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  • Yufen Zha

My 2 Cents on Watercolor Paper Selection for Beginners

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

When I first started painting watercolor, I knew I needed to get decent paints. As far as watercolor paper goes, I chose the less expensive student grade. The rationale behind was that these initial experimental paintings would most likely end up in the trash bin anyway, so why waste my budget on the expensive artist grade paper right now? Instead, I thought, I would spend that money when I’m good enough to create masterpieces.

I’m sure the same school of thoughts went through the heads of many beginners. But the truth is, good paper is essential (if not the most important factor) in creating a vibrant and luminous watercolor painting. This is especially true for beginners.

After a few initial paintings that looked nothing like what was in the YouTube videos I watched, the engineer in me started troubleshooting. It wasn’t the paint or the brush as I was using exactly the same products as the videos, so the remaining two suspects were: the watercolor paper and the painter... me.

I didn’t want to believe the reason was me (surprise, surprise), so I decided to get to the bottom of this and bought a pack of Arches 140LB cold press paper. The immediate improvement of my paintings was so liberating. What looked like dull paint that sank straight into the paper is now glowing and flows nicely on the surface of the paper before it slowly sinks into the grooves and dries!

I have been using Arches watercolor paper ever since. I did venture my way into other brands of professional grade watercolor paper here and there, depending on what and how I paint. However, I always come back to Arches especially when I know I will be using a lot of abrasive techniques such as scraping, erasing, smudging, etc. Arches is the only brand of paper I know that would withstand much abuse and still holds it together for the artist to paint over.

I often tell beginner students that they are the most "vulnerable" when they first start out as everything is new to them. When something in the painting goes wrong, it’s hard for beginners to pinpoint the cause. Is it the paper, paint, brush, subject, reference photo, or artist? After you paint for a while, you’ll most likely be able to troubleshoot should things go wrong, and compensate accordingly. So once you become an experienced watercolor painter, you are "free" (and encouraged actually) to experiment with various papers and surfaces.

For all the reasons above, I would strongly recommend Arches watercolor paper to beginner watercolor students.

Please note that Arches watercolor paper comes in three different types of surfaces. This will be discussed in another post.

That's it for today. I hope you find this post helpful. Please remember to subscribe to the site so you won't miss any future tutorials.

Until next time... Happy creating!

I’ve included in this post a few affiliate links for the paints and products I love.


Apr 17, 2021

Many thanks. I'm ready to try a quality paper and my rationale was exactly the same as you, I've had my suspicions for a while now!! This has been very helpful! Thank you :)

Yufen Zha
Apr 17, 2021
Replying to

So glad you find it helpful! If you've been frustrated with how your paint flows on the paper or how they react with water on a student grade paper, changing to a quality paper will most likely be an eye-opening experience :). Let us know how it turns out!

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