Paper is one of the most essential mediums for any artist and you'd be shocked at how much an artist can go through in a month. For every piece that I'm proud of there are probably 10 others that didn't stack up for one reason or another. When it comes to watercolor paper there are hot pressed and cold pressed variants that might seem confusing, but knowing the difference and how to use those differences to your advantage is essential.
There is no definitive answer to whether hot press watercolor paper or cold press watercolor paper is superior. People prefer different things and you're essentially comparing apples and oranges. They are both 'just' paper but there are distinct advantages and disadvantages that come from each kind of water color paper, so that will be the angle of attack for this blog post. If you came for a definitive answer: cold-pressed watercolor paper is probably more popular, but read on and see which one suits you best!
What Difference Does It Make?
The press generally determines how rough or smooth the finish of the paper will be. You will often hear the roughness of the paper referred to as the tooth of the paper. An extremely toothy paper will be quite rough to the touch.
Hot pressed watercolor paper tends to be very smooth while cold pressed watercolor paper has more tooth to it. The amount of tooth can vary quite significantly among different cold press paper brands which can make them either easier or more difficult to work with depending on your personal preference and style.
Hot Pressed: Pros and Cons
Hot press paper is labelled with HP and is manufactured by pushing paper pulp through high-temperature rollers. This leads to a very smooth finish. The lack of tooth is great for more detail-oriented artists. Hot pressed watercolor paper is great at displaying brush strokes and precise details.
You can also remove or play around with your paint much easier with hot press paper than you can with paper that is toothier and therefore more absorbent. The smooth surface of HP paper can provide more vibrancy to your colors because it has a more reflective nature than other types of watercolor paper.
This lack of absorbency might be good for a quick fix to your mistakes, but it also means that the paint that you do actually want to stay will take much longer to dry completely. You'll also need to be aware that too many layers of paint will have a harder time hanging onto a hot pressed paper. If you want to add dimension with acrylic paint for instance, you'll need to be very careful.
Cold Pressed: Pros and Cons
Cold press paper is labeled with either CP or NOT (as in, NOT hot pressed). Cold pressed paper is manufactured by pushing paper pulp through cold rollers that are covered in felt. The felt adds to the tooth of the paper. The roughness of this type of water color paper makes it a popular choice for most water color artists. It offers what is essentially and inverse list of pros and cons.
Cold pressed paper will absorb paint much quicker which leads to a short drying time and the ability to add more layers. It's fairly easy to use and adapts well to almost any style of watercolor which is what makes it such a popular choice. The texture of the paper also adds to the final work by giving it some depth and dimension. Cold press mediums also remain dimensionally stable when wet.
The downsides aren't very numerous at all. While you can't correct mistakes as many times as you can with a hot pressed paper, you can still lift off mistakes at least a couple of times. Colors don't appear as vibrant due to the rough surface diffracting light, but the texture still makes for a pleasing final product.
R Type Watercolor Paper
There is a watercolor paper that is somewhat on the 'secret item' menu of your local art supply store. R type paper is extremely rough with a ton of tooth. It's difficult to manage because brush strokes are more difficult to control and the texture is accentuated when the paint dries. Unless you know completely what you're getting yourself into, I'd suggest staying away from R type watercolor paper.Best of luck in your artistic endeavors!