What’s the difference between hot press and cold press watercolor paper?

Well, I’m going to answer in two ways. First, I’ll briefly reply the technical terminology so you’ll know why they’re called cold press or hot press. Then, I’ll explain the differences.

How cold press and hot press watercolor papers are made

Cold press and hot press watercolors are literally called cold press or hot press depending on how they’re pressed. When cold press watercolor papers are pressed through the metal rollers, they go through at cold temperatures. Whereas the rollers are heated for hot press paper.

How does that apply to my watercolor style?

Now more importantly, what does that mean to the artist?

Cold press paper has more “tooth.” It’s thicker, more absorbent, and harder to draw on.

If you’re like me, where the actual drawing takes precedence over the painting, you’ll hate cold press paper. Yes, I’m well aware I’m in a very small minority here. You can go into an art store and find that they don’t even carry hot press paper because everyone and their Aunt Elaine paint on cold press watercolor paper.

I will readily admit though that cold press has its advantages. For instance, you’re less likely to “puddle” with cold press paper. With hot press, it’s in your best interest to have your sponges and/or paper towels handy at all times because you’re way more likely to have a water puddle that you better get up or else you’ll have weird shapes that don’t belong in your painting.

You’ll also perform washes more easily with cold press watercolor paper than hot press.

Some folks also prefer the more rough look of the actual paper itself. Whereas hot press watercolor paper is flat, cold press has a little bit of roughness to it.

Katie presenting Katie as Amphitrite

If you’re like me though, where the bread and butter of your painting is actually drawing, you’ll much more prefer hot press watercolor paper. Hot press is every bit as easy to draw on as actual drawing paper. Yet, you can add watercolor to it.

So, it really depends on your style of painting.

If you’re more a traditionalist, you’ll more than likely prefer cold press watercolor paper. If you use watercolor to draw and add color, or in my particular case, to paint pinups, you’ll more than likely prefer hot press.

One last thing that I find very important. Do you like your colors brighter or more “subdued?”

If you like bright, bold colors, you’ll prefer hot press’s final product. If you like more subdued colors, you’ll prefer cold press’s final product.

You can paint the exact same painting in cold press and hot press and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

I personally don’t like my blues and greens on cold press paper. To me, they look flat, dull, and boring. I’ll use those same colors on hot press and they pop out at you. Keep in mind though, that’s my opinion.

Try them both and see which one you prefer. Remember, art has no “right answer.” If it fits your style, it’s the right kind of paper for you.

Categories: Watercolors


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