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This is our take on the best watercolor sketchbooks that are available. Watercolor is a lovely medium to do art in, but it can be tricky to find a sketchbook that can stand up to heavy and repeated wetting and drying. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ve put together a list of a few great watercolor sketchbooks that will definitely be up for the task.
If you are interested in doing more than just watercolor in a single sketchbook, you should take a look at our rundown of all the best mixed media sketchbooks. These are sketchbooks that can be used with any medium.
In a hurry? Here are our favorites
- Our Favorite Watercolor Sketchbooks
Best Watercolor Sketchbooks
Strathmore Hardbound 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal
- 48 pages, 300 gsm
This Strathmore 400 series watercolor journal is a beautifully hardbound sketchbook. Available in three sizes, we really liked the 48 page landscape variant. With their Smyth-sewn bindings these journals are able to lie beautifully flat. The 400 series has thick cold-pressed watercolor paper with a weight of 300 gsm. This means that the pages will stand up well to even heavier watercolor washes, as well as techniques such as lifting and scraping.
This journal is also suitable for other paints such as gouache or acrylics.
We really liked the 48 page landscape variant that comes in at 5.5 x 8.5 inches. We think it’s a great size for a journal with plenty of real estate to paint on. Also with the thickness of the paper you can paint on both sides of the pages without having to worry about bleeding through.
Another bonus, though it’s not designed for it, the sketchbook does quite well with markers. The popular copic markers do not generally bleed through, however, due to abosorbent nature of the paper it doesn’t allow for blending.
Hand Book Paper Co. Travelogue Watercolor Journals
- 60 pages, 200 gsm
Bound in natural linen this Travelouge sketchbook is a piece of art in its own right. An elegant design while still maintaining a flexible cover. The sketchbook also has rounded corners and an elastic which add to the aesthetic. These make it a great choice for artists on the move, as it can be safely stowed in a backpack.
With 30 sheets of 5.25 x 8.25 inch soft white paper there is plenty of real estate to paint and sketch. At a weight of 200 gsm, the paper is thick enough to accept moderate washes before complaining.
The binding is robust, but still allows the book to lay flat when in use. The coldpress pages also have a nice texture that holds tough. Ideal for watercolor in general but also allows scrubbing and lifting techniques.
Canson XL Watercolor Pad
- 60 pages, 300 gsm
This watercolor sketchbook from Canson is very much intended as an offering for students. That is not a knock on the quality, but an indication of the value posed by this sketchbook. In actual fact, the quality of the sketchpad is very good.
With it’s 30 sheets of 300 gsm paper at 11 x 15 inches, this is a great pad to work in. Both in the field and in a studio.
Great to use for general sketching and trialing of ideas. Being cellulose paper does mean the pad will not hold up to a complete soaking like some others. But it is definitely robust enough to do the job in the vast majority of cases, and can’t be beaten on price.
Grumbacher Watercolor Pad
- 24 pages, 300 gsm
One of the main selling points of this sketchbook from Grumbacher is their patent pending “In & Out” pages. This is a technology that they have developed to allow users to remove and reinsert pages of artwork from the spiral notebook. This can be hugely helpful in situations such as scanning where having to deal with the whole sketchpad can become cumbersome.
The sketchpad comes in a variety of sizes (we liked the 12×9 inch) and has sturdy 300 gsm paper. This means it resists buckling under even heavy washes and other wet work. Another bonus to the weight of paper is that it is also quite resistant to pilling when being worked.
In keeping with most watercolor sketchbooks the paper is acid free and cold pressed, it also allows for lifting which can be a useful technique for artists.
While more of a budget option in terms of watercolor, with reports of some issues with thought this pad was worth including as the paper performs surprisingly well in other use cases. Mediums such as gouache or acrylic work very well (maybe even better than watercolor).
Hahnemühle Watercolor Books
- 60 pages, 200 gsm
This gorgeous little sketchbook from Hahnemühle is a great little option for those who like to do watercolor sketches on the go. At 5.75 x 8 inches this is a great little book to have stowed in your bag. With a durable cover and an elastic to hold the book shut, the sketchbook is a great companion to artists.
Utility was the main reason that we added this sketchbook to the list, at 200gsm the paper is a little thinner that we would prefer. This means that some care must be taken when applying washes, and heavy washes are out of the question.
The book does however offer 60 pages worth of space. The 200gsm paper is acid free and has a fine-grain. In general this sketchbook is a great opportunity to sketch out ideas, in a form-factor that you can take with you.
Alternatives to Watercolor Sketchbooks
There are two main options for watercolor painting outside of sketchbooks. These are blocks and pads. These options are generally intended for more serious work and therefore come with paper of a very high quality (often 100% cotton).
Both blocks and pads are slightly different to watercolor sketchbooks. Pads have individual sheets that are gum bound at the top. Blocks on the other hand are bound on at least 2 sides. This is done to keep the paper stretched while you are using wet techniques and keep it from buckling. Pro tip: blocks have a litte section for you to slip in something sharp, i.e. a pallet knife or letter opener, to allow you to remove the bound pages when you are done painting.
We are going to look at a couple of offerings from Arches. This is the top of the line in terms of watercolor paper. Made in France since the 15th century. This is some serious stuff, the paper even has a watermark to prove its authenticity.
The paper itself is a wonderfully consistent, 100% cotton paper, made with the cold press technique. It has a weight of 300gsm. The paper works great for all wet techniques, guache, ink , acrylic and of course watercolor.
This is really the best paper that you could possibly use for watercolor. Pads and blocks are also a great alternative to watercolor sketchbooks, especially if you are doing serious pieces.
How to Pick the Right Weight Paper for a Watercolor Sketchbook?
The short answer is for most people, paper of 200-300gsm (96-140lb) will work great. This is one the heavier end of paper found in most sketchbooks and is pretty resistant to buckling under heavy washes. This is also the most cost effective way to go for most beginners and even enthusiasts.
Professionals may opt for heavier paper of 300gsm+ (140 lb+). This is to prevent any chance of buckling when drying and to remove the need to stretch paper. This quality of paper comes at a cost.
What’s the Difference Between Hot-Pressed and Cold-Pressed Paper?
Hot-pressed and cold-pressed paper refer to the way the paper is formed in manufacture. The main effect of the different techniques is the surface texture of the paper.
Hot-pressed paper has a smooth and hard surface. This can be useful for doing intricate and detailed work but is generally not the way that paper for watercolorists is made.
Watercolor paper is mostly cold-pressed. This gives the paper a semi-rough texture which is extremely versatile. Used by artists of all levels, cold-pressed paper, allows the artist good control of the paint on the surface while still enabling smooth washes.
We go into much more detail on weight and paper manufacture in our ultimate guide to watercolor paper.
So there we have it. A look at some of the great options available to you when looking for a watercolor sketchbook as well as some things to look for if you fancy having a look yourself.
Remember, a sketchbook is all about being creative and making something. Don’t be too precious with it. Make a mess, that’s what it’s for.