Difference Between Cold Press and Hot Press

In watercolor world, what’s the difference between cold press and hot press watercolor paper? Why, let me show you…

Do you remember the red maple leaf we painted the other day? Well, I painted two of them at the same time using the same steps and the same paints. Here is what they look like:


Cold press watercolor paper (left) has texture. Little bumps and grooves holds in the water and pigment. It really sucks up the water pretty quickly. Cold press is a good choice when you want to convey texture in your subject.

Hot press (right) is super smooth. No texture with this paper. This paper doesn’t suck up the water as fast as the cold press, allowing you to play around more, like re-wetting edges of pigment.

Notice the colors of the two leaves! This is what I discovered when painting them side-by-side, the hot press is more vivid and bright. The cold press is a little more dull…but I used the same paints! Does it have to do with the absorbance of the paper? Maybe? Maybe the pigment gets imbedded in the cold press paper and soaks thoroughly and perhaps the pigment on the hot press dries closer to the surface. Or maybe the tiny groves in the cold press creates an overall shadow to the eye? Hmmm…interesting.

Here is a close up of the upper right section:


Cold Press. Can you see the texture in the paper?


Hot Press. Really smooth.

Buy both papers, don’t limit yourself to just one type…play…have fun! I hope this helps clear up the confusion about cold and hot press watercolor paper.


  1. Very informative.
    I’m a newbie at watercolor and painting/coloring in general (I’m starting with watercolor pencils) and I had no idea what were the differences between cold pressed & hot pressed .
    I currently have a rough one. I’m going to buy both cold and hot and play around with them next.

    By the way, very nice blog website!

  2. I wish to learn more in water colour painting. Since last one month I am suffering with the rough surfaced water colour paper. Now, I will try with all sort of papers. Thank you very much for your valuable suggestions.

  3. Very informative. I just did my first painting on hot press. I didn’t think I liked it at first since I am so used to cold press. By the time I was done I saw the differences and the advantages of using hot press and think I will use it more. I’m doing some reading on the subject to get some tips. Thanks for your article.

  4. Super helpful! I am really glad you posted examples of the difference too on hot and cold press, it helps to make the choice. Which brand of watercolor paper do you prefer?

  5. I just found your site while Googling an explanation on cold press and hot press. Thanks for the info! I’ll definitely be visiting you regularly.

    A question: Did you scan or photograph the leaves above? I’m watercoloring some wedding invitations and have found the rougher textured paper to be really ugly when scanned. I’ve tried tweaking it in Photoshop but nothing really helps. Now I’m hoping the answer to my problems is just a less textured paper.

    1. Hi there!
      I think I took a photo of those pics, however I’m not possitive. I regularly scan and photo paintings and cannot remember for sure. Hot press paper would not have any texture, so that’s a good choice! 🙂

  6. Thank you for this explanation. It was extremely helpful since I rarely pay attention when I buy paper. I usually feel the paper in the store and the rough texture is what I like the most. But buying online or through a catalogue is intimidating because I never understood the terms until now. Thank you again.

  7. I have been painting in water color for many years, but this is the first time I have known the difference between hot and cold press papers. I am 72. An old dog is learning new tricks!

  8. Thank you for this. I’m on my way to the store and wasn’t sure which was which! I like the paper smooth and bright white. I also like to play around more, so your point about the hot press not sucking up the paint is a good one. 🙂

  9. Hi, I didn’t expect to find a fellow WP blogger in my search. I just ran out of what I think is hot press paper and the last time I bought it in quantity was from Daniel Smith in 2012. The analogy would be this paper is exactly like an eggshell and will crack very easily. Do you happen to know the name of this paper. Dan Smith did not keep a record of my last purchase?
    Thanks! K. (nice blog : )

  10. I too just found out the difference between hot and cold pressed paper. Now, my next question is: I need to stretch the cold press – do I also need to stretch the hot press?

    1. Hi Linda, I work so small that I do not stretch at all, but yes, in large sheets, you need to stretch the hot press because it is the same weight as the cold press (140#). Unless you have 300# hot press, then I think it is heavy enough to skip stretching.

  11. Most helpful are your side by side images showing the differences of how each paper receives the same paints.
    Thanks for the visual comparison!

  12. I used to paint detailed accurate botanical portraits. I taught myself pretty much. But an instructor saw my work on very textured cold-pressed and said “first off, you’re using the wrong paper.” She said I should use hot-pressed. Didn’t even know there was a difference till then.

  13. The difference between cold and hot is that cold pressed is more heavily textured and holds the pigments more. Cold pressed is smoother and the pigment is more workable even after it’s dry. If you make a mistake you can go back in with a wet brush and clean out the pigment and overwork the area.

  14. Thank You, once in for all, I know the difference…helps a lot…a prefer a “texture” for painting effect w/watercolor; but have the hot press paper, and will try it and see for myself the effect….the overall effect of vivid, bright colors to the overall finished picture…and the textured, dull color effect….again, thank you, very helpful for me, finally…..

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