Is 120GSM Good Enough for Watercolor?

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Watercoloring is an excellent artistic outlet that allows artists to create something beautiful and unique. However, figuring out which paper to use is essential as not all paper weights can handle water-based paint. So what GSM is best, and is 120GSM good enough? 

120GSM is not good enough for watercolor. This weight of paper is far too thin and will easily warp under wet paints. Typically, papers over 200GSM are best for watercolor. You can use 120GSM for light water coloring if you prep the paper, but wrinkling or tearing might still occur. 

In the rest of this article, I will discuss the three weight classes of paper, which GSM is best, and how to stretch lower-weight paper. So if you want to learn more about the best paper weight for watercolor, read on. So, Is 120GSM Good Enough for Watercolor?

Is 120GSM Good Enough for Watercolor?

You can use paper with a weight as low as 120GSM for water coloring. However, lower-weight papers are more likely to crease or tear while you’re painting. You can prime lower-weight papers by pre-painting them and taping them down to prevent wrinkling. Some artists even recommend stacking a few lower-weight papers before taping them down. 

These lower-weight papers are delicate, making them less ideal for water painting. They can’t handle too much moisture and will struggle to hold pigmentOpens in a new tab.. Nevertheless, lower GSM papers can be an excellent way to practice before investing in more expensive papers. 

However, if you’re looking for a paper that will hold up as you paint, most artists recommend a paper with a minimum of 200GSM. This type of paper is thicker and can hold vibrant colors better without fading. Additionally, warping and wrinkling are of less concern with higher-weight paper. 

The Three Weight Classes of Paper for Watercolors

Each paper weight class works differently with wet paints, so it’s essential to understand each of them before you start creating. 

Lightweight Paper 

The first class you will likely encounter is lightweight paper which typically falls at about 190GSM. This type of paper is a little more heavy-duty with a similar texture to cardstock. You can use lightweight paper for watercolors and most other art mediums without much problem. 

You will likely still need to stretch this paper to prevent any wrinkling if you apply a heavy amount of watercolors. Additionally, removing excess water may be a little more complicated and cause unwanted splotches Opens in a new tab.on your painting.

Using lightweight paper like 190GSM is excellent for water coloring because it does a good job of holding on to pigment and is less likely to warp under water-based paint. Additionally, this GSM paper is more affordable than the higher GSM paper. 

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Mediumweight Paper 

Another excellent paper option when it comes to painting is mediumweight paper which is usually about 300GSM. This paper is highly unlikely to warp: it’s fantastic for heavy watercolor use and holds up well under many layers of water-based paint, making it the preferred option for many artists. It has a more rigid feel, like a business card or brochure cover. 

Using a medium- or higher-weight paper helps you use less paint since fewer applications are needed to achieve the desired colorations. 

Heavyweight Paper

Lastly, a heavyweight paper typically weighs in at about 640GSM. This paper is exceptionally thick and unnecessary for most watercolor artists. Despite this, it can undoubtedly level up a watercolor painting, making it an excellent option for those interested in selling their work. 

Heavyweight paper is certainly more expensive, so it’s best to use it if you comprehensively understand watercolor. That being said, papers of 640GSM are known to be easy to use, professional in appearance, and capable of holding vibrant colors. In addition, warping isn’t a problem with such high-quality paper, even with heavier water paints. 

How To Prep Low-Weight Paper for Watercolors

Now that you understand a little more about the best types of paper weightsOpens in a new tab. for water coloring, it’s essential to learn how to prepare regular paper for watercolors. Higher GSM papers can be expensive, so using lower-weight paper is ideal when practicing your technique. 

The best way to prep low-weight papers (any paper under 140GSM) for watercolors is through stretching

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A flat piece of particle board
  • Water-activated craft paper tape
  • Sponge 
  • Scissors 
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • A tub of water

Here are the steps to stretching low-weight paper:

  1. Create a border for the tape using a ruler. Measuring out where the tape will go ensures that your tape lines stay even and don’t cause your painting to look crooked when it’s finished. 
  2. Cut your tape to size and arrange them around the painting. You only want to ensure the tape will fit. Once you’ve confirmed, move the pieces off the painting. 
  3. Dip your paper in the water tub until it’s completely wet. For lower GSM papers, you will want to do this step quickly as they will tear more easily once wet. Ensure you let all the excess water drip from the paper before laying it on the board.
  4. Take a damp sponge and smooth down the paper. You should work from the center to the outer edges and sides. 
  5. Use the sponge to dampen the water-activated tape. Once activated, place them along the paper’s edge. Use the pencil marks you made earlier to guide your placement. 
  6. Let the paper dry. Typically, it will take a few hours for the paper to dry. So it’s usually a good idea to leave the paper alone overnight to ensure maximum dryness.

As you can see, stretching paper isn’t too tricky and doesn’t require too many materials. However, patience is vital when it comes to prepping your paper. 

Shayda CampbellOpens in a new tab.

Final Words 

120GSM is not ideal for water coloring since the paper is thin and doesn’t hold well under water. However, lower-weight paper can still be used to lightly paint on if it’s prepped correctly, though you might still see some wrinkling or creasing. 

Low-weight paper is a cheaper alternative and great for practicing with watercolors, though papers of at least 200GSM are best.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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