several common paper types and surface details to put you on equal footing with professional artists and masters of the trade. In the end, the goal is to make sure you choose art papers that will give you what you want and are appropriate for each art project you embark upon! Enjoy!

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art papers sw


Considered the high end of the paper world, each sheet of handmade paper is individually formed with great care, and no two sheets are exactly alike. Handmade paper has a general lack of surface grain, which allows for smoother, more even application of paint.


Used by many artists, machine-made art papers are known both for their consistency (the process allows each sheet to be made exactly the same) and its affordability. But there are differences among various brands, so experiment to find what’s right for you.

art papers canson heritage


Probably the most popular choice among watercolorists, this kind of paper variety combines the mass-production of machine-made paper with some of the distinctive characteristics of handmade paper. L’Aquarelle Canson® Héritage paper is mould-made for a sensual texture and strength.


This is the term used to describe art papers with a smooth surface produced by passing the paper through heavy rollers (usually hot). Hot-pressed papers tend to be less absorbent, so the paint stays on the surface longer, allowing for extra manipulation time. They’re generally the choice of very detail-oriented artists.

art papers st cuthberts mill


Achieved by various means, a rough surface is just what it sounds like—not smooth. Its overriding characteristic is that paint tends to deposit in between the peaks and valleys in a paper, leaving uneven coloring. If you work in large washes and aren’t too concerned about tiny details, a rough surface might be for you.


In between a hot-pressed and a rough surface lies cold-pressed paper, sometimes known as “not” (as in not hot-pressed). Because they accept washes more readily than hot-pressed paper, yet allow you to work in more detail that rough paper, cold-pressed papers are probably the most popular watercolor paper type.


Sizing is what controls a paper’s absorbency, and nearly all art papers are sized to a lesser or greater degree. There are generally two kinds of sizing. Internal sizing, which is added to the paper pulp itself as it’s being beaten, and tub sizing, which is external and added after the paper is made and dried by passing a sheet through a tub of sizing.

L’Aquarelle Canson® Héritage papers are made with an innovative non-animal sizing that ensures uniform washes without the accumulation of pigments.

Saunders Waterford® watercolor paper is sized in gelatin, making it strong and resilient to scrubbing and other rough treatments.

art papers pinceau-bleu

Wove vs. laid.

Also related to a paper’s surface, a wove surface is formed much like the woven surface of a piece of cloth and is generally smoother and softer in texture. A laid surface is impressed with a series of parallel lines generally ingrained into the paper pulp by a wire mesh when it’s still wet.


This has to do with the archival qualities of a paper. Basically, acid is a main culprit in the deterioration of paper, and therefore any artwork you make on paper. Look for papers labeled acid-free, archival quality or neutral.

Each sheet of Saunders Waterford® paper is buffered with calcium carbonate to help defend finished pieces of work from discoloration caused by acids present in atmospheric pollution.

art papers saunders waterford 2


For our purposes, weight describes the thickness of a paper, and is expressed in pounds. The higher the weight, the thicker the paper, so 140-lb. paper is thinner, for example, than 300-lb. paper.


This term describes the surface texture of a paper, and is a characteristic of cold-pressed and rough paper. Tooth is most often referred to in discussions about pastels or charcoals, both of which require a paper with enough “tooth” to hold the pigment to its surface.

Hard vs. soft.

This quality can generally be determined by feeling the surface, and is the result of a variety of papermaking processes. In general, hardness is the result of a lot of sizing and pressing.

art papers edge

Deckled edge.

This is the rough, uneven edge that results during the handmade and mould-made papermaking process. A true deckle, however, while apparent on all four sides of handmade paper, is only found on two parallel edges of mould-made paper, which is typically made in rolls. The other two deckled edges result when the mould-made paper is torn into the appropriate size.

The right choice.

Paper quality really matters and now you are armed with many of the key factors that differentiate art papers from one another. But always remember, the first rule of art papers is to experiment. But the second rule is seek out quality art papers with solid reputations.

art papers canson

L’Aquarelle Canson® Héritage is the quintessence of almost 500 years of know-how associated with all the latest technological advances in papermaking. Artisan crafted using techniques of old give it the texture and feel of the finest handmade paper. The innovative design and Next Generation sizing make Heritage (as called in North America) a distinctive experience for today’s artists.

Saunders Waterford® is an exquisite watercolor paper, traditionally made on a cylinder mould machine. This is a superior quality watercolor paper made by St Cuthbert’s Mill and comes with the Royal Watercolour Society’s endorsement. A traditional experience for today’s watercolor artist.

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