Is handmade paper suitable for watercolor?

Making all of your materials yourself can be a great way to express yourself as an artist, from paint to paper. Can you use handmade watercolor paper for your paintings or will it ruin the experience?

Watercolor paintings can be done on handmade paper, provided you customize it according to your painting requirements. Consider beforehand whether you need rough, smooth, stiff, or soft paper and adjust the paper to your needs. From an economic standpoint, though, you are better off buying paper.

What kind of handmade paper is best for watercolor painting?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are different, individual requirements and preferences for every watercolor artist.

I can only give you advice on how to find the perfect paper for you and general tips.

Firstly, you should always make and use paper made out of 100% cotton. Anything else will be a challenge and isn’t really suitable for watercolor painting.

Then there are two types of watercolor paper that are used by most artists. Cold pressed and hot pressed paper.

I will talk more about this later, but the general idea is:

If you want less paper texture, use hot-pressed paper. If you want more paper texture, use cold-pressed paper.

Thus, if you like to paint faces, you should use hot pressed paper, whereas if you like to paint landscapes, you should use cold pressed paper.

Let’s get to the type of paper that is most suitable for your needs.

You should experiment with many different paper making processes as well as film yourself while making the paper. 

Ultimately, you’ll have 10-20 different types of paper, which you’ll have to experiment with a bit. Make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself by doing all of that in one day.

If you find one you like, watch the video to see how it was made, and follow the steps again. If you can’t find a suitable paper immediately, choose the one you like most out of all of them, and change the process a bit.

Once you find the perfect paper, create a tutorial for yourself so you can follow your process step by step later on.

If you’ve been looking for an explanation, why watercolor paper is so expensive, check out this article, I wrote about it.

And if you’d also like to know, if expensive watercolor paints are worth it, you can read this one.

Is handmade watercolor paper better than machine-made paper?

Using handmade watercolor paper can be better than using machine-made paper, but it doesn’t have to be.

It is like asking if a child is better at painting than an adult. Of course it is possible, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you spend a lot of time and effort learning how to make your own paper, you can definitely make paper that fits your needs better than machine-made paper.

The advantage of self-made paper is that it is completely unique. It can be tailored to your needs over time. However, it requires a certain amount of skill. 

If you just want to have an easy time painting every now and then and do not plan to dig deeper, buying machine made paper or buying hand made paper from someone will be easier for you.

It’s worth trying to make your own paper at least once, though. I will discuss this in a moment.

watercolor paintings with sharp white edges

Can you use other papers instead of handmade ones for watercolor paintings?

Watercolor painting can be done on any kind of paper, that is thick enough, it doesn’t have to be handmade. (Regarding this, you should also read: Can you use printer paper for watercolor painting?)

Making watercolor paper yourself is basically the last step in the “paper ladder”, so don’t be worried if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it.

In terms of individuality, it doesn’t get much better than this. No paper can meet your needs as well as self-made paper, assuming you know how to make it.

But certain kinds of paper can get really close. 

A paper’s cotton content, weight, and pressing method are its most important characteristics.

You should always use 100% cotton paper with a weight of minimum 140lbs/sm.

You might have a hard and uncomfortable time painting with anything else because it might tear and buckle up sooner.

Now there are two ways of how paper is pressed. It can be either hot pressed or cold pressed.

The surface of hot-pressed paper tends to be smoother, so it is better suited for detailed paintings of faces, etc. 

The texture of cold pressed paper is a bit rougher and more textured, making it ideal for painting landscapes, trees, etc. Anything that needs a little texture to come to life should be painted on cold pressed watercolor paper.

Generally, I prefer painting on hot pressed paper, but you will have to experiment with both to determine which suits your style.

If you’re unsure which size of watercolor brushes are right for you, check this step-by-step tutorial out.

The benefits of handmade watercolor paper

By making your own watercolor paper and using it for your paintings, you automatically set yourself apart from other artists.

Most watercolor artists use paper that they haven’t made themselves, since it’s simply more convenient.

However, making your own paper has so much untapped potential, as you can really tailor everything to your liking.

Try making your own paper if you haven’t found your perfect paper.

Even if you don’t stick to it, you will understand how paper works better. Eventually, you will understand why certain fibers just don’t work the way you’d like them to and you’ll be able to work around it.

Your brand mark as an artist could even be handmade paper. Making your own paper sets you apart as an artist.

You can also make your own watercolor paint if you want to go all out. It isn’t difficult. Almost every step of the painting process can now be tailored to fit your individual needs.

If you use a watercolor sponge, you should definitely check this post out.

sketch, sketchbook, plein air

Every artist should make watercolor paper at least once

Making your own watercolor paper can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It is common for watercolor artists to focus just on that one thing and get lost in it.

I would advise trying out another creative craft every once in a while to break out of that rut and widen your artistic scope.

Making handmade watercolor paper is an excellent complement to watercolor painting, so it’s a good idea to try it at least once or twice.

You may even enjoy it more than painting itself.

Even if you are a professional watercolor artist, you should give it a try. Since it’s so unique, you can also sell handmade paper alongside your paintings, so there’s no reason not to try it.

Your creative experience will be elevated, as you will be able to create paper that fits your needs even better than machine-made paper.

As with painting, it takes practice. You will be able to stand out from the huge crowd of watercolor artists if you stick with it, because it is an incredibly difficult skill to master.

If you’d like to protect your watercolor paintings from fading, you should read this article, wherease you should check this one out, if you’re unsure, if watercolor paints can go down the drain.


Handmade watercolor paper adds a whole new level of depth to your painting experience compared to regular, machine-made paper. If you master the skill of making your own paper, you’ll be able to create it the way you want it, but it’s not an easy skill to master. Nevertheless, every artist should try it at least once, as you will learn a lot about paper during the process.

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