0% vs 25% vs 50% vs 100% Cotton Watercolour Paper

Here's a comparison of watercolour paper of different cotton content. The papers I've used are...

  • Fluid (0%)
  • Daler Rowney Aqua Fine (0%)
  • Fabriano Studio (25%)
  • Fabriano 5 (50%)
  • Fabriano Artistico (100%)
  • Arches (100%)

All are coldpress 300gsm watercolour paper.

These are the four tests that I did with all the paper.

  • Creating a wet on wet wash that blends into the white of the paper
  • Creating a colour blend
  • Glazing
  • Charging in a colour to a wet wash

Below are comparisons of the same test with different paper. High resolution scans are available for download ( Fluid | Daler Rowney Aquafine | Arches | Fabriano Studio | Fabriano 5 | Fabriano Artistico )

All the papers did well with the wet on wet wash that blends paint into the white of the paper so I'm not going to share those scans here. You can check out the high resolution scans yourself.

Colour blend tests


Fluid


Daler Rowney Aquafine


Fabriano Studio


Fabriano 5


Fabriano Artistico


Arches

The watercolour colour paper that has 0% and 25% cotton content did badly. The colour blends are not smooth, horizontal brush strokes can be seen, and water can be seen streaking down. Water tend to stay on the surface of these paper and these water will flow down to create the big streaks.

Watercolour paper that has 50% or 100% cotton did well. Colour blends are smooth. The paper absorbs the water and paint, and the paint can take its time to diffuse and blend.

Glazing


Fluid


Daler Rowney Aquafine


Fabriano Studio


Fabriano 5


Fabriano Artistico


Arches

For watercolour paper with no or low cotton content, brush strokes will have hard edges. You can see rougher edges with cotton watercolour paper such as the Fabriano 5, Fabriano Artistico and Arches. There's some rough edges with the Fabriano Studio as well but not as obvious compared to the cotton paper. The cotton paper absorbs water fast which makes the brush dry enough to create those rough edges.

If you paint slow or use a lot of water, you can still get hard edges on all the paper.

There's something interesting with the Fabriano Artistico paper. Notice the blue paint edges are rough against paper but as soon as it goes over the yellow paint, the edges become hard. The look can be quite distracting. As for Arches, the edges are rough whether it's on white paper or glazed over another colour.

Charging in


Fluid


Daler Rowney Aquafine


Fabriano Studio


Fabriano 5


Fabriano Artistico


Arches

Paint on watercolour paper with no cotton content do not move much. Once you charge in another colour onto a wet colour wash, it moves slightly and just stays there. This makes colour blending difficult.

For some reason, all the Fabriano watercolour papers have streaking lines at the soft edges. The most noticeable streaking lines are from Fabriano 5 and the least obvious from Fabriano Artistico. Streaking lines are quite distracting.

Arches perform the best. The colours are able to blend with soft edges.

Conclusion

I usually use paper with no cotton content to create my watercolour swatches. When it comes to painting, it takes a lot more work to create beautiful colour blends and soft edges.

The best paper is Arches. Performance is consistent and predictable. So there's a reason for it's high price.

Fabriano Artistico surprised me with the edge performance when glazing, and there are streaking lines (even though not that obvious) when charging in colours.

I'll continue to test other watercolour paper and add them to this page. It will be interesting to see how other papers perform.

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7 Comments

Thanks, Teoh. This

Thanks, Teoh. This information is really helpful. I'm fairly new to watercolor and have been slowly buying supplies over the last few months. I have to practice a lot and paper can be quite expensive.

I agree with Tina about

I agree with Tina about Stillman & Birn Beta and Pentalic

Perhaps a comparison of the paper that has been my favorite for a couple years now: Stonehenge Aqua cold press (it is 100% cotton but a few dollars cheaper per sheet than Arches).

Thanks, Teoh. These tests

Thanks, Teoh. These tests reveals lot of good information. I have used Arches, Fabriano Artistico and Winsor and Newton (all 130 gsm, cold pressed). My experience with Arches is good the only issue is they are little bit rough. I liked W&N much, for some reason my paintings look fresh on them. I have not experience on Fabriano Artistico, since the pad I have is small 7*6 and I don't use it much. waterford saunders is next on my list.

I can't see on the scans and

I can't see on the scans and I wasn't able to see on your video either, where exactly is that super high quality of Arches paper. If for one thing the Arches paper that you tested looks like it has a defective sizing.

The blue paint glazing had white spots while the edges were uneven on each and every brushstroke of colour you applied on it. That happens when the sizing is not strong enough or not consistent on the surface of the paper allowing the colour to spread and get absorbed in some areas of the surface and stay on top on some others.
The yellow washes looked washed out on both of the 100% cotton papers. To be honest I was expecting this to happen on the Fabriano Artistico as it is well known that Fabriano had the recent years some serious problems with its papers and particularly with the Artistico line. But I didn't expect that from the Arches ( though I have read some really negative reviews recently) that it is marketed as a top quality paper and it is by far the most expensive paper of all.

The papers that IMHO performed better on your test are the Fluid and the Fabriano 5 each on their own category.
The colours looked brilliant on the Fluid paper, the lines and edges were sharp ( something that is very important when you paint details), the blending results were decent for a non cotton paper and the diffusion of colours gave very good results too.

The paper Fabriano 5 gave the best results.
The colours looked brilliant, blended nicely, the glazing was as it should be with clean and sharp lines on all the length of the blue brushstroke and the diffusion of colour in the wet on wet application, though it wasn't that smooth, it was extented enough to make our lives easier when we paint wet on wet.

To conclude:
The most important thing for a watercolour paper is the sizing. If the sizing is not hard enough or it is defective then the paper will perform as an expensive blotting paper.

Dear Teoh,

Dear Teoh,

Thanks for doing these detailed tests. I think I understand a little bit more about my experience moving from only painting in Fluid Blocks to trying Arches for the first time. In many ways I had to relearn how to paint. Several techniques that produced bad results before now produced amazing results (wet in wet charging). And several things I know about how much paint to mix also was completely thrown off.

I've come to conclude the art of painting on cotton paper is a separate thing with it's own nuances, as is the art of using cellulose. And both of them defiantely have their own place. Cellulose papers are undeniably cheaper and it does mean I try and paint a lot more on them without the fear of wasting paper.

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