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. That’s why we put together this guide to 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.
They’re also simple to use!
All you need to do is paint the top sheet of your watercolor block, and then, once the paper dries flat, simply remove it from the block. Just slide a dull knife or bone folder into the unglued section and slide it all the way around the page.
There are three different types of paper found in watercolor 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 great for artists with a more freeform, 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. Since paper is secured on all sides vs. just one (or none), it helps the paper dry flat. This avoids any wrinkling or bowing!
Because watercolor blocks are bound on all sides, they’re also perfect for artists who often travel or like to work outside — they’re easy to carry or toss into a tote to take wherever you feel inspired. Just be sure to protect the top page!
If you’re just getting started with watercolor, check out our watercolor for beginners guide to learn the basics around materials and techniques before going all in.
Taking a few watercolor classes will also help you put these blocks to good use!
Best watercolor blocks you can buy
With that handy info 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, trusted name in the watercolor art community and prides itself on high-quality products. And nowhere is that more evident than its watercolor blocks!
They aren’t cheap, but they’re easily some of the best you can buy. Apart from a few 10-sheet cold press options, all Arches’ 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 (commonly the case for cheaper watercolor papers), creating a sturdier canvas for your work.
Arches offers a wide variety of watercolor block sizes, ranging anywhere from 3.9×9.8 inches to 18×24 inches. Most come in weights of 140lbs (300gsm), but a few 300lb (640gsm) cold press options are also available.
There are several 90lb (185gsm) options, too, 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 art community that is slightly more affordable than Arches overall.
The company produces acid-free, 100% cotton, mold-made watercolor block paper. It’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 technically come in various sizes, but the easiest to get your hands on are the 9.5×4.5-inch and 12×12-inch 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 links 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 products above, Canson launched a new line of watercolor paper under the “Héritage” line just a few years ago.
You might recognize the Canson brand from more affordable art supplies, but make no mistake: this is premium quality through and through.
Like Arches, it features 100% acid-free cotton paper made on traditional cylinder molds. It comes in various sizes, including cold press, hot press, and rough finishes. This paper tends to be a bit whiter than Arches, which helps watercolor paint pop!
As an added bonus, Canson Héritage watercolor blocks don’t use animal products, 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 entire catalog of Canson’s premium Héritage watercolor block offerings at the links below. If you want something 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, which provides a durable, medium-textured surface for your watercolors that won’t break the bank.
These watercolor blocks come in three popular sizes: 5.25×7 inches, 9.5×12.5 inches, and 11.75×15.75 inches. Most are cold press, but rough finish blocks are also available at some retailers. All Rembrandt watercolor blocks are 20 sheets.
While they aren’t the 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 a few cheap, great-quality watercolor blocks sold as white-label products under certain retailers.
Best for students: Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor Blocks
Strathmore 400 Series watercolor blocks are an excellent option for watercolor students looking for value for their money.
These watercolor blocks consist of 15 sheets composed of cellulose fibers from plant material — 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 top-notch, which gives finished artwork a more professional appearance. It’s perfect for artists with intermediate or advanced watercolor skills.
Strathmore 400 Series watercolor blocks come in five standard sizes that range from 9×12 inches to 18×24 inches. All Strathmore watercolor blocks contain 140 lbs (300gsm) cold press paper, which is a great match for most watercolor sets.
Best premium: Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Blocks
Fabriano Artistico is another beloved and sought-after brand in the watercolor supplies industry. They pride themselves on their high-quality, 100% cotton, acid-free watercolor paper.
Unlike the bright white paper found in many other watercolor blocks, these sheets feature a warm hue. Blocks come in various sizes (5×7 inches to 18×24 inches) and paper types, containing anywhere from 10-25 sheets of 140lb (300gsm) watercolor paper.
Fabriano Artistico watercolor blocks come in cold press, hot press, and rough paper options, so you can get the finish you want, no matter what you’re looking for. They also contain no animal products, so vegan artists rejoice!
Overall, these are just a touch more expensive than the Arches watercolor blocks listed above, and the quality of both is truly top-notch. Sure, Arches might be more popular, but if you’re searching for something new, you can’t go wrong with Fabriano Artistico.
Best for Professionals: Saunders Waterford Watercolor Blocks
Saunders Waterford watercolor blocks are appreciated by professional watercolor artists all around the world. This paper is 100% mold-made, acid-free cotton, just like other brands that have the best watercolor block paper.
Saunders Waterford watercolor blocks are all 20 sheets with a 140 lbs (300gsm) paperweight. 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 to 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. That’s the only reason they don’t appear higher on the list!
All Winsor & Newton Professional watercolor blocks are 20 sheets (140 lbs (300gsm). Sheet sizes range 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.
What’s better: Watercolor blocks or pads?
Watercolor blocks are better for artists who like to travel or work outdoors since it’s easy to keep all of your work together.
Because watercolor blocks are bound on all sides, it 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.
Where can I buy a watercolor block?
If you’re lucky, you can find these easily in your local crafts store. But if not, we suggest purchasing these products from reliable, specialized online art supply shops like Blick in the US or Jackson’s in the UK.
These will almost always guarantee a broader range of options, information, and prices! However, you can also find watercolor blocks on online retailers and marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
Why are watercolor blocks so expensive?
The main motive behind pricey watercolor blocks is the high production cost of these items.
Also, the top-quality blocks you can find are composed of 100% cotton paper — that in itself explains higher price tags. Once you’re ready to create art that you want to last, it’s worth investing in better paper.
Can I paint directly onto a watercolor block?
Yes! Remember that you will only be able to work on one painting at a time since you’ll have to let your current painting dry first before working on a new sheet.
However, if you don’t want to go through the waiting game, consider purchasing a backup watercolor block to keep you busy!
Is paper weight important for watercolor painting?
This factor isn’t game-changing unless you’re a more advanced artist looking for specific outcomes and workflow. The more GSM (grams per square meter) a paper has, the heavier/thicker it is.
If you’re getting started, try out different weights to get an idea of what feels suitable for you as you work on various projects! However, if you want to play it safe, medium-weight paper is always a solid recommendation.
That’s it for this guide to the very best watercolor blocks. Which blocks do you recommend? Let everyone know in the comments below!