When shopping for art supplies, you might find yourself in the paper aisle (like the one at the Plaza Art in Rockville, Maryland, pictured at the end of this article) and think, Why are there so many different types of paper? Isn't it all just...paper?

There are some big differences in paper quality and if you're a beginning watercolorist or printmaker, it might be a little overwhelming to try and figure out which paper is best for which project. Some paper is quite expensive, and with good reason. This guide will give you a little background on the science and history of paper, so next time you need to buy paper, you'll know what all the labels mean:

What’s the deal with expensive paper?

One of the greatest misconceptions about paper is that all paper is made from trees. Paper can be made from almost any fibrous plant material containing cellulose but fine watercolor, printmaking and drawing papers are almost always made from cotton rag. In fact, paper in Europe was made exclusively from vellum, linen or cotton rags until the mid-1800s.

Why use fine papers?

Fine papers are well worth their cost. Cotton rag is better for professional work because it holds up more reliably over time than...

Read More