In April 2022, I purchased Jackson’s Cold Press Watercolor Sample Pack of 12, which contains 12 11″x15″ quarter-sheets of cold-pressed watercolor paper in a variety of brands and weights. It took me this long to sample them all, but I’m finally able to share my thoughts on every paper in the sample pack!
Since I tend to work small, I mostly cut the pages into two to four smaller sheets. I’ll showcase the paintings I made with each paper. Some may have been lost due to poor record-keeping.
01. Arches Aquarelle CP 140lb/300gsm
I’ve tried this paper before, as 8”x8” blocks. I really like it. It has a nice medium tooth – not too rough, not too smooth; dries fast enough so you’re not waiting forever, but slowly enough to allow you to work wet-in-wet at a moderate pace; and just generally makes things look good. It is significantly heavier than, say, typical watercolor sketchbook paper yet it is still paper-like (rather than cardstock-like), so it does buckle, but taping it down and leaving it taped until it dries alleviates the worst of it. (And tape comes up easily.) This paper is basically my baseline for “good paper.”
02. Arches Aquarelle CP 300lb/640gsm
This paper is as thick as cardstock and nearly impossible to buckle! I taped it down, but I’m almost not sure if I needed to. It dries a bit slower than 140lb but still not irritatingly slow (like Hahnemuhle Cezanne). I really felt like the paper got out of my way and I was able to concentrate on the painting.
Paper this thick does feel a bit overkill for a quick study, but it’s so luxurious. In a larger painting, I think the non-curling and slower dry time would be especially advantageous, but even in small paintings, it’s really nice not to worry about curling.
03. Arches Aquarelle CP 400lb/850 gsm
Ridiculously thick, beyond cardstock; heavier than an index card, similar to light cardboard! Difficult to cut. No buckling at all, of course. I attempted a very wet painting on this paper, and I’m pleased with how well it (mostly) worked. That said, I didn’t really notice a difference in drying time compared to the 300lb.
For me personally, the 300lb would probably be a better value because I’m seeing diminishing returns on noticeable changes to this upgrade.
04. Saunders Waterford CP 140lb/300gsm
I liked this paper a lot! Quite a bit like Arches 140 lb/300gsm CP. These dried quite flat.
05. Saunders Waterford CP Extra White 200lb/425gsm
I didn’t really make the most of the bright-whiteness with the paintings that I put on here, but the extra bit of glow from white space or diluted paint is really nice. The weight is a nice middle ground between 140 and 300 lb; dried totally flat, but it feels like paper more than card.
06. Saunders Waterford CP 300lb/640gsm
Very similar to Arches 300lb, which is to say, wonderful! I struggled with this painting, but it wasn’t the paper’s fault; actually it was a good test, because an inferior paper would have shown a lot of damage from the amount I rewet and lifted. Goldilocks drying time, so I wasn’t waiting around but I also wasn’t racing against time wet-on-wet.
07. Fabriano Artistico CP Extra White 140lb/300gsm
The first painting I tried with this paper (not shown) did not come out well, so I never uploaded it. I found this paper buckled a lot when used with very wet washes. Especially coming from the Saunders, which dries so flat even at 140lb, I found this a bit disappointing. Nice texture, though, and when I tried a scene with thicker paint and gouache (above), it worked better.
08. Fabriano Artistico CP 300lb/640 gsm
This is nice heavy paper that dries flat, as you’d expect from 300lb, but it doesn’t have that heavy cardstock feeling that 300lb paper can have. I didn’t notice it feeling extremely different from the other papers; it feels like nicely weighty paper and it just works. Took lots of washes like a champ, didn’t do anything weird: I just had a good time on this paper and didn’t worry about it!
09. Millford CP 140 lb/300gsm
This paper is notorious for resisting water, and you can see the legacy of that a bit in the hard edges with watery washes. But I didn’t mind it! It dried a bit faster than I wanted, but has a nice gentle texture, and colors appeared vibrant. Although 140 lb is my “normal” paper weight, after trying samples in higher weights, I expected this to feel thin. But it didn’t!
10. Jackson’s TR CP 140lb/300gsm
I noticed some issues with this paper before I’d painted on it; it released a lot of “fluff” when I cut it, and it seemed to damage easily, like I’d put it down and pick it up and find it had new little tears and emboss marks. But, mostly these issues disappeared in painting. It performed admirably and took washes well.
11. Jackson’s TR CP 200lb/425gsm
Like the 140lb Jackson’s, it makes a lot of fluff when cutting. While I found the 140lb gently textured, this was much more textured, and felt more like rough press. As with typical rough press paper, color tends to go on fairly pale and gentle.
12. Jackson’s TR CP 300lb/640 gsm
This is my favorite of the three Jackson’s brand papers. The combination of the rough texture with thick paper made for a wonderful surface for lots of gorgeous wet-on-wet effects without warping, and allowed for bolder color than the 200lb (though still a bit muted compared to smoother papers). I particularly liked this paper for clouds.
This sampler was great! There were no “duds” in this set. I really loved every brand.
If you’ve been following my month-by-month paintings, you might be able to tell that this sampler lasted me a long time; more than two years elapsed between the first and last paintings I painted with this paper! Granted, it is not, by any stretch, the only paper I used in that time. Still, testing all this paper is a big project, and it has been a neat background task for much of my painting journey to date.
While I liked all the paper, I learned from this sampler that I especially love:
- Heavy paper (e.g. 300lb/640 gsm). Some people find heavy paper too absorbent, but I think it’s great to be able to paint on what is essentially a thick card that doesn’t warp no matter how much water you put down.
- Bright white paper. I initially thought I liked Saunders better than Arches, but after getting more of each type of paper, I realized that what made me prefer Saunders in this particular set was that it came in “high white.” Some people like the gentleness of natural paper, but to me, bright white paper is more exciting for creating glow effects and showcasing the boldness of intense colors.
- A variety of finishes. While this was a cold press sampler, some of the finishes were rougher than others, reminding me that I do occasionally like a rougher finish, especially for cloudscapes. However, finishes on the smoother end are better for showcasing bold colors. I don’t have a firm preference for finish because it depends on the project.
- The quarter sheet format. 11 inches by 15 inches is a great “stretch” size for when I want to paint a really big painting, but also nicely cuts into two or four pages of a more typical size for me. They’re also a lot easier to mail and store than giant full-size watercolor sheets.
One thing I didn’t decide on was brand. I thought I would finish the sampler with a firm opinion of what brand I preferred, but that didn’t happen: I liked too many of the papers! Arches and Saunders were a joy to paint on; I liked Fabriano Artistico at 300lb but not 140lb; and Jackson’s was great for times when I want a rougher finish. It’s good to have options!