A Guide to Paper

Introduction to paper

How is paper made?

Everything you need to know about:

- Drawing Paper

- Pastel Paper

- Watercolour Paper

- Acrylic Paper

- Oil Painting Paper

- Printmaking Paper

- Digital Paper

Further Reading

Glossary

Introduction to paper

Artists work on paper with a multitude of different media including graphite, charcoal, watercolour, inks, coloured pencil, pastel, oil, and acrylic. Artist paper is acid-free which helps to optimise the structure of the paper and minimise deterioration over time including fading, yellowing, or even falling apart. While the majority of artist papers are purpose-made for specific media, many are also compatible with other materials. Each of the papers mentioned in this guide have their own unique qualities that will play a role in the character of your finished work. The paper’s weight, colour, texture, and absorbency will alter how marks applied to the surface behave. Cotton papers are considered the highest quality papers as they are made of the strongest fibres. This is important to many artists as it allows them to erase repeatedly, lift colour with ease, scrub and scratch without holes, tears, and breaks appearing in the paper. Cotton papers are more expensive than the alternative, which is wood free paper (paper which is made from trees, from which the lignin has been removed) or a mix of lignin-free cellulose and cotton.

Jackson’s Painting and Drawing Map

How is paper made?

No matter the method of papermaking, at the beginning of the process is the production of paper stock. The main constituent of the stock is pulp, a fibrous material made by beating or refining rags, wood, or other plant matter in order to extract the cellulose fibre, the key component of paper.

By the second century A.D., Chinese papermakers had developed a papermaking method which resembles that still used today, characterised by the dilute suspension of cellulose fibres in water. They made pulp using the bast fibres of the kozo plant, bamboo, hemp rags, straw, or scraps of fishing nets, beaten to make a fibrous slurry.

When papermaking reached Europe in the thirteenth century, pulp was made primarily with hemp, linen, or cotton rags. These materials continued to be the main source of cellulose fibre in papermaking until the nineteenth century, when the increasing demand for paper and the invention of industrial papermaking machines led to the use of wood as a source of cellulose fibre. The earliest industrial wood-based papers were made by mechanically grinding the wood into a pulp. This meant that the paper contained a high amount of lignin, a polymer found naturally in wood which causes paper to become yellow and brittle in a relatively short period of time.

As a result, chemical pulping processes were developed to remove lignin and other impurities in order to make longer lasting paper. This is what is known as ‘wood-free’ paper, in which the ‘woody’ components that compromise longevity have been removed during manufacture, leaving only the cellulose fibres. Artist-quality papers are made using chemical pulp, while mechanical pulp containing lignin is still used to make newsprint.

Handmade Paper - Rag papers, handmade printmaking papers 
The process of making paper by hand has barely changed for hundreds of years. Handmade papers are made sheet by sheet, not in a continuous roll. The sheet is formed by pouring the stock onto a mould, which is a hand-held wooden frame with a stainless steel wire mesh draining surface. The sheets are interleaved between woollen felts and pressed to remove excess water. The paper is then tub sized with gelatine or another sizing agent, and air dried.

Artist handmade watercolour paper is usually made with 100% cotton and/or linen rag, which is recycled cloth. Because of the longer fibre of cotton rag, which in comparison to the cotton linters used in cotton artist papers forms a more robust weave within the pulp that makes each sheet, meaning that paper made with cotton rag is more durable and more able to withstand heavy treatment. The sizing and texture may vary between batches of handmade paper, and the sheets usually have four genuine deckle edges.

Printmakers utilise many Asian handmade papers which can be lighter and smoother than cotton rag papers. Fibres from the inner bark of shrubby plants have a high cellulose content and long fibres. Processing involves teasing and beating the fibres apart as opposed to cutting them. The thinnest Japanese papers make use of neri, an addition to the pulp that slows down the rate at which the water drains through the mould. This delay creates time to tilt the mould in various directions, really intertwining the long fibres to increase the strength of the paper. The smooth surface on the front of these papers is created by brushing them out to dry onto metal sheets. 

Cylinder Mould-Made Paper - Most artist-quality cotton watercolour and printmaking papers
Cylinder mould machines consist of a vat and a cylinder mould. The paper stock is picked up from the vat by a slowly rotating cylinder mould. The cylinder is covered with a wire mesh and, as it rotates, the water flows through the mesh and the pulp forms a web on the outside of the cylinder. The fibrous sheet is transferred onto a continuously moving felt-lined belt and processed further through the different sections of the machine, depending on the requirements of the paper. The paper is pressed, either between rollers lined with felt to create a rough texture, or hot metal rollers to achieve a very smooth surface.

As with handmade paper, the paper fibres are orientated in random directions, giving cylinder mould-made papers excellent surface stability which is an asset to all painting and printmaking processes.

Cylinder mould-made paper can be seen as the ‘halfway’ point between handmade and Fourdrinier machine-made paper. The process makes more consistent paper than handmade paper, but is more sensitive to the characteristics of the material than industrial machines.

Full sheets of cylinder mould-made paper have two genuine deckle edges, and may also have two edges which have been cut to resemble genuine deckle edges.

Fourdrinier Machine-Made Paper

Cartridge paper, tracing paper, newsprint
The Fourdrinier machine, named after Sealy and Henry Fourdrinier, was patented in 1806 in response to the growing demand for paper. Instead of making each sheet by hand, the paper pulp could be dried, pressed, and textured by a series of mechanised rollers, allowing manufacturers to make consistent batches of paper very quickly. Although there were developments following the first Fourdrinier machine, the process today still remains very similar.

The paper stock is spread over a mesh conveyor belt which removes the water from the fibres with a vacuum. It is then pressed through large heated rollers to squeeze out even more moisture. Further series of rollers are also used to smooth the paper surface, or add texture if necessary, and to ensure uniform thickness throughout the sheet.

The paper emerges from the machine in giant reels. Fourdrinier machines are known for their efficiency, producing high volumes of low cost, utilitarian papers, usually used for stationery and printed matter. However some of the oldest and most renowned mills use their Fourdrinier machines to make artist papers. Using high grade cellulose, they benefit from being strong and archival as well as economical.

How to Tell Front From Back
When the paper pulp is captured on the cylinder mould, or on the machine belt, the water will drain through some form of mesh. Contact with this mesh will form a pattern on what is considered the back of the paper. The paper is then placed or pressed onto natural woollen felts, metal sheets, or in the case of machine-made paper, pressed with marking felts to give a particular texture, or run through calendar rollers to polish the surface smooth.

For many machine-made papers, like cartridge paper, there is no discernible difference between the two sides. For cylinder mould-made papers you will find a regular texture on the back (the mould side) and a more random texture from the natural felts used on the front (the felt side). The exception to this would be papers stated as offering a completely smooth drawing or painting surface, which may have more texture on the underside. If the paper has a watermark, when you hold it up to the light, the side on which the watermark is the right way round is the felt side. However, it is down to personal preference and there is no reason why you can’t use either side.

Everything you need to know about

Drawing Paper

Drawing incorporates all manner of dry and wet art materials, and different papers will be suitable depending on what media you are working with.

Cartridge Paper – Best for Dry Media
The paper most commonly associated with drawing is cartridge paper. It is so-called because it was used in the making of paper cartridges in the sixteenth century, holding the ammunition of gunpowder and bullets together for loading into hand-held firearms. Cartridge paper is most commonly made of wood free cellulose and is primarily made for dry drawing media such as graphite and charcoal, however heavier cartridge papers (200 gsm+) will take some watercolour and ink with minimal buckling. It is available in a variety of weights and shades of white. Quality cartridge paper will have a slight texture to it – this is known as grain or tooth, and provides the resistance needed to hold marks in place and increases the depth of range achievable in graphite or charcoal.

Other Papers Suited to Dry Media
Bristol board, marker, and layout pads are all smooth surfaces that are particularly well suited to ink pens of all varieties; the lack of texture is sympathetic to delicate nibs whether they’re made of metal or felt, and lines are kept crisp and sharp.

Bristol board is a wood-free cellulose, multiply drawing paper available with either a completely smooth or vellum surface, offering a slight texture that is better suited to dry media such as coloured pencil, graphite and charcoal.

Marker pad paper is another acid-free wood pulp paper. Some are as light as 70 gsm (these are sometimes called layout paper), while others are heavier, around 220 gsm. Marker pen papers serve two main functions – either a drafting paper for quick sketches and ideas, or for more laboured, layered drawings. The ultra smooth, satin sheen surface accentuates crisp edges and vibrant marks, without bleeding or feathering. It is usually bright white in colour.

Layout paper is even thinner, only 45-50 gsm. It is semi-transparent and also designed to minimise bleed-through. It is the white, lightweight paper that is often used in illustration and design sketches.

Tracing paper is made of wood-free cellulose that has been pulped repeatedly to the point where the fibres are made so short and so compressed the internal reflection of light is removed, allowing it to appear clear. When you crease tracing paper you are breaking up the bonded fibres, so the light then starts to reflect between the fibres again, which is why the paper looks white when creased. The shortness of the fibres is the reason why tracing paper is so brittle and only suitable for dry and very quick drying wet media, such as ink and acrylic.

Newsprint is an inexpensive wood pulp paper that contains lignins, so will yellow rapidly if exposed to UV light. It’s only suitable for quick disposable drawings, will buckle when wet media is applied to it, and easily disintegrate under heavy pressure such as excessive erasing.

Paper Well Suited to Taking Wet and Dry Media
If you intend to combine drawing with washes of watercolour or acrylic, watercolour paper will take the wet media better, although the sizing that stops the paper from being too absorbent can cause felt nibs of Indian ink or acrylic marker pens to wear out more quickly – this is even true of the smoothest hot pressed papers. Additionally any texture can sometimes make it difficult to apply thin technical pen lines with precision.

Watercolour paper is made of cotton, acid-free wood pulp, linen, or a mix. Linen and cotton papers are more robust – you can scrub and scratch into the surface without necessarily making a hole, while acid-free wood pulp papers are less forgiving of rough treatment, because the fibres that they are made of are shorter, resulting in a comparatively less resilient paper. Watercolour board is essentially watercolour paper mounted onto a rigid lightweight board, and will not buckle or warp as a result of heavy applications of paint or water. Watercolour boards and watercolour paper are available in three textures – hot press (completely smooth), NOT surface (slight tooth) and rough (heavy tooth).

Yupo is a 100% polypropylene surface that will not buckle, resists tearing and is non absorbent. Painting on this surface is a completely different experience to working on a cotton or wood free cellulose paper. Work in wet or dry media should be given a coat of spray varnish to hold them in place.

Drawing Papers Comparison Table. Click to zoom in or download PDF to print.

Pastel Paper

Pastel papers are textured so that they can hold layers of pastel pigment. The wide variety of textures cater for every kind of approach to the medium. They are either coated or have an imprint of texture. The paper you choose to work on will greatly affect the marks you are able to make and the final look of your painting. They tend to be available in a wider range of colours than paper made for other media, as the paper is often visible between marks.

Coated papers that are coarse to the touch do not necessarily hold more colour than a surface that feels softer; while the feel of a conventional sandpaper is very similar to some sanded pastel papers, it is not guaranteed to have the same pastel holding qualities, and would not be archival. Sanded pastel papers aren’t usually made with any sand – the name refers to the feel of the surface and refers to pastel paper that grabs colour as you apply strokes of pastel to it.

The texture of coated papers can range from coarse grit to the softness of tiny polyester fibres (known as velour). Coatings, when not screen-printed, are applied electrostatically over a layer of glue to ensure an even coverage. Some of the glues used will be rewetted with alcohol or water, and when this happens the coating can become loose from the paper, however this is not true of all the coated papers, so it is worth checking each product if you intend to use liquids with your soft pastel. Coated papers will allow a thick layer of pastel to be built up, giving a bolder, stronger colour, with very little or no texture from the paper showing through. Non-coated papers may be imprinted during the production process, with regular lines or a grid, or a honeycomb texture. Which is best suited to how you work will depend on considerations such as whether you wish to build up many layers, apply subtle blending techniques or combine pastel with other media.

Ingres Papers
Named after the French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), this type of paper is produced on a cylinder mould, and its faint grid texture (‘laid’, the lengthwise, closer lines, and ‘chain’, the less frequent lines running across its width) is an impression of the screen of the mould. It is usually lighter weight than other pastel paper and has a more subtle tooth. Ingres paper will only hold a few thin layers of colour so is suited to work with a lighter touch and quick sketches. It will take light applications of wet media such as blending liquids or watercolour. The paper’s texture will show through your marks as either faint lines or dots. It is soft enough for finger-blending and sponge tools, and it is easy to erase marks.

Other uncoated pastel papers
All the other non-coated papers are 160gsm, and so are heavier than most of the Ingres papers. Winsor and Newton Pastel pads, Fabriano Tiziano and Hahnemühle Lanacolour all have a similar texture which consists of naturally irregular lines going along and across the sheet, with Tiziano having the most subtle texture. Daler Rowney Murano has a more dimpled texture, while Canson Mi-Teintes (not to be confused with Canson Mi-Teintes Touch) has a regular and distinctive honeycomb texture on one side, and a fine grain on the other. They are all described as being suited to other media such as pencil, charcoal and craft work, and Fabriano Tiziano, Hahnemuhle Lanacolour, Daler Rowney Murano and Canson Mi-Teintes will also support watercolour and gouache. Unlike most of the Ingres papers, they each contain a percentage of cotton fibres which lends strength (allowing for a greater degree of erasing and reworking without damage to the paper) and longevity (preventing the paper from discolouration when kept in dry and constant conditions). They are smooth enough to allow for blending with your fingers.

Can I use other papers for pastel?
Any paper with a little tooth can be used for pastels. Each will give a different look depending on how much pastel it will hold. A rough watercolour paper is ideal if you wish to start with a watercolour underpainting, and heavier weight cotton papers are best if you wish to combine pastel with liquid media to avoid the paper buckling; otherwise you can tape any textured paper to a board to keep it flat, and remove it from the board when it is fully dry. You can also prepare any paper with a coarse ground to improve its pastel holding capacity.

Oil pastels
Oil pastels are wax based and can be used on either smooth or textured paper, including papers for soft pastel. Sennelier oil pastel card is the only purpose made oil pastel card, however it is not suitable if you intend to blend the oil pastels with solvents on it as its surface has a tendency to swell and blister when it makes contact with solvent. Heavy applications of oil pastel on soft sized papers may result in any oil content seeping into the paper fibres.

Fixing work
Fixative can help to keep your applied marks of pastel looking fresh, crisp and increase their smudge-resistance, however fixatives also have a tendency to darken colours, and whites tend to become transparent. Work on coated papers will require fixing less than those on uncoated papers as their texture is more able to hold colour in place. However if you wish to further secure your marks onto the surface without using fixative you can ‘pressure fix’ your work: Lay a sheet of glassine over the artwork and press it gently and evenly without moving the glassine. This will push the particles more firmly into the paper texture.

Protecting work with glassine
Glassine paper is a super-smooth, heavily compressed, thin, translucent paper made with very refined pulp that can be used to protect the surface of dry media artworks from smudging during storage, shipping or in books. It is sometimes called crystal paper. It is found interleaved between sheets in pads of: Daler Rowney Ingres, Sennelier Pastel paper, Pastelmat, Clairefontaine Ingres spiral pads, Canson Mi-Teintes spiral pads, where work is likely to be kept indefinitely, and so benefits from the protection glassine offers. It is not usually found in glued pads, where sheets are most likely to be removed once work is finished (although the Sennelier card pad is an exception). Resistant to grease, air and water, it is acid-free to ensure archival protection. Although newsprint may seem smooth enough to do the same job, it is not archival, so not a good alternative for long-term storage and both newsprint and tissue paper attract pastel particles more readily than glassine. 

The importance of framing pastel works
Pastel is one of the more stable of the painting mediums, not changing as it ages – it does not contain any binders that are susceptible to yellowing and the surface will not crack as it dries. However, it can have a fragile surface, so it is important to protect it behind glass in order to keep the surface from being disturbed and shield it from dust. Mounting pastel paper to a board using acid free double sided tape can make it easier to keep the work flat. A mount will prevent the glass from touching the surface of the painting, which can stop condensation or temperature changes causing the paper to wrinkle, or stick to the glass.

Pastel Paper Comparison Table -  Click to zoom in or download PDF to print.

Watercolour Paper

Watercolour paper is a versatile surface which has a degree of absorbency that allows transparent colour to appear its most luminous. Watercolour paper is not only for use with watercolour paints – it can also be used for acrylics, gouache, pastels, pencils, graphite, charcoal, and it can also be primed for oil. With many options that are 100% cotton, it can make a durable and archival support for many different mediums. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the watercolour paper terms, click on the underlined words to read the definition.

Texture
Hot pressed paper has the least textured surface, having been pressed between hot metal rollers during production. Hot pressed paper is favoured by those who like to work delicately with a lot of detail, such as botanical artists. Hot pressed paper tends to be the least absorbent of all of the textures, and watery washes can sit on the surface for a long time. Beyond watercolour painting, hot pressed watercolour paper makes an excellent support for detailed pen, ink and graphite drawing.

Cold pressed (NOT) paper is made by pressing the sheet through cold metal rollers, and it has a slight texture to it. It is the most popular watercolour paper surface to work on because it is well adapted to many painting approaches. The paint will sink a little into the dimples on the surface of the paper, but it will also be sympathetic to some more detailed work. Cold pressed paper tends to be a little more absorbent than hot pressed paper.

Rough paper is the roughest texture paper available, it is pressed between sheets of textured felt during the drying process and is not pressed between smooth rollers. The heavier texture means that granulating effects are enhanced. This paper surface is suited to bold, expressive painting techniques.

While hot pressed, NOT, and rough are used almost universally by watercolour paper manufacturers to describe the texture of their papers, the actual surface textures vary greatly between manufacturers, or even between batches (particularly with handmade papers).

Colour
Because watercolour paint is transparent the colour of the paper, even different shades of white, will affect everything on top of it in both the painted and unpainted areas. The colour of 100% cotton watercolour papers vary depending on whether it is tub sized or not (external gelatine sizing will impart a slight brownish tinge), the purity of the water used in production, and the raw materials used for manufacture. Many 100% cotton papers are an off-white colour which is often referred to as ‘traditional’ white. Some ranges have a separate line of ‘extra-white’ or ‘high-white’ alongside their traditional white papers.

Optical brightening agents, or OBAs, can be added to the pulp during production to make the paper whiter and brighter. These brightening agents are prone to deteriorating over time, which can cause a colour shift in the artwork as the paper fades to off-white. Because of this, makers of archival standard watercolour papers avoid the use of optical brightening agents and add a lightfast white pigment, like titanium dioxide, instead. While lightfast extra-white watercolour paper is noticeably whiter than traditional white papers, they are not as white as optically brightened paper. This is because there is a limit to the amount of pigment that can be added to the stock without compromising the bonding strength between the paper fibres.

Similarly to extra-white watercolour papers, tinted and black watercolour papers, such as Bockingford Tinted and Stonehenge Aqua Black, are made by adding lightfast pigments to the stock. Khadi Handmade Black watercolour paper is made using black cotton rags. However, because the dyes used in the rags are not lightfast, the paper is prone to fading, particularly if exposed to sunlight.

Watercolour Paper Sizing
Watercolour paper should be absorbent enough to stabilise the paint, but not so absorbent that the colour becomes dull. Sizing provides a little water resistance, so that the paint does not sink too much into the paper, and partially sits on the surface. Watercolour paper can be sized internally, externally, or both, with gelatine, starch, or a synthetic size like Alkyl Ketene Dimer. Internal sizing is when the size is added to the water and pulp mixture before the paper has been made. External sizing (also known as tub sizing) is when the formed sheets of paper are pulled through a gelatine bath. Some papers are both externally and internally sized which increases the wet strength of the paper. Papers that are externally and internally sized are usually best for masking fluid.

All watercolour paper manufacturers size their paper differently. A wash of semi-dilute paint, without any attempt to work it into the paper, is a good test to see how a watercolour paper is sized. Watercolour papers that have been treated with a lot of size have a high resistance to water and are known as hard-sized papers. On them, dilute washes of paint will want to sit on top of the surface or even bead up. Another sign of a hard-sized paper is a feathery ‘tide mark’ around the edges of the wash, created as the paint sits on the surface and the pigment migrates to the edges. Hard-sized paper has higher abrasion resistance, and tends to withstand more vigorous painting techniques, like scrubbing and reworking of the paint. It is also ideal for lifting techniques because the colour does not penetrate the fibres of the paper and is more easily removed (depending on how staining the pigment is).

Watercolour papers that are less heavily sized (sometimes called soft-sized papers) are less resistant to water. The paint will be absorbed more readily into the paper which makes it ideal for techniques like glazing, where transparent layers of paint are applied on top of previous layers of colour. Soft-sized watercolour papers might have a softer surface texture. Sheets of handmade papers are individually sized by hand, so the sizing can vary from sheet to sheet. This is part of the character of the paper and can enhance the enjoyment of working on it. Synthetic and gelatine size is broken down by detergents present in soap, household cleaning products and even brush cleaner. Even a small amount can cause the paper to become extremely absorbent, behaving like blotting paper. If soaking watercolour paper, it’s best to do so in a dedicated tray rather than in the bath or a sink. If using a bath or a sink then it’s important to ensure that all soap residue is removed. Brushes should also be thoroughly rinsed after using a brush cleaner.

Why Does Paper Buckle When Wet?
Buckling occurs because paper fibres expand when wet. If you use very little water in your technique, then very little buckling will occur, if any. For more watery applications a heavier weight paper (425gsm and above) will buckle less.

Stretching watercolour paper involves deliberately saturating the paper with water in order to expand it, fixing it to a board, usually with gumstrip around the edges, then allowing it to dry before painting. Preparing your paper like this is the best way to ensure a completely flat surface.

How to Stretch Watercolour Paper
What you will need:

A clean, soap-free tray of water, with one dimension slightly longer than the shortest edge of your sheet of paper or, if you don’t have a tray, a clean spray bottle.
A clean, soap-free sponge or paper towel.
-  A rigid board – plywood or plastic is ideal.
-  4 strips of gummed tape, to glue each edge of your paper to the board. It helps to pre-cut each length so that it is 3cm longer than each edge.

The most common and inexpensive method of stretching paper is to begin by soaking it in clean water for a few minutes (140lb weight paper will need up to 8 minutes, heavier paper may need more). If your sheet of paper does not fit in the tray you can hold it at opposite edges and feed it through the tray multiple times to ensure the whole sheet is soaked.

Lift the sheet from the tray and allow any excess water to drain from it before placing it flat on your board. If you do not have a tray simply place your paper on to the board you wish to stretch it on to, and spray generously on both sides of the paper with clean water. Try to only touch the paper on its edges as it’s possible to leave visible finger marks on the stretched paper. Sponge off the excess water gently with a clean sponge – the outward motion you use to do this will help flatten the paper onto the board. Once you feel that the paper is adequately stretched out, wet your gumstrip using a clean paintbrush or sponge, but do not immerse it in the tray of water for too long as this can wash away too much of the adhesive, and it may not be able to hold the paper in place as it shrinks.

Place the gumstrip tape on the edges of the paper so that half the width is covering the paper’s edge, and half is stuck to the board. When doing this, take care not to let water from the tape drip onto the paper, as this will leave spots on the paper when you start to paint on it. Use a dry paper towel to press the tape down, which will also soak up any excess water. Lay the board flat and allow it to dry (it may need to be left for a few hours, or overnight to be completely dry) before you start your painting.

When your painting is finished, leave it to dry completely before cutting the paper free from the board using a sharp craft knife. You can remove gumstrip from the paper by soaking it with a sponge to rewet it, and then carefully lift it off with a palette knife or craft knife.

Read our blog post Stretching Watercolour Paper For a Better Watercolour Painting Experience

Is There a Correct Side to Work on Watercolour Paper?
Cylinder mould-made watercolour paper has two sides which vary slightly in texture. The felt side is the side which is formed in contact with the woollen felts and usually has a more irregular texture than the mould side, which is formed in contact with the wire mesh. Both sides of the paper are pressed between felts (in the case of rough and cold pressed papers), or between hot metal rollers (for hot pressed papers) later on during production, which evens out much of the difference between the two sides. If the paper is watermarked, you can identify the felt side by holding the paper up to the light and finding the side from which the watermark reads correctly.

Pads, blocks, and packs of cylinder mould-made paper are generally presented with the felt side up. However, because the paper is evenly sized on both sides, they are equally suitable for painting on. We recommend inspecting and feeling the texture on both sides of the paper before you start painting to see which one you prefer. Handmade paper is pressed between back to back felts and the texture is the same on either side. The slightest differences in texture may occur from sheet to sheet. Either side can be used.

What is a Deckle Edge?
A deckle edge is an irregular edge to the paper (as opposed to a sharp, cut edge) found on many handmade and cylinder mould-made papers. The edge is formed when some of the wet pulp goes beyond the frame of the mould.

Because handmade rag papers are individually formed, they are the only papers that have four true deckle edges. Cylinder mould-made watercolour papers only have two true deckle edges, and often the two remaining edges are torn with a specialist knife, or cut with a water-jet to create pseudo deckle edges. In the 19th century, deckled edges were seen to be imperfections in the papermaking process, and would be trimmed. Today, however, many artists find a deckle edge pleasing to the eye and like to frame their work in such a way that keeps the deckle edges on show.

Watercolour Paper Comparison Table - Click to zoom in or download the PDF to print.

Acrylic paper

Acrylic painting papers either have an embossed texture that replicates a canvas weave, or a cold pressed surface identical to watercolour paper. The texture provides resistance, so when you drag a brush loaded with paint across its surface, the paint adheres to the texture and is held in place.

Acrylic painting paper takes up less room, is lighter and is less expensive than stretched canvas, making it easier to store, carry and post. It is a great surface on which to experiment with techniques and produce quick sketches. It’s also possible to make notes on the reverse of each sheet.

Composition
Acrylic papers are made of woodfree cellulose paper – this is paper derived from wood that has been boiled to remove lignins, which contain acid (which if left in the pulp would cause the paper to yellow and become brittle under UV exposure at a rapid rate). The linen texture is embossed into the surface of the paper during production, and some papers, such as Canson Figueras, then have a special coating applied to reduce absorption.

Weight
Acrylic papers are available at a variety of weights, ranging from 230gsm-450gsm. The lighter weight papers may become slightly wavy if thick applications of acrylic paint are applied – however this can be avoided if you tape the paper to a board and keep it taped until the painting has fully dried. However none of the papers will wrinkle significantly when loaded with paint.

Colour
Papers are available in a variety of shades of white, from bright white to pale cream. Transparent colours may appear marginally brighter on whiter papers as they are more reflective, while creamier papers won’t optically ‘jump’ out as much in the gaps between brush marks.

What Papers Can I Paint on?
The short answer is that acrylic paints can be applied to any surface. The longer answer is that factors such as paper absorbency and thickness of the paint you are working with will affect how the paint dries. In order to gain a firm understanding of what happens when acrylic paint dries on paper we need to understand how it dries at all in the first place.

How Acrylics Dry
Acrylics dry when all the water content in the wet paint moves away from the paint; it either seeps into the support that the paint has been applied to, or it evaporates into the air. What remains is the acrylic polymer binder; tiny solid transparent particles that move closer together, causing the layer of paint to contract and form a solid ‘film’. When acrylic paint moves from its wet to dry state it also changes from being water-soluble to being water-resistant. This process happens fastest at the top of the layer – where the paint can easily evaporate into the air. Next fastest is at the bottom of the layer, where the absorbency of the surface to which it has been applied pulls the water out of the paint. This explains why acrylic paint dries faster on absorbent paper. The paint between the top and bottom layers dries slowest as it is encased with no where to immediately evaporate to. This is why thick layers of paint dry slower than thin layers.

What Other Papers Can I Use?
Aside from acrylic painting papers, there are a variety of options, the most suitable of which will depend on the kind of acrylics you are working with.

Papers that can take fluid and heavy-body acrylic paint:
Watercolour paper is made of cotton, woodfree cellulose, linen, or a mix. Linen and cotton papers are more robust – you can scrub and scratch into the surface without necessarily making a hole, while woodfree cellulose papers are less forgiving of rough treatment, because the fibres that they are made of are shorter, resulting in a comparatively less resilient paper. Watercolour paper that is 200lb in weight or more will take a thin layer of acrylic primer without buckling. This will make the paper more robust to heavy treatment and also form a barrier over the absorbency of the paper, allowing paint to sit on its surface without sinking into the paper fibres. Illustration board is a term used to describe two types of surface by varying paper makers. Illustration board can be a warp free surface made from watercolour paper mounted onto a rigid lightweight board, but it can also be a compressed heavyweight paper with a light texture that may buckle when saturated with heavy applications of acrylic paint.  Illustration boards and watercolour paper are available in three textures – hot press (completely smooth), not surface (slight tooth) and rough (heavy tooth).

Mixed media and art board pads are heavier weight drawing papers that have additional sizing to enable them to take wet and dry media:
Yupo is a 100% polypropylene surface that will not buckle, resists tearing and is non-absorbent. Painting on this surface is a completely different experience to working on a cotton or woodfree cellulose paper. Work in wet or dry media should be given a coat of spray varnish to hold them in place.

Acrylic marker pen papers that will buckle if wet acrylic paint is applied to it:
Cartridge paper is made for drawing and is an ideal surface for acrylic marker pens. The bottom line is if you work with acrylics on cartridge paper, your applications of paint need to be low in water content and relatively thin. Cartridge papers are made from either cotton or woodfree cellulose, can be any colour from white – cream, and tends to have a slight texture (referred to as grain or tooth) which optimises the colour and depth of the marks applied to it.

Bristol paper is another good surface for acrylic based drawing work. The name derives from the early days of European papermaking when mills would send their finest papers to Bristol, England to be pasted together. It is a wood cellulose, multi-ply, bright white paper that is glued together under pressure to form multi-ply sheets, with a completely smooth or vellum texture. The smoothest varieties of Bristol are ideal for pen and ink work, mechanical pencil drawings, airbrush and marker pens. These are often bright white and reflective, and allow pen marks to appear their most crisp. The subtle tooth of the vellum surface varieties are better suited to graphite, coloured pencil, charcoal and pastel work.

Marker pad paper is another woodfree cellulose paper. Similarly to Bristol paper, marker pen marks appear crisp and bright on this flat white surface. It is coated to minimise bleed-through, despite being a light weight paper of only 70gsm. There are heavier papers called ‘marker pen paper’, which are better suited to layers of colour, but have very different properties to these lightweight papers.

Layout paper is even thinner, only 45 – 50gsm. It is semi-transparent and also designed to minimise bleed-through. It is the white, lightweight paper that is often used in illustration and design sketches.

Heavy use of marker pens on lightweight tracing paper may cause it to wrinkle.

Newsprint is an inexpensive wood pulp paper that contains lignins, so will yellow rapidly if exposed to UV light. It’s only suitable for quick disposable drawings.

Should I Varnish My Acrylic Painting on Paper?
Varnishing your work on paper will offer a protective coating, and help keep it safe from dust and surface damage. Some varnishes also have UV light resistors which will help to prevent colour fade. We recommend applying an isolation coat over your painting prior to varnishing – a soft gloss gel medium would be ideal for this. This will allow for the varnish to be removed in future, if necessary, with no damage risk to the painting itself.

All work on paper needs to be kept flat to avoid the paint cracking, however this is especially true of varnished paintings, which will be even less flexible.

Acrylic Paper Comparison Table - Click to zoom in or download the PDF to print.

Oil Painting paper

Oil painting papers have a special coating that prevents the paper from absorbing the oil content of the paint. They usually have an embossed linen texture on their surface, although Arches Huile, which is a specially treated watercolour paper, has a cold-pressed surface. It’s important that paper for oil painting is sealed to prevent the paint from being absorbed by the paper, which would eventually embrittle the natural fibres of the paper and if enough oil is absorbed from the paint, the pigment can become under-bound, making it look matt and crumbly, and can in some cases cause the pigment to come away from the surface. Using properly sealed (sized) paper for oil painting means that your colours remain brighter and more glossy. Additionally, when using un-sealed paper, unsightly oil rings may appear around the paint if there are areas of the paper left unpainted.

Why Would You Paint on Paper Instead of Canvas?
Oil painting paper takes up less room and is lighter in weight than stretched canvas or even canvas panels, which makes it easier to store, carry and post. Because it is less expensive you may feel less precious about wasting a surface and therefore perform more learning exercises. It is a great surface on which to experiment with techniques, make colour charts, and produce quick sketches. Working on paper also allows you to write notes on the front or the back, like the palette that you used or some information for a future larger painting. Perhaps notes on the weather and lighting conditions like Constable did when he painted in oils on paper in the field. Painting on paper also has a different ‘feel’ to painting on canvas or a wooden surface. Depending on the sizing, primer, and type of paper, it may be smoother or more ridged, easier to wipe back to white, or it may be more absorbent.

Oil Papers
You can purchase ready-prepared oil papers in a variety of weights, textures, colours and formats. Shown in the photo above are – from the top: Daler-Rowney Georgian, Canson Figueres, Hahnemuhle, Clairefontaine, Jackson’s, Arches Huile, Fabriano Tela, Clairefontaine linen colour, Strathmore black, and Rembrandt. The various characteristics of all of these papers are listed in the table below. You can also prepare oil paper yourself by sealing and priming other papers, which is explained further in this article.

Oil Paper Comparison Table - Click to zoom in or download the PDF to print.

Oil Absorption
Arches is the only oil painting paper that is sized in the traditional way with animal gelatine; all the others are free of animal derived products. Because they have been specially sized for oil painting, oil papers significantly reduce the amount of oil absorbed into the fibres of the paper, compared to other fine art papers that have not been prepared for oil painting. However, none of the oil papers are 100% resistant to having some oil seep through to the back as a result of oil absorption. Those that are externally sized absorb the least amount of oil, but even the papers that are not externally sized will still give the fibres enough protection from the oil because of the internal sizing. But, if you wish to guarantee your finished work will be on a substrate that does not absorb any oil we recommend applying a layer of acrylic gesso or medium to the surface of the oil paper, or sizing your own paper, or using fast drying oil painting mediums which also minimise oil seepage.

Composition
Fine art oil painting papers are acid-free, with the majority being made of wood free cellulose pulp. Arches Huile paper is the exception, being made of 100% cotton. As a result it is considered a professional grade paper, with a longer lifespan than wood pulp paper because it can better withstand changes in humidity and temperature. The long fibres of cotton also give the paper strength and the ability to withstand rough handling and wiping without easily tearing.

Weight and Formats
Oil painting paper is available as sheets, rolls, pads that are glue-bound on one edge only, and blocks which are pads glued on all four sides. A block will hold the paper flat so you can paint vigorously without the paper moving and it keeps it from flapping about in a breeze, making it ideal for painting outdoors. Oil painting papers vary in weight from 187-300 gsm. The heavier paper is better able to hold thicker applications of oil paint without folding under the weight when picked up.

Colour
Oil painting papers are available in various shades of white, as well as a natural, light linen colour and black. While the lightest colour papers optimise the reflective properties of the paper allowing colours to appear bright and luminous, a black surface can effectively allow you to build up light tones. Opaque or metallic pigments are particularly well suited to painting on black paper.

Preparing Other Papers for Oil Painting
It’s possible to prepare most papers over 300gsm for oil painting. This opens up the choice you have for what you’d like your oil painting substrate to be made of, how much it weighs and what kind of texture it has. Preparing paper for oil painting usually involves two steps – sizing and priming. Sizing prevents the oil from the paint absorbing into the paper and priming is the final layer of preparation, usually a chalky ground that gives the surface its colour, tooth, texture, absorbency and sheen. You can add texture to your surface by how you apply your primer. Mount board offcuts and any excess paper have potential as oil painting surfaces, allowing you to practise economy and minimise waste.

Which Paper?
The best paper for longevity is all-cotton or cotton and linen rag paper, which is essentially the same material used to make artist canvas. 140lb/300gsm watercolour paper works well as it is heavy enough to take the weight of layers of primer and will not easily cockle from the moisture in the sizing. If you work with cold pressed or rough watercolour paper the surface texture will most likely still be apparent even after a couple of coats of primer. Whereas hot pressed paper or mountboard can give a very smooth surface.

Fixing Paper to a Board
You can apply the size and ground completely over the surface of the paper or you can tape the paper to a board along all four sides, covering only about 5mm of the edge, and then size and prime it. You can then leave it on the board to paint on it because you can then prop it on an easel or easily move it around. The border that is created when you remove the tape will be covered by a mountboard if the work is ever framed. The tape that I find tears the paper least is our Yellow Lining Tape.

What Shall I Use to Size My Paper?
Any fluid acrylic medium can be used to size paper in preparation for oil painting. Matt medium tends to be better suited to this purpose than gloss medium because it is usually less absorbent. (It is usually considered more absorbent but in my tests it was less absorbent, perhaps it depends on the brand and if the matting agent is silica or wax.) It is best applied with a soft wide brush in thin layers. If you find that the paper is buckling in response to the water content of the size, then it is advisable to tape or clip the paper down to a board around the edges, covering as little of the paper as possible. If you find when the paper or board is dry that it has curved from the moisture you can size the back of the paper which will help to flatten it out.

An acrylic medium is more flexible and clearer than PVA which could also be used. Acrylic also requires fewer coats than PVA. Best practice with either is to allow the application to dry for two weeks, and then the dry film should be wiped with water, to remove the surfactant that has leached to the surface. But skipping this step doesn’t make a huge difference.

It usually just takes one coat of matt medium to seal (or size) the paper from oil paint absorption if you are adding a ground layer of acrylic primer or casein gesso primer as well. If you do not wish to add a ground because you want the colour of the paper to be visible or because you like to paint on the matt medium surface (which is smooth and makes it easy to wipe paint away), then it’s advisable to apply a second layer of matt medium. You could think of the first layer of matt medium as the sizing and the second as a transparent ground.

What Shall I Use to Prime My Paper?
You can prime your paper with either acrylic or oil based primer. Acrylic primer can be used without sizing the paper but I tested quite a few combinations and found that one coat of matt medium followed by one coat of acrylic primer was better at sealing the paper than two coats of acrylic primer. Sizing your paper is much more important when priming with oil based primer because it is essentially absorbent oil paint, and for this reason we advise applying both of the two coats of acrylic size and/or primer before applying oil primer. The more coats of primer you apply to your paper the more rigid it will become. Acrylic primers vary in their character; some become more absorbent the more layers you apply, and some become less absorbent, while oil primers tend to become smoother, allowing you to more easily wipe paint or move it around on the surface.

If you paint thinly with less oily paint then you may like a more non-absorbent surface. Jackson’s Acrylic Gesso Primer is moderately absorbent so there is moderate brush drag, you can wipe away fairly easily and there is enough absorbency for long-term adhesion. On the other hand you may like an absorbent surface because you paint with juicy, oily paint. If you prefer a more absorbent ground the Lascaux Gesso 2020 is a good choice.

The usual way to apply a priming ground is with a soft, wide brush in the opposite direction to the brush marks of your first sizing layer. This is to minimise furrows and give a more even surface. The cross hatching of the surface can mimic the weave of canvas somewhat. Applying two thin layers is better than one thick layer, as thinner layers will dry more quickly and evenly, minimising the risk of cracking. Applying gesso with a palette knife or a squeegee will create a smoother surface, see the earlier photo. Some primers/gessos can be made thinner by adding up to 10% water, this will be specified on the label.

Displaying an oil painting on paper
Many oil paintings on paper are preparatory sketches or colour charts so do not require framing but will be stored in a sketchbook, portfolio or box.

A finished oil painting on paper should be treated as any oil painting when it comes to varnishing. Oil paintings can be varnished with a retouching varnish as soon as they are touch-dry. This offers some protection while the painting finishes the drying process. When the painting is completely dry – six months for thinly painted work and many years for thick impasto paint – then a final picture varnish should be applied. The varnish does four things: it gives a protective surface to the painting to prevent scratching; it acts as a barrier to dirt and the dirty varnish can be removed at a later date if necessary; it seals the surface so that no more oxygen can be absorbed which prevents the paint from cracking; and it evens out the sheen of the surface (and you can choose the sheen – gloss, satin, or matt).

Framing an oil painting on paper is similar to framing a watercolour or acrylic painting on paper, with a mount, behind glass. Because a painting on paper is flexible it is important to frame it on a rigid surface like a backing board. And even if varnished, it is best to frame it behind glass. As with any painting framed behind glass, a mount should be used to prevent the glass from touching the surface of the painting because condensation and temperature changes can cause the paper to wrinkle or stick to the glass. If you don’t wish a mount to be visible it can be very narrow and be hidden under the lip of the frame moulding. Alternatively you can use spacers under the moulding to raise the glass. If the painting is to the edge of the paper or the paper has a decorative edge then you may wish to float-mount the work.

Printmaking paper

There is an interwoven history of papermaking and printing criss-crossing back and forth over centuries. Paper was not necessary for the invention of printing, but printing would not have been a commercial success without it and led to the explosion in paper production across the globe.

History of Printmaking Paper
Block printing was practised in China 1400 years ago using paper, a multifunctional product manufactured into hats, clothes, stiffened for armour, and thinned for windows, screens, books, maps and money. The relative economy of paper compared to vellum meant that libraries of the Islamic world were vast. Islamic calligraphers wrote with bamboo quills on plant fibre paper smoothed over with chalk and wheat starch. Early European paper became very refined and resilient with the utilisation of old linen garments as opposed to unspun plant fibres. Coated with gelatine size it resembled valuable vellum for the writing of manuscripts, left unsized it was ideal for printing copperplate engravings. It was just such fine white paper that Gutenberg printed on using his intense black inks, with sensational results. When printer John Baskerville wanted to redesign his metal type in a refined and elegant manner he demanded a paper that was smooth and even, and purpose-made for letterpress. He collaborated with James Whatman, inventor of the wove mould, to develop a machine that could smooth and polish the surface of fine paper creating ‘hot pressed’ sheets.

What is Printmaking Paper? 
In theory you can print on any type of paper so long as ink will adhere to it. The paper that you choose will become integral to your work and if you experiment by printing the same plate on a selection of papers you will see how each makes a unique contribution to the finished result. Not only will the image vary but the overall feel of the print as an object will change with the weight and texture of the paper. Margins around the image and the edges of the paper traditionally remain on show. They differentiate the hand printed piece from a reproduction. Artists will commonly sign and edition the print in the margin and collectors will appreciate the choice of paper and whether a deckle edge remains or has been trimmed.

Composition
Generally speaking, papers recommended for printmaking benefit from being strong and dimensionally stable, meaning they hold their size and shape well. The paper you select is likely to undergo ample handling and treatment. It might be picked up by the corners, left to soak in a water bath, squeezed through an etching press, vigorously rubbed with a baren or covered with multiple layers of silkscreen ink. Western papers with a high cotton content and Eastern papers formed with long plant fibres are perfectly suited to the rigours of printmaking. Alpha cellulose papers of high quality are manufactured for and trusted by printmakers around the world and less expensive papers such as cartridge work well, particularly for proofing. How the paper receives the ink is an important factor. Printmaking paper contains a lower amount of size than a watercolour paper, enabling the ink to penetrate the surface. Size is added to the pulp before forming the sheet, this ‘internal’ sizing renders the paper soft and absorbent in varying degrees depending on how much is added. Some printmaking papers contain no size at all and are referred to as ‘waterleaf’. If we outline the most common printmaking techniques we can see what stresses the paper is put through and what properties we might look for. It should be said though that many papers will print effectively across all print techniques and printmaking papers can work wonderfully with other artistic mediums.

Relief Printing
Relief printing includes linocut, woodcut, wood engraving, letterpress, and collagraph. The print is taken from the ink on the block’s surface with the cut-away areas remaining unprinted. Printing can be done by hand or by press and you will want to consider the paper surface and how it makes contact with the ink, so a smoother surfaced paper, such as Fabriano Rosaspina, is ideal for relief printing. If printing is done by hand then lighter weight papers are ideal. Smooth surfaced papers by Zerkall and delicate washi papers such as Kozo and Kitakata will pick up the finest of detail. The silky delicacy of many washi papers belie their incredible strength, especially when dampened. They can withstand the pressure exerted by the printmaking baren as it rubs the back of the paper and still retain their shape. If you are experiencing picking of paper fibres when using fast drying water based inks, it is worth looking to try some of these resilient printmaking papers.

Intaglio Printing
Intaglio printmaking incorporates etching, engraving, drypoint, mezzotint and some forms of collagraph. Marks made in the plate hold the ink below its surface and when dampened paper is pressed down into the marks, the ink is transferred to the paper under the pressure of the press. The ink will penetrate the paper and an internal size that softens during soaking is ideal for this. The printing plate will be embossed into the paper along the image lines as well as all around its outer edge creating a ‘plate mark’. Papers used for intaglio need to be exceptionally strong even when damp, especially for printing multiple plate images which require passing the paper through the press several times. They need to be compressible and supple as well as being dimensionally stable such that they won’t distort and affect registration. The linen papers of Renaissance Europe perfectly fitted the bill and cotton papers of today come a close second, Somerset being just such a favourite. Much can be said for alpha cellulose papers in intaglio printmaking; for many years Hahnemühle have manufactured etching papers made from 100% alpha cellulose that are soft, pliable and very sensitive to detail.

Silkscreen and Lithography
Flat printing techniques where the ink and paper are on the same level are referred to as planographic and include lithography, silkscreen and monoprinting. Again many papers are suitable with a smoother surface working better for these techniques. In lithography strong papers with a high cotton content will help avoid picking, where a tacky ink can lift surface fibres from the paper, and internal sizing will allow the paper to absorb both the oil based ink as well as the water from the surface of the stone or plate. The smooth, absorbent Arches 88 was designed specifically for screen printing with oil based inks, it is ‘waterleaf’ with no size at all. However when laying down multiple layers of water-based screen ink, papers with a modest amount of surface size, referred to as tub sized, will cope best. Legion Coventry Rag and Somerset Tub Sized are examples of such.

Considerations When Choosing a Paper for Printmaking

Fibres
100% cotton rag or ‘rag’ paper is how manufacturers describe paper made from cotton linter fibres. They are strong papers that retain their shape during printing, so are dimensionally stable, which is helpful when registering multiple plates for colour printing. Genuine rag papers, those made from the spun fibres of discarded garments, are rare and occasionally used for watercolour papers such as Jackson’s Two Rivers and Khadi 100% Rag. Papers made from a combination of cotton and wood cellulose make strong archival papers designed for printmaking. Plant fibres in Asian papers are naturally very long enabling incredibly strong papers to be made very thinly, if you try tearing a Japanese kozo paper you will appreciate its inherent strength. The type of fibre can affect how the ink penetrates the paper, and how the paper takes up water, a consideration to bear in mind across all print disciplines.

Surface
Surface texture can affect ink pick up as well as how your colour looks. A textured paper can work very well for deeply etched intaglio prints and a smoother paper can work better for lithography or silkscreen. How colour reflects from the surface of the paper will affect how bright it will appear. A more textured paper will bounce back the colour in a more diffused manner and look less bright than a smooth paper.

Sizing
Internally sized printmaking papers will be soft with a porous surface to take up the ink. Most size used today is synthetic as opposed to animal gelatine. Unsized waterleaf papers will be occasionally referred to as ‘copperplate’, and will only require a sponge over or spray of water to dampen. These are better suited to oil based inks. You can tell if a paper has more or less size by touching it with the tip of your tongue. If your tongue sticks it is likely to have little or no size.

Edges
A genuine deckle edge occurs when the paper slurry slips between the mould and deckle of a hand formed sheet and is a beautiful aspect to hand made paper. These can be left in place and other edges torn down to compliment them depending on your registration system. You can tear down a machine made paper to create a similar effect. Of course if you want to register using the paper edges you will want to trim them off, ensuring that your edges remain perfectly square to one another.

Colour
This is a very subjective area with colour choices extending from radiant white to deepest black. Some printmakers love a bright white paper for their cool black inks and a warmer white for the browner blacks. Metallic inks look fabulous on a deep black paper such as Somerset Velvet Black.

Weight
Thinking about what and how you print will inform this aspect of your choice. A thicker etching plate or deep collagraph will need a thicker, heavier weight paper, perhaps over 300gsm to mould around the sculptural aspect of the plate and adequately emboss. A delicate drypoint on a thin plate could take a much lighter paper. A hand rubbed relief print will take less effort to execute on a lighter weight paper such as 36gsm Awagami Kitakata.

Preparing Your Paper

When it comes to preparing your paper for printing you will want to consider the margins around the image and what form of registration you are using. Traditionally the margins will be of equal width on both sides and above the image, with a slightly wider margin at the bottom. This gives the effect of the image being placed centrally on the paper, an optical effect especially evident if you sign and number your print in the bottom margin. If you are printing an intaglio you could be registering your plate on the press bed while holding the paper trapped under the top roller and the beautiful deckle edges can remain untrimmed. There are numerous forms of print registration and you can leave your paper edges, tear down or trim to a crisp straight edge accordingly. Some editioning studios will print with the paper larger than intended and trim down afterwards, this has the advantage of removing any unwanted inky finger marks or damage but can be costly.

If you are dampening your printing paper then each will have its own optimal soaking time depending on the amount of sizing, sheet thickness and fibre content. Cotton papers with their long fibres need to be dampened or soaked longer than wood cellulose papers because wood fibres will take up water faster. Waterleaf papers that contain no size will only need a sponge over or spray of water before stacking and covering to damp through. You want to achieve evenly dampened fibres throughout, the paper should feel limp and cold without any visible water remaining on the surface. A good way to ensure this is to prepare your paper the day before printing and form a damp pack.

A damp pack consists of wetting your paper either by dipping or sponging, creating a stack and wrapping it in plastic and placing it under a board to add some weight. Any paper you do not use can be dried and then re-damped at a later date. This will avoid mould forming and staining your paper.

Your beautiful sheets of paper will be handled quite a lot during printing. Always use (at the least) two hands to avoid cockling the sheet. Large sheets are best picked up at diagonally opposite corners. After printing dry sheets can be hung up or placed on a drying rack. Dampened sheets will need flattening out during the drying process. Acid-free tissue should be placed over the image before placing the prints between sheets of blotting paper underneath boards to add weight. You can change the blotters periodically if required.

Printmaking Papers Comparison Table. Click to Zoom in or download PDF to print.

Digital Paper

Digital papers are coated to ensure inkjet receptivity, like size on an artist’s canvas. This coating varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and is designed to prevent the ink from wicking or percolating along the paper fibres, which would lead to colour distortions and blurring.

Some papers have an overcoating, which is how it gets a glossy or pearl finish. For example, when making pearl papers, manufacturers use a porous ‘micropore’ plastic coating that holds pigment inks on the surface, or in the pores themselves. This allows colours to appear as luminous as the original painting. This is not possible when printing on regular paper, as it does not have the same coating and the ink tends to sink into the paper, making the colours appear dull and faded.

Digital paper is typically coated on one side, unless the packaging states otherwise. To double-check you are printing on the coated side of the paper, lightly touch one corner of it with a wet finger. The right side for printing will feel a little sticky.

Image Quality
A high-quality image is necessary for a good print. To be able to make a high-quality print, the camera or scanner used to capture or scan the artwork must be able to do so at a high level of resolution. To compare, most digital photos are recorded at a resolution of 72 DPI (‘dots per inch’), and the image file of an art print should be closer to 300 DPI. This is because the more dots of colour that can be printed in a small area, the more detailed your final image will appear.

You can photograph your work at home, with a camera or even your phone. Outsourcing to a professional photography studio will guarantee your artwork is captured accurately and at the best possible resolution. You can also have artwork professionally scanned on a drum scanner.

For printing at home, there are resources online which can help identify inkjet printers that operate on pigment ink-based systems. ICC profiles provided by paper manufacturers can also help you to accurately match up and reproduce colour quality, ensuring the final print quality is of a good standard. ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles are sets of data that describe the properties of a colour space and the range of colours (gamut) that a monitor can display, or a printer can print.

Types of Paper
There is a range of specialist fine art digital papers which can be used when printing works in different mediums.

It can be more difficult to create prints from watercolours than from other kinds of paintings because of their transparency and granulation. Artists looking to print watercolour paintings can choose from a selection of mould-made papers with textured surfaces, which help to authentically replicate the character and feel of traditional watercolour paintings. They are typically available in bright white and natural white colours to complement different types of work.

Paper makers like St Cuthberts Mill also offer digital papers with similar surfaces to their traditional papers, such as their Bockingford and Somerset range, allowing watercolourists and printmakers to match their prints to original works.

Oil and acrylic painters can also choose from different textured canvas surfaces and weights, as well as Gloss, Matt, and Satin finishes, depending on your requirements.

These papers are also excellent for reproducing prints and etches, however, some manufacturers also produce specialist printmaking and etching papers, like Bockingford and Hahnemühle German Etching – a traditional mould-made copperplate printing paper.

Hahnemühle, Legion, and other paper makers also provide downloadable ICC profiles for your printer. To reproduce accurate colour quality, certain settings should be calibrated before printing. To achieve accurate colour quality over longer periods, artists can use profiles. For individual one-off prints, profiles aren’t always necessary. For more detail on profiling, see the handling instructions on Hahnemühle’s ICC download page.

Double-sided papers are also popular and versatile. Creating your own book is another way of using digital papers to present your work, such as by creating a catalogue to accompany an exhibition, or sharing with friends and family. Read our article The Simplicity of Self Publishing for advice on creating books.

The fine art digital papers we offer at Jackson’s look and feel like traditional watercolour paper. However while inkjet inks would sink and bleed into watercolour paper, and colours would appear duller than is ideal, digital papers possess a special coating that enables ink to sit on the surface of the paper yet still fix into place, with colours appearing their most luminous and permanent. The coatings in some cases even help to increase the lightfastness ratings of the printer ink, and lend stability to the finished print.