Best Watercolor Paper in 2021

I love watercolors, and I am very happy to be writing guides about watercolor art tools!!

In this article, we will look at the finest paper for watercolor paints and painting, discussing what makes one paper better than another and making specific recommendations for the best watercolor paper available today.

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Table of Contents

And here, very much like in the other watercolors-related articles, I am especially happy to offer my opinion and guidance because it can really clear up what is possibly a strong misconception for many people – that painting with watercolors is somehow difficult.

Because I believe that watercolors are not at all difficult, and in fact are the most fun, freeing and natural type of art painting there is. I think the problem lies in people trying to paint with watercolors using the wrong tools. This can be especially true if you aren’t using a paper appropriate for, or especially designed for, watercolor paints.

Please note that this is the third part of a three-part series on watercolor painting, and I would love for you to also check out parts one and two:

What to Look For in the Best Paper for Painting with Watercolors

In this article we will try to answer some basic questions: 

  • What is the best brand of watercolor paper?
  • What is the best 300 pounds watercolor paper?
  • What is the best 140 pounds watercolor paper?
  • What watercolor paper weight is the best?
  • What is the best watercolor paper for beginners?
  • What is the best watercolor paper for advanced artists?
  • What is the highest quality watercolor paper available today?

Really, if you want to find the best quality paper, it’s all about weight and water. In fact, I can make this section as simple as possible by saying the heavier the paper the better and just dismissing class early.

Heavier paper takes water so much better than lighter paper, allowing for so many more techniques and more time to get into them. Colors will mix and blend better, have more saturation and intensity, and better move from opaque to transparent or anywhere in between. The paper will stay whole and undamaged and remain much flatter, with a more predictable and workable surface, no matter what technique, or how much water, you are using.

But Iva, you must surely be asking, can it really be that simple? I mean, I just read another buyer’s guide which went on and on about teeth and finish and ph balance and acid and color and content and, well, lots other stuff I can’t quite remember. It can’t, surely, be this straightforward?

Well, uhm, actually it kind of is. We will find that heavier paper – especially 300 pound (or 640 GSM (grams per square meter)) paper is always preferable, except in those cases where budget is a strong factor.

So When Should You Use a Lighter Weight Paper for Watercolor Painting?

And yes, for maybe every single one of us budget has to be a strong factor. So we can say that if you are new to watercolor, and don’t want to get right into the considerable investment of the best, heaviest watercolor paper, you should consider a very high quality but lighter watercolor paper for beginners instead – for practicing, exploring techniques and processes, gleefully drenching in water, having unconcerned, unrestrained fun – like the still heavy 140 pounds watercolor paper. 

I don’t really recommend mixed media paper, normal art paper or especially standard printing or office paper for watercolors – it will just be a torn, buckled, sopping mess of bleeding colors and colorful cuss words. But if you use at least 140 lb 300 gsm paper, you will have a much better time with it. You will see just why people so dearly love painting with watercolors, your experiments and explorations with different techniques will be much easier, more meaningful and more successful, and your art will look better and last longer.

And then, when you are a full-fledged watercolorist, when you are confident in your techniques or want to push them even farther, when you are making fine art that you want to last and last, when you want to sell your work or hang it – at the local gallery or the national museum – don’t settle for anything less than the heaviest paper. And even then, make sure you’re getting the best you can get.

What About All of that Hot Press Paper & Cold Press Paper Stuff?

In addition to weight, the other main factor in choosing the best watercolor paper is the paper texture, or “tooth.” There are three main types:

  • Hot Press Watercolor Paper: A smooth paper, whose surface is not always the best for most painting, but is quite nice for very fine detail work. Hot pressed paper doesn’t absorb much paint or water, or allow for a lot of blending, washing or other techniques. It is, on the other hand, a good choice for 140 pounds paper, which will not buckle or fall apart as easily because of the lower level of water saturation.
  • Cold Press Watercolor Paper: Also called NOT, cold press paper is a medium texture watercolor paper which is generally considered the best choice overall for various watercolor styles and techniques and is the most popular and widely used. More absorptive than hot pressed paper, cold press paper is a little more difficult to use when it is lighter (140 pounds), since it will warp and pill more, but the ideal choice for the heavier 300 pound paper, which can take a lot of water and still stay flat and undamaged.
  • Rough Watercolor Paper: This is a naturally dried paper that retains the texture of the plant fibers, and thus has a rougher paper texture than either of above papers, as well as the highest absorptivity. Definitely, a more difficult paper to get the hang of, rough watercolor paper is not best for detail or fine lines, and can even be challenging for most other basic watercolor painting styles and techniques, but is great for washes, layering and other water-heavy processes.

How Can You Find the Best Watercolor Paper for Watercolor Paint and Painting?

Admittedly, heavy paper, while wondrous in every way, is pretty pricey. It is so great for water-intensive painting, though, and makes art look so good and last so long, that lots of serious artists would only use 300 pound paper for clients, display pieces, archival pieces and even their portfolio.

But really great 140 pound watercolor paper for beginners can still give good results, and for a lot less money, and will really let you explore every aspect of watercolor as an art form, without worrying about how much you are spending for every square inch of experimentation or practice.

So I am going to break this buyer’s guide for the best paper for watercolor paints and painting down into two sections – 140 pounds watercolor paper for beginners and 300 pound watercolor paper for professionals. In each section I will recommend four different brands of paper, all papers I have used for watercolor painting and which I can personally attest are wonderfully workable, great quality paper, make art look as good as possible and last as long as possible, and are a joy to use.

But if you want a bit of a shortcut, here I will share my own personal preference – that is, the specific papers I like best, and use most often, in both the lighter and heavier weights:

Overview: Best Watercolor Paper in 2021

My Favorite 140 Pounds Watercolor Paper

  1. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Hot Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  2. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Hot Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Cold Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  4. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Cold Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Rough Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  6. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Rough Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Rough Paper for Watercolors

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon

My Favorite 300 Pounds Watercolor Paper

  1. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 9x12"
  2. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 9x12"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 9" x 12", 10 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 12x16
  4. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 12x16

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors and Acrylics

    300 lb / 640GSM, 12" x 16", 10 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"
  6. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 5-Pack 22x30" - Bright White


    Buy Now on Amazon

At the end of this article, in the Bonus section, I will also offer some recommendations for mixed media paper, watercolor pads, journals and other less expensive options.

Best 140 Pounds / 300 GSM Watercolor Paper

Canson Heritage 140 Pounds Watercolor Paper

  1. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Hot Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  2. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Hot Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Cold Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  4. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Cold Press Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Rough Watercolor Paper 140 Lb
  6. L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage Rough Watercolor Paper 140 Lb

    Rough Paper for Watercolors

    9x12 12 Sheets | Made from 100% Cotton


    Buy Now on Amazon

Canson is overall my favorite art paper brand, and their 140 pound Heritage watercolor paper is the best I’ve used at this weight. It is remarkably strong and holds up well even with more water-heavy techniques – better, in fact, than some 300 pound papers I’ve used. Whether hot, cold or rough, it has a marvelous surface, and generally offers that ideal balance between absorption and retention, as well as superb presentation of colors, shades and light and any and every watercolor effect.

A brilliant and affordable fine art paper, Canson Heritage is my favorite paper for watercolors and the one I use most often – I recommend it with the utmost enthusiasm!

Arches 140 Pounds Watercolor Paper 

  1. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Hot Press, 9" x 12", 140 Lb
  2. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Hot Press, 9" x 12", 140 Lb

    Hot Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    140 lb / 300GSM, 9" x 12", 20 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Cold Press, 9" x 12", 140 Lb
  4. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Cold Press, 9" x 12", 140 Lb

    Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

    140 lb / 300GSM, 9" x 12", 20 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Rough, 9" x 12", 140 Lb
  6. Arches Watercolor Paper Block, Rough, 9" x 12", 140 Lb

    Rough Paper for Watercolors

    140 lb / 300GSM, 9" x 12", 20 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon

At about the same price as the Canson paper above, Arches offers nearly as good of quality in terms of finish, strength and presentation, and is perhaps even slightly more consistent, or at least predictable, in terms of surface tooth and absorptivity – a better choice, probably, for a new or inexperienced watercolor painter just finding their way, where the Canson may be better for a more experienced or confident painter.

Either way, you are getting a really superb paper for a reasonable price, and even though I myself prefer and use Canson, I can say with certainty that Arches has never failed to impress me, and I can recommend it without hesitation.

Fabriano 140 Pounds Watercolor Paper

Where I am happy to recommend all three types of Canson or Arches watercolor paper – hot press, cold press and rough paper – with Fabriano the hot press watercolor block is the product which really stands out in their line, and is one of the finest papers I’ve ever used for practice and exploration.

The other Fabriano papers frankly take on too much water for their weight, and don’t always maintain their structural integrity or shape, but their hot press paper takes on just the right amount of water for a wide range of watercolor techniques, and its consistently neutral extra white color makes seeing and understanding colors and color mixing, and lots of other processes, easy and meaningful.

If you are a student, new to watercolors or simply really into exploration, the Fabriano hot press watercolor paper is an excellent choice. If you want to build brand loyalty, Arches will offer better quality paper type to type, and does allow that aspect of exploration as well, but the Fabriano hot press paper taken by itself is superior, and very highly recommended.

Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. Hot Press 12"x18”

Hot Pressed Paper for Watercolors

140 lb / 300GSM, 12" x 18", 20 Sheets

Extra White



Best 300 Pounds / 640 GSM Watercolor Paper

Saunders Waterford 300 Pounds Watercolor Paper

  1. Saunders Waterford 300 Lb Cold Press Watercolor Paper 11x15"
  2. Saunders Waterford 300 Lb Cold Press Watercolor Paper 11x15"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 11" x 15", 4 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Saunders Waterford 300 Pound Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper 11x15"
  4. Saunders Waterford 300 Pound Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper 11x15"

    Hot Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 11" x 15", 4 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Saunders Waterford 300 Pound Rough Watercolor Paper 11x15"
  6. Saunders Waterford 300 Pound Rough Watercolor Paper 11x15"

    Rough Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 11" x 15", 4 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon

It seems like I would think it is a shame that my favorite paper company – Canson – doesn’t make a 300 pound watercolor paper, but I don’t, simply because the heavy stock Saunders watercolor paper is so superb that I can’t possibly imagine anything better or more satisfying.

Exceptionally strong and coherent, Saunders 300 pound watercolor paper has the nicest tooth I’ve ever used, whether fine (cold pressed), medium (hot pressed) or rough. Indeed, Saunders’ rougher surfaces are better for fine detail, more precise and controllable, than many other brands’ smooth papers, and their smooth papers are more expressive and more versatile with various levels of water than many rough papers. You can finally choose based solely on what surface you like, not worrying about strength, image quality, versatility in techniques or styles or long term permanence.

Simply put, Saunders has made a paper that is ideal – actually far beyond just ideal – for any painter, any kind of watercolor painting style or technique, any amount of water, any level of art – and, amazingly enough, is as good and as delightful to use in any of the three finishes.

For your most important or most beloved work, for archival pieces, for even museum or fine gallery display pieces, and for the most amazing watercolor painting experience you can have, Saunders Waterford 300 pound art paper is as good as it gets.

Arches 300 Pounds Watercolor Paper

Saunders is a fairly expensive paper – well worth it, and an absolute value considering the superb quality it exhibits on every level, but yeah, expensive. And while in the realm of heavy fine art quality watercolor paper you don’t really want to skimp, it is nice to know that Arches offers a very competitive 300 pound watercolor block for a little less money. Not a lot less, mind you, but sometimes every little bit helps.

In fact, some artists actually prefer the Arches heavy watercolor paper to the Saunders, and it certainly is high enough quality to fully satisfy any artist on any level. Saunders 300 pound paper is exceptionally strong, and keeps its surface and shape even with heavy water techniques. The surfaces are delightful, and whether you prefer more or less tooth you may find that the Arches has the best, most consistent, workable and expressive finish you’ve used.

I do slightly prefer Saunders heavy weight watercolor paper, but I have to say that if I only had Arches I would never miss a thing. The Arches 300 pound watercolor paper is superb in every way, a true fine art product which deserves the very highest recommendation. And it should not go without saying that it is also a true value, and well known among fine artists as such.

  1. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 9x12"
  2. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 9x12"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 9" x 12", 10 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 12x16
  4. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Cold Pressed 12x16

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors and Acrylics

    300 lb / 640GSM, 12" x 16", 10 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"
  6. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 5-Pack 22x30" - Bright White


    Buy Now on Amazon
  7. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Hot Pressed 22x30"
  8. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Hot Pressed 22x30"

    Hot Pressed Paper for Watercolors and Acrylics

    300 lb / 640GSM, 22" x 30", 5 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  9. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Rough Paper 22x30"
  10. Arches 300 Lb Watercolor Block Rough Paper 22x30"

    Rough Paper for Watercolors and Acrylics

    300 lb / 640GSM, 22" x 30", 5 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon

Fabriano  300 Pounds Watercolor Paper

It’s easy to think of Fabriano art paper as being in a different league in terms of quality, especially compared to such stellar products as we’re considering in this buyer’s guide to the best art paper for watercolor paints and painting. 

But it’s just as easy to think of Fabriano as one of the best values on the market today, and this is especially true of their heavy watercolor paper. No, it may not have the incredible strength or structural coherence of Arches or Saunders, and the tooth may lack that ultimate degree of finesse, but to be fair Fabriano can be substantially less expensive, and in a realm where even smaller sizes of paper can easily cost 10 dollars a sheet this can make a huge difference.

It’s a difference that wouldn’t be worth considering, though, if the cheaper paper wasn’t good enough, but happily I can report that Fabriano paper is pretty amazing – stronger and more workable than some more expensive products, with nice finish and beautifully bright and neutral base tone, and really wonderful quality paper to paint on.

If the two main criteria for judging the best fine art watercolor paper are how it allows me to flow unimpeded with creativity and how beautiful it makes my artwork look, Fabriano is a winner on both counts. Yes, Arches and Saunders are a little better, but there is nothing better than Fabriano Artistico 300 pound watercolor paper anywhere near this price.

  1. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"
  2. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Cold Pressed 22x30"

    Cold Pressed Paper for Watercolors and Acrylics

    300 lb / 640GSM, 22" x 30", 10 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Hot Pressed 22x30"
  4. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Hot Pressed 22x30"

    Hot Pressed Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 22" x 30", 10 Sheets - Extra White


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Rough 22x30"
  6. Fabriano Artistico 300 Lb Watercolor Paper Rough 22x30"

    Rough Paper for Watercolors

    300 lb / 640GSM, 22" x 30", 10 Sheets - Extra White


    Buy Now on Amazon

Bonus: What About Mixed Media Paper, Watercolor Paper Pad, Journals and Other Options?

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I know that all of the options on this review of the best watercolor papers are at least expensive, and some are outright spendy. I firmly believe, though, that with watercolor paper especially it is important to get the best quality you can afford, whether you are a newcomer to art or to watercolor, an art student, a working commercial artist or a fine artist who’s already experienced, assured and working at the highest level.

That said, there are less expensive options, and some of them can give you a very good feeling for the world of watercolors in all its extraordinary range of techniques, processes and styles, a very enjoyable and productive painting experience, and a beautiful and long lasting work of art. 

These less expensive options will not give you the ultimate image quality, working experience, control or expressivity, paper strength or range of techniques and processes, it’s true, but for experimentation, spontaneous expression and exploration, practice and more practice they may be fine, and for finished pieces they may also be satisfactory – different, but acceptable to many artists and even some clients or customers (if that’s your aim/audience).

And they can be a lot less expensive!

So here are my favorite choices for quality watercolor painting on the cheap watercolor pad, mixed media paper and cool art journals. This is not in any way intended to be a detailed description of these choices, their pros and cons or why I love them, but I would at least like to list my top couple of recommendations for each. For a more thorough look at this subject, you might also want to read my earlier article: Best Watercolor Sketchbook in 2021

  1. Moleskine Art Watercolor Album
  2. Moleskine Art Watercolor Album

    Hard Cover, A3 (11.75" x 16.5") Plain/Blank Acid Free Paper, 60 Pages


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. CANSON Artist Series Montval Watercolor Pad
  4. CANSON Artist Series Montval Watercolor Pad

    Cold Press Acid Free French Paper, Fold Over, 140 Pound, 18 x 24 Inch, 12 Sheets, 18"X24"


    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Canson Artist Series Mix Media Pad
  6. Canson Artist Series Mix Media Pad

    9x12", Acid Free Paper, Side Wire Bound, 30 Sheets


    Buy Now on Amazon
  7. Speedball Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal
  8. Speedball Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal

    Large Portrait, 8-1/4 x 5-1/2, 140lb / 300 GSM Acid Free Paper

    Sizes: 8.25 x 5.5 Inch | 10.5 x 8.25 Inch | 5.25 x 8.25 Inch | 3.5 x 8.25 Inch | 8.25 x 8.25 Inch


    Buy Now on Amazon
  9. Pentalic Art Watercolor Journal
  10. Pentalic Art Watercolor Journal

    140-Pound/7-inch-by-10-inch, 7-inch x 10-inch, 48 Pages of Acid Free Paper

    Sizes: 3.5 x 5.375 Inch | 5.5 x 5.5 Inch | 5 x 8 Inch | 7 x 10 Inch | 8.5 x 11 Inch


    Buy Now on Amazon

Thanks for reading this article – Best Paper for Watercolor Paints in 2021: A Detailed Buyer’s Guide and Review – and again please check out the two other articles in this series, on Best Watercolor Paints and Best Brushes for Watercolor Paints. I would also like to invite you to visit my website – Art Side of Life –  for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!

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