I get a lot of questions about the different papers that I use for my illustrations and the answer is a little more complicated than you might think. Choosing the right paper can make or break your project. To help you make the right choice for your working preference and project, I have broken down the consideration factors into 5 points of comparison: Quality, Weight, Content, Texture, and Format.
Artist paper is generally categorized in two qualities - Student Grade and Artist Grade, which I have found doesn’t generally impact performance. Ultimately the most important factor to consider when it comes to quality is to make sure that the paper you choose is Acid Free. Papers that are not acid free will yellow and become very brittle over time, so if longevity for your work is important, make sure you choose archival quality paper.
What is paper weight? Weight of paper is determined by the ream (500 sheets) - light paper is generally considered to be anything less than 140lbs/300GSM, and heavy weight rolls in around 300lbs/640GSM.
A good rule of thumb to remember is the heavier the paper, the more water/media it can absorb without buckling. Additionally heavier paper will withstand more abuse including layers, heavy erasing/rubbing, and mixed media techniques. I prefer heavier papers because it doesn't require stretching, one common misconception is that heavier weight paper, automatically means higher the quality - and this isn’t necessarily true. Generally it is the content of the paper that ultimately dictates the starting price, then weight will add to base cost as it increases.
Cotton papers reign supreme. Essentially the difference here, between cotton papers and cellulose based papers, is the length and strength of the fibers. Cotton papers generally are made of longer and stronger fibers than cellulose papers, which means it can stand up to more media, water, and abuse. It is important to note here that not all cotton papers are created equally, and low quality cotton paper will have short fibers and can become fuzzy looking if over worked.
The great Hot versus Cold pressed debate! Just remember Hot=Smooth, so it is good for pen and ink, micron illustrations, and acrylic paintings while Cold=Textured, so it is ideal for water media that requires tooth or texture to hold liquids and pigments in place.
I also like using hot pressed paper for client work that will be digitized as it makes the scanning and digitising process easier, as I don’t have to work overtime to eliminate the texture - the only exception would be if the client is looking for a rough watercolor texture, in which case I would use the Cold Press paper.
Finally the format, which is the most subjective of all the considerations previously listed. I prefer single sheets at 9”x12” or 11”x14” formats. These work best for my studio space and my subject matter, they are easy to transport, and scannable on my in home scanner. Any larger than 11"x14" has to be taken to my Fedex location to use their large format scanner which is cheap, but a hassle, so I work with what I’ve got. A lot of artists will buy larger paper, and even rolls, then tear down to size as needed, but this process is a hassle for me in my small studio space so I just buy the size I need for convenience. If you’re looking to save money, I definitely recommend looking into purchasing a big roll of paper!
So what is my favorite paper? That depends! For Watercolor Wildflowers I prefer 100% Cotton Arches Cold Pressed 300GSM paper, but for my other illustrations including the Bikinis and Bugs, I LOVE Canson Brand Watercolor Paper Pads (Acid Free Cellulose Paper at 300GSM), which is marketed as “amateur” artist paper, but for my working style it holds up the best of all the papers I have tested. Which shows that it is best to experiment with a wide range of papers before you spend a ton of money on paper that is sold as “premium” but doesn’t work for your painting process or style. Some of my favorite papers are linked below, via affiliate links, which means that if you purchase one of the products linked, I’ll receive a fixed percentage fee of the purchase.
You can find more information about my process and my favorite materials over in an older post here. I also post periodic tips and tricks over on my Instagram, so be sure to give me a follow over there!
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