What are the differences between art papers – those for watercolour, drawing, acrylics, oils, pastels and digital printing?
To answer this frequently asked question about art papers, here are brief descriptions of each type to show the basic characteristics of each kind.
-Types of Art Paper-
Watercolour paper has a “hard size” on top of the paper that allows the water to penetrate and the pigment to remain on the surface. This gives the painting its brilliance and also allows for corrections.
Watercolour paper comes in different textures. Hot Press (HP) is the smoothest. Not (also called cold pressed) has a medium textured surface and is the most popular finish, it is especially good for beginners. Rough is highly textured paper.
The weights of the papers range from 90 lb to 400 lb. The heavier the weight of the watercolour paper the less the paper will buckle when wet. For lighter weight papers (140lb and below) the paper is usually wetted and laid out on a board and taped down with gum-strip tape. Alternatively you can use a specially designed paper stretcher device like the Keba Artmate.
Watercolour papers come in sheets, pads, rolls, and blocks. Blocks are pads that are glued on all four sides except for a small space on one side. This allows for painting without stretching and when the painting is dry you can remove the top painted sheet by running a butter knife around the edge from the gap in the side.
Cartridge paper is a high quality type of heavy paper used for illustration and drawing.
Bristol is a strong and durable, all-purpose drawing paper. It has a very hard surface that is heavily sized, polished, and compressed.
Pastel paper is used for soft and hard pastels and charcoal. It is usually coloured paper, with the colour chosen being very important as it will be a major component of the finished work. It comes in a few different textures. Ingres is a laid paper with a mesh imprint from a screen. Random texture gets its surface from a cloth matt imprint, similar to Not texture watercolour paper. There are a few types with toothy textures from ground cork that are similar to sandpaper. A few come with the colour screenprinted on and some are waterproof for working the pastels with water.
Paper for oil pastels is hard and white and usually comes in a pad with glassine paper interleaving to protect it from smudging.
Oil and Acrylic painting papers
These medium to heavyweight papers are usually canvas textured and primed for painting with either oil or acrylic. The ones prepared for acrylic paint are universally primed to accept both oil and acrylic. Paper must be sealed completely if painting with oil paints because the oil will separate out if the paper is absorbent and it will also rot the paper over time. Although acrylic paint can be used on any paper, this paper is specifically designed to mimic canvas. It is especially useful for taking to classes or using in the field and is an economical choice for making a study or sketch prior to the major work on canvas.
You can also get sheets of primed actual canvas (as opposed to the canvas-textured paper) in pads.
Papers for pastel painting are different to other papers because they have a texture that is designed to hold the pastel particles onto the surface. The available textures range from a subtle, vellum texture to a very toothy surface similar to fine sandpaper. They also come in a selection of colours because bits of the paper can show through the pastel and will affect the colour like an underpainting. Pastel is the medium that is most affected by the surface it is painted on, the texture of the paper you choose to work on will greatly affect the marks you are able to make and the final look of your painting. If you are using watercolour as an underpainting or using alcohol to blend your pastels you will also need to be sure the glue used for any coating is water or alcohol resistant.
Fine Art Digital papers
Inkjet papers that allow high quality reproductions of your artwork come in a wide variety of textures and weights. They are coated to prevent the ink jet inks from sinking down into the fibres, which would make them less visible, so it would look very pale. They can be sprayed with an inkjet fixative to prevent smudging if that is a problem.
Read more articles about artist papers on our blog
- Watercolour Paper Guide
- Common Paper Sizes
- Arches Oil Painting Paper
- Watercolour Paper Textures
- The Wide Variety of Pastel Papers
Papers on the Jackson’s Art website
We have an enormous selection of papers for artists in our Paper Department.