What to use instead of watercolor paper (you‘re overpaying)

As an active watercolor artist you will find yourself buying new watercolor paper quite often, which can get pretty expensive. Are there any suitable alternatives to this?

Thick sketch paper is a suitable alternative to watercolor paper, as it provides a similar painting experience. Additionally, I would advise against searching for watercolor paper, but rather for 300gsm paper when browsing as the ones that say watercolor paper tend to be overpriced, if they‘re only used for regular practise. For commissions I‘d still advise buying this kind of paper, as it has higher quality and might last longer without warping.

watercolor painting next to watercolor paint, brushes and a jar of water

What is the best alternative for watercolor paper?

The best alternative to watercolor paper will probably be simply thick paper. I like to go with 300gsm/140lbs paper for full artworks and a bit less than that for practice pieces.

Thicker paper with sizing will be a bit more on the expensive side, but is well worth the cost, when it comes to painting full artworks.

If you‘re just painting for fun, practise or generally don‘t plan to spend a lot of time on the painting, it‘s not mandatory to have 300gsm/140lbs paper. This kind of paper can get quite expensive over time.

Nonetheless, you should still try to buy pretty thick paper, as you would have a bad time without it.

I get into more tips about that topic later, as a lot of people overpay for their watercolor paper, when it‘s not needed

Can printer paper be used for watercolor painting?

I‘ve written up a whole article dedicated to this topic, which can be found here. It‘s interestingly enough quite a common question under beginner watercolor artists.

I‘ll give you a more condensed version of what I think about printer paper for watercolor painting here, though.

The most straight up and easiest answer is: No. Printer paper simply isn‘t made for watercolor painting.

It lacks sizing (that‘s sort of a structure in the paper) and especially thickness/weight. With very thin paper, you will almost immediately face the issue of it starting to warp an buckle, which will make the painting process way harder.

Another way of using printer paper for watercolor painting

So, if you‘d like to paint full on watercolor paintings, you‘ll have a hard time doing so on printer paper.

If you‘re out of watercolor paper and stuck with printer paper for a bit, there is something you can do, though.

In such a case, I‘d advise sketching. Doesn‘t really matter, if it‘s watercolor sketching or just straight up sketching with a pencil. What‘s important is, to practice.

Most artists tend to stick with the stuff they know. If you‘re good at landscapes, you‘re probably gonna paint a landscape. If you‘re good with faces, you‘re probably gonna paint a face, I think you know what you always fall back on.

Now, for this case, I want you to deliberately try to draw/paint a sketch of something that you suck at. Just try it out, give yourself a couple of minutes and do your best.

It doesn‘t matter if it doesn‘t turn out the way you liked it to. It‘s all about the practice and it‘s only printer paper anyways.

The advantage of printer paper in this case is that you can‘t really paint or erase a lot. This enables you to stop getting stuck in tiny little details that aren‘t important in this stage.

Why you’re overpaying on watercolor paper

A lot of paper manufactureurs make it seem like you need some super special paper to paint watercolors on.

They use this to promote their special „watercolor“ paper, which is pretty much the same, as their other thick paper.

To be fair, some companies really put in a lot of effort to create paper that‘s specifically meant only for watercoloring, by enhancing the fiber structure.

But most companies will just straight up name thick paper watercolor paper and sell it for double the price.

Especially, if you‘re shopping on Amazon, you‘ll see a lot of those sellers that are just throwing tons of keywords for watercolor paper in their title and description.

What I want to say is: Don‘t let them scam you and only pay more for seemingly the same paper, if it‘s a renowned, trusted brand. In most cases, you‘re gonna be fine with „regular“ thick paper anyways, though.

Are watercolor canvases a good alternative?

Another alternative to watercolor paper might be using a watercolor canvas. A lot of watercolor artists like to ask, whether you can use canvases for watercolor painting. The answer is yes and no. Let me explain.

First of all: I‘m not a big fan of painting watercolor on canvases. In my experience, a canvas can be quite limiting while painting with watercolors. 

A canvas simply doesn‘t offer the same surface as paper can. The biggest problem is the paint soaking in.

Watercolor works in a way that the water helps the pigments sink and settle into the papers fibers. As a canvas doesn‘t have such fibers, the paint will merely dry and stay on top.

While watercolor canvases are already primed, they still aren‘t able to behave like regular paper. 

Even priming a normal canvas with gesso wouldn‘t suffice to be able to paint watercolor on top. The water still wouldn’t be able to soak in and the pigments are just left on the surface.

Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend going for watercolor canvases, especially as a beginner. 


For watercolor painting, you only need to have thick enough paper to properly soak in watercolor. Otherwise, the pigments won‘t be able to come out the same way they would on paper. You don‘t even need to buy watercolor paper for this, as heavy enough paper will suffice. I‘d recommend 300gsm, as it‘s able to sustain large amount of paint and many layers without a problem.

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