Imagine this: You have all of your paintbrushes out and some beautiful watercolor paint. You are ready to paint your next masterpiece when, all of a sudden, you realize you are out of watercolor paper. You may be left wondering, can I use regular paper instead?
For the best results, you should not use normal paper when you are watercoloring. Watercolor paper is specially crafted to be thick enough and absorbent enough for watercolor paint. Regular paper is not made to withstand wetness, so it will often wrinkle and tear when the paint is applied.
Below, you will learn why you should not use normal paper for watercolor and the differences between normal paper and watercolor paper.
Can You Use Normal Paper for Watercolor?
You should not use normal paper for watercoloring. Normal paper is not ideal for watercoloring for a variety of reasons, including its tendency to absorb, buckle, pill, rip, and yellow once it dries. Below, I’ve listed all of these problems in detail.
- Regular paper will absorb the paint too quickly. Regular paper isn’t made to get wet, so when you try to apply watercolor paints to it, it will immediately absorb the paint into its fibers. This prevents you from manipulating the paint once you put it onto the paper. This is very frustrating and often results in a blotchy painting.
- Regular paper can buckle. Buckling occurs when a paper gets wet. The wetness causes it to have a rippling effect and makes your paper look wavy. Once your paper buckles, applying paint evenly will be impossible since the paint will collect in the grooves. Even after the paint dries, your paper will remain buckled, making your painting look wrinkled and unprofessional.
- Regular paper can pill. Pilling refers to how paper fibers can deteriorate and come off the page. When this happens, it creates little balls of fibers, giving your paper a grainy appearance. This makes your once smooth paper incredibly bumpy, ugly, and difficult to use.
- Regular paper can rip. Regular paper is very thin and often tears when it is wet. If you apply watercolor paint to regular paper, it will become soft and start to deteriorate, destroying your masterpiece.
- Your paper will yellow once it dries. Normal paper is not acid-free, meaning it will become brittle and yellow over time. So even if you manage to complete a watercolor painting on normal paper, it won’t stand the test of time.
Normal paper is not ideal for watercoloring. But what makes watercolor paper so much better? Keep reading to find out!
What Is the Difference Between Watercolor Paper and Regular Paper?
Watercolor paper and regular paper differ in several ways, including their weights, what they are made from, whether or not they have sizing and their textures.
Watercolor paper has more weight. In the art world, you refer to the thickness of paper as its weight. So the higher a paper’s weight, the better it’s quality.
A paper’s weight is determined by weighing 500 sheets (a ream) of its standard size (which varies according to the type of paper). Some types of paper, like watercolor, come in multiple weights. Listed below are the three most common weights for watercolor paper.
- 90 lb (40.8 kg) watercolor paper is not ideal for watercolor painting. It will often buckle and dissolve when too much water is applied. This paper thickness is better for making ink art than it is for watercoloring.
- 140 lb (63.5 kg) watercolor paper is the most commonly used by watercolor painters. It is great quality and affordable, making it wonderful for watercoloring. However, it typically requires stretching to prevent it from buckling later on. If you want to learn how to stretch your watercolor paper, check out this informative video by artist Crystal Beshara:
- 300 lb (136.1 kg) watercolor paper is the highest quality, but it is also the most expensive. This paper will not warp or buckle when painting unless too much water is applied.
Regular paper is much lighter than even the thinnest type of watercolor paper. Regular sized paper only weighs 5 lbs (2.3 kg) per ream. Regular paper almost always buckles when watercolor is applied because of its extreme thinness. Also, unlike watercolor paper, it can’t be stretched to prevent buckling because it will rip.
Watercolor paper is much thicker and better quality than normal paper, making it the best choice for all of your watercoloring endeavors. For the best experience, get a watercolor paper with a weight of 140 lbs or more.
Watercolor paper is made from cotton. Cotton is the best material to use for watercolor paper because it is very absorbent and strong. Its strength permits artists to do a variety of watercolor techniques without worrying that the paper will rip or pill. Cotton watercolor paper is also acid-free, meaning it won’t yellow over time. The best watercolor paper is made with 100% cotton.
Normal paper, on the other hand, is made from wood pulp. It is not recommended that you use paper made with wood pulp because it yellows, doesn’t handle watercolor paint well, and it can’t handle all the different watercolor techniques that 100% cotton paper can.
Some low-quality watercolor papers are also made from wood pulp, so make sure to avoid these as well.
Watercolor paper has sizing. Sizing refers to a gelatin material that paper manufacturers apply to the watercolor paper. This material makes it so the paper doesn’t absorb too much water.
Sizing is really important because, without it, you wouldn’t be able to manipulate the watercolor paint before it dries since it would absorb into the paper too quickly.
There are two different types of sizing: internal sizing and external sizing. Internal sizing is when the gelatin material is added into the pulp of the paper, whereas external sizing is when the gelatin material is coated on top of the paper. Some watercolor papers use both methods.
Watercolor paper has more texture. Watercolor paper is made with more “tooth,” meaning that it has more bumps than regular paper. These extra bumps allow the paper to be more absorbent.
Regular paper, on the other hand, is completely flat, so when you put watercolor paint onto it, the paint stays on top and slides around like a skater on ice.
Watercolor paper comes in three different textures, each having a different amount of “tooth.” The three textures are hot pressed, cold pressed, and rough.
- The hot pressed textured paper is the smoothest of the three and has the fewest bumps. This paper is great for artists that want to watercolor fine details.
- The cold pressed paper has a medium amount of bumpiness. It is perfect for beginners because it allows for a variety of techniques and applications of the paint.
- The rough textured paper, as the name implies, is the roughest and bumpiest of the three. This paper is ideal for a loose artist style that doesn’t use too much detail.
When watercoloring, you should always use watercolor paper. Watercolor paper is designed to handle wetness and is stronger than normal paper. If you use normal paper, it may rip, buckle, pill, or yellow, which will ruin your artwork.
When buying watercolor paper, make sure to look for the following features:
- Paper that is 100% cotton
- Has an acid-free tag
- Weighs at least 140lbs (63.5 kg)
- Has a texture based on your intended style and techniques
I realize this article might seem a bit off-topic for the site. Even so, when I was asked this question by my daughter I couldn’t help but write about it. I got my start in art when I was nine years old after being inspired by my grandmother, who was a well-known artist in Florida. She passed away in the past few years so I dedicate this article to her.