There are three basic watercolor paper textures. The watercolor paper surface you choose transforms your painting.
Different watercolor paper texture
Paper Finish Description Positives Negatives Example
Cold Press Watercolor Paper (NOT) Cold press paper is finished with a slight texture to the watercolor paper. The texture is made by just the felts pressing the layers of paper as it dries. Cold press paper is a good all around choice, perfect for beginners. I highly recommend learning to paint your first 20 paintings on cold press paper.

You have the most control over your brush and paint flow on cold press paper. It's the perfect balance between color and texture.

There's a reason most artists use cold press the most!
Well, it's a basic choice. Nothing wrong with cold press paper, but nothing dramatic either.

You're not going to get extreme brightness or interesting texture as easily as another finish. It's going to be the easiest paper to paint on, with a good balance of color and texture.

Sometimes basic is exactly what the painting needs!
Boat painting tutorial on cold press watercolor paper
Hinckley Boatyard Watercolor Painting tutorial on Arches 140# Cold Press
Rough Press Watercolor Paper Rough press paper is finished with a very pronounced texture. The watercolor paper texture is made by rougher felts between the drying sheets of paper. Rough press paper makes for terrific textures with hit and miss washes.

Rough press paper is for dramatic values, not dramatic colors. You can get some great sparkles by just barely glding your brush over white paper. You can get exciting textures for craggy rocks or leafy trees by layering watercolor washes. Lots of possibilities!
Rough press gets muddy quickly - because it dims colors. This makes it very difficult for beginners to get colors they like.

The color dimming can be pretty dramatic. Some of the blues, like pthalo blue, will dull to yucky grays if used without mixing another color that floats them a bit.
Venice Bridge Watercolor Painting Tutorial painted on Arches Rough Press paper

Venice Bridge Watercolor Painting tutorial painted on Arches 140# Rough Press Paper.

Hot Press Watercolor Paper Hot press paper is very smoothly finished by rollers pressing it completely flat. It's basically ironed! Hot press paper intensifies colors. Everything looks brighter on a smooth surface since all the light bounces right back in your eyes. You get almost the wet pigment color, versus a dulled version on a rougher paper. No texture makes good drybrush difficult on hot press paper. You can get texture, but it's difficult not to get fussy with it. Texture doesn't flow like rough press paper since the surface is smooth and the paint flows smoothly.
Lack of surface texture means few texture effects. And the white watercolor sparkle has to be done in patches instead of sweeps.
Hot Press watercolor paper
Arches 140# Hot Press
The practical advice from knowing your paper texture is deciding the most important element of your painting.

Does the texture inspire you? Or the vibrant color? Do you have trouble seeing the subject's color dulled with rough finish paper or a smooth, even texture with hot press paper?

Don't forget that often, paper surface varies more from company to company than cold to hot press textures. One company's cold press can be a slickly smooth surface - another's can be a rough texture. Try a lot of different papers and decide which you like painting on. Never stick with just one watercolor paper texture. Sometimes changing your favorite finish can get you out of a painting rut!

Always be guided by the watercolor painting you're painting rather than a texture you liked on another painting. Different textures work on different paintings. I might paint an ocean surf crashing on rocks on rough press paper if I'm inspired by the sparkle on the waves and sheen of the rocks. The same scene would look completely different on hot press paper if I want to emphasize the blues of the water and the rich darks of the rocks.

A Venice scene on rough press paper might show light sparkling on the water and the amazing stucco textures with cracks and layers. Or on hot press paper, I'd emphasize that Italian light in ripples on the bright reflections in the water and the brightly colored stucco. Totally different paintings changed by the paper texture. Quite often, I pick cold press as a happy medium between extremes.

Use this information to pick the best paper for your subject and transform your painting!

Happy Painting!
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