One of the most significant downsides to painting with watercolors is having to stretch your artwork after it’s finished. Stretching watercolor paper is not only tedious, but it also poses the risk of damaging or destroying your artwork.
But what if I told you that there was a way to create watercolor art that didn’t involve stretching at all? You’re in luck because there is a way, and the answer is simple: watercolor blocks.
Finding a high-quality watercolor block is important so that you can produce the best art possible. However, there are so many watercolor blocks on the market that finding the perfect fit for you could be a little intimidating.
To help, I put together this quick guide. I’ll go over what watercolor blocks are, how to use them, and why you need one. Then I’ll point out the best watercolor blocks you can buy.
In a hurry? Check out any of the quick picks listed below.
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Best watercolor blocks: Quick picks
Arches Watercolor Blocks
- The most popular choice around the globe
- High-quality, 100% cotton paper
- Comes in a wide variety of sizes and finishes
L’Aquarelle Canson Héritage Watercolor Blocks
- Relatively new product, but gaining popularity fast
- High-quality, 100% cotton paper
- Does not use any animal products
Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Blocks
- Great value, good for students
- Made from cellulose fibers
- Variety of sizes, but only cold-press finishes
What is a watercolor block?
A watercolor block is a uniform stack of watercolor paper that has been bound on all four sides by glue or rubber. Only a small section is left unglued to help remove the finished painting and reveal the next page.
When painting, watercolor blocks perform the same as (or better than) other watercolor paper. It’s sold in all sizes and qualities, although I recommend sticking to 100% cotton paper for the best results.
Read also: Watercolor sketchbook buyer’s guide
They’re also simple to use. All you need to do is paint the top sheet of watercolor block paper, then, once the paper dries flat, simply remove the sheet of paper from the block. Just slide a dull knife or bone folder into the unglued section and slide it all the way around the page.
Like other types of watercolor paper, there are three different types of watercolor paper blocks: cold press, hot press, and rough.
- Cold press watercolor blocks have a slightly textured surface suitable for blending large areas of color and fine detail.
- Hot press watercolor blocks have a smooth surface with little to no texture, making them great for detail and fine brush work.
- Rough watercolor blocks are very textured and are great for artists with more of a loose painting style.
Why you need one
Because watercolor sketchbooks and watercolor pads are loose (unless stretched and held down), the paper tends to wrinkle and buckle as it dries. It can distort your artwork or make it impossible to frame.
Stretching solves many of these issues, but it has its risks as well. Improperly stretching the paper can cause the image to become distorted, damaged, or even destroyed.
Even when the watercolor paper is stretched correctly, you will need to secure the edges with tape or staples, which will cause you to lose the outer edges of your artwork.
Watercolor blocks eliminate the need to stretch your paper because the paper is pre-stretched and bound on all four sides. Being bound on all sides rather than just one or none at all helps the paper to dry flat instead of wrinkling or bowing. You also get to keep your full finished painting intact since there is no need to stretch and trim the edges.
Because watercolor blocks are bound on all sides, they’re also perfect for artists who often travel or like to work outside. It’s easy to carry the block or toss it in a tote to take wherever you feel inspired. Just be sure to protect the top page.
Best watercolor blocks you can buy
With that background information out of the way, here are my picks for the best watercolor blocks you can buy!
Best overall: Arches Watercolor Blocks
If there is a gold standard for watercolor blocks, it has to be Arches.
Arches is a well-known and trusted name in the watercolor art community. Arches prides itself on high-quality products, and nowhere is that more evident than its watercolor blocks. They aren’t cheap, but they are easily some of the best watercolor blocks you can buy.
Apart from a few 10-sheet cold press options, all Arches’ watercolor blocks are 20 sheets and come with a black protective sheet as the first layer. Arches’ watercolor block paper consists of 100% cotton fibers instead of wood pulp like cheaper watercolor papers, creating a better, sturdier surface for your watercolors.
Arches offer a huge variety of watercolor blocks in sizes ranging anywhere from 3.9×9.8 inches to 18×24 inches. Most of their blocks come in weights of 140lbs (300gsm), but they also offer a few 300lb (640gsm) cold press options.
There are a few 90lb (185gsm) options, but if you’re going to buy the best watercolor block on the market, I’d recommend opting for the 140lb blocks. You won’t regret it.
Runner-up: Sennelier Watercolor Blocks
Sennelier is another trusted name in the artist community that is slightly more affordable than Arches overall. The company produces acid-free, 100% cotton, mold-made watercolor block paper. The paper’s absorbency is unlike almost any other brand and is durable enough to withstand scrubbing.
All Sennelier watercolor blocks (except the largest 25×19-inch block) contain 20 sheets of 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper. These blocks technically come in a variety of sizes, but the easiest to get your hands on are the 9.5×4.5-inch and 12×12-inch watercolor blocks.
Likewise, the company offers cold-press, hot-press, and rough finishes, but the latter can be difficult to find. Still, any of the options at the link below will serve you well.
Up and comer: L’Aquarelle Canson Héritage Watercolor Blocks
If you’re looking for a solid alternative to the tried-and-tested Arches watercolor blocks above, Canson launched a new line of watercolor paper under the “Héritage” brand just a few years ago.
You might recognize the Canson brand from more affordable art supplies, but make no mistake about it, this is premium quality through-and-through.
Like Arches, it features 100% acid free cotton paper made on traditional cylinder molds. It comes in a variety of sizes, as well as cold press, hot press, and rough finishes. The paper itself tends to be a bit whiter than Arches, which is great for making colors pop.
As an added bonus, Canson Héritage watercolor blocks don’t use any animal products in the sizing, making them the go-to choice for vegans and environmentally-conscious artists. Arches and virtually every other manufacturer (except Fabriano and sometimes Strathmore) use gelatin during the sizing process.
Check out the full catalog of Canson’s premium Héritage watercolor block offerings at the links below. If you want something a bit more affordable, the Canson Montval line is a decent alternative (and it’s still vegan).
Most affordable: Rembrandt Watercolor Blocks
Rembrandt watercolor blocks are the most affordable option on our list. The blocks are a 25% cotton fiber and 75% wood pulp blend that provides a durable, medium-textured surface for your watercolors that won’t break the bank.
Rembrandt watercolor blocks come in 3 popular sizes: 5.25×7 inches, 9.5×12.5 inches, and 11.75×15.75 inches. Most are cold press, but there are also rough finish blocks available at some retailers. All Rembrandt watercolor blocks are 20 sheets.
While they aren’t the very best watercolor blocks on the market, they perform admirably and are a good choice for beginners or intermediate watercolorists looking to move away from pads.
If you want to save even more money, there are some excellent cheap watercolor blocks sold as white label products under certain retailers. This one from Dick Blick is great for those in the US, and this one from Jackson’s is great for those in the UK/EU.
Best for students: Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Blocks
Strathmore 400 Series watercolor blocks are an excellent option for watercolor students who need value for their money. These watercolor blocks consist of 15 sheets made of cellulose fibers from plant material, so no premium cotton here.
However, these strong fibers make the paper very durable and resistant to tearing, even when using a lot of water or scrubbing. That gives you a lot of freedom to experiment without spending top dollar.
The surface texture of these watercolor blocks is also random and absorbent, which gives it a more professional appearance. It’s perfect for artists with intermediate or advanced watercolor skills.
Strathmore 400 Series watercolor blocks come in 5 standard sizes that range from 9×12 inches to 18×24 inches. All Strathmore watercolor blocks are cold-press and have a weight of 140lbs (300gsm), which is really the ideal weight for most watercolor work.
Best premium: Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Blocks
Fabriano Artistico is another known and loved brand in the watercolor supplies industry. They pride themselves on their high-quality, 100% cotton, and acid-free watercolor block paper, which has more of a warm hue to it rather than being bright white like other watercolor blocks.
Fabriano Artistico offers watercolor blocks that come in a variety of sheets, sizes, and types. Their watercolor blocks range anywhere from 10 sheets to 25 sheets of 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper.
They vary in size from 5×7 inches to 18×24 inches. Fabriano Artistico watercolor blocks come in cold press, hot press, and rough, so no matter what you’re looking for you can get the finish you want.
They also contain no animal products, so vegan artists rejoice!
These are just a touch more expensive than Arches watercolor blocks listed above, and the quality of both is truly top-notch. Arches might be a more popular brand with more size options, but if you’re looking for something different you can’t go wrong with Fabriano Artistico.
Best for Professionals: Saunders Waterford Watercolor Blocks
Saunders Waterford watercolor blocks are well-liked by professional watercolor artists all around the world. The watercolor block paper is 100% mold-made, acid-free cotton, just like other brands of the very best watercolor block paper.
Saunders Waterford watercolor blocks are all 20 sheets and have weights of 140lbs (300gsm). They range in sizes from 7×10 inches to 12×16 inches, and come in both hot and cold press finishes.
It’s worth noting that these watercolor blocks are exceptionally popular in the UK, but tend to run a bit more expensive on this side of the pond. As such, it’s hard to recommend for anyone other than professionals who only want the very best.
We also like: Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Blocks
Winsor & Newton Professional watercolor blocks are made of 100% acid-free cotton in Italy using a traditional cylinder mold. These watercolor blocks are high-quality and have excellent durability and absorbency.
Because of their exceptional quality, these watercolor blocks are more expensive than some other options. That’s the only reason they don’t appear higher on the list.
All Winsor & Newton Professional watercolor blocks are 20 sheets and have a weight of 140lbs (300gsm). The sheets range in size from 7×10 inches to 12×16 inches and come in hot press, cold press, and rough finishes.
While they don’t necessarily outshine any of the watercolor blocks listed above, Winsor & Newton’s offering is still a compelling option. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it over other premium blocks from Arches or Canson, but your mileage may vary.
Other frequently asked questions
What’s better: Watercolor blocks or pads?
Watercolor blocks are better for artists who like to travel or work outside since it’s easy to keep all of your work together. Because watercolor blocks are bound on all sides, it also eliminates the need to stretch and trim your artwork, whereas you will need to stretch and trim paper from a watercolor pad.
How do you separate paper from a watercolor block?
The best way to separate paper from a watercolor block is to use a small, dull knife (or bone folder) and run it around the block’s edges, slowly peeling the paper away. Be gentle, as it may damage the paper if you’re not careful.
Do you need to stretch watercolor block paper?
No. One of the most significant advantages of using a watercolor block is that the paper doesn’t need stretching.
What are the best watercolor block paper brands?
Arches is by far the most recommended brand, but there are also excellent blocks from Sennelier, Canson, Fabriano, Winsor & Newton, and others on the market.
Which is best: Hot-press or cold-press watercolor blocks?
Hot-press watercolor blocks are better for artists who like to pay attention to fine detail, while cold-press blocks are better for blending and flowing colors. Cold-press blocks are typically better for beginners.
Can I make my own DIY watercolor block?
Indeed, you can! There are several crafty tips online on how to make your own DIY block. The majority of these recommend using a hot glue gun to replicate the manufacturer’s padding compound on a watercolor block.
That’s it for this guide to the very best watercolor blocks. Which blocks do you recommend? Let everyone know in the comments below!