Testing vibrancy

Warning: this post is for paper nerds.

I’ve been looking for a watercolour paper that is good for drawing on with a fine ink pen and also takes washes well and keeps colours vibrant. It’s become a bit of an obsession for me and I appreciate that every time I write about it, people send me suggestions. In today’s experiment, I thought I’d compare apples to apples by painting the same scene each time on different surfaces. In fact, I was so scientific that I lined up all the sheets of paper next to each other (except for the last one which I did later) and tried to paint each section of the sketch with the same wash from my palette. That’s about as scientific as I can get with paint.

This first sample (of a scene I saw on the river on Thailand) is painted on Canson Moulin du Roy cold pressed paper. I’ve been frustrated with this stock because it seems to absorb too much paint and the colours dry lighter than they should. In watercolour,  you can always expect the paint to dry a little lighter but not this much. Compared with the other papers, the colours came out looking flat and were considerably duller than I had hoped.


The second sample is painted on Arches 140 LB cold pressed paper. I usually use this paper for watercolour alone, and as I suspected, it doesn’t take the ink line well. The paper is too textured and seems to dry out the pen, which is not what I want. Predictably the colour washes look fine since this is a premium quality watercolour paper.Vibrancy_ARches035 The third sample is painted on Fluid 100 cold pressed paper (which I also tried a few weeks ago). I am still liking this paper, both for the way it takes a pen line and for how vibrant the colours are.Vibrancy_Fluid100CP034 The last sample is painted on Fluid 100 hot pressed paper. Naturally the ink line is great because of the smoothness of the paper, meaning that the pen glides effortlessly over the surface and reacts to pressure, creating a thicker line in some places. That is exactly what I want. And as you can see below, the colours are pretty vibrant too. I’ve worked with hot pressed paper before and while it’s not always my favourite surface to work on, for small sketches where I really need a good combo of dynamic ink line and saturated colour, this seems like the winning paper. And guess what? If you’re still here, reading this, you might be a paper nerd too.Vibrancy_Fluid100HP033

64 Comments on “Testing vibrancy”

  1. Vicky Porter says:

    Thanks, Shari. I’m putting Fluid 100 hot pressed paper on my shopping list. I appreciate your experiments and your reports.

  2. TR Duncan says:

    yes… completely a nerd as well… : ) I enjoy reading your scientific inquiry. Thank you

  3. Mary McLaughlin says:

    wow there’s actually a name for this obsession – yup I’m definitely a paper nerd – I’ve used Fluid 140# HP a lot for small on-location paintings (6 x 8) and recently tried Fluid 100% cotton 300# paper – talk about vibrant colors – I was a bit stunned. Only used it once and honestly I’m turning it over to paint on the back instead of throwing it out – it’s going to take some practice. I’ll be interested in hearing if and when you use it. I’ve had a love affair with paper my whole life – my dad was a printer and I grew up getting to play with the scraps from the paper cutter while marveling at all the various papers on the massive shelves in his print shop. Thanks for this post!

    • Well, now I am curious about the 300lb as well. I guess you like it. I have to see if my art supply shop carries it because I bought sheets, not blocks. I have a feeling I saw those pads there too. And yes, I can see why you must love paper. I bet you drew on a lot of those scraps from your dad’s shop.

  4. Julia Black says:

    I’m interested in trying new paper. I make my own sketchbooks and mostly like Arches 90 lb. hot press for books, just for ease of sewing the signature pages. I had never heard of this Fluid paper, so I looked on line at different prices and read reviews), and after reading the group of reviews on wetcanvas (see below), I decided to stick to my Arches. They say that Fluid is made of cellulose? Here’s the link to the reviews.


    • Hi Julia, thanks for writing and for sending the link. I had read the Wet Canvas thread too but that is not the same paper. Fluid 100 is a new paper that is 100% cotton. It’s not made of cellulose like the less expensive Fluid pads with the orange covers. This is sold in sheets or pads with a white cover. This paper may not be as good as Arches but it’s definitely a good alternative for field sketching with ink and wash.

  5. I like that the Fluid 100 cold pressed paper has nice granulation compared to the hot press

  6. Dee says:

    Yep, I am. I’ve learned to make journals, but still haven’t found a paper that I really like. I have ordered some from Cheap Joe’s that Brenda Swenson uses…where can I find the Fluid 100? What weight are you using?

  7. minerva_fm says:

    Hi Shari,
    Thanks for taking the time to do the experiment and report about it. Can you get the Fluid HP here in Montreal? I came back from vacation with a fair amount of sketches (mostly pencil and ink), and your post is encouraging me to “translate” them into ink and watercolour out of the sketchbook. Also, I really like the idea of drawing buildings listed at the Heritage Montreal site (previous post). I would have loved to sketch the Verdun houses demolished to build the new Champlain bridge…

    • Hi Minerva. I bought the Fluid paper at Avenue des Arts on Victoria. They have both sheets and blocks.
      I’m glad you like the suggestion of painting the heritage buildings. That’s been on my list for years but somehow I just never get around to doing it. I hope you are more successful than me.

  8. Deb Hume says:

    Thanks for testing these! I will try the fluid 100 hot press.

  9. Lise Gauthier says:

    Hello Shari, Always interesting your post … You speak about Fluid 100 watercolor paper … Where do you buy It ? thanks a lot … Lise G. south shore of Montreal

    Envoyé de mon iPad

  10. Oh Wow! I didn’t know I WAS a paper nerd, but apparently I am as I made it all the way to end of your post! 😉Hehe…this was great Shari! Been using Fluid 100 and really like it. Hot Press takes some getting used to for me though! Thanks for all the info and the wonderful examples!!

  11. rebecca says:

    Thank you for the awesome and artistically scientific post!! I do find that fountain pen nibs tend to get all snagged with paper or can even slightly tear the paper on cold pressed…but don’t always want the smooth of hot pressed either…I will look into Fluid now…so thank you!

  12. Joëlle says:

    Hello Shari,

    This is my first post to you. From France (La Rochelle !) I follow your blog regularly and enjoy it very much for many reasons : beautiful sketches, good advices… It’s a pleasure.

    My reasons to use Hot Press Arches or Fabriano : some pigments granulates, others no.
    On HP you have granulation or smooth layers due to the pigments.
    On CP you have granulations everywhere.

    On Arches or Fab, the colors are beautiful. Fabriano has an extra white paper too.

    • Hi Joelle, I love both Arches and Fabriano, and those are my main papers for painting but I find that both of those, in CP, are too textured for ink. Fluid 100 is slightly less textured and that’s why it seems like a good solution to me.

  13. TonyU says:

    Guilty as charged on the nerd thing! Thanks for sharing your research and findings. John Hoar told me he uses hot pressed paper for his pen and wash work so I’ve been giving it a try. Lovely to draw on as you say but I’m finding the washes like learning a new medium …. particularly trying to get dry brush sparkle on water. Will look to see if we get Fluid paper here in the UK. Best, Tony

    • Hi Tony. Working on HP paper does take some getting used to. And forget dry brush texture on there. Also, if you work bigger on hot press paper, you’ll find that the paper dries really quickly and it’s hard to go back and drop colour into a wash. By the time you dip your brush in pigment, the paper is dry.

  14. Bobby Wray says:

    Look at “Strathmore 500 Series Aquarius II Watercolor”. I don’t buy the full sheets. I use the 11-1/2″ x 15″ pads (1/4 sheet -spiral bound). These pages can be cut in half for 1/8th sheets which are 7-1/2″ x 11″.

    Also, a bonus with this paper, it doesn’t buckle. It’s thin, the surface smooth. It holds a lot of color. If I were into making my own sketch books, this would be my 1st choice.

    I was introduced to the paper’ several years ago, by the late California artist Bud Shackelford. His method was a wet-into-wet under painting with strong colors, a lot of stamping, scraping, and other methods he called “Paper Torture”. The no-buckle characteristic allowed him to simply use “Push Pens” to secure his paper to the board.

    • Hi Bobby, Of course I’ve heard of Bud Shackleford. And I have used Aquarius in the past but I seem to remember that back then, the paper had some fiberglass in it and if you weren’t careful it would get into the skin of your hands if you rubbed them on the paper. I don’t think that is still the case.
      Thanks for the great suggestion.

      • Bobby Wray says:

        The “Itching Skin” seems to have been corrected. I know that was an early characteristic,as Bud had warned us. The Itch was not severe, just noticeable. For the more recent version of the paper I’ve not had any problems. If you want a sample, email your address to bwray@lawsonproducts.com.

      • I remember that itch. You’re right, not severe, but just like tiny shards in the skin that went away eventually. What a nice offer of the sample paper. I may just have to take you up on that if I can’t find it locally. I will let you know. Thanks!

  15. Louise says:

    Very interesting, can I find this paper in Montreal?
    I too would like to know what you think of Arche 90 lbs HP?
    I also heard about a 100 % pure cotton handmade watercolor journal called NUJABI…with nice deckeled edges, the artist “Dreama” uses it for ink and watercolor journal wow. But where can I get that in Canada???



    • Hi Louise, Yes, you can get the paper at Avenue des Arts in Montreal. I’ve never heard of the Nujabi paper. The book looks quite nice and now I’ll have a look at the artist’s work. Thanks for sharing this.

  16. Monique says:

    Are all hot press papers w/out texture?
    I just ordered 2 new papers for me..hot press and rough..I love the rough..but the hot press doesn’t have any texture at all..Both Fabriano.
    What great tets you have done here..
    I still love that pen you recommended in your course.

    • Hi Monique. I’m so glad you still like the pen.
      Yes, all hot press papers have no texture and they do take some getting used to. And colours do not granulate on them either. Let me know what you think after you try them.

      • Monique says:

        I did try..if I painted lie you did..any srface would work.But for me..part of the interest is the texture..it reminds me of just painting on thicker stock card print.Love texture..:)

  17. Jane Hannah says:

    Hah-hah Shari — I love this post! And I made it through till the end, but I always do for all of your posts. Always interesting and you have piqued my curiosity on this paper. Like many others above, I will try to find it around Montreal or do you have a suggestion? Thank you my old colleague “nerdy” watercolorist -)))

    • Thanks Jane. I bought this paper at Avenue des Arts. They had it both in sheets and pads, I think. I had no doubt that you would be a paper nerd because you are also a pen nerd. Hope the start of your semester is going well.

  18. marctaro says:

    Ha! great work – a clear winner! (for sketching). Goes on the shopping list 🙂

  19. lorne993 says:

    Monique mentioned that you have a recommendation for a pen also. What pen do you like/use?

    • lorne993 says:

      Hello Shari, I am still curious of what pen you recommend and is a good fit with these papers that are being discussed. Thanks in advance.

      • HI Lorne,
        Sorry for missing out on your question. The pen that I use is a Platinum Carbon Desk pen with platinum carbon ink in cartridge form. I like the flexible nib in this pen more than others (like the Lamy Safari) which I find too stiff. The pen is great on all these papers that I have been testing.
        This is also the pen I use in my online course with Craftsy.com.


      • lorne993 says:

        Thanks for the reply. I really enjoy you blog.

  20. tmikeporter says:

    I recommend Grahame Booth’s DVD on ink and wash where he demo’s the how and why of this method. This has really informed my sketchbook work. For my upcoming trip to Belgium and France, I’m taking two sketchbooks, a Stillman & Birn Zeta and a Strathmore watercolor book. The latter is made with real cotton rag wc paper. Looking forward to trying it out.

  21. Liz Steel says:

    Yay! for paper nerds … and you didn’t even mention sizing! Must be paper nerd week as I have been doing some tests this week in terms of edges … so LOVED reading yours and the references to colour. Ah! so much goes into getting all the variables right to suit the way you work.
    Looking at the Fluid paper has been on my raining day list…. so this has beenhelpful. I have some of the fluid with the orange cover – is that the cheaper variety? I also saw a spiral version of the Global Handbook watercolour (with a blue cover) that stated it used Fluid paper…. hmm, very interesting!!!

    • I have no doubt you are a paper nerd too. You’ll probably do some tests that far exceed my scientific method, no doubt. The Fluid with the orange cover is the cheaper variety, yes. I haven’t tried that but it’s what Stephanie Bower was using in Cambodia and her results are always stunning. And there is a new Global book that I don’t know about? Hmmm, I thought I had them all. I’ll have to look into this.

  22. Linda Daily says:

    Thanks for this review Shari. I tried the Orange cover Fluid CP some years ago and really didn’t like it. I will have to try out this newer version.

  23. Claire says:

    All these comments are very interesting!
    My favorite paper for the travel journals I make is Fabriano 90# CP. For me it’s a good combination of paper that’s reasonable to write on, but still good for watercolor. (Favorite pens are Lamy with DeAtramentis ink and Uniball gel pen .28, my favorite all round sketching and writing pen.) I like the texture of the CP, the way it takes watercolor, granulates and lifts easily. I was unhappy with Arches 90# CP. O.K. for painting but much too bumpy for writing, especially calligraphy.

  24. Suzy Powell says:

    I bought a package of the fluid and didn’t likel it at all. Maybe I will try sketching on small pieces.

  25. Hi Shari! I’m a paper nerd too. I wasn’t rich as an art student so I began with my family stock, with papers a century old sometimes( and the surprises that comes with that kind of experience), then scouring old shops and new ones in Paris for papers suitable for engraving, drawing,and computer printing. Computer printing is bizarrely very close to watercolor painting paper-wise, because of the absorption (you can print on watercolor paper by increasing the density of the colors)…I’m digressing. Thanks for your advice, I found exactly what I needed , you are amazing!

    About drawing with ink: since I followed your wonderful lessons on Craftsy, I bought exactly the pen you recommended…And came to exactly the same frustrating result on Arches paper. I really like the granulation of this paper I bought it thanks to another of your posts…now I look like a stalker, lol) . So what I did , instead of changing paper, I bought a new ink pen : the pilot metropolitan, medium nib. It’s cheap, and sold with a converter. I already had one that I use for writing on Tomoe River paper ( fantastic for journaling, extra thin, super sturdy, accepts light washes) . It’s a super smooth pen and the medium nib will allow large variations of line width (thin if you draw fast, larger if slow). It’s better than the Safari on grainy paper. The medium nib is close to my (bulky) style, a fine nib might be closer to yours if you ever want to give it a try.
    I’m a bit worried that the carbon ink will clog the pen in time, but since I only paid $13, I guess it’s kind of OK.
    So that’s how I solved the problem…But it’s not perfect, as the cotton in the paper tends to clog the nib anyway.

    I feel like I took the problem by the wrong end…And will order the fluid paper 100 cold pressed because it’s exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

    • Hi Delphine.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write with all this great advice. I have spent so much time trying to find the right combo of paper and pen, it sometimes seem silly to me. On the other hand, when I was preparing for the Craftsy classes I really wanted to make sure I liked the results that I would get on camera. You have some interesting suggestions for me here. I love Arches and Fabriano but have never found the right pen for the paper. I will have a look at the Pilot pen and let you know what I think. And you can try the Fluid paper and let me know what you think of it. I used it again yesterday for my birch trees and still really like it.

      • The birch trees are just perfect! I ordered the Fluid paper as soon as I read your post. It will be here in 12 days, I can’t wait to try.

      • I hope you like the paper Delphine!

      • Delphine says:

        I find the material you chose for the crafty classes quite foolproof dor starter students, and at the same time very professional. I bought most of the tools you suggested and it was such a good jumpstart!
        The pilot is a good option but not perfect for cold press/cotton. I’m wondering if a thin calligraphy brush wouldn’t be the right solution and I’m trying that next. It won’t be the same line though, and I really like the contrast between the sharpness of the pen against the softness of the watercolor.
        But there’s some fun in the process of trying tools, so I guess it’s OK.
        I ordered the fluid paper, I can’t wait to try it when it comes in next week.

  26. Frank McKay says:

    [please forgive any redundancy in post]

    Thank you, Shari, for your tremendously helpful analysis. I have been curious about the Fluid 100 paper for a while, but I could not find any reliable reviews (most believe they are commending on the 100 but are actually reviewing the “regular” Fluid papers, so that is not helpful on this new product).

    I have used some of the old, orange Fluid blocks and found them fine. As I’ve progressed, however, I have come to appreciate better paper. I primarily use Arches, but I like to try others from time to time (I’m not practiced enough to know the nuances of each paper yet). Based on your exercise, I believe I will try some of the Fluid 100.

    I also saw comments above about fountain pen use. I would like to use them for sketching, line and wash, etc., but I cannot find an ink that is waterproof on watercolor paper. I’ve tried some of the Noodler’s waterproof/bulletproof ink, but its waterproof properties don’t apply to watercolor papers. Do you recommend an ink for watercolor use? I’m grateful for your additional thoughts.

    Best wishes!

    • Hi Frank,
      When you post for the first time, I have to approve it before it shows up on the blog. That’s why you can’t see the comment immediately.
      Thanks so much for writing. I tested papers for quite some time in search of a good watercolour paper that I could use ink on. I find Arches CP too textured for a fine ink pen. The Fluid paper, even the Fluid 100, is not as good as Arches or Fabriano, but it seems to be a good solution for what I was looking for. It doesn’t absorb paint like Canson does and yet it is still smoother enough for the fine pen line.
      As for ink, I don’t find Noodler’s works well for my purposes. I am very happy with the Platinum Carbon Ink that comes with the Platinum Carbon desk pen I use.
      It is always 100% waterproof, and it dries very quickly.
      I hope all of this is useful info for you.
      Glad you found me.


      • Frank McKay says:

        Thanks for all your helpful explanations, Shari. I’m thankful that my searching for Fluid 100 papers led me to your blog. Looking forward to gleaning more from you and your experiences.


  27. I must be a paper nerd!

    Am heading out today to see if Fluid 100 is local here somewhere, if not, it’s in my amazon cart and will be clicked as soon as I get home 🙂

    Thanks for the review

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