There is no doubt that watercolor paintings are a great way to express yourself. The vibrant colors and beautiful blend of hues can really add life to any piece of art.
One of the most important things to consider when painting with watercolors is the type of paper you use. There are two main types; cold press and hot press.
So, what’s the difference?
Hot press paper is smooth, easier to paint on, and more absorbent. On the contrary, the cold press paper is stiffer, has more texture, and will not buckle when wet.
Let’s dive more into detail.
Difference Between Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Paper
The main difference between cold press and hot press watercolor paper is the surface texture.
Hot press vs Cold press Production
Hot press paper is also referred to as “plate” or “smooth” paper. The manufacturing processor involves pressing the pulp very thinly onto a heated metal plate. This results in a denser and flatter sheet with no texture.
- Pro – The lack of texture makes hot press paper ideal for detailed work, washes, and achieving smooth color gradients.
- Con – The downside is that hot-pressed paper doesn’t have the “tooth” necessary to hold onto heavier applications of paint. So if you want to do a lot of glazing or wet-into-wet painting, hot press paper might not be the best choice.
Cold press paper, on the other hand, has a “toothy” surface that’s perfect for holding onto pigment. It is manufactured by pressing pulp against a screen, resulting in a rougher, more textured surface.
- Pro – Cold press paper is ideal for painting techniques that require a lot of pigment, like wet-into-wet painting and glazing.
- Con – The texture can make it difficult to achieve smooth color gradients and detailed work.
Watch the video below to see how brilliantly Peggy Dean explains the difference between hot press and cold press watercolor paper.
Quality of Painting
There is a slight difference in the quality of the watercolor painting you get from these two options. For example, hot-pressed paper is more durable and has a smoother surface. This means it has a higher resolution than the cold version.
On the contrary, cold-pressed paper is more absorbent and can hold more pigment. It also provides a slightly textured surface that can add dimension to your painting.
The process of making paper involves piling pulp and then drying it under pressure. The more layers, the thicker the paper. Single presses produce smooth sheets, while multiple presses per sheet provide rougher textures.
The texture of cold-pressed papers varies based on the amount of pressure employed and the fibers used in their production.
The absorbency of watercolor paper is important because it will determine how much pigment your paper can hold. Hot-pressed watercolor paper has a lower absorbency.
This indicates that instead of being absorbed into the paper, the paint will sit on top of it. As a result, it is better for intricate work and achieving smooth color gradients.
There is no significant difference in the cost of hot press and cold between the two. However, hot press paper may be slightly more expensive because it is more durable and has a higher resolution.
Luminescence is the property of a material to emit light. In watercolor painting, it refers to the ability of the paper to reflect light.
The hot-pressed paper has a more even surface, which means it reflects light more evenly compared to the bumpy surface of the cold-press paper. This gives paintings done on this paper a luminous quality.
Hot press and cold press paper come in a variety of sizes. You can find them in pads, blocks, or sheets. The size you choose will depend on the type of painting you want to do and your personal preference.
- Pads are usually cheaper than blocks or sheets, but they are not as convenient because you have to tape them down to a surface.
- Blocks are glued on all four sides, so they stay in place better than pads. They are also easier to store because you can stack them. However, they are more expensive than pads.
- Sheets, on the other hand, are the most versatile option because you can cut them to any size you want. They are also the most expensive option.
Watercolor paper is available in a variety of weights, from light to heavy. The weight you choose will depend on the type of painting you want to create.
- Lightweight papers are thinner and more delicate. They’re great for intricate work or paintings that will be framed behind glass.
- Heavyweight papers are thicker and more durable. They can hold more pigment and are less likely to warp when wet. They’re best used for larger paintings or those that won’t be framed.
When to Use Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Paper?
Hot pressed paper is best for painting when you need a smoother finish or when using watercolor as a background wash. The surface will absorb and dry out the paint more quickly, making it less likely to run or blur.
Cold press paper is the best choice when painting in layers or if you want to use the texture of the paper as an element in your artwork. It’s also good for pastels and charcoal.
NOTE: If you are just starting out, you may want to try both types of papers to see which one is better. You can also experiment with different weights and sizes to find the perfect paper for your painting needs.
What Are the Best Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Papers?
In order to help you decide which type of paper is best, here is a breakdown of my top three brands when choosing watercolor paper. Furthermore, these are widely popular among professional artists as well as students,
Canson XL Watercolor Pads are ideal for both students and professionals. The paper is of excellent quality, with a surface that lends itself to a range of techniques. It works well with watercolors, acrylics, pens and inks, markers, colored pencils, pencils, charcoals, and so forth.
Canson is a well-known brand that has been producing high-quality goods for approximately 450 years. I highly recommend this product to individuals who are just getting started with watercolors. It’s also a cost-effective solution for parents with small children who enjoy painting.
- Acid-free cold press texture
- Natural white color
- Affordable solution for beginner to intermediate artists
- Does not allow much scrubbing
- Not suitable for thick layering
Arches paper pad is made with long fibers which makes it thick and stable – perfect for watercolors. Not to mention, the pad and paper sheets are beautiful as well as durable. You won’t regret using this paper for your next painting project.
I love how easy it is to achieve certain details with Arches- the light grain really helps! In addition, every sheet undergoes sophisticated testing and monitoring so you know you’re getting the best quality possible. It is the perfect solution for medium to high-level professionals artists.
- High Quality, acid-free, made with 100% cotton
- Excellent absorbency – can withstand multiple wet washes, layering, and scrubbing
- Sturdy- does not warp or buckle
- A bit pricey
- Need some experience to get work done perfectly on this paper
This 100% cotton watercolor paper is perfect for practicing different techniques for both amateurs to intermediate painters. Moreover, the pad features 90 sheets of acid-free cold press paper, 5.5″x8.5″ in size, and bonded in a journal – making it ideal for traveling.
A fun fact is that Arteza’s team itself consists of professional artists, which is why they are able to produce such high-quality products. I love how they offer a wide variety of coloring supplies that are not only affordable but also durable.
- No tearing – can handle moderate level scrubbing
- 100% cotton, heavyweight, and acid-free
- Reasonable pricing, more sheets with wire bounded journal
- Good absorbency, perfect for playing with different techniques
- May bend or warp after sometime
- Small or travel size, not suitable for big projects
How Is Watercolor Paper Made?
It is made from cotton and linen fibers combined with a starch paste that has been treated with chemicals and then pressed and dried. The paper is then made water-resistant.
The type of wood pulp, the chemicals used, and how the paper is pressed and dried affect the final product.
Handmade watercolor paper is strong and durable, which makes it a good choice for painting. It is also less likely to warp when wet, which means that your paintings will be more consistent.
It is the highest quality among those listed and also the most expensive one. The cotton and linen fibers give the paper a luxurious feel and make it absorbent, which is perfect for watercolor painting.
NOTE: Handmade watercolor paper has deckle edges on all sides. This helps artists to easily differentiate it from the rest.
It is made by placing the mold over a rotating cylindrical frame and then dipping it into a vat of pulp. The pulp is then pressed onto the mold to form the sheet of paper.
This type of paper is a mix of handmade and machine-made watercolor paper. Since the fibres are interwoven in a random pattern, the quality of mold-made paper is also strong.
TIP: To distinguish a mold-made paper, you can refer to its two sides called the felt and the mold. The felt side usually looks like a series of tiny lines while the mold usually looks smooth.
Made by inserting the fibers into the machine this paper is exactly as the name sounds. It then goes through the layering and drying process.
Machinemade paper is not very strong and is usually suitable for student-grade paintings or beginner’s practice. It is also the most affordable version.
When it comes to transparency, hot press paper gives a more transparent look. The surface of the hot press paper will absorb and dry out the watercolor paint more quickly than the cold press, making it less blur.
There is no definitive answer as to whether one type of watercolor paper is better than another. It depends on your preferences and what you are trying to achieve with your painting.
It is possible to do so. However, the texture may be different on each side, so you may want to experiment to see which side you prefer. The smooth side is usually better for detailed work, while the textured side is better for washes and landscapes.
The GSM refers to the weight of a sheet of watercolor paper. The heavier the weight, the more durable it is. Generally, the GSM ranges from 120-300gsm, with most being 180gsm.
During the manufacturing process, paper is first pushed and then pulled apart. Hence, creating the bumps. They allow the paint to flow easily across the surface while maintaining a textured consistency that gives watercolor paintings their unique look and feel.
Made exclusively from cotton and linen, the soft paper has a very different texture than other types. The surface is much smoother, and has a bit more tooth than the more textured papers.
This type of paper is perfect for artists who need wet media because it will not buckle or warp when the artist pours or brushes too much water on the surface.