Why watercolor paper is so expensive and why it’s worth it

When trying to find the perfect watercolor paper, you’ll notice that most of them are quite expensive. Find out why they are and why they’re still worth their money.

Watercolor paper can be quite costly, because of its high production cost. Most of them are made out of 100% cotton to achieve the highest possible quality and the production process is long and tedious. A cheaper alternative would be wood pulp paper, also called student grade paper. Though, you should only use this kind of paper on practice work because it does not enhance the colors nearly as much.

watercolor paper

Is expensive watercolor paper worth it?

Expensive watercolor paper isn’t worth it. High quality paper is. Don’t just look for the price and pick the most expensive one, thinking it will automatically be the best one. Look for reviews, how often it was sold and ask other artists what they think is best.

Generally, you should go for 100% cotton watercolor paper, as it is of the highest quality by far. Student grade paper might not ruin your experience, but won’t let you unleash your full potential.

You can have the best of the best watercolor paints, but your paintings will still look dull and the colors won’t behave the way they do on high quality paper.

The paints will just sink into the paper and won’t flow properly. You will never achieve your best possible level of painting on a wood pulp/student grade paper.

If you have a budget you can spend on watercolor supplies, I would definitely recommend you to aim for the more expensive paper and the student grade paints instead of the other way around.

Spare yourself of the pain and self doubt and just go for the high quality 100% cotton watercolor paper.

When is cheaper watercolor paper worth it?

There is nothing wrong with using cheaper watercolor papers if you’re on a very limited budget. In the end, your final results will look a bit worse than they would on cotton paper, but the process itself will still be similar.

You don’t have to spend more money to be an exceptional artist.

Once you’ve got a bit more budget on your hand, you should probably upgrade your paper first, as long as your paints are student level and your brushes aren’t losing their hair constantly.

Also cheap watercolor paper is definitely the way to go, when it comes to practising. For practise pieces, you don’t need to use some fancy paper, as student grade paper will definitely be enough.

In the end, practising is just about keeping your skills fresh and trying to level up bit by bit over time. You don’t need to waste fancy materials on that.

Additionally, your real work will turn out even better after only practising on wood pulp paper.

I don’t recommend testing out colors on practise paper though. I see a lot of artists do that and I would strongly advise you against it, if you can afford it.

The reason for that is that the colors just don’t come out and behave the same way they would on your other paper. So avoid any surprises and use at least something of similar quality for trying out different colors.

In my experience you can get a lot of paintings done with just one sheet of color testing paper, as you just need small spots every time you try out a color and are able to use both sides to the fullest.

watercolor painting

How thick should watercolor paper be?

Most watercolor papers are available in the following weights which is comparable to how thick they are: 90lb (185gsm), 140lb (300gsm), 300lb (640gsm) and even 400lb (850gsm). The higher the weight, the thicker the paper.

I would advise to use either 140lb or 300lb when painting with watercolor. 90lb is just a bit too thin and 400lb is over the top. 

I mostly use 140lb, but if you often run into problems with your watercolor paper warping a lot, I would advise 300lb paper, as it can absorb a lot more water.

Which side of the paper should I paint on?

As the majority of watercolor paper is cold pressed, you’re often going to have different surfaces on each side of the paper, with one being more textured.

There really is no right and wrong here. You just have to decide what you feel more comfortable painting on. 

When painting more detailed paintings I would advise to use the less textured one, or just straight up use hot pressed paper, as it allows for thinner, more precise lines.


If you’re not just practising, you should use 100% cotton watercolor paper, which is often a bit more expensive. For practise paintings, student grade paper will be sufficient though. 140lb(300gsm) to 300lb(640gsm) would be a good range of weight/thickness to see the best results.

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