Instead of getting watercolor paper in the form of pads or blocks, some artists prefer to have a watercolor sketchbook. In this post, I will go over a few recommendations of sketchbooks to buy, and all the different factors to consider when looking for a new journal. Hopefully, by the end of the article, your goal of searching for a new journal will be solved!
Let’s get started…
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10 Best watercolor sketchbooks
Canson Artist Series Watercolor Book
Canson artist series watercolor journal is a great choice for beginners. The sketchbook is 12 x 9 inches and comes with 20 sheets at 300 gsm/140 lb paper which means it can handle wet on wet as well as wet on dry watercolor techniques.
This sketchbook is designed for convenience when working as the pages are micro-perforated for easy page removal and the wire binding allows you to turn it 360°. However, it is not as durable when compared to a hardbound cover with sewn binding.
The journal also comes with a removable bookmark with tips and techniques from well-known artists. The pulp made paper also makes it more affordable.
Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal
The Strathmore 400 series journal comes with cold-pressed, 140 lb/ 300gsm paper, suited for watercolor painting. You get 48 pages which are 5.5 x 8.5 inches, making it convenient to take with you on the go.
This journal has a hardbound cover making it more durable and allowing your work to remain safe. It comes with Smyth-sewn binding so that you can lay it flat and create long-form paintings. The pages in this journal are made from cellulose fiber, making the price more affordable.
Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal
This journal is the same as the Strathmore journal above however, it comes in portrait style and is larger. One is 11 x 8½ inches (48 pages) and the second is 14 x 11 inches (32 pages). The bigger sizes are ideal for people who aren’t going to carry their sketchbooks on the go and who desire more space for creating bigger paintings.
Hahnemühle 100% Cotton Watercolor Books
The Hahnemuhle watercolor books are an excellent choice for watercolorists who intend to paint on the go. Each journal has 30 pages and the sizes range from A6, A5, and A4, rectangle and square shapes. The pages are cold-pressed, 100% cotton ensuring good quality.
Although the pages are weighted at 250 gsm(120 lb), the sketchbook is a great alternative for those who want to experience using cotton paper at a more affordable price. The paper is also acid-free, and vegan.
Each page has a fine-grained surface structure that is consistent on both the front and back so you can paint on either side (60 pages). The hardcover coupled with the elastic band closure makes the journal more durable and protects your work from being easily damaged.
Stillman & Birn Zeta Series Spiralbound Sketchbook – 10 x 7, Portrait
This journal is 10 x 7 inches and has 25 pages that are wire bound. The brin and Zeta journal is a mixed media journal with paper that is weighed at 270 gsm/ 180 lb. It is perfect for those who intend to experiment working with watercolors and other mediums such as gouche, color pencils, fountain pens, markers…etc.
However, If you intend on painting many layers using wet-on-wet techniques I would opt for another sketchbook that is at least 300 gsm/140 lb and cold-pressed paper.
Fabriano Hardcover Watercolor Journal – 6 x 9, Landscape
If you’re looking for a journal for quick sketches when you’re on the go, then the Fabriano Watercolor Journal may be the way to go! All 30 sheets are held with in a long lasting hardbound cover with sewn binding so the book can lay flat.
This journal is 6 x 9 inches you know it’s easy to carry with you. It comes with 25% cotton, 90 lb/ 200gsm paper which is suited to handle light washes and sketches.
Bee Creative Watercolor Book – 8 x 5.5
Bee creative watercolor book is made with 100% cotton watercolor paper that comes in a natural white color. There are 30 pages, each are micro-perforated pages for easy removal. The book itself is made with a hard front and back cover for sturdiness and more stability when painting.
The paper is weighed at 300 gsm/ 140 lb and is cold pressed which makes it highly suited to handle wet on wet techniques. The wire binding makes it easy to lay the journal flat when working.
Bee Creative Watercolor Book – 11 x 8.5
Bee creative watercolor book also comes in a larger size (11 x 8.5 inches) with the same features as the one mentioned above.
Indigo Artpapers Watercolor WiroPad – 6 x 9 inches
Indigo watercolor journal is hand-made with 100% cotton fibers. The 24 pages are wirebound and micro-perforated for easy removal. Each paper is cold pressed and has 3 deckled edges. At 300 gsm/140 lb this journal is perfect for handling wet on wet watercolor techniques.
Because the sketchbook is wire-bound, you can lay it flat for a more comfortable painting experience. The 6 x 9-inch sketchbook size is a great choice for people who intend on carrying their journals and painting on the go.
Indigo Artpapers Watercolor WiroPad – 9 x 12 inches
This sketchbook has the same features as the Wiropad above, however, is 9 x 12 inches for a bigger painting surface.
What to consider when buying a sketchbook?
There are a few things to consider when choosing watercolor sketchbooks. I will quickly go over the main ones below, however, if you would like to know more about choosing the watercolor paper itself I highly recommend checking this article out where I dive more in-depth.
You may have heard that watercolor paper tends to come in two quality levels. Artists/Proffesional Grade paper and Student grade paper.
Professional grade paper is usually high quality, 100% cotton, and more expensive. If you’re going to frame or sell your paintings then you’ll want to go for Professional grade paper. If you’re still a beginner and you want to use the sketchbook for practice and ideas then you’ll be alright going for the student paper.
However, I would still avoid the super cheap, low-quality paper as this will cause you to struggle more in developing your skills. You don’t want the paper to buckle and wear away with one or two washes for example…
There are three main types of paper texture: hot-pressed paper, cold-pressed paper, and rough paper.
Hot pressed paper
Smoothest of all three, hot-pressed paper is perfect for creating precise and detailed work (illustrations or botanical paintings). The paint can, however, be harder to control on this paper.
Cold Pressed paper
Made to have tiny “dips” or wells in the paper that create a bumpy texture. Cold press paper is ideal for beginners, you can easily get away with most techniques. Cold pressed paper is also referred to as medium textured paper(not as “rough” as rough paper and not as smooth as hot pressed paper).
Rough paper is the most textured out of all three and is great for creating loose expressive pieces, especially landscapes rather than fine, detailed illustrations.
Number of pages
When buying your watercolor journal, you may want to consider the number of pages it has.
Firstly, will you be using both sides of the paper? If the paper is thicker, it’ll be able to handle heavy washes on both sides, this means you may not need extra pages. If you intend on framing your work, you won’t be able to use both sides; so it’s important to consider the number of pages.
Secondly, journals with thicker paper tend to have fewer pages. So you may have to purchase a new one pretty soon.
Lastly, if you’re getting a watercolor sketchbook for rough ideas you’ll want more pages to allow your ideas to develop.
Thickness of paper
Higher quality watercolor paper tends to be thicker, and rightly so. The thicker the paper the more techniques and abuse it can withstand. However the thicker the paper the more expensive it tends to be… This is why it’s always important to consider what you are going to use the paper for. If it’s for practicing and testing out rough ideas, then you don’t need to go for the heaviest paper weight.
Some watercolor journals will have a lower paper thickness and more pages, it really depends on what you are looking for.
You may come across many paper weights including:
I would recommend going for 140lb/300gsm paper for practice and rough use (it doesn’t have to be 100% cotton for a more affordable price).
Always go for Acid-free paper. If the paper is not acid-free then it means it was made with certain chemicals, in the bleaching process, that cause the paper to turn yellow over a certain period. With acid-free paper, your paintings will last longer before you see any hints of discoloration.
The biggest difference between watercolor journals and other packaging forms is that you have to take the type of binding into account.
With spiral binding, you can lay the book flat for more stability and comfort while painting. The downside of spiral binding is that the pages can wear out more easily.
Watercolor sketchbooks with glue binding are usually more affordable. The pages are easier to remove so that you can frame your work.
Journals with hardcover stitched binding tend to be more durable and a lot more attractive. However, the downside is that they are less flexible, and the pages curve towards the center which can be annoying.
Sketchbooks with soft covers are usually less expensive compared to hardcovers. They are much lighter in weight and can open flat when painting. The downside is that the book is less durable and the pages can get worn out more easily.
How to know what you will prefer?
The watercolor Journal you choose will highly depend on your needs and personal preferences. That is why I have put together a list of questions you could ask yourself to help you learn what to look for when buying a journal.
What painting style do you plan on working with?
If your style requires lots of wet-on-wet techniques, go for thicker paper and perhaps, paper with a higher cotton percentage (more absorbent).
Maybe you plan on creating detailed pieces, in this case, you may want to opt for hot pressed paper. The cold-pressed or rough paper would be better if you’re creating loose natural landscapes with more texture.
Do you plan on creating final paintings? Or using your journal as a place for practice and recording quick ideas?
If you’re still a beginner and looking for somewhere to practice and test out new ideas, then you don’t have to worry too much about the quality of the paper. That being said I also wouldn’t completely overlook paper quality, because you may find yourself struggling a lot. Instead, I recommend getting paper that’s cold-pressed and thick enough for watercolor (it doesn’t have to be 100% cotton).
Are you planning on removing your pages?
If you plan on framing your paintings, it would be better to go for sketchbooks that have higher quality paper and binding that makes it easy to detach your work. You could also purchase a watercolor pad instead.
Will you be taking your watercolor sketchbook on the go?
If you’re taking your journal with you on the go, you’ll want to consider the size and weight. Try opting for a sketchbook with a binding that is flexible and a cover that is light and easy to hold. Remember, you will also have other equipment with you, (your paints, water, brushes), so choosing a smaller or medium-sized sketchbook will be more convenient.
Which techniques will you be using the most?
Some techniques, such as wet in wet, scratching, and reworking, will require thicker paper. Because of this reason, I would opt for 140 lb /300 gsm paper. Otherwise, you run the risk of your paper quickly wearing away and you don’t want that.
If you found this article helpful, then be sure to check out: How to choose the best watercolor brushes guide