Why Is Watercolor Paper So Expensive?

Watercolour is popular for its wide variety of possibilities and styles you can create, and you don’t have to be a professional to paint something beautiful. However, when you start shopping for materials, you will quickly find out that watercolor painting can be expensive, especially watercolour paper. Why is watercolor paper so expensive? 

Watercolor paper is expensive because it is made mostly of cotton; it is manufactured differently (handmade paper, it can be hot pressed paper, cold pressed paper, or rough), and it is heavier than normal cellulose paper. The paper has these qualities to absorb the paint correctly.

Watercolor painting can be an exciting new hobby that you pick up, but the price of the cotton watercolour paper may make you consider something less expensive. This article will explain why cotton watercolor paper is so expensive and will give you a few affordable options of different watercolor papers so you can enjoy the hobby and still be smart with your money.

Watercolor Paper Is Made of Cotton Rag and Linters

Normal paper that you would put in your printer is made mostly of pressed wood shavings and cotton. This contributes to its thin and fine finish. On the other hand, the watercolor paper needs to be highly absorbent for the paint to apply correctly. Wood shavings are water absorbent but not nearly enough for watercolor painting. 

WatercolorOpens in a new tab. paper is made mostly of cotton ragsOpens in a new tab. and linters. Cotton rag refers to the long fibers found in cotton gins that can be used to weave fabric, while linters are the fibers attached to the seed that is both harder to get and weaker than the rag. While the higher-end paper is made mostly of the cotton gin (since it is stronger), the lower grade has more linters. The lowest grade of watercolor paper will have wood pulp mixed with cotton. 

The paper is made of cotton because it adds stability to the paper so it won’t be too flexible, which allows the paint to absorb into the paper slowly. The cotton paper is also acid-free, which helps prevent the paper from yellowing in the future. Furthermore, a paper made with a higher percentage of cotton rags and linters is less likely to pOpens in a new tab.illOpens in a new tab. than paper made of wood shavings. 

Watercolor Paper Is Manufactured Differently 

Three main grades of watercolor paper differ in the way they are manufactured. Knowing the different grades can help you decide what grade to buy for your skill level and help you understand why exactly the watercolor paper is so expensive. 

The first grade is hot pressed. The name refers to the way the paper is pressed. In this case, the paper is pressed under high pressure between smooth rollers that are heated. The hot-pressed paper has the smoothest finish of all the grades, making it a good paper for detailed painting. You can also use pen and ink with this paper along with watercolors.

Lastly, the paper is less absorbent than others, making it easier to take your time with the painting. This means that the paint will take longer to dry, making it easier to add and edit the wet paint on the paper. 

The second and most popular grade we will be talking about is cold-pressed. This paper is manufactured by pressing sheets of cellulose pulp between cold metal rollers. The cold-pressed paper has a rough and bumpy texture, making it easy to use and appropriate for many different painting styles. Although it is a convenient choice for different levels of painters, the color will be slightly less pigmented than hot pressed.

Rough paper is the last grade we will be discussing. This paper is not meant for fine detail paintings since its surface is the most textured of all the grades. Furthermore, the rough paper also dries faster than smooth paper (hot pressed), which will lower the time you can correct color or make changes to the painting. The paper also appears to be slightly darker than both cold and hot pressed since the high texture adds shadows to the paper. 

Watercolor Paper Is Heavier Than Regular Paper

Since the paperOpens in a new tab. has to be so absorbent for the paint, it is thicker than normal printing paperOpens in a new tab.. The thickness of the paper helps with the absorbance on top of it being made of cotton. There are three major weights of paper you might find in an art store.

  • 90 lb (40.82 kg) – this weight is too light for professional watercolor painting but can be used to print copies of your painting. 
  • 140 lb (63.50 kg) – this weight is the most popular and is good for watercolor painting.
  • 300 lb (136.07 kg) – this is suitable for watercolor painting but is the most expensive.

A final note regarding the characteristics of the paper is to make sure you have a board when painting. This will prevent the paper from curling at the corners if exposed to humidity. 

Are There Any Affordable Options for Watercolor Paper?

Especially as a beginner, you may not want to invest in the most expensive paper when you first try out the hobby. Keep reading for some affordable watercolor paper options. 

UCreate Watercolor Paper

UCreate Watercolor Paper, Bulk, 140 Lb., White, 9" x 12", 50 Sheets
  • QUALITY PAPER: Super heavyweight 140 lb. student-grade watercolor paper has a smooth uniform finish...
  • VERSATILE: Sturdy sheets are ideal for both wet and mixed media techniques
  • ECONOMICAL: 50 Count pack of 9" x 12" sheets are a cost effective way for young artists to...

Last update on 2024-04-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is a great option for several reasons. This has 50 sheets for $10.99, while many other packages of paper only offer 30 sheets for a higher price. Furthermore, it weighs 140 lb, which is suited for watercolors. The paper is also acid-free, which will prevent the paper from yellowing. If you are a beginner, I would highly recommend this option. 

Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad

Canson XL Series Watercolor Pad, Heavyweight White Paper, Foldover Binding, 30 Sheets, 9x12 inch Opens in a new tab.
  • 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 2024-04-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you want to try out cold-pressed watercolor paper, this is a great option. This pad is extra large as well and has 30 sheets for $5.97. This option also has acid-free paper and is smudge resistant. This is a good option if you are more than curious about getting into watercolor painting but are not dedicated enough to go the full mile yet. 

Strathmore 25-111 Student Watercolor Pad

Last update on 2024-04-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This last option is for those of you who are only considering getting into a watercolor painting. This option only has 15 sheets of paper and is selling for around $15. This paper is cold-pressed but is only 90 lb (40.82 kg) instead of 140 lb (63.50 kg). Since the paper is cold-pressed, the texture will be rough enough to produce a good product. If you’re serious about watercolor painting, though, I would recommend getting a weight of 140 lb (63.50 kg). 

Choosing the correct watercolor paper can be confusing when you are first starting.

Angela Fehr WatercolourOpens in a new tab.

Final Words

Watercolor paper is expensive for several reasons. The paper is made of pressed cotton instead of pressed wood shavings to absorb enough for the paint. Secondly, the paper is manufactured differently than wood pressed paper. It can either be hot-pressed, cold-pressed, or rough. This process includes pressing the cotton paper between either hot or cold rollers. 

Finally, watercolor paper is a heavier weight than normal paper. The paper can come in three weights, with 300 lb (136.07 kg) being the most expensive. Make sure to purchase a board or have a hard surface available to tape the paper on to prevent the corners from curling when it is wet. Happy painting!


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

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