Watercolour paper demonstration

In this watercolour paper review, Paul Riley tests the new watercolour papers from Hahnemühle’s The Collection range and the results were so impressive that he has no hesitation in recommending them to artists.

Originally featured in the July 2021 issue of The Artist. Purchase your copy here.

I came across Hahnemühle papers some years ago in Prague. I was looking for a quality cotton rag Hot Pressed (HP) and Cold Pressed (CP or Not) paper for some life painting in watercolour. Hahnemühle was on sale at the main art shop, I liked what I saw and decided to purchase. I wasn’t disappointed to say the least. Fast forward to now, when The Artist asked me if I'd like to do an appraisal. Needless to say, I was delighted as I'm only too happy to recommend materials and tools I've used successfully.

Watercolour paper review

Watercolour painting on rough paper

Silver Water, watercolour, Sumi-e ink and gouache on Hahnemühle Collection Rough 640gsm, 14¼x19in (36x48cm). 

I haven’t painted on Rough paper for some time, so it was a treat to check this version out. One of the main points about using Rough is to exploit texture. This is done in various ways: dry brushwork, precipitating pigments that gravitate into the numerous hollows, sponging out leaving pigment in the hollows, wet creep and so on. In this image I've done all of the above to enable the light from the sun to trickle all over the paper. The paper took to the Sumi-e ink with gusto, enabling rich blacks that will appear impenetrable under glass. It was a joy to revisit this surface.

About Hahnemühle

Hahnemühle sent a package of assorted papers for me to play with and what a mouth-watering selection they were! 

Hahnemühle has been producing fine quality papers at the foot of the Solling Mountains in Lower Saxony, Germany, for more than 435 years. As a company they pride themselves on their eco credentials, ensuring that offcuts are reused whenever possible and any waste is disposed of responsibly. All their papers are also vegan-friendly with no animal substrates used within their paper sizing or manufacture. 

They appear to have two strings to their bow: the first is the fine art papers for which they are renowned; the other is the archival quality FineArt inkjet paper. The second facility is especially useful for those of you who print examples of your work for commercial purposes. Hahnemühle have a certified studio programme. All studios have been professionally certified to print on Hahnemühle papers and will manage your work from your original artwork to the final fine art print.

Watercolour paper review

Watercolour painting on cold pressed paper

Moon Halo, watercolour, Sumi-e ink and designer’s gouache on Hahnemühle Collection 640gsm 100-percent cotton rag CP paper, 14¼ x19in (36x48cm).

I painted this on the block to see how it behaved under brutal treatment, i.e., scratching, soaking, ragging etc. Some blocks can warp with this treatment but this one held fast. I put this down to the wonderful heavy weight of the paper. I used masking tape for the moon and its halo, which behaved itself on this surface. The CP texture is fine and random, just as I like it, revealing all the textures of the various paint combinations.

The Collection range

Back to The Collection range of watercolour papers of which there is a bewildering array. There’s a staggering 29 specific watercolour formats in their various weights and sizes, including blocks, pads, sheets and rolls. Within The Collection range, there are also four sketch papers and 19 pastel papers with up to 12 colours in the range. Much to my delight I also received their manga paper, Sumi-e and layout paper. If you go to the Hahnemühle website you'll see the whole mouth-watering range.

Highlights from the watercolour paper range

I've been looking at and using all sorts of watercolour papers over the years and, typical of many artists, I'm always on the lookout for something new or original. 

Within this range a few items stood out

  • Their large paper sizes. Hahnemühle provide up to 106x78cm on The Collection 300gsm. You can also purchase rolls of 1.25x10m of the 300gsm Cold Pressed and Rough formats. 
  • Cylinder moulded paper has only two deckled edges, unlike hand screen moulded paper. The loose sheets in The Collection watercolour range all have deckle edges. The fashion for framing is for float mounting, which looks great with four deckle edges! Hahnemühle’s cylinder mould made 300gsm and 640gsm papers have four natural deckled edges. 
  • Their heavyweight papers at 640gsm are truly awesome and an absolute joy to use, especially when working wet and brutalising! One of my pleasures is working in pen and ink using dip pens and fountain pens.  
  • One paper that’s available is the Ingres Pastel Collection with its parallel laid finish, commonly sold both by Hahnemühle and elsewhere as a pastel paper. I love to use it with pen and ink occasionally tinted in watercolour. It was the kind of paper used by that genius Thomas Girtin to great effect. It’s ideally suited to buildingscapes. 
  • Hahnemühle have numerous colour variations, which work well with gouache highlights. I’m not too keen on using a laid paper for pastels, preferring instead to use a watercolour paper suitably tinted beforehand. Hahnemühle provide a broad selection in CP, HP, and Rough.

Watercolour paper review

Watercolour painting on cold pressed paper

Winter Gold, diptych, watercolour and Sumi-e ink, on Hahnemühle 300gsm 100-percent cotton rag CP paper from The Collection range of blocks, size 2, 14¼x19in (36x48cm). 

  • I separated two sheets from the block and prepared them for float mounting by sandpapering their edges to remove the black binding. I then boned it for a smooth deckle edge. 
  • In my abstract work I like to have two main components: the structure and the mood/atmosphere. The structure is invariably the form, in this case the profile of a hill and the trees as the hard shapes. To indicate the structure, I used bold spontaneous shapes painted with a very large oriental brush (goat hair). I experimented with various inclusions using large grain sea salt and opaque pigments (gouache). I wanted to see how the paper reacted. 
  • I was very pleased with the result: every subtle flick of the brush, the bleeding, the resistance to the salt, the effects of wet-into-wet, was stimulating and exciting. I waited for the ink to dry thoroughly then brushed off the salt and went in with the watercolour. 
  • Pigments included ultramarine, cerulean, cobalt turquoise, and manganese. The ultramarine and manganese precipitated, revealing the beautiful texture of the Hahnemühle cold-pressed felting. 
  • I used my widest, 9cm, hake with broad loose strokes, the brush had up to four colours painted along the width of the hairs to obtain multicoloured strokes. 
  • For the foreground fields I used burnt sienna, saw sienna and Naples yellow, with bright orange and titanium yellow. Whilst these were wet, I put in the little bombs of colour: orange and yellow mixed with permanent white.

How to choose watercolour paper

The qualities I look for in a paper includes the following:


Able to withstand all kinds of experimental effects including scratching, rubbing – for example with a sponge, masking – especially removing masking tape.


I want the paper to behave reliably in its absorption of colour. Also, for its own colour and texture.


All Hahnemühle papers are acid free, archival and conform to ISO16245. They have the highest class of durability and lightfastness, and will last for hundreds of years if kept in the right conditions.


Must be random, a result of good quality felting both in CP and Rough. The HP must be silk-like, not shiny and have an almost skin-like quality. The tooth of the paper is very important as it enables brushwork to feel sensual and responsive when using natural-hair brushes (sable, squirrel, goat hair, etc). The Hahnemühle paper scores brilliantly on this point.

Overall impressions of the Hahnemühle watercolour papers 

Although I've sung the praises of Hahnemühle papers I have one criticism, if that is possible. Much to my amazement the HP 640gsm paper delaminated upon removal of the masking tape. I use Pro Dec, which is probably the most forgiving of the tapes. I was able to rectify the problem with little difficulty. In future I shall de-tack the tape a little and remove it with a hot hairdryer. 

I've thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with the Hahnemühle watercolour papers, and have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them.

Watercolour paper review

Watercolour painting on hot pressed paper

Sun Frost, watercolour, Sumi-e ink, gouache, and acid-free tissue on Hahnemühle Collection HP paper 640gsm, 14¼x19in (36x48cm). 

  • Recently I've been playing with a tissue paper collage. I love the veil-like qualities it brings. I also love it when it crinkles, revealing fissures that take the paint in unusual ways. 
  • First, I masked for the sun, then did my structure work with the ink; whilst that dried, I cut out my predetermined shapes of tissue paper. 
  • Once the ink was dry, I used ordinary cold-water wallpaper paste to stick down the tissue, using fingertips and soft kitchen paper to pat it down. 
  • When it was dry, I painted in the watercolour. Subjected to this bizarre treatment, the paper behaved in an exemplary fashion.

Demonstration on the Hahnemühle Collection Ingres Pastel Paper 

Stage one

Watercolour paper demonstration

I've always been very fond of the pen-and-wash drawings by Rembrandt, Dürer and Van Gogh, especially the spontaneous way they were produced. I wanted to show the versatility of the Ingres paper, and not just for pastel. I used a pencil for sketching in the image then proceeded to lay in some washes using a wolf-hair oriental brush. The colours used were a mixture of indigo and black on the tinted paper. The tools I used included two Sheaffer italic fountain pens plus a dip pen, for the next stage.

Stage two

Watercolour paper demonstration

When the under wash was dry, I commenced the pen work using the fountain pens with black ink. I also started experimenting with the pastel/Conté work. I used four tones ranging from black through to white. I intended to use gouache for highlights but found it wouldn’t stick on to the pastel work! I used the white Conté instead. For the bulk of the pen work I used the broadest italic nib. As you can see the Ingres paper was one of the tints from Hahnemühle’s beautiful range, a greenish grey.

Finished painting

Watercolour paper demonstration

Tree by the Stream, mixed media on Hahnemühle Collection Ingres Pastel Paper 100gsm, 16½x22in (42x56cm). 

I tried to exploit the textual differences between the bark and foliage against the flowing water of the stream. With pastel you can imply motion through smudging, using the fingers or a cloth. Highlights were picked out using a hard white Conté. The laid texture of the paper isn’t too obtrusive yet still adds to the impression of undergrowth.

For full details of all Hahnemühle papers, visit their website, contact via telephone at 01603 759266, or via email at [email protected] Hahnemühle sample sheets (a5) are now available to order online with a nominal charge of £1.50 per sheet. Use code sampleshipping at checkout for free shipping. (Only available to UK residents).

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