Can You Paint Watercolor on Cartridge Paper?

Can You Paint Watercolor on Cartridge Paper

Watercolor is an expressive form of painting that uses what many refer to as softer colors. The combination of the paints and the perfect paper creates some of the most beautiful art pieces. But when you run out of your favorite watercolor paper, can you substitute it with cartridge paper?

You should not paint your final watercolor on cartridge paper because the painting process can cause the paper to buckle, pill, and tear, leaving you overall with a watercolor that will probably not be able to preserve for too long. However, cartridge paper is recommended for beginners to practice their form -but not for fine art pieces. The ideal paper choice for your final version is watercolor paper. 

This article will cover why painting watercolor on cartridge paper is not recommended for advanced painters. I will also discuss why watercolor paper is the best option and which type is the best for your needs. 

How Watercolor Affects Cartridge Paper

To determine if you can paint watercolor on cartridge paper, we need to start with the basic concept of how the paint physically affects the paper. It’s paper, so you should be able to paint on it, right?

That’s not exactly true. The paint causes different physical effects depending on what kind of paper is used, which could result in less desirable images, ruining your hard work.

Let’s explore these effects to see if cartridge paper can be a practical choice for painting watercolor.

The Cartridge Paper Can Buckle When Painted

Watercolor can be done with two techniques: wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry. These different methods can cause different responses in the paper due to the varying levels of water involved.

You apply your watercolor paints straight on the paper’s surface with wet-on-dry painting. This watercolor painting allows for more control of your lines, as the paint’s movement is restricted to your brushstrokes. 

On the other hand, if you use the wet on wet painting method, you will apply a layer of water to the paper before painting it. This technique has less control because the paint will naturally flow with the water, not just your paintbrush.

From these two methods, you might have already figured out that cartridge paper won’t always be the best choice for painting watercolor. Cartridge paper is primarily intended for dry art forms, such as sketching. When you add moisture, it can lead to buckling or visible rippling in the surface of the paper that results from the natural drying of the water. The effects will be even more profound if you use the wet-on-wet method. 

The Paint Will Sink Into the Cartridge Paper

Traditional watercolor paper is designed with special additives called sizing. This sizing prevents irregular absorption of liquids, allowing the watercolors to sit on the paper’s surface instead of fully absorbing into its fibers.

Cartridge paper does not have these additives. The result is that the paint sinks deep into the fibers of the paper. Therefore, you will have less control over the creation of your art. Because the paint will have sunk so deep into the paper, your brushstrokes will have less impact on moving the paint. Adding extra layers of paint can cause more damage to the painting, such as pilling and tearing. 

The Bottom Line: Cartridge Paper Is Not Ideal for Watercolor

Because cartridge paper is a more cost-effective option, it is often recommended for beginners to practice their skills at painting watercolor. It is efficient enough to handle smaller projects, but you should not expect it to take heavy layers of watercolor.

VIDEO. We are not saying it’s impossible, but using cartridge paper can be… limiting. WATCH – Watercolour on cartridge paper | Ankit_can_art

Ankit Can art

Due to the buckling, pilling, and tearing that cartridge paper experiences when having watercolor paints applied, it is not recommended for fine art pieces. The results can be fuzzy, grainy images that lack the detail you strive to achieve.

Why Watercolor Paper Is the Best Choice

Watercolor paper has three options: cellulose, cotton, and a mix. Unlike regular paper, made from wood pulp, these options respond to liquids differently, giving you more control over the lines and images you create with your paintbrush.

You’re also not limited to just one kind of watercolor paper. There are different types for different needs. 

Let’s investigate why watercolor paper is the best choice for your watercolor paintings.

Watercolor Paper Does Not Readily Absorb Liquids

According to a study by Anling Li, watercolor paper shows high resistance to moisture before and after aging. Unlike cartridge paper, watercolor paper is specifically designed to work with the watercolor technique. Due to its water resistance, watercolor paper experiences significantly less buckling than other options.

Different Types of Watercolor Paper for Different Painting Needs

Watercolor paper comes in various forms that are identified by its grams per square meter (gsm), which is how the weight of the paper is measured. Three of the most popular watercolor papers include the following:

  • 190 gsm: This watercolor paper is not the best for watercolor painting. Despite being heavier than regular paper, it still experiences significant buckling. 
  • 300 gsm: This is the most common weight selected for watercolor painting. However, it may require stretching to prevent buckling.
  • 638 gsm: Possibly the ideal watercolor paper, this option does not need stretching. It also will not experience buckling unless it receives several heavy washes of paint.

As you increase in weight, the paper’s price also increases. So, you will have to decide which option best fits your needs as an artist.

The Verdict: The Best Watercolor Paper

While it may be surprising, the best watercolor paper you can use is 300 gsm paper. It is ideal for responding to the paint with minimal buckling. If you suspect a buckling issue, you can alleviate it by stretching the paper. Additionally, it’s not overly expensive.

Final Words

Your watercolor paintings can be severely limited by the paper you choose. While cartridge paper can be used in a pinch, it will not allow for creating the most beautiful painting and can even result in fuzzy, grainy images. The ideal option is to use watercolor paper, designed for this art form. Out of the watercolor paper choices, the best selection is one with a weight of 300 gsm.

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