25 Best Watercolor Sketchbook Reviews (A MUST READ!)


title header wc sketchbooks best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com

Artsy people love to visit the art supply store, but for many of us, we have to be content with shopping online. But that’s not bad! In fact, it’s better because the selection is fabulous.

I tested the best watercolor sketchbooks.  I will point out the best pros and cons of each sketchbook.  I DID find a favorite though, and (drum roll:) my best watercolor sketchbook is

Stillman and Birn Beta Series.  There are sooo many others that came in super close though!

stack of sketchbooks
So much fun, and so many varieties!

As the topic is watercolor, we will base our reviews on the fact that you will need something that can handle a fair amount of saturation with soupy paint or clear water without too much buckling or pilling of fibers.

(Please read my PRO TIPS and insider information at the end of our article to help you further narrow down your choices and reveal considerations you may not have thought about in selecting the best watercolor sketchbook!)

Jump Ahead To:

If you are short of time, here is my list of the best watercolor sketchbooks:

  1. Stillman & Birn Beta Series Softcover Sketchbook 270 gsm Hardcover, Spiralbound or Softcover   <<Best Value, Grab This Watercolor Sketchbook!!!
  2. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Journal, Cold Pressed 
  3. Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Journal in Hardcover or Softcover
  4. Pentalic Art Watercolor Journal
  5. Shizen Watercolor Journals
  6. Etchr Mixed Media Sketchbook for Drawing and Painting
  7. Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media 
  8. Strathmore 400 Series Field Watercolor Sketchbook
  9. Moleskin Watercolor Album
  10. Speedball Field Watercolor Artist Journal
  11. Strathmore 500 Series P594-15 Watercolor Travel Journal
  12. Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book
  13. Fabriano Watercolor Sketchbook
  14. Handbook Watercolor  Travelogue Sketchbook
  15. Stillman and Birn  Nova – Toned Paper!
  16. Stillman and Birn Nova Tri-Toned Paper Sketchbook  <<Most Useful Watercolor Sketchbook for Field Studies
  17. Hand Book Papers, Field Watercolor Journal
  18. Field Artist Accordion Paged 4 in. x 4 in. Watercolor Journal
  19. Field Artist 5 in. x 5 in. Square  Watercolor Journal 
  20. Speedball Art Handmade Watercolor Journal
  21. Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor Book
  22. Khadi Handmade Hardback Book
  23. Dynamic Distraction 9×12″ Watercolor & Drawing Pad Sketchbook
  24. Arteza Watercolor Book, Pack of 2
  25. Design Ideations Lay-Flat and Removable Mult-Media Sketchbook

There are so many individual preferences that ranking them in any kind of order is impossible! All of the Watercolor Sketchbooks I recommend here are great quality, so choose according to your own style and needs.

My Best Reviews and Recommendations for a Great Watercolor Sketchbook

Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any of these.  However, what you decide will depend on your preferences for different quality paper, your method of applying paint,  sturdiness of construction, binding choice, and size of the sketchbook.

stitched sketchbook best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com
Stitched sketchbooks can open flat for uninterrupted two-page spreads

I couldn’t help listing my preferences first, which is for a softbound, stitched binding that will open very flat!  Of course, your preferences may be different from ours. There are so many great choices!

1. Stillman and Birn Watercolor Sketchbooks <<my number one recommendation for a Watercolor Sketchbook

This brand makes an excellent sketchbook, which comes in seven different series for every need and preference.  They come in all sizes, paper colors, and shapes, with three options for binding.  I’ve included three series in this section for heavier washes and lower down in the article is a section for light washes where I’ve included three more in the series, including a series with toned papers! Wahoo!! So hard to find toned paper in a journal that will accept wet media!

Favored by many artists, this series is recommended by illustrator Tara Larsen-Chang.  See her works here.

 

Stillman & Birn Delta Series Softcover, Spiral or Hardcover Sketchbook

  • Very well made
  • Durable
  • Ivory paper
  • Lies flat when opened
  • Many sizes and shapes available
  • Cold press, rough texture
  • Extra strong fibers
  • 270 gsm
  • Available in Spiral Bound, Soft Cover and Hardcover

 

 

Stillman & Birn Archival Sketchbooks Delta Series

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

Stillman & Birn Beta Series Softcover Sketchbook  Hardcover, Spiralbound and Softcover

Identical to the Delta Premium Series, except this one is White Paper. My personal favorite because of paper quality, the binding opens flat for two-page panorama work and the great quality of construction. I LOVE the many different sizes and shapes of these sketchbooks.  Love panoramic landscape?  They have it.  Hoping for portrait orientation for city scapes?  They’ve got it.  AND, if you prefer square format, they that that TOO!

  • Very well made
  • Durable
  • White paper
  • Lies flat when opened
  • Many sizes and shapes available
  • Cold press, rough texture
  • Extra strong fibers
  • Available in Spiral Bound, Soft Cover and Hardcover
  • Versatile with several media

Stillman & Birn Archival Sketchbooks Beta Series

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

Stillman and Birn Zeta  Series in Hardcover, Softcover and Wirebound

  • 180 lb 270 gsm
  • Sizing enhanced for mixed-media
  • Smooth grain
  • White paper
  • Good for rich watercolor, pen, markers and wet and dry media
  • Satisfactory for multiple washes
  • Reacts similar to 140 lb watercolor paper
  • Accepts multiple erasures of dry media and lifting of wet media

Stillman & Birn Archival Sketchbooks Zeta Series

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

2. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper Journal

This professional paper is constructed with 100 % cotton with pure spring water. This journal is only available at Dick Blick.  BUT, watch out, don’t confuse their 100% cellulose version of their spiral PAD with this one.  100% cotton is much more absorbent and useful for watercolors. 

  • Fibers are internally and externally sized, allowing it to withstand the roughest of techniques
  • Colors remain brilliant and intense
  • Cold press
  • 140 lb
  • White
  • Paper will not warp or cockle even when saturated with large volumes of water
  • Takes layering with panache
  • Every sheet is micro-perforated for easy removal.
  • Rough texture; more than most cold press paper
  • Wire bound
  • One side cold press, other hot press
  • Handles overlapping successive wet glazing

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Journal

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

 

3. Strathmore Hardcover or Softcover Watercolor Art Journal 400 Series

  • 140 lb paper, stitched
  • Cold pressed with slight tooth on one side and smoother on the other side
  • Will open and lie flat with coaxing
  • alpha-cellulose paper
  • Sturdy construction
  • Allows for lifting and scraping applications
  • Available in three sizes and shapes
  • Sewn binding
  • Highly rated by users
  • Off-white papers

Hardcover 

Strathmore Hardbound 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal

Strathmore Hardbound 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

Softcover

 

 

Strathmore Softcover 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal

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>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

4. Pentalic Art Watercolor Journal

Recommended and highly used by illustrator James Gurney, you can see his work here.

  • European milled, 140 lb. (300 gsm)
  • Acid free paper
  • Elastic brush holder is positioned at the top of the book and is designed to hold a Connoisseur Kolinsky Sable Travel Brush
  • Ribbon marker
  • Elastic band closure
  • Available in several sizes
  • Storage pocket in the back of the book
  • Cold Press
  • Sewn signatures
  • Glue bound
  • Great consistency from page to page
  • Many users report disappointment in the binding because pages fall out

 

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

5. Shizen Watercolor Journals

  •  Handmade in India
  • 100% recycled cotton
  • internally and externally sized for absorption and durability
  • Wire bound
  • Ribbon tie closure
  •  140 lb (300 gsm) acid-free white paper
  • Highly rated by users
  • Does not tolerate scrubbing well
  • Available in either cold press (rough) or hot press

Shizen Watercolor Journals

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

 

6. ETCHR Mixed Media Sketchbook for Drawing and Painting

  • 100% cotton
  • 3 Sizes available
  • Made in Australia and only comes in an expensive three-pack
  • Elastic securing band
  • Hot press
  • Lays flat
  • Acid free paper
  • Smooth
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Off-white color
  • Quality construction
  • Highly rated by users
  • 230 gsm – about 105 lb.

 

>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

 

7. Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media

  • Internally sized for wet media
  • 100% cotton
  • Archival  and acid free
  • available in three sizes
  • Sewn binding
  • Lays somewhat flat with coaxing
  • 90 lb paper is great quality (better than 140 lb because it is all cotton and better manufactured)
  • highly rated by users
  • Not good for markers that use alcohol
  • Cold press to accept water and pigment

Strathmore Hardbound 500 Series Mixed Media Art Journal

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

8. Strathmore 400 Series Field Watercolor Sketchbook

A unique field sketch book that fits the needs of jouralling and watercolor with alternating papers.

  • Spiral bound
  • Contains alternating pages of 140 lb (300 gsm) Cold Press watercolor paper and 60 lb (89 gsm) medium surface sketch paper
  • Acid free
  • Good for taking lots of notes on the sketch paper and saving the watercolor paper for the art

 

Strathmore 400 Series Field Watercolor Sketch Book

>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

9. Moleskine Art Collection Watercolor Notebook

  • 200 gsm  135 lb
  • Acid-free
  • Comes in soft cover (Notebook) or hardcover (Albumn)
  • Cold press paper
  • Threadbound into a black bound cardboard cover with rounded corners
  • Bookmark
  • Elastic closure
  • Quality construction
  • 25% cotton
  • Expandable inner pocket
  • Available in four sizes and shapes
  • Ivory paper
  • Opens flat

Moleskine Art Collection Watercolor Notebook

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10. Speedball Art Products 780088 Hand Book Field Watercolor Artist Journal

  • 300 gsm/140 lb. cold press watercolor paper
  • 24 sheets/48 pages
  • Made in the USA acid free
  • Spiral wire bound
  • Paper takes water well and dries flat
  •  Non-cotton paper, which is their Fluid watercolor paper
  • Highly rated by users

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

11. Strathmore 500 Series P594-15 Watercolor Travel Journal

  •  100% cotton watercolor paper
  • Tough and resilient surface for scrubbing, scraping and other  techniques
  • Soft silicone binding with saddle stitching
  • Dries quickly
  • Comes in two sizes
  • 140 lb  300 gsm
  • Cold press

Strathmore Watercolor Travel Pads and Journals

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12. Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book

  •  Lies flat with coaxing
  • High quality fine grain paper
  • 200gsm, acid free
  • Elastic strap closure
  • Natural white paper
  • Color lifts easily

 

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

 

13. Fabriano Watercolor Sketchbook

  • 25% cotton paper
  • Hardbound
  • Sewn in binding
  • Lies flat with coaxing
  • 300gsm  90 lb paper
  • Internally and externally sized
  • Well made
  • Acid free
  • Some users report it does not hold water well

Fabriano Hardcover Watercolor Journals

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

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14. Handbook Journal Company Watercolor Travelogue Sketchbook

  • Lays flat
  • Good construction
  • Cold press medium textured
  • Tough  with no pilling
  • Elastic tie-down closure
  • Watercolor paint sits on top
  • Colors hold vibrancy on this paper
  • Color lifts off easily
  • Does not do layering/glazing

Hand Book Paper Co. Travelogue Watercolor Journals

>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

 

15.  Stillman and Birns Nova Series Toned Paper Sketchbook

A fabulous well made sketchbook with toned paper that will accept light washes of watercolor, acrylic and gouache

  • Great construction
  • Three toned colors to select from
  • Lies flat
  • Available in six sizes and shapes

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

16. Stillman and Birn  Nova Toned Paper

This is on our list to take into the field the next time we watercolor sketch outdoors!  Using toned papers will be so fun with gouache and light watercolor washes!

To see a master illustrator used toned paper sketchbooks read about Nathan Fowkes here.

  • Choose one paper tone per book: Grey, Black or Beige
  • Medium grained
  • Great for light washes, inks, pens and dry media
  • Available in Softcover or Wirebound
  • 150 gsm heavy weight paper
  • Archival

Stillman & Birn Nova Mixed Media Sketchbooks

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

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17. Hand Book Papers, Field Watercolor Journal

  • 140 lb smooth hot press paper
  • Made in USA
  • Fluid brand watercolor paper
  • Good tooth and weight
  • Highly rated by users

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

18. Field Artist 4 in. x 4 in. Square Accordion Watercolor Journal

  • 200 gsm cold press
  • 8 accordion -fold panels
  • acid free
  • 100% recycled fibers
  • Cold Press
  • Hardbound in soft PU leather
  • Fits in a pocket
  • ARE FORMAT 4 in. x 4 in.(10 cm x 10 cm) Watercolor Journal
  • Budget price

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

19. Field Artist 5 in. x 5 in. Square  Watercolor Journal 

A very small and compact watercolor sketchbook with a nice cover and elastic tie-down.

  • Heavily patterned texture alternating with smooth
  • Hardbound
  • Customers report binding coming loose
  • Aacid-free and 100% recycled
  • 200 gsm, cold press paper 
  • Coldpress
  • 4-PANEL PANORAMA FOLD-OUT in back cover

>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

20. Speedball Art Products Hand-Book Watercolor Journal

  • 48-Handmade pages, 300Gsm
  • Acid-free and archival
  • Made from 100Percent recycled material
  • 9-Inch-by-6-inch hardcover book
  • Heavy feeling papers
  • White paper
  • Deckle edges
  • Handmade paper
  • Externally sized
  • Very Rough texture
  • Mixed reviews from users
  • Expensive
  • Made in India

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

21. Canson Artist Series Montval Watercolor Book 

  • 100% cellulose
  • Buckles with washes easily
  • Available in wire bound, top wire and fold over bound
  • Cold press watercolor paper made in France
  • The surface withstands scraping, erasing, and repeated washes
  • Micro-perforated true size sheets
  • 20 sheets of 140 pound/300 gram
  • Acid free 
  • Does not pill
  • Available in two sizes

Canson Artist Series Watercolor Books

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

22. Khadi Handmade Hardback Book  

  • 210 gsm or 100 lb paper, Rough Texture
  • 32 page Sketch Book, 5″x6.5″
  • Deckled edges
  • Texture is great for granulation
  • No obvious pattern on paper
  • Some inconsistencies in paper fibers
  • Takes layers with slight buckling, but if left closed when dry, it will flatten
  • Tub sized (surface sized) with gelatin, which means some inconsistency with how paint is accepted. 
  • Acid free

>>Check Price On Dick Blick<<

 

23. Dynamic Distraction 9×12″ Watercolor & Drawing Pad

  • Dual sided – smooth on one side and machine textured on the other side
  •  140lb/ 300gsm  Each thick, durable sheet of paper comes with a smooth side as well as a textured side, allowing for flexibility in your art notebook
  • Suitable for wet and dry media
  • ACID-FREE
  • Thick paper absorbs water

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

 

24. Arteza Watercolor Book, Pack of 2

  • Dual-Sided – Each sheet of this pad features a double-sided texture
  • Acid-Free 
  • 110 lb  230 gsm
  • Natural Linen Bound 
  • Opens flat with coaxing
  • Accepts layering
  • Not good for lifting and scrubbing
  • Cold press paper
  • Some users report paper fibers partially pill with wet watercolor – better with acrylic and gouache

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

25. Design Ideation Lay Flat

  •  Lays flat
  • Removable sheets
  • Heavy multi-media paper
  • White paper
  • Printable in inkjet and laser printers.
  • Taped Spine Pad Type Book
  • Durable Extra Heavyweight Front and Back Covers.
  • Not designed to be permanently bound, the pages are easily removed

 

>>Check Price On Amazon<<

 

Insider Info and Pro Tips

The last thing you want as a watercolorist is to fight with your sketchbook in performance.  What book and inside paper you prefer is a highly individual thing though!  What works for me, may not come even close to what works for you.   That being said, here are some important considerations to think about to help you narrow down your choices:

  • What style of painting do I intend to use with my sketchbook?  Light washes, watercolor combined with gouache? Lots of heavier traditional washes?  Additional media like ink, charcoal or acrylics?
  • Do I want a book that will work with multiple mediums?
  • Do I want the ability to remove pages easily for framing?
  • Do I need an elastic band or tie-down feature to keep it closed?
  • Is absorbancy important in my paper choice?
  • Do I want to use texturizing effects like scrubbing, lifting and salt applications?
  • Is budget a major concern?
  • Are these sketches explorations and experimentations that are disposable, so paper quality is the last importance?
  • Do I prefer a mid-tone colored paper or bright white?
  • What size and shape do I prefer? Rectangle or square?
  • Do I want my sketchbook to lie flat when opened?
  • Do I intend to do two-page sketches across the binding area?
  • Do I prefer a paper that does not have a mechanical manufacturing grid in the paper?
  • Do I like smooth surface or textured?  How much texture?

Paper varieties:

There are many sketchbooks labeled for watercolor, but their ability to handle copious amounts of water, lifting, layering and scrubbing wildly vary, depending on the weight of the paper and the quality of manufacture. Paper of 270 gsm weight or more handle this method of painting the best.  Smooth or textured watercolor sketchbook papers are up to your personal preference.

wet watercolor italy best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com
It takes a heavier watercolor paper to handle saturated washes in watercolor

What water medium you use makes a difference as well.  Something drier, like gouache, will not need as sturdy a paper as using traditional watercolor techniques. A 150 gsm weight may be sufficient.

Adding ink on top of or under watercolor does better with a smoother surfaced paper, like Hot Press or the equivalent.  150 gsm weight paper works well using this technique.

 

light wash and ink best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com
Most watercolor sketchbooks with lighter weight paper do well with a few light washes and ink

It IS possible to find watercolor sketchbooks in smooth OR textured (often called coldpress or medium texture) surface.

Love those fine details in your watercolor work? Then you may find that using a smoother or hotpress watercolor paper is your best bet.

mushroom deckle edges best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com
Deckle edges of watercolor paper can enhance the artwork!

Lovely deckle edges are common on handmade paper and on high quality artist watercolor papers.  Deckle edges are available in a few watercolor sketchbooks.

 

Many manufactured papers are heavily embossed with industrial pattern-like grids, which affect the finish of the artwork.  If you like a fine, smooth look, then select a watercolor sketchbook that does not have that manufactured texture as a strong feature.

blank spiral bound best watercolor sketchbook verycreate.com
Spiral bound watercolor sketchbook with a perforated edge for removing individual sheets

Binding

You’ll need to choose between Hard Cover, Stitched Softcover, Glued or Spiral Bound.  The more budget books may be glued-bound, which tends to come apart when you least want it too (like when traveling).

Hardcover books are very durable and stand upright on a bookshelf without wear and tear, BUT they won’t stay open flat and you will lose a few inches in the gutter (the center of the book where pages curve into the binding) where you won’t be able to create your art.

Stitch bound pages have sewn together signatures (the group of papers bundled together as a sewn unit) and a flexible cover of paper, fabric, leather, or synthetic materials.  They open flat for double-paged artwork.  Stitched books are more lightweight than hardcover, but also capable of being bent unintentionally.

 

Sprial bound pages are usually for lighter weight papers.  They can come with a pierced edge that facilitates individual sheet removal.  The spiral drives me bonkers!  Just like spiral college notebooks, the wires often come unwound and catch on clothing or even unwind themselves off the edge.  I really don’t like the lumpiness in the center and how the holes in the paper become easily worn with use.  Makes it difficult to scan all of the page.  Spiral wires interrupt the two page effort of artwork.

Glue bound pages are generally not stitched.

OTHER OPTIONS:

 

MAKE YOUR OWN

It is possible to create your own book from your favorite watercolor paper.  There are lots of youtube tutorials and books to buy to teach you how to do it.  There is a learning curve though, and you have to decide if you are willing to devote the hours necessary to make a useful sketchbook, if it is worth the money invested, or if “your time is money”.  However, if you are passionate about your current watercolor paper and desperately want THAT paper in a portable sketchbook, it would be worth the cost in time and money to create it, especially if you hope to remove a perfect sketch for selling or framing.

Here is a sample:

 

 

Conclusions about the Best Watercolor Sketchbook

There you have it, the best and the somewhat not-so-best list of watercolor sketchbooks and a few alternatives too-boot.  Good luck with selecting just one! …but honestly, the best way to find a favorite is to try several.  I thoroughly enjoyed testing these options and honestly, none of them were throw-aways!

Go grab this watercolor sketchbook. It is the best!

Have fun creating on the go, or creating wherever you are!

Anita HC

I hope you are enjoying this article! I love helping creators learn. My goal is to help you find the knowledge and inspiration you need. Check out our library of articles and visit often...I'm adding articles every week! Thank you again for reading!

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