Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Painting Theory and Resources

Watercolor Paper 101

Diana MacKenzie
Occasionally, Meghan and I get emails asking us about specific materials we use or to further explain how we made something in The Studio.

Below is one of our most recent letters with a question about our watercolor paper:

We visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on Saturday and had a wonderful time! What a treasure. While we were there we painted several watercolors and oil pastels in the studio. (Sadly, we forgot them, too!) The paper we were given was great to use, especially for the watercolors… If someone could email me back with the name of the company that produces the paper, I’d very much appreciate it. I’d like to stock it in our home art studio as well. Many thanks, Christina Z.

Hi Christina, 

The watercolor paper we use for painting and tissue paper collage projects in The Studio is Pacon brand 90lb watercolor paper. We’re also a fan of Canson’s line of high-quality papers and often use them in our workshops. Any art supply store will carry a variety of student-grade and professional-grade papers in sheets or pads in the size that works best for your home studio or classroom.

Occasionally we run out of watercolor paper before the next order arrives so we’ll switch to a heavy-weight drawing paper. You’ll notice the difference between “watercolor” paper and “regular” paper if you rub the surface too hard with a brush or overload it with water. (Extra sizing is added to watercolor papers to keep the wet media on the surface rather than absorbing into the fibers causing crumbling or tearing.) I’ve witnessed children make hard brush marks or layer the paint on the surface get frustrated painting on lower-quality paper. If you’ve seen a similar response consider upgrading to a higher quality paper.

One rule of thumb for finding the right paper for your needs is to look at the weight listed in pounds on the pack or pad. The weight of the paper refers to the weight of a ream (500 sheets) and not each individual sheet; copy paper is about 20 lb. 40 lb paper is thinner and not as sturdy as 140 lb. paper.

Keep the questions coming! Email the Art Educators here at


Diana, smiling wearing an orange scarf and brown shirt.

Diana MacKenzie

Public Art Program Educator from 2007-2016, Diana has a BFA in Printmaking from Syracuse University and creates mixed-media works inspired by her travels, combining her interests in printmaking and sculpture. She received her M.A.T. from Mount Holyoke College in June 2017, and continues teaching visual arts to children and adults.

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