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Types of Watercolor Paper

Lesson 9 from: Getting Started with Watercolor & Gouache Paints

Mary Jane Begin

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Lesson Info

9. Types of Watercolor Paper

Lesson Info

Types of Watercolor Paper

Let's talk about the different types of paper because a lot of people don't know that there are different types. I want to show you the three main types of watercolor paper, are hot press, cold press, and rough. And hot press, which is, this is hot press, it's basically a really smooth surface. So if we put a mark on it, and I'm not sure how visible it'll be, but I'm hoping you can see the difference between hot press and cold press. But if I use some color here, and I'm going to test, let's see I'll try a different color. Let's do viridian. We'll test it over here. There's a little cover on it. They put these caps on so that the color doesn't just pour out. One way also, I'll tell you a little tip. If you squeeze out color and you get too much off the top of it, pinch the sides of the tube, and it sucks the color back in. And that's really handy because if you have a big blob at the end and you don't need to use it, you don't want to waste your paint. So pinching the sides, like pinch...

ing the belly of the tube pulls that color right back in. Okay, so if we're painting on a hot press, basically the hot press is extremely smooth. So what's nice about hot press is you're not really getting a grain of the paper, it's smooth, it's not meant to have a lot of grain. And this is really good if you add colored pencil or pastel to your surface. It's not going to give you too much texture, but it really depends on the effect that you choose to have for your surfaces. But you can see, there's not a lot of, there's a little bit of grain, but there's not a lot of grain to the hot press surface. I tend to like hot press because I do pastel and color pencil in combination with my water color, and I want it to be smooth. I don't want the texture of the paper to be an issue. They also refer to texture as tooth, the tooth of the paper. So this is a hot press. Now we will shift to what's called, no I don't want to do this one, I want to go to cold press. Now you're notice that I painted on this, and it's not stretched, and it's not going to wrinkle. The reason why is because of the weight of the paper. So in addition to the different types of paper, the weight of the paper makes a difference for stretching and non-stretching. This is what's called 300 pound, which means that it is a thick, thick paper, and you don't have to stretch it. I can paint all over this thing, and it's not going anywhere. 140 pound is a medium weight, and you do have to stretch it. 90 pound is the thinnest paper. And you say, well why would you bother using anything that's thinner than 300. If you don't have to stretch it, you're saving time. You don't have to bother with the stretching. If you are printing, as I showed you my panda picture, I quite literally printed my drawing onto the watercolor surface with a printer. I went to I think it was Staples. And so, I mean you can go to any place that makes copies, and I did 11 by 17. You can not put a 300 pound paper through a Staples or any other kind of copy machine. It will break the machine. You can't even do 140 pound. 90 pound is the only paper that tends to go through most printers, even home printers, you can do a 90, but it's super thin. But you have to stretch it after, it's kind of important, otherwise it'll buckle. So this is a 300 pound hot press paper. 300 pound, 140 or 150 pound intermediary, 90 pound is the thinnest. So you can literally see the density, the thickness of this. So the hot press, really smooth, nice for tools like colored pencils and pastels. Let's test this one, which is called cold press. Cold press has some texture. Let's see if I can make it visible to you. And this is also 300 pound, you don't have to stretch it. I don't know if this is clear, but it literally looks like a bumpy surface of a, like a brownie or something like that. It's literally a texture, I don't know if you can see if I do a denser coloration. You can see that there is a beadiness to it. So that texture is something that painters throughout time who are traditional watercolor painters, they don't want to mix media, they just want watercolor, love that texture. And if I do dry brush, let me just do, I'll use a different brush. I'll use my angular, and I'll use a new color. Kenna, do you have a preference for what color I should use? A green please. A green, okay, oh let's do a gouache, because I want to talk about gouache soon, but we'll start with the gouache. It's much more opaque. It's still a water based medium, it's still a form of watercolor. It's just more opaque. And that might be visible here. Okay. So can you see the texture of that? It's probably more visible now. And I'm not pressing too heavily, but that texture is what painters love traditionally with watercolor. You can also see, I'm just going to show you with the gouache, it gets really dense. I mean look at the thickness of that. You can't get that kind of thickness easily with most watercolor because it's just too transparent. I can thin out the gouache. Let's see, again functions just like watercolor, but it stays more solidly densely opaque. Even when I add, look at how much water I've added. You can see the difference, I think, between this watercolor green and this gouache, I believe it is called, it's an olive based, yeah olive green. Now I'm going to try to thin it out even more so you can maybe see the texture of this watercolor. It's easier I think to see dry brush. Yeah, you can see a dry brush. So this is cold press. It's in between the hot press and the most rough surface, which is quite literally called rough. Now I'll show you the rough. This is rough, but I want to use that for a gradient for gouache. This is the rough surface. And again, I don't know if you can really see that roughness, so I'll try to capture that with a different color gouache. What would you like? How about orange. Orange, okay. This is literally called cadmium, it says cadmium yellow deep, but it's really orange, as you can see. Okay, so let's test this on the surface and see if we can see that super graininess. And again, this isn't, you know, this is for preference. The only way to know what these things do is to test them and try them and play with them. And the word play is really critical. Anybody can do the things I'm doing right now. We're learning about the materials. We're getting a relationship with the materials. And I would encourage anybody to pick up the brushes, get the paints out, and just play and have a good time with it. So I'm a big fan of testing and playing, and I've been doing this for a long time. And the joy of this is was that I got to test all these things before teaching this class to you today, and I had a ball. And I wasn't trying to make a finished fancy picture, I was just trying to get to know these different materials and some of the wash I don't usually use because I make my own. Now can you see that texture? Can you see that, Kenna? It's really, it's great for dry brush, because it gives you this wonderful textural surface to work on. And it almost feels like pastels. When I'm using the brush in this dry way, it almost feels like pastels. So I'd be curious to know, and this is another thing, I like to try things that, you know, isn't something somebody else has done and so I have to do it that way. I want to grab, if I had pastel, I'd test it on this surface right now to see what it does. The only way you're going to know is to try it. So I'm never afraid to give it a shot. It might not look that good, or it might not work, it's just like in cooking. You have to try things to know if it'll work or not. So I encourage you to do that. But the difference between the three is you an see that the cold press has a texture and it almost looks as textural as this, but it's not. This has much more bumpiness to it. So you have rough, which is the most textured. Cold press, in between. Hot press is smooth. And again, this is really if you're doing a lot of pencil work, this is probably the best surface to use because the bump here is so large, it's going to create a really big grain. Especially if you're working on a tiny picture. Okay, so these are your three types of watercolor papers. I do have a flavorite, or a favorite, which is Arches. I love Arches watercolor paper. I've been using it for as long as I've been painting. And I've tried different papers. You can get it at Blick. It is a beautiful paper, no matter what weight you get. It just absorbs the watercolor in a way that makes the watercolor happy. It's worth it to get a nicer piece of paper, and you can get the Arches in a block. You can get the Blick Block is really good too. I tried that and I loved it. But the Arches watercolor paper you can buy in sheets, individual sheets, so you can test it. You can buy one sheet of the cold press, one sheet of hot press, one sheet of rough, and play and test with it. And not have to, you know, commit necessarily to a whole block of paper. So these are the three types, and the weights again are 300 pound, heaviest, 140 pound, in between, 90 pound, super thin, you can run it through a printer. Alright, so I'm just going to move these guys out of the way.

Ratings and Reviews


I really enjoy Mary Jane Begin's style of teaching--I have a degree in Fine Art and have been painting for years, but think she does such a good job of building on the basics and encouraging play. Get your supplies ready ahead of time, if like me you want to play along. Thank you!

Kelly LaFrance

Awesome class! Awesome instructor! Exactly what I was looking for, and highly recommended. :-)


Fantastic class - so informative and inspiring. After watching the lessons, I picked up my watercolors and started playing around with some of the covered techniques. Highly recommended!

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