How To choose Papers for watercolor painting

I started taking art seriously last year. I started with watercolor and I must say, choosing a watercolor paper was quite easy for me only because I had my art teacher (Debashish Deb Roy) guiding me. As a beginner, choosing the best paper for yourself is no less than a Herculean task, given so many options to choose from. Here in this article, I am explaining How to choose papers for watercolor. No Matter what’s your style, you will get the answer for sure. Just keep reading till the end.

Types of watercolor paper

Before jumping into, How to choose papers for watercolor, let’s first understand our choices.

So typically we have three types of papers

Hot Pressed Papers: This paper has a very smooth surface. If you are the kind of artist who has good control of the brush and want to work in detail, then this should be your choice. The Problem with this paper is that it’s very slippery, But at the same time, it’s quite good for detailing as your brush won’t find hurdles in painting.

Rough Textured Paper: As the name suggests this is just opposite to hot-pressed paper. This paper has texture on its surface. If you love to work with multiple washes, then you should go with this. The problem with this paper is that it’s very tough to do detailing with this paper.

Cold Pressed Paper: Cold-pressed paper are in mid of hot-pressed and cold-pressed paper. It’s neither as smooth as hot-pressed nor very textured like rough. Sometimes it is also referred to as NOT (not hot pressed) paper.. If you are a beginner like me then, I suggest cold pressed paper. On this paper, with little practice, you can work on both details as well as washes.

Hot Pressed
Cold Pressed Paper
Cold Pressed
Rough watercolor paper texture. Clean background for cards, post
Rough Texture

So, So far the matrix that we have achieved says as below

Painting StyleWatercolor Paper
Work more on washes and loose style paintingRough Texture
More detailed workHot pressed paper
Little detailed work with washesCold-pressed

Now since the above matrix offers you options based on your work style, it doesn’t say anything about the quality of the paper.

All of the above-mentioned papers are good and suit a different style of art. So how to say which paper is better.

What is GSM in the watercolor paper?

The next thing that we need to discuss in How to choose papers for watercolor is the quality index GSM.

GSM stands for Grams per square meter. This is a quality index of paper which says what’s the weight of the paper in 1 sq Meter. The heavier the paper the better its quality.

Watercolor papers are available in 200+ GSM and can go up to 600+ GSM.

Ideally, I recommend going for 300 GSM paper if you are a beginner, As it’s cheap compare to 600+ GSM papers.

For practice, you can even go for 200+ GSM papers. I started with 200+ GSM papers. Paper’s up to 300 GSM may require stretching if you want to apply lots of water. The Below video shows how to stretch paper.

There are many Vendors in the market like Brusto, Canson, Chitrapat etc, They all have released their own variant of papers. So from the above matrix, we can derive the below matrix.

You may take a look at some of the work done on Brusto paper by creative squad member of, Anupam Pathak

Matrix for choosing watercolor paper

Painting StyleSkill LevelWatercolor Paper
Work more on washes and loose style paintingBeginnerRough Texture, up to 300 GSM
Work more on washes and loose style paintingExpertRough Texture, Above 300 GSM
More detailed workBeginnerHot pressed paper, up to 300 GSM
More detailed workExpertHot pressed paper, Above 300 GSM
Little detailed work with washesBeginnerCold-pressed, up to 300 GSM
Little detailed work with washesExpertCold-pressed, Above 300 GSM

Now Since we have covered the Type of paper and quality of paper, let’s know a bit about the packaging they come in. This is important because few packaging are made for specific purposes.

  • Loose Sheets: You can purchase watercolor papers in loose sheets. They are well cut out of various sizes. You can choose according to your need.
Loose wateroclor sheet, How To choose Papers for watercolor

  • Art Books: These are drawing books with spiral bind. These are very handy if you want to carry them with you.
Art Book, How To choose Papers for watercolor
  • Glued Pad: If you like to paint while you are traveling, you should consider a glued pad. In Glued pad papers are glued over each other and can easily be taken out. Since it’s glued, you won’t have to worry while applying washes. it won’t buckle. It’s amazingly handy.
Glued Pad watercolor paper, How To choose Papers for watercolor

Another factor while choosing a watercolor paper is the amount of cotton. Cotton absorbers the water and do not let your paper buckle. So the higher the cotton amount, the better is the paper.


I strongly suggest using 100% cotton paper with 300 GSM for beginner and intermediate artists. For practice purposes, you may use 240 GSM paper.

Although I personally prefer using Handmade paper, Vendors like Brusto, Canson and chitrapat also offers good quality paper.

You can get a Good deal on watercolor paper and other art supplies as well.

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