Prior to the 19th century, watercolor paper was handmade by processing wet pulp in a finely woven mesh screen. The process was slow and very expensive. Then in the early 1800s, an industrial paper machine was invented. The paper-making industry started mass producing mold-made watercolor papers. Now high-quality machine-made watercolor paper is readily available, as well as handmade.
Watercolor Paper Characteristics
Watercolor paper is made of cotton and/or linen rag or a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers. A gelatin sizing is added as a protective agent that makes the paper less absorbent. Watercolor paper is available in three textures: rough, hot-pressed, and cold-pressed. And, it is available in several thicknesses. High-quality watercolor papers for professional (and serious student) use have the following characteristics:
- Made of 100% cotton rag
- Cold-press texture
- Thickness: 140 lb., 200 lb., or 300 lb. weight
Watercolor Paper Sheet Sizes
The standard size categories for watercolor paper sheets are:
- Royal (19 x 24 inches)
- Imperial (22 x 30 inches); also called a “full-sheet”
- Elephant (29 1/2 x 40 inches); and
- Double-Elephant (40 x 60 inches)
Watercolor paper can also be purchased in pads, blocks, and sketchbooks in a variety of standard sizes and paper qualities. Pads and sketchbooks are usually made of cotton-blend watercolor paper for student use.
Watercolor Paper Manufacturers
The best, high-quality watercolor paper is produced in France, Italy, and Great Britain. They are:
- Arches made in France
- Fabriano made in Italy
- Lana made in France
- T. H. Saunders made in Great Britain
- Whatman made in Great Britain
If you are a serious student or hobbyist who intends to show and sell your watercolor paintings, use professional-quality watercolor paper that is labeled as “100% cotton”, “archival”, and “cold-press”. The thickness (weight) should be 140 lb. or more. I use Arches Watercolor Paper natural white full-sheet size for my paintings.