Which artist paper is best for which paint medium?

Art papers for differnt paint mediums

As you scroll through the many inspirational art materials and supplies online, your muse is interrupted by the overwhelming selection of art papers on offer. Your first step is determining the type of medium that fits your artistic personality oils, acrylics or watercolours? From there it gets a little bit easier in determining the artist paper that is suitable for your next work of art.   

The various art papers affect the flow of the paint, the absorption and the overall colour effect and texture. This means the paper you buy needs to be medium appropriate. 

Drawing with coloured pencils or sketching typically require artist paper that has a ‘toothy’ texture. Painting needs a smoother surface to evenly apply and build up the pigments for layered hues. Art paper is also weighted in pounds per ream (lb) or grams per square metre (gsm) and the thickness will be determined by the type of paint you use.  

Artist paper for watercolours 

A good watercolour paper needs to be the perfect blank canvas to withstand multiple washes. This will be determined by weight and surface texture. Good quality watercolour artist paper will also be non-yellowing. To start off, you will need thicker paper (minimum 140 lb/300 gsm) to ensure that the paper won’t warp or curl from the water. 

Artist paper for watercolours

Watercolour papers are made from either cotton or wood pulp.

Professional quality art papers are made from 100% cotton (aka Rag paper) and provide the best surface and offer longevity for watercolour paintings.

Wood pulp paper (aka woodfree paper) is made from chemically treated pulp with lignin removed and is an inexpensive alternative for amateurs and beginners.

And then, just to make things a little more complicated, watercolour paper also comes in 3 surface types

  • Hot-pressed (aka Smooth, Satine, Silk or HP) – This is the smoothest option and is popular with illustrators and designers for its flat finish which makes it good for reproduction and for watercolour artists who paint in fine detail.
  • Cold-pressed (aka NOT, Fin or CP) – This watercolour paper is favoured by beginners for its medium-textured surface, making it ideal for various techniques.
  • Rough – Of all the watercolour papers, this is the roughest in texture. If you have a loose watercolour painting style then this is the artist paper for you; the deep pits in the paper allow you to get the most out of the granulation of your watercolours. 

Just before you get your brushes and watercolours out, your final choice relates to watercolour pads or loose sheets. Loose watercolour paper sheets usually come in standard full imperial size measuring 30” x 22” (76cm x 56cm). Watercolour paper pads contain multiple sheets that are bound together. You can easily tear the Individual sheets from the gummed or spiral-bound pads for framing or storage.

Artist paper for acrylics 

Acrylic artists tend to prefer stretch canvas or canvas boards for their projects, but there are acrylic artist papers that are specially manufactured for acrylic paints. 

If you want to play around with techniques, then thick artist paper of at least 300 lb is necessary. This ensures that the acrylic pigments do not bleed through to the other side of the paper.

When it comes to the textured surface, hot-pressed paper is recommended for painting with acrylics. Attach the artist paper to a wood or foam board by applying artist’s tape to the corners to securely fasten it. 

Artist paper for acrylics

Even though you can achieve beautiful effects with acrylics on artist paper, acrylics are hard to blend. If you’re a beginner, it is advisable to avoid starting with paper as the acrylics will soak into the paper and it will be tricky to get the vividness and layers you are hoping for.  

Artist paper for oils

John Constable (1776 – 1837), the well known British landscape artist, often sketched in oils on paper. He would also include notes about the colour palette he used as well as the weather and lighting conditions. Art paper is a great surface for experimenting with oil techniques and textures as it is more affordable than canvas panels, stretched canvases or linen rolls. It is also easier to store and carry.

“No matter what you may have heard, it is perfectly possible to use paper for sketching in oil. Professionals like it for its texture and drag. However, it is worth investing in good quality, heavy watercolour paper that has been thinly primed with an acrylic gesso primer.” -Winsor & Newton

Artist paper for oil paints

Artist paper for oil paints is designed to absorb the oil pigments evenly to maintain the shine of the paint. Ready-prepared oil papers are pre-primed to prevent the oil from being absorbed into the paper and protect the painting from flaking or cracking. They come in a variety of weights, textures, colours (white, natural, light linen and black) and formats. Fine art oil painting papers are acid-free and the majority are made of wood-free cellulose pulp.

For small paintings, use a weight of at least 300 gsm (140 lb), and for larger works, use 640 gsm (300 lb) paper. 

No matter what your next artwork may be – charcoal, pastel, watercolour, acrylic, or oils – a one-stop online art materials and supplies store is a convenience when selecting just the right artist paper for your next masterpiece. 

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