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Hot Press vs Cold Press Paper: What is the Difference?

When we think of paper, we rarely think of the differences between them! Paper comes to us in a variety of colors, texture and quality, that we use for writing, painting, drawing, doodling, coloring, and for different crafts.

If you are especially into watercoloring, you’ll come across a very important choice. There are primarily two different kinds of paper that you can use in watercolor: hot press watercolor paper and cold press watercolor paper.

Both of these papers are used by artists and professionals for their work, and they prefer it for altogether different reasons.

There’s more to the differences between hot press and cold press watercolor paper than their texture and quality. The right kind of paper can make a world of difference to your work, so it is important that you know the differences between them and their particular specialties.

Cold Press Paper

When the term “cold press” is used to define watercolor paper, it is referring to the process that was used in manufacturing or preparing the paper in question.

As you may already know, any kind of paper starts its life from a mat of cellulose fibers, that are tangled together thinly. These mats of cellulose fiber are made into a tangled pulp which are pressed through metal rollers.

These rollers are usually covered in felt to flatten the fiber into very thin and even mats of paper. In making cold press watercolor paper, the rollers used in the process are cold, which is the reason behind the name.

Cold press papers are the most popular kind of watercolor paper among artists and painters.

Hot Press Paper

On the other hand, “hot press” paper also refers to the way this kind of paper is made. In this method, the sheets of fiber used to make paper are pressed between two metal rollers at a high pressure. The rollers, of course, are “heated”, or “hot”; hence, the name “hot press” paper.

Hot press watercolor paper is primarily smoother than cold press paper, and used for certain precise styles of painting.

Differences Between Cold Press & Hot Press Watercolor Paper

Only after you have used both cold and hot press watercolor paper can you truly understand the differences between them. The differences aren’t very subtle, but it is hard to understand the differences if you are not an artist or a painter, or if this is the first time you are thinking of getting the right kind of paper.

Here are some of the most subtle yet important distinctions between hot press paper and cold press watercolor paper.


The texture of cold press papers are bumpy and uneven, and they actually add to the overall aesthetic of the drawing. This is because the indentations of these bumpy, uneven surface of this paper scatter the light reflected on this paper, and the end result is a mixture of soft colors that makes the overall project look beautiful.

When you use white paper in watercolor, the canvas itself acts as a source of light. Since the surface of cold press papers are rough and rocky, the light is reflected off the paper, and makes the watercolor painting in question looks more lifelike and real.

On the other hand, hot press paper comes out even and smooth. It is due to the manufacturing process of hot press paper that it comes out with a smooth finish. Rather than the painting looking lifelike because of the uneven surface, as with cold press papers, the watercolor painting in this kind of paper can be detailed and precise.


When compared with each other, paper that are “cold press” are more absorbent than “hot press” watercolor paper.

This means that the paint pigments are absorbed and fixed into the paper more quickly in cold press paper than in hot press ones; as a result, you’ll have less time to move the paint around the surface of the paper before it becomes permanent on the paper.

On the other hand, hot press paper is less absorbent; you get more time to apply or move the paint around the surface of the paper before the pigments get permanently fixed to the paper. If you are prone to make mistakes or always indecisive about your choice of colors, hot  press papers are a better choice for you.

Color Quality

When you use watercolor on cold press paper, the colors come out slightly paler and a little less rich compared to hot press paper.

This is because of the uneven surface of these kinds of paper as the light has a very different way of being reflected off the paper. As a result, even the brightest colors can look pale and subtle when used on cold press paper.

The same colors would look extremely vivid on hot press paper, as the surface of the paper is smooth and flat. The light is directly reflected off the paper and makes the color looks brighter than on any other kind of paper.

Ease of Use

Cold press papers are more popular than hot press paper, as well as easier to use. You can use any kind of watercolor on this type of paper and use them in any manner.

Even beginners and amateurs can use watercolors on cold press papers with ease; it is easy to practice and complete your first watercolor projects on cold press paper.

On the other hand, hot press paper shows a higher level of skills and brush details. You can see every single brush stroke on these papers, which is a reason it is used more by professional artists.

Besides, hot press papers are more popular among artists who use precise watercolor styles and strokes. This is not the right paper for amateurs and beginners.


As you may already know, cold press paper has a slightly uneven and lumpy surface, which is a result of the manufacturing process. Hot press paper is comparatively fine-grained, with a smoother surface, as a result of the metal rollers that presses the fibers flat being hot during manufacturing.


The “tooth” of a paper is an extremely important term that is a common part of conversation among artists and professionals. The “tooth” of a particular kind of paper is also the “texture” of the paper, which is different between hot press and cold press papers.

Most artists and painters prefer a bumpy texture which they can get in cold press paper. When artists and professionals talk about a paper with more teeth/tooth, they are referring to cold press paper.

Similarly, a kind of paper with less teeth/tooth refers to hot press paper, i.e. a paper with less bumps and lumps.


If your work is going to be detailed and precise, with a lot of accurate brush strokes, it is better to use hot press paper. The smoother surface of these papers helps you to paint decisively and correctly, and allows a lot of accuracy and finesse in your paintings. Portraits are most commonly done on hot press paper, as they require deliberate strokes and details.

On the other hand, landscapes and abstracts are done on cold press paper. The brush strokes in these kind of paintings doesn’t have to be very detailed or precise, and the artist draws from their own creativity and imagination.


The differences between hot press and cold press paper are more acute when you are an artist or a painting expert. Both these types of paper are perfect for their precise painting types and accuracy.

They are different in a number of subtle but important ways, and true artists needs to be aware of them both for their respective work.

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