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Choosing Your Watercolour Paper: Content and Quality

Which watercolour paper is better? Those made of cotton or wood pulp?

Each has its merits and can be evaluated based on three key criterias: price, permanence, and the techniques it allows you to use.



For professional quality paper, 100% cotton is the best option. It is pH neutral (i.e. acid-free), which means that it will not deteriorate or yellow over time. Cotton fibres are longer than wood fibres, making them more resilient and durable. They can withstand rougher techniques like scrubbing or scraping. Cotton paper has good absorbency as well, so it is suited for wet-on-wet application.

Student grade quality papers are those with less than 100% cotton and have other fibres mixed in, such as wood pulp.

Wood pulp (also known as woodfree) is an inexpensive alternative to cotton. Wood pulp is chemically treated through a manufacturing process and is not acid-free. High acid papers will deteriorate and yellow as time passes. It is not as durable as cotton paper, which means it cannot withstand heavy or rough brushing techniques well. It also absorbs water slower compared to cotton and is less suited for wet-on-wet application.

For beginners, wood pulp is a good place to start out at.


Watercolour paper can be

  • Handmade
  • Mould-made (similar to handmade but through a mechanized process)
  • Machine-made

Cotton paper is generally handmade or mould-made. Fibres in these papers are randomly distributed, so they do not tear easily. They do not buckle or distort easily even with heavy washes. 

Machine-made paper is cheaper. But they are also less durable than handmade and mould-made paper — prone to distortion and deterioration if wet. Because fibres are all oriented in the same direction, they have the most uniform texture.

We hope this guide has been helpful! Check out the footnotes™ notebooks for watercolour-friendly notebooks you can bring around easily