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Cold Press vs Hot Press vs Rough Watercolor Paper Compared

It doesn’t matter where you get your paper - online or offline, you’ll always find one of the three kinds of labels on your paper - cold press, hot press, and rough. 


But what do these labels mean? How does any of this affect your experience as a watercolorist? 

And what should you get for yourself? 

These questions might have remained unanswered to you till now. But not anymore! Because in this article, we are going to answer all of the questions. 

By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with all the information about the watercolor paper press to decide what’s best for you. 

Cold Press vs Hot Press vs. Rough Watercolor Paper

Adding The Final Touches
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

So, without any further ado, go and give it a read! 

Why is it important?

A good quality watercolor paper can give you an immeasurable amount of control on your painting.

In application, a watercolor paper of premium quality will not absorb an unnecessary amount of water and will let you have a good grip on the pigments you place on it. And it will do so even while giving you the texture you want - rough or smooth. 

Hence, unlike other mediums - where the quality of brushes and paint matter more, the quality of the paper is the most important aspect of watercolor. 

To know what paper is right for you, you’ll have to understand the difference the press can make. It is crucial because the nature of the press can fundamentally determine the behavior of the paper, please note there are also watercolor paper alternatives that you can consider.

How is the process different?

Papers of different press types are manufactured in different ways. Let's discuss the making process in brief, so that, we could get an idea of how it affects the behavior of the paper. 

Hot Press

In a hot press, the fiber is squeezed under a hot roller to make the sheet. This causes the fibers to lose their fringes and hence, they smooth out. 

Cold Press

Unlike the hot press, in the cold press, the fibers are turned into a sheet by the sheer pressure of a metal slab. It somewhat smoothens the fibers but overall is not as smooth as a hot press paper. 


In the making of rough watercolor papers, the sheet is just crafted from the fibers and then it is left in the sun to dry up. The fibers retain their irregularities in this process and the sheet that is produced from this process is the roughest. 

Adding Details To The Sky
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

What difference does it make?

It's all about the texture.

The kind of press used in the making of the paper is going to primarily define the texture.

As we have already mentioned, hot press paper is smooth, cold press paper is semi-smooth and rough paper is, well, rough.

But there are secondary features of the paper that is affected by the press. They are also somewhat a consequence of the texture.

One of those features is water retention. Smoother surfaces retain less water. Hence, hot press paper will retain the least amount of water while rough paper will retain the most.

Another feature is the flow of pigments. Rougher surfaces inhibit the free flow of pigments. This can affect many aspects of watercolor painting like blending. We'll discuss the implications in the next section.

Add Finishing Touches To The Painting
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

What is right for you?

Let’s get to the point here! The question is how will YOU know what’s the right paper for you?

To answer that we will lay out what is the expected behavior from the papers of different presses and then you’ll be able to judge what’s right for you yourself.

Hot Press

We have already said that hot press paper has a really smooth surface. This allows the flow of pigment to be incredibly effortless.

So, if you want to do smooth blends then you should definitely go for hot press paper. It is especially important if you are planning to use watercolor markers and then blend them smoothly with a little bit of water and a brush.

But keep in mind that Hot Press paper is poor at soaking up water. So, keep your artwork simple by only having a few layers of water.

Cold Press

If as a watercolorist you have never worried about the kind of press of your paper, then chances are you are using a cold press paper.

Due to its middle-ground nature, cold press paper has been by far the most popular kind of paper in the watercolor community.

A typical cold press sheet of paper will have enough roughness to latch onto the bristles of any kind of watercolor brush. And it’ll still be smooth enough for you to use ink and watercolor markers on it.

If you are feeling indecisive about what characteristic you want specifically for the project - smoothness or grip, then always go for cold press paper.


Rough paper has a very specific set of uses in the world of watercolors.

First of all, if you wish to employ the wet-on-wet watercolor technique, there’s nothing better than rough paper for you. Rough paper has the most amazing absorbency which helps achieve the most attractive results with that technique.

But keep in mind that sketching on rough paper is annoying, to say the least. So if you plan to do a lot of sketching then stay away from rough paper.

Rough paper has a certain weight to it that makes using it a very enjoyable and interesting experience. So, you should try out a rough paper at least in one of your projects.

Final Touches
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

Other considerations

Apart from the press of the paper, there are two important factors that should be kept in mind. Since we are already talking about the importance of paper in the watercolor experience, we figured that we should also talk about the weight and the fiber type of paper in brief.


Irrespective of the type of press of the paper, the weight will always play a crucial role in the behavior of the paper.

Typically, you’ll find that most watercolorists prefer to use paper with a weight of at least 300 gsm (140 lb.).

The main reason for that is the fact that heavier paper absorbs more water. So, with heavier paper, you’ll be able to put more layers of water; which, in turn, gives you a lot of flexibility with the sophistication of the painting and the extent to which you can make corrections.

Mostly, the paper has to be brushed with water and then taped to a larger surface at the border. This loses the fibers and makes the surface ready for painting. But with heavier paper, you don’t have to worry about that.

The common weight standards for paper are 185, 300, 356, 640, and 850 gsm.

Cold Press vs Hot Press vs Rough Watercolor Paper

Cotton vs. Wood

Most of the paper that is manufactured for watercolor painting is made out of either of the following fibers:


Wood is the cheaper of the two fibers in this list. The wood pulp that is used in the making of the paper produces shorter fiber strands and hence is inferior to the quality of cotton fibers.

Wood pulp paper will have more warping and more bleeding of pigments. It is also less durable than cotton paper.

But it is also significantly cheaper than cotton paper.


Cotton is the superior material that is used to make watercolor paper.

The larger strands of cotton give the paper impeccable quality both in terms of durability and performance.

It will have little to no warping and the pigments will never bleed or seep through the paper. It is also a lot less tear-prone and provides sufficient durability.

While 100% cotton paper will be more expensive than wood pulp paper, we believe that the benefits are more than worth the extra dollars.


So that’ll be all for this article.

In this guide, we talked about the various presses of watercolor paper and why it matters. We also touched upon the use of different types of presses in different kinds of watercolor scenarios, so that, you could get the paper that is right for you.

We hope that this piece was helpful to you in some meaningful way and we wish you well in your creative endeavors.

Thank you for reading!

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