The Best Cheap Watercolor Paper for Practice

High-quality watercolour paper is an excellent choice for experienced watercolorists. But if you are a beginner with watercolor painting, or want some regular paper to practice with, it’s not necessary to buy top-of-the-line cotton paper like Arches. Luckily, you can find lower-priced watercolor block papers for practicing watercolour painting.

This art supply is often categorized by grade: student-grade or artist-grade. The most inexpensive paper is cold pressed on only one side and has 140lb (64kg) weight – commonly called cold pressed paper.

All the products we review are ideal for practice, and you might want to choose from them simply on price, as it might be good to leave the professional artist paper for the final version of the watercolour paint you want to do.

Options to Consider When Buying Watercolor Paper

As you consider what kind of paper to buy, you will come across many jargons, such as cold-pressed, rag paper, mold-made, and 140lb (64kg). An expert artist knows what each of those means. But if you are new to watercolor, an explanation of each can help guide you in the decision-making process.

The Process Used to Create It

One of these three processes is used to manufacture most watercolor paper:  machine-made, mold-made, or handmade.  

Machine-Made  

Manufacturers use a four-step process automated process:

  1. First, the pulp is mixed with water, forming a wet mixture of “sheets.”
  2. They are then pressed to remove most of the water.
  3. In the third step, the paper is dried until the moisture content is around 6%.
  4. In the final step, the paper is smoothed into sheets.

Machine-made paper is the most consistent of the three, but most artists prefer paper with more texture.

Mold-Made

Mold-made paper is manufactured on cylinder molds that sit in stainless steel vats. The pulp in the vats is spun into a paper of varying thicknesses. Manufacturers produce either sheets or rolls of paper using a process invented in the early 19th century.

Many artists prefer this paper because it has the texture of handmade paper while being more consistently durable.

Handmade

Some artists prefer handmade paper because its irregular surface adds texture that cannot be found in the other two. It does not need to be stretched and durable enough to withstand scrubbing and color removal without visible damage. However, it is the most expensive of the three.

The Material

The term “rag paper” means it is made from cotton. Because rag paper is more durable, lasts longer, and can handle masking techniques, artists prefer it.  

Less expensive paper is made from wood pulp and is less durable. Some papers are “mixed content,” meaning they contain wood pulp and other fibers, including cotton.  

The Texture and Tint

You will encounter phrases like “hot-pressed” or “cold-pressed.” These are related to the texture of the paper. For example, hot-pressed paper is a smooth paper with a hard surface, while cold-pressed paper has more texture. Rough paper has the most texture of the three types. If you run across the word “teeth,” it refers to the raised “dimples” of the paper.

  • Hot pressed paper tends to be slippery, and controlling the paint can be a challenge. Someone with experience can use it for practice, but a beginner might be disappointed with the results and give up.
  • Cold pressed (sometimes called not pressed) paper is a better choice, if you can afford it because it provides more versatility—it lets you do detailed work, but the paint can still soak into the paper. It is easier to work on than both hot and rough paper.  
  • Rough paper is best for painters who want to create bold and expressive artworks.    

The Weight

You will also see references to weight. The weight comes from how much 500 sheets (a ream) weighs. A lighter paper is not necessarily inferior to a heavier one. However, lighter paper cannot absorb as much water, so it needs to be stretched to keep it from wrinkling.  

Some artists prefer heavy (300-400lbs or 136-181kg) paper because it does not need to be stretched. For practice purposes, a 140lb (64kg) paper is good.   

The Form It Is Sold In

Watercolor paper is sold in various forms:  

  • Sheets. Whether bought individually or in a pack, sheets under 300lb (136kg) will need to be stretched beforehand to prevent warping or buckling. Paper sold by the roll can save you some money, but most of it is artist-quality paper.
  • Pads. Excellent for practice or outdoor painting, pads come either in student or artist grade paper. Acid-free student watercolor pads are an excellent inexpensive choice.  
  • Blocks. Blocks are like pads, except all four sides are bound together with glue. This keeps paper from warping as it dries. When you are finished, you slice that piece off. You will be lucky to find inexpensive blocks.

Pads will most likely be the least expensive, although you could cut them to size if you can find inexpensive sheets.

Why Do I Need to Buy Watercolor Paper?

In general, the paper does not much like water, so paper for watercolors has a coating (called “sizing”) that keeps the paper from absorbing too much water.  

Gelatin is typically used for the coating. It can be added either to the pulp mixture or coated onto the finished paper. Paper without the sizing absorbs water immediately, meaning that your paintings will not look good. Like “wet into wet,” many watercolor techniques will not turn out right because the paint will dry too quickly.

Watercolor paper is also thicker than drawing paper. The sizing keeps water from seeping being absorbed too quickly. The extra thickness keeps paper from buckling. And the sizing and extra thickness keep the watercolors from bleeding onto the back.

Additionally, watercolor paints on regular drawing paper look pale in comparison. That’s because much of the pigment is being absorbed by the paper instead of staying on top.

The point of practice is to get better. Using paper that won’t let you use many techniques or not allow you to improve your artwork is like learning to play on an out-of-tune piano.

As we said earlier, most of these papers are similar in quality and price point. Each review will give you a little background on the company, point out key features, and give you our bottom line.

Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad

Canson 100510941 XL Series Watercolor Pad, 1 Pack, Multicolor
32,500 Reviews
Canson 100510941 XL Series Watercolor Pad, 1 Pack, Multicolor
  • Cold press textured paper.
  • Recommended for use with watercolor, acrylic, pen & ink, marker, colored pencil, pencil, charcoal,...
  • Durable surface withstands repeated washes.

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Canson is a French paper manufacturer with 450 years of papermaking experience, so they should have this down by now. Although they have a broad range of paper products, Canson entered the student paper market in 1947 with the Canson pack. 

Teachers could give the papers in the pack to their students, and when the paintings were finished, teachers had a manageable way to carry the papers to grade them.

Canson produces six lines of watercolor papers, including the well-known Heritage and the Moulin Rouge, which is produced on a cylinder mold machine.  

Those are artist-grade papers and are very pricey. The XL Watercolor is a student-grade paper ideal for practice and beginners. It’s cold-pressed, so the paper has texture. However, the paper is only textured on one side. This could be a plus as you can see how lack of texture affects your painting, or a negative because you cannot use both sides of the paper for the same effects.

Pros

  • Inexpensive. Check for sale prices—sometimes as much as 50% off
  • A variety of sizes, up to an 18 x 24-inch (46 x 61-cm) foldover and two side wires
  • 140lb (64kg) and acid-free
  • Multi-purpose for watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, pastels

Cons

  • Does not work well with wet on wet techniques

Bottom Line

The Canson XL Watercolor series is a good practice paper. Its versatility is something of a negative as it suggests the paper will not perform and other papers designed specifically for watercolors. Users who plan to use watercolor pencils could have slightly better results.

Bellofy Watercolor Paper Pad

Bellofy 2X Watercolor Paper Pads - 9x12 in - Watercolor Sketchbook Journal with Cold Press Watercolor Paper Finish - 130 IB 190 GSM - Watercolor Paper for Kids & Artists - Painting Paper for Wet Media
1,689 Reviews
Bellofy 2X Watercolor Paper Pads - 9x12 in - Watercolor Sketchbook Journal with Cold Press Watercolor Paper Finish - 130 IB 190 GSM - Watercolor Paper for Kids & Artists - Painting Paper for Wet Media
  • Express Your Watercoloring Techniques - Now coming in set of 2, so you can enjoy more of your...
  • Share Your Art Easily - Watercolor Sketchbook is bounded on top with adhesive, providing safe detach...
  • Take Your Inspiration To Water Color Paper - Enrich your art supplies with Bellofy Watercolor Paper...

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Bellofy was started by Jonathan Bello, whose last name means “beautiful.” He then added the -fy (“to create”). The goal is to provide products that let people create beautiful products. They have a limited product line, focusing on paint sets paper.  

This pad contains 50 top blue bound 130lb (59kg) sheets. The paper is cold-pressed, acid-free, and non-toxic.  

Pros

  • A reasonably priced paper designed for beginners and practice
  • Thin enough to be used in a printer

Cons

  • Not great for wet on wet technique
  • Buckles easily

Bottom Line

This is a good beginner and practice paper but not something to use for more permanent work. It compares well to the Cannon XL, and you might want to buy whichever one is on sale.

Strathmore 300 Series

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Strathmore company is an American company with a Scottish influence. After Horace Moses opened a paper mill in Massachusetts, he traveled to Strathmore Valley in Scotland. The beauty of the valley inspired him to call his paper Strathmore. In the 100+ years since its founding, the company introduced student grade paper in 1929, paper pads in 1950, and the first recycled pad in 1972.

Strathmore has 4 series of watercolor papers. The 200 series is only 90lb and does not provide the quality results that improve your skills. But the 300 series is perfect for beginners, practice, and experimentation. It is a 140lb paper, with the same two-side format as the Canson XL—one side is a cold press while the other is smooth, appropriate for detail work.

The sheets measure 9 x 12, and the pack has 25 loose sheets. The Strathmore 300 pad has half as many sheets and is more expensive.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • The paper is not overly absorbent so you will have good control over the paint

Cons

  • The texture on the cold pressed is rough, so detailed work will have to be done on the hot pressed side
  • Because the paper has a lot of tooth, the horizontal texture pattern stands out.  

Bottom Line

If you want a practice paper, the 300 series of Strathmore paints will do nicely. It will let you practice different techniques. However, it is a student-grade paper, not suitable for permanent pieces. The more expensive 400 or 500 series is what you want for finished pieces.

Arteza Watercolor Paper

Arteza 9'x12' Watercolor Pad, 32 Sheets, 140lb/300gsm, Glue Bound, Cold Pressed, Acid Free Watercolor Paper Pad, Art Supplies for Wet, Dry & Mixed Media
537 Reviews
Arteza 9"x12" Watercolor Pad, 32 Sheets, 140lb/300gsm, Glue Bound, Cold Pressed, Acid Free Watercolor Paper Pad, Art Supplies for Wet, Dry & Mixed Media
  • Large 32-pages Pad: Many watercolor sketchbooks offer just 12 sheets max. But your Arteza pad gives...
  • Premium Paper, Affordably Priced: Why spend a fortune? Your Arteza watercolor paper is thicker &...
  • Just-Right Texture: Not too rough. Not too smooth. Your Arteza painting paper has a cold-pressed...

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Arteza is the new kid on the block. Founded in 2015, the company uses an e-commerce model, selling directly through consumers through the internet. It also offers 750 different products, from artist supplies to office products. To avoid marketing expenses and keep costs low, Arteza has a large social media presence, including a blog and online tutorials.

If this next part sounds like you’ve read it before, that’s because this paper shares many features of other papers—140lb (64kg), cold press on one side, hot press on the other (Arteza calls it “dual-sided.” So again, one side is good for watercolors and the other for other media, such as pencils, a pen, and perhaps watercolor pencils.

Bottom Line

There is no point in repeating the pros and cons since they would be the same as Strathmore’s. Because of Arteza’s e-commerce business model, the company can sell products for much less.  

Bee Paper 100% Rag 140# Cold Press Watercolor Paper Pack

Bee Paper 6' x 9' Watercolor Paper Pack, 140lb, 50 Sheets
1,152 Reviews
Bee Paper 6" x 9" Watercolor Paper Pack, 140lb, 50 Sheets
  • PROPERLY TEXTURED - 100% cotton, cold-pressed watercolor sheets that are textured and sized for...
  • PREMIUM QUALITY - Featuring a thicker and heavier paper at 140lb. It can withstand multiple washes...
  • ACID FREE - Acid-free paper addresses the problem of needing to preserve your work!

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Bee Paper is a subsidiary of Royal Brush Manufacturing, makers of Royal & Langnickel products. The family-owned company has been in business for over half a century. Along with watercolors, Royal & Langnickel also sell oil and acrylic paints, a variety of art surfaces, and accessories like brushes and engraving tools.

Royal & Langnickel aim to sell affordable, high-quality products, and this paper qualifies on both counts. It’s a cold-pressed, 140lb (64kg) textured paper better suited for wet on wet techniques.  

The paper size in the 50-sheet pack is 6 x 9in (15 x 23cm). Some painters prefer a smaller size for practice or because of the portability.  

If you want larger sizes, the paper is also sold in 5-yard long 36-in (91-cm) rolls for around $50. That’s a lot of paper for a reasonable price.

Pros

  • Heavier paper that doesn’t buckle as easily
  • Paper does not deteriorate from washes
  • Paint does not bleed through so that both sides can be used

Cons

  • Lifting paint from the paper is tricky
  • Paper damages easily from scrubbing

Bottom Line

This paper straddles the line between student and artist quality. It is slightly more expensive than the Canson, but the paper will also let you experiment with a larger variety of techniques. If you have a little more money to spend and want to try out different techniques, then Bee Paper is an excellent choice.

Newbested White Watercolor Paper

Newbested 100PCS White Watercolor Paper, 100% Rag Cotton Watercolor Paper Cold Press Cut Bulk Pack for Watercolorists Students Beginning Artists(12 x 8 inch)
327 Reviews
Newbested 100PCS White Watercolor Paper, 100% Rag Cotton Watercolor Paper Cold Press Cut Bulk Pack for Watercolorists Students Beginning Artists(12 x 8 inch)
  • Package includes: 100 Sheets 100% cotton Rag Professional Cotton Watercolor Paper. Size: 8 by 12...
  • Material: Pure cotton pulp, good absorption of water, pilling resistance, acid free rub resistance...
  • Cold press watercolor paper: Enjoy a nice texture, suitable for mixed media, such as wet and dry;...

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you are looking for the cheapest paper, Newbested is it. It claims to be a cold press and comes in a bulk pack of 100 sheets of 10 x 7-in (25 x 18-cm) paper. However, it is a thin, 94lb (43kg) paper better suited for young kids and educational settings, not for serious practice.  

Specialty Practice Paper

Why limit yourself to practicing in your studio or yard? Watercolor books are great for travel or painting when you’re out and about.    

Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book A6

Hahnemuhle paper is artist-quality, expensive, and hard to get in the states. This watercolor book with 30 sheets is an affordable way to get your hands on this paper. As one would expect from Hahnemuhle’s watercolor paper, it performs well. The journal has sewn binding and lays flat.  

If you want to treat yourself to a portable watercolor journal, you can’t go wrong with this journal.

Strathmore Watercolor Postcards

Sale
Strathmore Blank Watercolor Postcards pad of 15 (Package May Vary)
1,614 Reviews
Strathmore Blank Watercolor Postcards pad of 15 (Package May Vary)
  • Product is unique and carries its own natural characteristics
  • Perfect purchase for a gift
  • Manufactured in united states

Last update on 2022-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This set of fifteen 4 x 6-in (10 x 15-cm) watercolor postcards would make a perfect gift for an artist. Of course, a postcard with a watercolor picture makes a nice gift for a friend or loved one. The paper is 140lb (64kg), acid-free, and meets mailing guidelines for a postcard, complete with formatted address lines.  

However, you may decide that your painting is too pretty to be mailed as a postcard, so consider mailing them in a padded envelope.

Can You Make Your Own Watercolor Paper?

Making paper is a fun project, and the internet is full of “recipes” that usually involve recycling paper, screens, paper, and a blender. There are also a ton of YouTube videos about paper making. However, finding directions for making watercolor paper is hard to find.

Why is that?

Remember that watercolor paper must absorb water. Commercial watercolor paper is either made from cotton or some combination of cotton and pulp. Most papermaking recipes don’t contain cotton. Also, recipes for homemade paper do not include gelatin, an ingredient added to watercolor paper to slow down water absorption.  

Most glues contain gelatin, so adding glue and cotton to your recipe will get your homemade paper closer to watercolor paper.

VIDEO. This video shows a very close approximation. WATCH – How To Make Homemade Watercolor Paper!

Artrageous with Nate

Final Words

As you can see, the major art paper manufacturers sell watercolor paper that falls in between student and artist-quality paper. And that is the ideal paper for practice. Although you don’t want to use expensive paper for practice, you also want to use paper to give you good results. Otherwise, how will you know that you are getting better?

Sources

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Ines

Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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