Signed. . .Paper Pondering

Dear Arrighi,

I have started using watercolor paper for my calligraphy. I don’t know very much about these papers though. What does the 90 lb. and 140 lb mean? Tell me about hot-pressed, cold-pressed and rough, and which is best for calligraphy. Does the paper absorb the ink or does it sit on the surface of the paper? Do I need to stretch the paper when I make a wash as a background for my lettering?


Paper Pondering

Dear Paper Pondering,

Congratulations on branching out and using new materials to experiment. Watercolor papers are great for adding backgrounds of collage, watercolors, acrylic, gouache. They come in smooth surface which is called hotpressed (like it has been ironed), a non-smooth surface that is called cold-pressed or not surface (for not hot pressed) and rough which has a very rough texture. For detail painting and really fine lettering I recommend the hot-pressed. The cold-pressed makes a more interesting texture and pattern on the page, it’s harder to write very small writing though. Rough has huge hills and valleys so it’s better for large nibs that give it a “dry brush” look. Any of these surfaces will take collage and all the paints.

The weight (thickness) of watercolor paper traditionally refers to the weight of a ream (500 sheets) of a given size, (most often 22 x 30 in.). For example, 500 sheets would weigh 90 lbs. so it’s given the 90 lb. designation. Lighter weight paper need to be stretched if a large portion is going to wet. I have learned that if you wet both sides equally they will lay flat while wet and dry flat. Anything 140 lb. or more doesn’t need stretching unless it’s going to be very wet.

Most watercolor papers are sized, this means gelatin has been added to the paper at the pulp stage. This makes the paints and inks sit more on the surface rather than soak down into the fibers. Some highly sized papers also are dipped into tubs of gelatin to add an extra amount on the surface. These are harder papers and the paint colors stay vibrant because it sits on the surface rather than soaking into the paper. Continue to experiment with different brands and see which works best for you.