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This medium has seemed to grow in popularity lately, and it does not appear to be stopping any time soon! Many of us began our journey with watercolor as children, and our love for this beautiful medium never stopped. Whether this is the case for you, and you are a seasoned professional, or you have only just begun dabbling with watercolor, one thing is for sure, you need the right watercolor paper journal! When choosing the best watercolor sketchbook, you may feel overwhelmed by the variety that is available. With our guide, we aim to show you the best sketchbook brands so that you can make an informed decision when selecting a watercolor book for your art projects. Let us get right into it!
Table of Contents
- 1 What are Watercolor Books?
- 2 The Best Sketchbook Brands for Watercolor
- 3 Things to Factor When Purchasing a Watercolor Journal
- 3.1 What are Watercolor Paper Journals?
- 3.2 Choosing Between Student and Artist-Grade Watercolor Notebooks
- 3.3 Various Types of Watercolor Paper Journals
- 3.4 The Thickness of the Pages
- 3.5 The Number of Journal Pages
- 3.6 The Sketchbook Paper Material
- 3.7 Acid-Free Watercolor Paper
- 3.8 Watercolor Paper Texture
- 4 How a Watercolor Journal is Made and Bound
- 5 Why Using a Watercolor Book is Ideal for You
- 6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Watercolor Book
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
What are Watercolor Books?
When watercolor is bound together rather than loose sheets, it has been turned into a watercolor paper journal or book. Each book needs to be made properly and with good quality paper, otherwise, the paint may bleed through to the pages beneath, causing quite a mess. The best watercolor sketchbooks will also not curl or buckle. When using your book, all that needs to be done is laying it flat upon a table or even place it on an easel. You will then be able to paint freely, without having to worry about your pigments bleeding through onto the other pages of your watercolor notebook.
The beauty of using a watercolor book as opposed to loose sheets is that they are portable. This means you are able to go anywhere and still be able to paint, be it a beautiful landscape from a hike or just a few notes jotted down. Using a watercolor sketchpad will make life so much easier, all your work will be neatly tucked in one book! Watercolor journals are also ideal for travelers and once filled, make a beautiful keepsake or coffee table book of your adventures.
Watercolor paper books are for absolutely everyone! From the seasoned professional to the average person just starting. Everyone can benefit from having one of these handy sketchbooks to practice their techniques in. In saying that, the best watercolor sketchbook for you should be chosen based on your skill. Those who are professional watercolor artists should select an artist-grade book, these are generally more expensive.
The reason for the price difference is that these professional-grade watercolor journals are made with thicker paper, more or less 300 grams or 200 pounds for every square meter in weight.
The paper within these books is also often 100 percent cotton. For the novice who is just starting with watercolor, there is a plethora of watercolor paper to choose from. These are known as student-grade sketchbooks and are much more affordable because they use a thinner paper within. These are perfect for starting out and practicing your watercolor paint skills. You have two options to choose from.
Watercolor sketchbooks are larger pads and are often used for those who like to paint landscapes, portraits, and scenery. They also fit well on an easel and the pads can be mounted on your wall once you have finished your artwork.
Watercolor journals are preferred by the hobby painter, or, the professional artist who is often traveling or often on the move. Journals are easy to transport or carry, thanks to their smaller size, which also makes them the perfect pad for recording your travel and adventure!
The Best Sketchbook Brands for Watercolor
Choosing the best watercolor journals or sketchpads can be a tricky thing because there are so many different options available. Every artist has their unique preferences and varying reasons for wanting a certain sized book. While one artist may prefer a larger watercolor sketchbook, another may find that a smaller-sized journal will suffice. Regardless of what your preference may be, you may need some help knowing what the best sketchbook brands are or which watercolor books will meet your unique needs. Therefore, we have compiled a list to help you choose which book will suit you perfectly!
Top Choice Watercolor Journal: ARTEZA Watercolor Sketchbook Journals
Used by both beginners and professionals, Arteza’s watercolor journal is a popular choice. It is considered to be a medium-sized book and considered by many to be the perfect or ideal size. It is both large enough to be considered a sketchbook, yet, small enough to be portable too! The Arteza Watercolor Sketchbook Journal Pack will meet your needs, whether you enjoy painting landscapes and portraits, or prefer to do smaller sketches. This fantastic pack includes two sketchbooks and this means you save money! The journal has a lovely hardcover to help keep your pages protected from accidental folds and tears. Measuring 8.25 by 8.25 inches, it is also the perfect travel companion and should fit in most bags.
The Arteza Watercolor Sketchbook Journal also has a convenient bookmark made of ribbon and an elastic band to ensure the book stays shut while in your bag or not in use. What is more, is that these books also have an awesome inner pocket in which you are able to store any extra artwork you may have. It has paper weighing 112 pounds and it is also cold-pressed. The paper has a lovely texture and is acid-free, which will prevent the paper from yellowing with age. There are 34 sheets within the sketchbook for you to use, what is more, is that thanks to the pages being thick, you can paint on both sides, if you wish! Apart from being good for watercolor paint, it is a fantastic book for other mediums. The books are bound in a natural linen fabric, so your pages stay in place.
We have found that there is only a single disadvantage with this product, and that would be that the page’s pill rather easily. Therefore, this pad is not ideal for heavy washes or painting with excessive water.
Top Watercolor Book for Students: CANSON XL Series Watercolor Pad
If you are a novice or a student, The Canson XL Watercolor Pad is the ideal pad, created especially for the beginner watercolor artist. This watercolor book will allow you to practice your technique perfectly. It is considered to be a sketchbook due to its larger size, each page measuring 9 by 12 inches. This range by Canson is one of the best sketchbook brands for beginners as it is also available in other sizes, namely 18 by 24 inches, 11 by 14 inches, and 11 by 14 inches. The larger pad is perfect for painting scenery and landscapes. The Canson XL Watercolor Pad has 30 pages or 140-pounds. Each page has a lot of texture and is also cold-pressed and highly durable, making it perfect for the student.
The texture will ensure that your watercolor paint glides over it wonderfully. You will not have to worry about any pilling with this paper as it can withstand heavier washes. The Canson XL Watercolor Pad will not buckle either. Other than being used for watercolor, you can also use pens and pencils with this paper pad. Of course, the paper within this book is acid-free, so you do not need to worry about any yellowing and tarnishing as the book ages. Your colors will stay beautiful and vibrant for years to come, and, thanks to it being that it is spiral-bound, turning or removal of pages is easy and hassle-free. Again, we have found only one disadvantage with this sketchbook. Because it is student-grade, the pages are made of cellulose material, not 100 percent cotton.
Have a look at some of the pros that make this watercolor pad a good choice:
Top Watercolor Book for Artists: PAUL RUBENS Watercolor Paper Block
If you are an artist on the move or one who loves to travel, then the Paul Rubens Watercolor Paper Block journal is perfect for you. It is an artist-grade watercolor book and comes in the perfect size for traveling professional watercolor artists. With that in mind, the beginner is also more than welcome to make use of this awesome watercolor book. Thanks to its small size, this watercolor journal can be carried on your person all the time, making it convenient to use no matter where you are! This watercolor journal has 20 sheets of paper and is of extremely high quality. Made from 100 percent cotton, the sheets weigh 140-pounds and each page has a measurement of 10.63 by 7.68 inches. Thanks to the paper’s thickness, both sides can be used and there will be no bleeding.
You can also look forward to sheets that will not yellow with time, thanks to it being acid-free. Unlike the previous two pads, the Paul Rubens Watercolor Paper Block journal has hot-pressed sheets. Therefore, the texture is much smoother, making this pad a lot more versatile for switching between dry or wet media. This lovely journal is very robust and durable, thanks to being stitched together by a thread. This will ensure that you do not need to worry about your papers falling out, as often happens with journals and sketchbooks bound by glue.
An additional plus for the Paul Rubens journal is that the thread can also be removed, this produces larger sheets. This lovely journal is available in both pink leather or black, both of which are of superior, premium quality. With this book, the sheets are glued along four sides. What this means is that you cannot easily flick from page to page. Every sheet needs to be removed before you can use the next. This is easily done. Once your paint is dry, you will see a small area that is free from glue. Using a letter opener or a knife, you are able to insert the blade or flat object into this gap. Then, run your choice of the tool along the pages’ edges in a clockwise direction.
Make sure you keep rotating the book simultaneously in an anti-clockwise direction. Your page will loosen and you will be able to remove it once you have gone right around. You can now remove any excess glue that might be stuck along the edges. You will now also be able to use the new clean sheet of paper that was underneath. Another strong point for the Paul Rubens Watercolor Paper Block journal is that, should you wish to scrape, mask off or tape on the paper, it is robust enough and will not damage. Thanks to the smooth texture of each page, detailed artwork is a breeze. We have found again just one disadvantage of this journal; the paper has a tendency to make brighter and more solid colors a little duller.
Therefore, it is recommended to use opaque watercolors and not to overly thin them. This will help the color to shine through.
Things to Factor When Purchasing a Watercolor Journal
As with purchasing most things in life, there are a few factors you will need to think about before you rush off to buy a watercolor book. You want to be certain that the book you choose will meet your needs. Each individual person will have their own unique needs, dislikes, and likes when it comes to size, style, and paper type. What this means is that while one person may love a certain brand or type of watercolor book, another might prefer something entirely different. We have compiled a list of questions and some handy pointers to help make the decision a little easier for you.
What are Watercolor Paper Journals?
A watercolor book or journal is a special pad of watercolor paper sheets; this is what sets it apart from any old regular paper book or sketchpad. Watercolor paper is specially designed to hold watercolor paint correctly, all while not warping or curling, nor allowing color bleeding onto the pages beneath. The difference between a pad or journal and individual sheets of watercolor paper is that the pages are in a book format and bound together, one way or another.
You need not fear the colors will drip while vertical, nor will they bleed through while you paint, and, the book or journal can easily be put onto an easel or table.
Choosing Between Student and Artist-Grade Watercolor Notebooks
If you love art and painting and want to try something new, watercolor is for you! There are many techniques and styles you can try in your watercolor book. There are many different types of paper within these journals or books, suitable for a wide range of expertise, ranging from the beginner or student to the seasoned professional! All watercolor paper comes in what is known as a grade, and this grade is what determines the quality of the paper.
Should you be a more professional artist or someone who has experience with watercolor painting, you should choose a professional-grade, also known as artist-grade, watercolor book. These books will offer you a higher quality paper which usually has a 200-pound weight and is made of 100 percent cotton. If you are using Student-grade paper, you can expect pages that are on the thinner side. These are perfect for a beginner who needs to practice and learn. Of course, there are better or lesser quality books available that fall under the student-grade category.
As you progress, you may find yourself choosing more expensive and higher-quality brands.
Various Types of Watercolor Paper Journals
You will notice that there are two basic main kinds of watercolor books or pads available. These range in size from the larger sketchbook types to the smaller or medium journal types. The book you choose will be reflective of your goals and purpose for painting. Art students and expert artists who are drawing and painting portraits or vast landscapes should make use of the larger watercolor sketchpads. These are more easily mounted to the wall when the artwork is complete. In general, amateur artists or those who are constantly on the move will choose smaller or medium-sized books.
The Thickness of the Pages
It is important that your choice of journal or sketchbook has thick watercolor sheets. This is because they can withstand being wet and they will be more durable. A good rule of thumb is the thicker your paper is, the more robust it will be, making it less susceptible to bleeding, warping, and of course, pilling. You should be able to see the exact thickness on the front cover or packaging of the sketchbook.
You should ensure your pages are at least 140 to 200 pounds heavy. This is the best thickness because it will ensure that the watercolor paint holds well on the paper.
Of course, should you choose a heavier page, your sketchbook will be heavier. Therefore, these books often have fewer pages to prevent the book from becoming too bulky. Keep in mind, however, that just because the paper is thinner, does not mean the quality of the sheet is lower. What it does mean is that you need to take greater care to avoid damage, ripples, or tears.
The Number of Journal Pages
Should you be a student, or just starting with this medium, you will likely be concerned about how many pages are in your watercolor book. That is because many of the pages will be just for practicing on. In this regard, more pages are a good choice. Just bear in mind that the more pages the book contains, the heavier it will be. You also need to think about dual-sided sheets as you will then be able to use either side of the paper. This will save you money, space, and of course, be of a lower weight.
The Sketchbook Paper Material
If you want the highest quality possible, you will want to choose a watercolor sketchbook with pages that are 100 percent cotton. This is the best quality possible when it comes to a paper suitable for the watercolor medium. What sets cotton sheets above the rest, is their ability to perfectly hold the watercolor paint. This ensures vivid and vibrant results. Using top-quality paper also prevents your pages from buckling and bleeding through, because cotton can hold more water than standard paper is able to.
With good, high-quality paper made from cotton, you are also able to edit your work. This is done simply by adding some water and ‘reactivating’ the color, enabling you to move it around.
Acid-Free Watercolor Paper
If you are using a regular, ordinary sketchpad for your watercolor art, you may be using paper that is not entirely acid-free. Unfortunately, this kind of paper is prone to fading, yellowing, and tarnishing over time. When you use acid-free paper that is intended for watercolor, you will be able to preserve your artwork without worrying about any fading or yellowing. All professional artists want to ensure that their work will last for a long time and remain in pristine condition without color fade. This is why the acid-free paper is always favored.
Watercolor Paper Texture
You will notice that watercolor paper is available in a range of weights, sizes, and qualities. It is also available in varying textures. This makes things all the more confusing if you are unsure of what you need! There are two kinds of texture for watercolor paper. Certain manufactures may refer to their paper as cold-pressed, and some will label it as ‘rough’.
Both these terms refer to the same sort of texture. Hot-pressed paper is smoother. Below we will explain the difference between the two kinds of paper.
Cold-Pressed Watercolor Paper
For the majority of watercolor notebooks and journals, the paper they hold will be cold-pressed. This texture makes the paper feel rough to the touch, this is what you want when doing watercolor painting as it enables your paint to stick to the page and not slide off. It also will help your artwork look more professional. You must remember that the absorption rate of cold-pressed paper is quite high, this is to prevent leaks and bleeds through to the rest of the pages within your book or pad.
When you paint on textured paper, you may notice that your colors seem paler. This is due to the rough, bumpy surface of the paper which causes light reflection, therefore causing the colors to diffuse ever so slightly. That said, cold-pressed paper is far more stable when it has been wet, and this is important should you want to correct something small on your artwork. If you have ever looked at a finished watercolor artwork done on cold-pressed paper, you will see that the surface texture of the page allows for a more beautiful and finished result.
Hot-Pressed Watercolor Paper
Hot-pressed watercolor paper is very different as it has a far smoother page surface. This makes it a better choice for mixed media as you are able to use pencils and other dry media forms. Hot-pressed sheets will also show more detail in your artwork. It is also a good option for glazing, however, you do need to be mindful not to over-layer and end up overloading your sheet.
Of course, because the hot-pressed paper has a higher fiber density, it will be much less absorbent. This means that you have more time to correct or adjust your artwork due to it taking a long time to dry fully.
Generally, the hot-pressed watercolor paper will result in more vibrant colors as there is less texture, light is directly reflected off the surface of the sheets. Should you have made any mistakes, hot-pressed paper allows a bit more time for you to be able to fix up your error, enabling you to lift the paint from the page once it has completely dried.
Hot-pressed vs Cold-pressed Watercolor Paper
Here we have also included a handy table that quickly indicates the differences between both kinds of watercolor paper. This table will help you to, at a glance, identify which watercolor paper offers what you need for your artwork. Once you are familiar with it, you should know which paper suits your unique needs.
|Hot-Pressed Watercolor Paper||Cold-Pressed Watercolor Paper|
|Texture is smoother||Texture is rougher|
|The color appears more vibrant||The Color appears paler|
|Lower absorbency||Higher absorbency|
|Higher timeframe for paint adjustments||Lower timeframe for paint adjustments|
|Ideal for intricate and precise brush detailing||Ideal for every style of watercolor art|
|Easily make small corrections once the paint has dried||Small corrections are possible by lifting before the paint dries|
How a Watercolor Journal is Made and Bound
By now you will know the different sorts of papers that are used inside watercolor books. Each type of book is also made and constructed differently. Some kinds of journals will allow you to splay the pages out flat, others are created to be robust and hardwearing with hardcovers. The type of cover will also influence the price of the journal. Generally, hardcover or leather-covered books will be costlier, whereas watercolor books with simple cardboard covers will be cheaper.
Your choice of book is entirely up to you and will entirely depend on your individual needs in comfort, preference, and style. You will have to choose between spiral-bound books, hardcovers, softcovers that have been stitched, and even glue-bound books. In the following section, we will list a few points about each of the book types available.
Softcover Watercolor Stitch-Bound
- Several pages are sewn together and bound in a soft material such as paper, leather, or synthetic material
- Able to open and splay out flat on your table
- Can be used as a double-page book
- Lighter to carry around
- More easily damaged and bent due to the softcover, which can affect the paper
Hardcover Watercolor Book Binding
- More durable and able to be placed upright on a shelf or desk without the worry of wear or tear
- More attractive to look at, making for an excellent journal-style keepsake
- Not able to lay out flat on a table as less flexible
- Pages curve toward the spine and this part is not able to be painted on
Watercolor Notebooks Glue Binding
- Often called a sketchpad, more affordable option
- Pages are easily removed without residue, perfect for framing
- Ability to use the book vertically or horizontally without losing pages
- The ideal purchase for practicing and beginners
- Available in a tape type glue for even easier sheet removal
Spiral Bound Watercolor Paper Journals
- Ability to lay the book out completely flat on your table while working
- Easy page flipping without causing stress or damage to the other sheets
- Perforated edges make it simple to remove your completed artwork
- Usually only available in lighter-weight paper
- Spiral bounds can get caught on clothing or thread
- Paper is worn out faster due to the perforation and punch holes for the spiral wire
Why Using a Watercolor Book is Ideal for You
Using a watercolor book rather than loose sheets enables you to keep all your artwork tidy and in one place. You are also able to use it as a diary, so to speak. Your watercolor journal can become a space for you to keep a record of your travels, thoughts, emotions, and your memories. Remember, you do not have to write words for a book to be a journal or diary! Art and pictures are a beautiful way to create a keepsake that will be a joy to look at even years later. You’re your watercolor book ready for whenever you feel your creative juices flowing, wherever you may be. When selecting the best watercolor sketchbook for you, remember that it does not only have to be for perfect works of art. It can be your space for experimentation.
Use your watercolor book to practice various techniques and designs or to experiment with color, or, even try out some runs and varying amounts of water. Using a book can also be less intimidating than a big sheet of paper, and, the smaller size will help you feel less pressured to finish a large artwork. Your watercolor journal can also serve as a record of the progress you have made, allowing you to look back and see how far you have come! As mentioned before, using a watercolor journal can be an excellent alternative to a written journal.
Art is healing and your book can be a safe place for you to work through emotions or experiences.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Watercolor Book
It is unfortunate that many people think of watercolor as a medium reserved for children and that it is not a serious art form. This could not be further from the truth. Watercolor is beautiful, and, learning how to use it properly can be tricky, just like any art. It can be hard to control the color pigments and it takes time to understand how they move and flow. That said, with practice, you will soon be able to understand and master the techniques.
Have a look at our list of helpful questions you can ask yourself, to help you make the right choice when selecting a watercolor book:
- What style of painting will you do? Will you only be focusing on light washes? Do you want to try heavier washes? Perhaps you want to dapple in mixed media and include things like charcoal, ink, or even acrylic paints.
- Will you be framing your artwork? Consider how easily the pages can be removed.
- What do you want to paint? If you are interested in landscapes or portraits, choose a larger book. If you prefer to doodle or if you are a traveler, a smaller book may be a better choice.
- Which techniques do you plan to use? Will you be lifting or scrubbing? Knowing this will help you choose the correct type of paper.
- Do you require the book to lay out completely flat? If you select a hardcover journal, you may require a tie-down to keep your book from closing or making it tricky to work.
- Are you using your book for practice? Are you a beginner? If you are, then paper quality is less important for now.
- How absorbent does your paper need to be? The thicker paper absorbs faster and more efficiently than thin paper.
Remember, when you choose your watercolor book, you need to make sure it fits your desired art style, as well as your lifestyle! Now that you know what each kind of book will offer you, your choice will be much easier to make when it comes to book size, binding, and paper options. All that is left now is for you to let your creativity go wild as enjoy this beautiful art form! Happy Painting!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Possible to Use a Regular Sketchbook for Watercolor Art?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Watercolor paper is created especially for watercolor art. Using a normal sketchbook will result in a mess, it is not designed for wet media. The paper inside regular sketch or notebooks does not absorb properly and will cause bleeding, pilling, and warping. Water will also cause holes to form, this is why a special watercolor paper was created.
Is It Possible to use Watercolors in a Journal?
Most definitely! We highly recommend using a watercolor paper notebook, sketchbook, or journal as opposed to loose sheets of paper. By doing so, you will have a special place to practice, experiment, or just record memories. It is also wonderful to flick through your book years later and see how you have progressed in your watercolor art.
What Is the best way to Use a Watercolor Notebook?
The first thing to do would be to make sure your paper is flat and cannot be moved around. Next, make sure you have all the paints you require, as well as tools and brushes. You can begin mixing colors and if you want to, and your paper allows, add some dry media to your work. Once dried, you are able to close your book and your artwork will stay safe and sound.
Can I make my own Watercolor Book?
Yes, you can! Perhaps you have a stricter budget or maybe you just want to create a book that is more personal to you. You will need to buy good quality loose watercolor sheets and cut them to size. You will also need to consider whether you want to create a journal or just a sketch pad. Then comes the binding. This can be done with glue or spiral binding. Lastly, you need to add either a hard or soft cover material for the front and back. You can also add some additional features like an elastic band to keep your book closed, or a handy pocket for some storage.
Where Is the Best Place to Buy My Watercolor Journal?
Our favorite place to purchase watercolor journals is on Amazon, this is because there are often far more options than what your local art store might stock. Another great thing about purchasing your watercolor book online is the ability to check out some reviews, making it much easier to choose a good product suited to your needs.