How to Select the Proper Paper for Painting

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Today, paper manufacturers offer versatile products to use for a number of different art projects. You can find the proper paper for watercolor, drawing, and painting with pastels. Whatever you choose, get a good quality paper product to have the best surface for your next Monet--and keep it safe to enjoy for years to come.

Things You'll Need

  • Pre-stretched paper
  • Water
  • Acid-free paper
  • Hot- or cold-pressed paper
  • Pad of paper
  • Select a good grade of paper. The best paper for painting should be acid-free. Paper with high levels of acid can damage your artwork. Documents and paintings that need to be professionally stored have a neutral PH level.

  • Choose a paper with the proper surface texture. The texture you choose will depend on your style of painting. A hot-pressed watercolor paper is pressed for an extremely smooth work surface. Cold-pressed is paper that (not pressed) has a mildly rough texture. It can hold the color well, but is sometimes a bit grainy.

  • Buy paper based on its weight. Normally, the proper weight range for watercolor paper is from 70 lbs. to 300 lbs. The average weight used by most artists is 140 lbs. paper. This weight will offer a smooth outcome at a moderate price level.

  • Stretch the paper before you begin painting if it is less than 300 lbs. This is done so the paper does not bulge after it gets painted on and so the paint dries correctly. Consider buying pre-stretched paper (see tip below).

  • Soak the paper for a minute until it fully absorbs the water. Place the paper onto a board and smooth it, working from the middle outwards. Learn about proper paper techniques used by established painters at Danielsmith.com (see Resources below).

Tips & Warnings

  • If you do not want to prepare your paper before painting, you can purchase pads of already stretched paper that is good for all types of artwork. Select a smooth-textured paper that is hot-pressed for detailed paintings.
  • Bring a landscape or spiral paper pad on your next artistic journey. You never know when inspiration will hit you and this type of pad is perfect for artists on the go. Purchase one for either watercolor or drawing. Consider a pad with a medium weight, such as 140 lbs.
  • Some smooth paper does not have enough texture for use with acrylic paints. Apply a thin layer of Gesso (a medium for painting) to the surface before painting.

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