Before the 1800's, watercolor painting is done on any paper that is available. Normally, it will be very difficult to paint on heavy paper that is colorfast. A wrapping paper, a white paper or even tourist guide papers are common since the manufacture of watercolor paper were to come later.
Today, watercolor paper is manufactured well with formulation for specific watercolor applications. These applications are divided into attributes such as weight, color, size, furnish, permanence, packaging, dimension and color.
Weight - Grams per square meter (GSM) determine the weight of the watercolor paper. Depending on its density and thickness, the weight of the watercolor paper ranges from 280 to 640 gsm. To judge whether the paper is good to your application without even looking at the weight is to hold it on one edge and shake it vigorously. Paper with less weight will give a rubbery sound when rattled while papers with heavier grades will tend to give off a more metallic sound. Generally, heavier papers are excellent for water based applications although it is much more expensive.
Color – Most watercolor papers are pure white although sometimes they come with a slight tinge of beige and sometimes slightly yellowish. There are also watercolor papers today that are tinted and are available in all colors.
Furnish – The furnish of the watercolor paper is determined by the content or material from which the paper is made. The papers are made of cellulose extracted from plants notably, wood pulp, linen, and cotton. After extraction, the pulps are wetted, macerated, chemically treated and filtered and rinsed and poured into paper making moulds. The watercolor paper making machines are large cylinders fixed with metal wire screen mesh that gives the paper the texture of a wove. The wire mesh determines the coarseness or the smoothness of the wove produced.
Size and Dimensions – The sizes that are commercially available are:
Emperor sheet (40"x60"), double elephant (30"x40"), full sheets (22"x30"), half sheets (15"x22") and the quarter sheets (15"x11"). Watercolor paper sizes are also available as watercolor blocks or pads containing 20 sheets. A watercolor block comes in different sizes with its dimensions glued on the edges for portability.
Permanence – Every paper deteriorates eventually however, the best watercolor paper are the archival papers. These papers are entirely from 100% cellulose fibers whether made from linen or cotton. Because of these, papers are free of lignen. Archival papers will last for more than 100 years without significant deterioration like discoloration and brittleness.
Finishes – When you buy a watercolor paper, the finish is printed on a corner that tells you it's texture. There are three basic finishes that tells you the texture of the paper. The HP (hard pressed), the CP (cold pressed) and R for rough. Each texture works for particular applications. Work with hard pressed papers for smoother applications and textures.
Packaging – the packaging of the watercolor paper will give information regarding the attributes mentioned above, and how those attributes will work for a particular painting.
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