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Student vs. Professional Grade Papers

Watercolor is a popular medium among artists, and the quality of the paper used can greatly impact the final outcome of the artwork. There are two main classes of watercolor paper: student grade and professional grade. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between the two and help you determine which one is best suited for your needs.

Student Grade Paper

Student grade watercolor paper is typically less expensive and made of wood pulp. It is ideal for beginners or those who are just starting out with watercolor painting. The paper is usually thinner and less durable than professional grade paper, but it can still hold up to moderate amounts of water and pigment.

The main benefit of using student grade paper is its affordability. For those who are just starting out with watercolor painting, it can be a cost-effective way to experiment and practice without breaking the bank.

Professional Grade Paper

Professional grade watercolor paper, on the other hand, is made of 100% cotton fibers and is typically thicker and more durable than student grade paper. It can hold more water and pigment, allowing for more layers and washes without the paper buckling or warping.

The quality of professional grade paper allows for more precision and control in watercolor painting, making it ideal for professional artists who want to create high-quality, archival artwork. The paper is also available in a wider range of textures and finishes, including hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough, giving artists more options to choose from.

The choice between student grade and professional grade watercolor paper ultimately depends on your budget, level of experience, and the type of artwork you want to create. If you are a beginner or on a tight budget, student grade paper can be a great option to start with, but remember that your results will be dependent, at least in part, on the quality of your materials. Many of my students fail to achieve the results they want, blaming a lack of talent, when in reality their choice of student-grade papers greatly limits their outcomes. So unless they are on a tight budget, I recommend my students spend their money on good paper.

You’ll find student and professional grade papers under the “Papers and Boards” tab on the Utrecht and Blick websites for lots of options and brands. As a general rule, if the packaging on your paper doesn’t specify “100% cotton,” it isn’t. These papers will be wood pulp, identifying it as student grade, which will be reflected in the price. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. 

For more about which brand of professional watercolor paper I use, read my next post!

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