What is 100% cotton watercolor paper and how to choose watercolor paper that make a difference in your paintings? Find out more in this post.

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If there is one thing, I always say, if you’re spending wisely on watercolor supplies, splurge on paper and compromise on the rest. Although artist-grade materials of paints, paper, or brushes are superior in specific ways, you can, to an extent, compromise on paints and brushes’ quality. But never paper, you ask? Short answer, no! Long answer-No, because it will ultimately be so frustrating during your watercolor journey that you end up not seeing progress.

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What is 100% cotton watercolor paper?

So what is 100% cotton watercolor paper? Usually, you’ll find 100% cotton is artist-grade quality. Watercolor paper made from cotton fibers mixed with water to make paper pulp is called 100% cotton watercolor paper.  And student quality is usually a mix of cellulose or wood pulp with water, which is cheaper to produce hence less expensive. 

100% cotton watercolor paper can be handmade or mould-made, and student-grade paper is machine-made. As the name suggests, “handmade” is the process of making watercolor paper by hand and labor-intensive. The quality of mould-made is the same, but just that parts of it as automated to make production less labor-intensive. 

So what is the hype about 100% watercolor paper?

When you choose paper, you’ll notice a majority of experienced artists suggest buying 100% cotton. When I started indulging in watercolors five years ago, I adjusted with a lot of student-grade watercolor papers. I “thought,” I was saving on money, but I ended up being frustrated and not seeing progress. I soon realized that it was not that I wasn’t doing something wrong; it was just that I was buying the wrong kind of paper. 

I started spending on artist-grade watercolor paper, still stingy using the back of the paper and saving scraps, but I saw a massive shift in my paintings. I could see progress, and I saw how much abuse the paper could take. I could scrub, lift, use copious amounts of water, and still see beautiful results. The colors blend so effortlessly, and the paint gets absorbed so beautifully in the paper, it’s pure magic.

Which brand of watercolor paper is best?

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Ah! The million-dollar question. In a nutshell, all 100% cotton or artist-grade watercolor papers work exceptionally well. It does come to personal preference, but after comparing a few of the papers out there, I’ve come to understand what works best for the paintings I do. 

Let me first compare the very popular Arches and Fabriano Artistico watercolor papers. To keep things simple, I’m going to talk in comparison with cold-pressed watercolor paper. Don’t know what cold-pressed is? Have a look my Beginner’s guide to watercolors to know more.

Fabriano Artistico has a slightly smoother texture than the Arches, which can be quite coarse to touch in comparison. Fabriano Artistico also comes in traditional white and extra white paper, whereas Arches comes in what they call white, but it has a very slight off-white tint. I create a lot of loose florals that are bright, and I want that brightness to shine through. I want my brush to move freely on my paper, creating those lovely expressive strokes. Fabriano Artistico Extra white watercolor paper works best for me here because the grain is smoother. On the other hand, I love using the Arches for creating landscapes because the texture shines through the layers.

Another firm favorite of mine is Sennelier watercolor paper for its fantastic absorbency and ability to create beautiful blends.

While teaching my workshops, I like to provide Bee Watercolor Paper to my students since they are pre-cut, right-sized, and easier on the pocket.

I have to also talk about Khadi watercolor paper as a special mention here. These are handmade watercolor paper made from T-shirt cuttings and are pure woven cotton. Because they are handmade, they are made sheet by sheet with beautiful deckled edges. Even the smooth paper is slightly textured but I love the little nuances this paper has to offer. Because it is hand-made,

Pads, Blocks or Rolls? Which one to purchase?


And finally, in the market, watercolor papers come in different types. They come in gummed pads, blocks, spiral pads, rolls, and individual sheets. So what is the difference? 

Gummed pads and paper sheets glued together on the top.

Spiral pads are paper sheets held together by spiral binding.

Paper blocks are where the sheets are glued on all four sides, leaving a little space between each paper through which a bone folder can go in. The advantage of blocks is that they do not need to be taped on all four sides to prevent warping. Paint to your heart’s content and remove the paper when dry.

Rolls of paper are excellent for large size paintings and are usually up to 10 yards long. These may look expensive, but when you break the cost down to the amount of paper you can attain, it is the most economical option.

Individual sheets are what the name suggests. They come in single, loose sheets of packs of 5,10,20 or more.


I hope this detailed explaining on watercolor papers helps you choose the right kind. 100% cotton for sure. Sure, it’s a splurge but I assure you well worth it!

Happy painting.