Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor? (2023)

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 9 arches 300lb cold press

Which paper to choose, hot press or cold press watercolor? Of course you can purchase a bunch and experiment, but here’s a shortcut to your research in case you want to nail down the right paper right off the bat.

First you need to decide how you would like your finished artwork to look. Do you want a botanical or medical illustration style (no paper texture and fine lines painted or drawn with pencil or ink)  or do you want to employ different techniques of painting (lots of brushstrokes, dry brushing, embossing of the surface and scraping away)?

The next question is what will be your methods of applying watercolor<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> paints?   Lots of wet into wet?  Or using glazing, scraping, embossing, dry brush? Will there be detail work with ink or pencil?  The paper you select will make all the difference in the final outcome.

Other considerations:

    • Do you want to stretch the paper to avoid buckling or invest in 300 lb so that this step can be skipped? 300 lb paper will never buckle, so it does not need stretching.  140lb paper may need stretching in order to not ripple when applying wet on wet methods.  
    • Do I want the deckle edges of the 300 lb preserved for framing?
    • Do I need the paper to be very sturdy?
    • Will I frame this with a matte or will it float on the backing with deckle edges showing?
    • Do I want the bonus of being able to paint on both sides of the paper?


Here are some samples of various watercolor sketches I’ve done.

Take a look at the different styles of applying paint and start to narrow down which methods are your favorite.  You’ll need to pick one then use the appropriate paper choice.


Sample One 

Hot press Arches 140 lb Botanical Wet onto dry and line drawing with watercolor on dry paper results in a flat, very smooth look.  You will most likely need to stretch your paper before you begin painting. It is an excellent paper and very easy to paint on.  It is too smooth for dry brush though. And you can only paint on one side at a time for guaranteed no bleed through. 

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 1

Sample Two

Hot Press Arches 140 lb  Fantasy Illustration lots of wet into wet and line drawing on dry paper. Notice the staple marks remaining.  I stretched the wet paper and stapled it to a board to dry before I started painting. Great paper for using the table salt method (the snowflake texture) and for painting small details. 

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 2 arches 140lb fairy and salt

Sample Three

Hot press arches 300 lb embossing in the grass, with very little drybrush, line drawing with ink on dry paper.  Flat paper with very little texture and sturdy enough to take the abuse of embossed dug into the paper to make grass lines.

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 3 wc and ink on 140lb arches

Sample Four

Hot press Arches 140 lb Color roughs for a mural client. Wet on dry paper.  Here I used acrylic paint for the whites, which created a flat, matte look.

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 4 arches 140lb mural color sketches

Sample Five

Cold Press Arches 300 lb Color Roughs for a mural client Wet on dry paper.  Notice the deckle edges and the manufacturer’s embossed brand!

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 5 arches 300lb color roughs

Sample Six

Cold Press Arches 300 lb Class demo textures: dry brush, wet into wet, wet on dry, scraping off, embossing.

This paper is a workhorse! It is tough, responsive and high quality. 

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 6 wet in wet, dry brush, scrape away

Sample Seven

300 lb Arches Cold Press From a Steve Mayo class, wet on wet, wet on dry, scraping off, splatter.

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 6 wet in wet, dry brush, scrape away

And…the other side of the same paper! 300 lb has no show through to the other side no matter how dark you paint.

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 8 arches 300 cold page1

Sample Eight

300 lb Arches cold press. Wet on wet, wet on dry, dry brush and  splatter techniques.

Hot Press or Cold Press Watercolor - Image 9 arches 300lb cold press

Hot and Cold Press Pages and My Recommended Materials

Here are some readily available Hot and Cold Press papers.  The overwhelming favorite amongst artists is Arches, but I’ll include a variety for you to choose from.  Maybe you’ll find a favorite! Also a few of my most cherished watercolor instructional books:

Arches Watercolor Pad, Hot Press 9″X12

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Arches Watercolor Paper Pad, 140 pound, Cold Press, 9″x12″

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Arches Water Colour Block, 300 lb / 640GSM, Cold Pressed, 9″ x 12″

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For larger sheets with a deckle edge:

Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper, 22 x 30 Inches, 300 lb, Off White, 5 Sheets

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ARTEZA 9×12″ Watercolor Pad, Pack of 2, 64 Sheets

I would classify these papers as ‘craft watercolor’ quality, great for casual painting and experimenting!

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Fabriano Artistico 300 Pound Cold Press 4 Sheets 11×14″ – Extra White

A little difficult to find, this is a useful paper and a favorite of many artists.

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Strathmore 140-305 500 Series Ready Cut Watercolor Paper, 140 lb. Hot Press, 5″x7″, 25 Sheets

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Helpful extras

For additional information, I have lots of articles on watercolor topics!  Here are a few:

Best watercolor brushes.

Best watercolor palettes.

Best watercolor sets.

Best watercolor pens.


This is one of my all-time favorite books by a master watercolorist.  Inspiring and informational!!

How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself: Experimental Techniques for Achieving Realistic Effects

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Here is a great book on watercolor methods:

Painting in Watercolor: The Indispensable Guide

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M Graham makes a set for vibrant watercolors:

M. Graham & Co. Watercolor Sets Watercolor Sets

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How fun is this travel set by the famous art materials manufacturer Sennelier?  Tuck it in your backpack, purse or car and go paint your world!

Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Travel Watercolor Set, Black Wood Case, Student Grade, Includes 16 Half Pan Colors, Paper Pad, Mini Brush Size 4

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My favorite watercolor sketchbook!

Stillman and Birn Beta Field Sketchbook


And here is a beautiful field sketch book bound in leather that is highly rated by artists.  It can handle a lot of water on the paper and you can paint the front or back of each sheet. Santa, I need a few of these!!

Field Artist 5 in. x 5 in. Square Watercolor Journal, Hardbound with 80 pgs. 200 GSM, Cold Press Paper

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Anita HC

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