I remember when I started using watercolor pencils (which requires watercolor paper), I purchased cold press simply because it was more popular and have happily used it for years.
But I got curious and tried hot press recently and was pleasantly surprised by its advantages. It was then that I realized I wanted to know more about the two different kinds and thought I’d share what I learned.
This article will explain in detail the difference between hot press and cold press watercolor paper, and you can decide what’s right for you.
[To the right is a painting I did on cold press paper; it beautifully handled all the layering.]
It’s All About The Paper’s Surface
The terms hot or cold press has to do with the surface or the texture of the paper. Each paper has its own type of texture, also called “tooth” (hills and valleys in the surface).
In this picture, from left to right is hot press, cold press and rough watercolor paper.
It is also sometimes referred to as HP.
Cold Press is bumpy, that is its surface has a visible texture to it. The way I remember it is when you’re cold you get goosebumps, right?
It is also called CP and NOT (meaning not hot press) and is the most popular and commonly used.
Rough is a third type of paper which is very textured, more than cold press, but for the purposes of this article, we will stick with discussing hot vs. cold press.
How It’s Made In A Very Small Nutshell
Paper consists mainly of cellulose fibers. In the cold press process, the cellulose pulp gets rolled and pressed through rollers that are covered with felt at a cold temperature, hence cold press.
In the making of hot press paper, the fibers are pressed through smooth rollers at a high temperature, hence hot press.
Performance Of Each
Which one you select to paint on should be based on what you want your art to look like, the subject matter, and maybe what level painter you are.
[Here is a brief article by Let’s Paint Nature! illustrating how subject texture (whether you want it or not) can play a role in your decision for hot press or cold press paper, too.]
Furthermore, each type of paper has its place in the watercolor world, with positives and negatives, and by the way, you do not have to choose one or the other. You may use one for a certain purpose and the other for another purpose.
Advantages of Hot Press
1. This paper is great if you love to do detail and/or photorealism, line, or inking work because you will not be fighting with any bumps. In this quick study I did to the right, detailing was a breeze!
2. It doesn’t absorb as quickly. This allows you more time to work the paint a little longer.
And since it sits on top longer and takes longer to dry, you can fix mistakes or lift out color more easily, too.
3. Colors are brighter and more vivid on hot press, probably due to light reflecting off a flat, smoother surface.
4. Hot press is great if you want to digitize your work. It’s easier to photograph artwork done on hot press paper.
5. Good for splatters and blooms – basically any effect where bumpiness might “get in the way” (fine details).
Disadvantages of Hot Press
1. Due to its smoothness, hot press is not as durable as cold press paper. Layering can be difficult as the smoothness will make the paper load up faster.
2. Also, reworking will be more difficult on this paper since the smoothness will not tolerate much rework.
3. Takes longer to dry.
4. Not as forgiving, shows brushstrokes more.
Advantages of Cold Press
1. Durable, will take more “working” on it.
2. Versatile; will be good for many subjects and painting styles.
3. Due to the bumpy texture, it will be easier to paint in softer tones.
4. Layers well, can build up lots of glazes (I layered a lot in this lilac painting).
5. Paper texture provides a certain aesthetic appeal and is great for textured subjects. Just look at how the paper helped me with texture in the lilacs picture, while being versatile enough to have the leaves look smooth.
6. Holds water in place better giving the painter more water control which could be the reason why it’s most popular and also a good paper for beginner watercolor painters.
7. Dries faster which will help prevent blooms if you don’t want them.
Disadvantages of Cold Press
1. Less vibrant colors
2. Absorbs more quickly and gives you less time to play with the paint on the surface
3. Not suitable for detail work, or fine, intricate work, as you will be fighting with the tooth.
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Other Important Watercolor Paper Needs
There are certain characteristics of watercolor paper you will want to have no matter what surface texture you choose.
You will need a paper that is going to take the water without buckling or warping too much to the point it becomes ruined or unusable.
Shoot for a minimum of 140 lb. or 300 gsm. Most papers will list both on their covers. Anything less and you will hate the excessive buckling that will remain after it’s dry.
2. Acid-free, Archival
Always look for the paper to say “acid-free” and/or “archival”. This will prevent yellowing and brittleness over time.
Archival papers are made from 100% cotton, and this is best. Any paper that is made from wood pulp runs the risk of acidifying over time, producing the yellowing.
3. Student Grade vs. Artist Grade
This is the age-old dilemma for all artists beginning a new medium or beginning artists in general. The artist grade materials are top quality and offer you the best tools which in my opinion increase your chance for success.
But the artist grade is often much more expensive than the learner wants to pay because what if they don’t like it? I get that.
Well, when it comes to watercolor paper my advice is really the same as I would say for other materials – purchase the best quality you can afford. If its student grade, that may be fine depending on what you get. Just don’t get 90lb.—you will regret it!
For example, a fantastic student grade cold press watercolor paper is Canson XL and also happens to be Amazon’s #1 Best Seller in watercolor paper. It is acid free and is 140lb. The 9″ x 12″ is a good size to work with.
If you can go top of the line, then my recommendation is Arches Watercolor paper.==> Go here to check out Arches cold press watercolor paper<==
4. Pad Vs. Block
If you choose a pad, all the sheets contained in the pad will be bound on one side of the pad only and will be easily removed to work on. You should pre-stretch the paper by taping it on your art surface in order to minimize any buckling.
In contrast, I personally like paper blocks. In blocks, the sheets are bound on all 4 sides except for a section on one of the sides.
As a result, you can do your painting right onto the block with no need to remove, stretch, and tape!
When you are finished, you can insert a palette knife or flat letter opener into the slit and slide it all around the sides till the paper is freed up (block pictured left with palette knife inserted under the top sheet.)
In other words, the whole process of stretching/taping down the paper is eliminated—convenient and time-saving!
All Summed Up
– Great for fine detail, line and drawing work
– Super for photorealism
– Terrific for photographing work
– Colors are brighter
– More time to work paint on paper
– Not forgiving
– Isn’t suited to a lot of layering
– Takes longer to dry
– Most commonly used and good for beginners
– Versatile – accommodates different styles and subjects
– Holds water in place better for greater control
– Will accept a lot of layering
– Colors are softer, less vibrant
– Absorbs more quickly, less time to work paint
– Not good for drawing, ink or intricate, detailed work
– Dries faster
Well hopefully ,the difference between hot press and cold press watercolor paper is a little more clear, so you to make an informed decision.
So have you decided which you’d like to try first? Or if you’ve tried one already, are you willing to try the other?
Please let me know in the comment section below what you decided and why. As always, your email address will never be shared.
Also, if you love colored pencils and are looking to try watercolor pencil, here are a couple of links to related articles:
Thanks and happy painting!