Watercolor sketchbook buyer’s guide: Watercolor journals, pads and more

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Watercolors can be lots of fun to learn and use, but developing skills will require practice and hard work — that’s where a watercolor sketchbook comes in handy. 

With a watercolor sketchbook (or two!), you can create, practice, and track progress wherever you please. It’s also a great resource to compile your work! On the other hand, finding the right option can be tricky. 

That’s why I’ve put together this buyer’s guide featuring my favorite watercolor sketchbooks, journals, and more — find my top picks below!

If you’re entirely new to this creative hobby, check out our in-depth guide to watercolor for beginners to get the basics down. 

Affiliate disclosure: Articles on Tiny Workshops may contain affiliate links.

Best watercolor sketchbooks: Quick picks

Strathmore 400 series Watercolor sketchbook journal

Strathmore 400 series Watercolor Journal

  • 48 thick 300gsm cold-press pages
  • High-quality hardback cover and binding enable two-page panoramics
  • Good value

Khadi rough cotton watercolor sketchbook

Khadi Handmade Hardback Sketchbook

  • 32 rough 100% cotton 210gsm landscape pages
  • Made by hand from recycled rags
  • Unique, socially-conscious option

Moleskine watercolor notebook

Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks

  • 25% cotton 200gsm pages
  • Iconic and luxurious Moleskine cover
  • Stylish but still affordable

Canson artist series watercolor sketchbook

Canson Artist Series Watercolor Books

  • 20 thick 300gsm cold-press pages
  • Perfect for beginners and intermediate artists
  • Very affordable, but slightly less travel-friendly

Table of Contents

Best watercolor sketchbooks and journals

There are lots of watercolor sketchbooks on the market, so it’s important to do a little research to figure out which one meets your needs.

Just remember that no matter what, you want a quality sketchbook that allows you to work on your art comfortably, whether you’ve just started taking a few watercolor classes or are a seasoned artist.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the best watercolor sketchbooks and journals!

Best overall: Strathmore Hardbound 400 Series Watercolor Art Journal

Strathmore 400 series Watercolor sketchbook journal

It’s hard to beat the value of Strathmore papers, which is why Strathmore’s Hardbound 400 series is at the top of my list for beginners and intermediate artists. 

These sketchbooks feature 140lb (300gsm) paper designed explicitly for watercolor and lay flat due to their Smyth-sewn binding. This allows you to work efficiently and still store your work safely in a beautiful, long-lasting journal. 

Also, since it lays flat, it’s perfect for lefty crafters looking for left-handed sketchbooks and art journals!

These sketchbooks contain cold-press paper and come in three sizes. The number of pages per sketchbook will vary (32-48). The advantage of cold-press paper is that it allows for fine detail, which is perfect if your work is more intricate. 

The only downside to this product is that the pages are cellulose vs. cotton. On the bright side, that means they’re a little less expensive than other watercolor sketchbooks.

If you want to save even more money, you can get the softcover versions, although I wouldn’t recommend the wire-bound pads if you plan on taking your watercolor journal on the go.

Strathmore is a revered American brand for artists that started providing quality art supplies way back in 1890. Today, it continues to produce for professional artists and hobbyists around the globe. 

Best for beginners: Canson Artist Series Watercolor Books

Canson artist series watercolor sketchbook

Canson is a well-known brand for watercolor beginners and up and makes a couple of great sketchbooks that won’t break the bank.

Canson’s Artist Series allows you to pick two different sizes to help you create the type of art you want. Each contains 20 sheets of 140lb (300gsm) paper that can withstand multiple washes on each page. 

Once you finish a piece, the pre-perforated sheets come out nicely, so you can display your work wherever you want. However, if you choose to keep them in the book, be aware that the wire binding can lead pages to tear off eventually.

These sketchbooks also come with a removable bookmark that offers many helpful suggestions and tips for reference. It’s important to know that this paper isn’t cotton but rather pulp paper. 

And while this makes it extremely affordable, rest assured: you’ll still get the authentic Canson experience with every book. This is a great pick if you’re trying out watercolors for the first time!

The company started producing art supplies in 1557 and continues to do so today, which, in my book, says something about the quality of its products.

Best budget-friendly: Arteza Watercolor Sketchbooks

Arteza watercolor sketchbooks

Next up are these budget-friendly watercolor sketchbooks by Arteza, a practical option that artists can afford at any point in their careers.

Each watercolor sketchbook has 32 sheets of heavy, 140lb (300gsm) paper with a rough enough surface to work with large washes or fine brushwork. 

These books feature textured grey hardcovers to protect pages. The paper is perforated, and the wire binding is strong, but take care of your sketchbooks to prevent them from getting damaged!

Arteza is a fantastic brand that aims to provide the tools you need to show off your creative side without breaking the bank and is known for encouraging everyone to explore the artist within.

We’re with you, Arteza!

Best multi-purpose sketchbook: Fabriano Hardcover Watercolor Journals

Fabriano hardcover watercolor journal

Maybe you’re looking for a more general art book that’s also compatible with watercolor — I recommend the Fabriano Hardcover Watercolor Journal.

Each book gives you 30 pages of acid-free 25% cotton paper. The smooth and lightweight paper is 90lbs (200gsm), making it suitable to hold up to watercolor as well as almost every art technique. 

This watercolor sketchbook works great as a multi-use pad for artists who like to try a little bit of everything on the go. It comes in two sizes (both landscape), with a hard cover and pages that lay flat to enable panoramic paintings.

Fabriano has been creating paper since the 13th century and is currently one of the most prominent paper manufacturers in Europe. The brand even develops banknotes and security papers for countries worldwide! 

How’s that for pedigree?

Best money for value: Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book

Hahnemuhle watercolor journals

If you want a more standard-sized watercolor sketchbook, this Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book offers artists 30 sheets of 140lb (200gsm) paper that carry watercolor very well.

The paper is made with cellulose instead of cotton. One of the highlights is that both sides of each sheet (front and back) are curated for watercolor: you can open your book and paint full landscape images across two pages.

In addition, the texture of each page is rough enough to allow fine detail with watercolor paint. When done, you can secure the book closed with a rubber band that wraps around the attractive black hardcover.

This watercolor sketchbook is sold in three sizes, but I recommend the A5 book (linked below) for the best mix of portability and page real estate. The smaller A4 size and larger A6 size are also great options.

Best for travel: Khadi Handmade Hardback Sketchbook

Khadi rough cotton watercolor sketchbook

The Khadi Handmade Sketchbook offers 210gsm 100% cotton paper that’s perfect for socially-conscious artists who want nothing but the best.

Each book comes with 32 landscape-oriented (13x32cm) rough-finish pages. One side of the book offers an interesting deckle design that can give your work a fun border.

The book folds out fully, and the paper is bound in sections. Therefore, you can paint across two pages for large landscape painting projects. This travel sketchbook is bound in a unique hardback design that helps protect the rest of your pages while in use. 

Khadi Papers was formed in the 1980s to produce quality handcrafted paper for everyone. It comes from a small factory in India that hires locals, and the company has its own organic farm to help the local economy even more. 

When you’re looking for something with individual flair and want to make the world a slightly better place, you may want to take a look at these beautiful handmade sketchbooks!

Best black paper sketchbook: Shizen Design Black Watercolor Journals

Shizen design black watercolor sketchbook handmade

Looking for something a bit more unique? This next watercolor sketchbook features black paper to try new techniques and styles while on the go!

Shizen uses 100% recycled paper from cotton cloths to make high-quality art paper that everyone can enjoy. The process starts in India and gets shipped all across the globe to put excellent paper into everyone’s hands. 

The books come in 140lb (300gsm) paper that dries well with watercolors, so you don’t have to worry about distortion. You can pick between rough and smooth texture paper depending on what you plan on doing with the book. 

These are also very compatible with gouache! The main downsides are size (6x6in and 8x8in) and the wire binding, which isn’t the most resistant to wear and tear inside your bag.

The Shizen sketchbook may not become your everyday watercolor sketchbook, but can be an incredible change of pace for experienced watercolorists. And who knows, you may find that you prefer darker paper for specific artwork. 

Best heavyweight watercolor paper: Stillman & Birn Zeta Softcover Sketchbook

Stillman and Birn Zeta heavyweight watercolor sketchbook

If you’re looking for heavier, warp-free paper, the Stillman & Birn Zeta can help you capture the beauty of any landscape image you see.

This watercolor sketchbook contains 180lb (270gsm) heavyweight paper that can sustain numerous washes with little chance of distortion. Each book has 28 sheets of smooth-finish, acid-free paper.

Truth be told, the softcover offers less protection than other options on the list. But in return, the properties composing this paper make it so that work lasts a long time.

Good news, considering this type of paint isn’t necessarily lightfast!

Stillman & Birn learned the finest Viennese binding techniques and brought them to New York in the 1950s. Today, the company still produces an American-made product with the main factory in Hamburg, New York.

Best for gifts: Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks

Moleskine watercolor notebook

Next up is a series of watercolor notebooks from a brand even most non-artists have heard of and love: Moleskine.

The Moleskine Watercolor Notebook uses 25% cotton sheets to give artists the feel of more plush products at a substantially lower price point. The cold-press 135lb (200gsm) paper is perfect for almost every watercolor project.

These sketchbooks come in multiple sizes and feature an elastic band to keep them sealed when transported. The covers are a Moleskine textured wrap that feels very luxurious (you know if you know) but, more importantly, are very effective in protecting its contents.

Moleskine began producing notebooks in 1997, but the inspiration for these legendary pads goes back much further. When you try one of their notebooks for the first time, you’ll understand why so many stick to this brand.

They’re still one of my favorites after so many years!

Best for mixed-media sketchbookers: Strathmore Watercolor Visual Journal

Watercolor Strathmore Visual Journal

Last up is one of the most original options on our guide and the perfect pick for mixed-medium artists and crafters looking for creative ways to register thoughts and moments through art journaling.

The Strathmore Watercolor Visual Journal features high-quality 140lb (300gsm) cold-press paper to accommodate an array of materials besides watercolors, such as Posca pens, Tombow brush pens, Micron fineliners, and lots more!

While a spiral pad, rest assured, as this watercolor journal is held together by a heavy-duty spiral wire binding and protected by a cover. It also provides the convenience of opening to a flat, 360° angle.

This is a great option if you’re looking for a super creative gift for an art journaler! You can find more paper types/weights under the brand’s Visual Journal series. But if your focus is watercolor painting, this is my suggestion.

And while likely more appealing for more experienced hobbyists, beginners can definitely give this product a shot.

Best watercolor sketchbook alternative: Watercolor blocks

If you want to try an alternative to watercolor sketchbooks, I’d recommend checking out watercolor blocks. These are also known as gummed pads because they glue all the paper around the edges. 

These blocks are essentially stacks of pre-stretched watercolor paper on top of each other. The glued edges keep the paper stretched and warp-free while you work, preventing the pages underneath from getting damaged.

Plus, they’re super convenient and easy to work with!

Paper weight is also important for watercolor blocks. For example, thinner, 140lb (300gsm) paper will require drying before you remove the page from the glued edges. Heavier 300lb (640gsm) paper will stay intact no matter what and can be removed from the pad before completely dry.

Most watercolor blocks don’t offer as much paper per set, so you have to replace them more often. These blocks can also get bulkier and heavier, so you can’t carry them around as easily.

They’re more expensive than your average watercolor journal, as well. Without a doubt, these are top-notch products designed for professional artists first and foremost.

Here are a few of my favorite options when it comes to watercolor blocks.

Arches Watercolor Blocks

Arches watercolor blocks

Arches Watercolor Blocks are truly the gold standard. Made from 100% cotton paper in France under rigid standards for quality, these blocks are a very popular choice for professional artists.

There are also a lot of options to choose from in the lineup. There are cold, hot, and rough press options in both 140lb (300gsm) and 300lb (640gsm) weights, several sizes, and blocks of 10 or 20 sheets, depending on the model.

If you want the absolute best, you can’t go wrong with Arches. Just be aware that each sheet can cost $2 or more, so save it for your finest work!

Sennelier Watercolor Blocks

Sennelier watercolor blocks

Another great option comes from Sennelier, with watercolor blocks that come in both hot and cold-press finishes. Each block has 20 sheets of 140lb (300gsm) paper, so you must let them dry while glued down. 

The durable paper and glue let you work as much as you need to on a single page before switching it out. There aren’t as many size options to choose from, but you still get an excellent acid-free 100% cotton paper that’s a dream to work with.

How to choose the best watercolor sketchbook for you

Watercolor sketchbooks_FEATURE
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

For picky artists out there, finding the best watercolor sketchbook can be a little overwhelming. There are many different factors you have to consider before you get one.

And if you’re a beginner, it’s even more critical that you work with quality paper. In a nutshell, choosing the wrong paper will have you fighting the page, which usually leads to frustration. I learned this the hard way!

Opting for durable paper is essential, especially if you’re taking your sketchbook on the go. You want your surface to protect and help preserve your art as well as possible!

Watercolor isn’t lightfast, so the better and more durable the paper, the better the chances of keeping your work intact for longer.

Another key consideration is paper composition. For best results, aim for 100% cotton paper. Paper pulp is a great money-saver for crafters on a budget, but nothing beats cotton for quality. 

Each book will also have a paperweight. The heavier (and thicker) the paperweight, the less likely it is to warp. You’ll typically find 140lb (~300gsm) paper or higher in good watercolor sketchbooks.

If you go lighter, expect some warping once the page dries, especially with layers and washes. Note that you can absolutely get away with 90lb paper, but be aware that it won’t resist as much water or abrasion.

Finally, you have to decide on a paper texture. Hot-press is very smooth and ideal for precise brushwork and single layers. If you want to work in multiple layers and apply finer detail, you’ll need the roughness of cold-press paper to grab and hold the paint.

Rough paper is even more textured than cold-press, and it adds a really interesting effect to finished pieces.

Thankfully, you can find watercolor sketchbooks that have each of these qualities in different configurations, so you can combine the features you want most. Plus, once you find a brand you like, you can stick with it for years to come!

Other FAQs

Where can I buy watercolor sketchbooks?

There are many helpful places to buy watercolor sketchbooks. Some of the best places online are Dick Blick, Jackson’s Art, and in a pinch, Amazon. You can also get watercolor journals and books from specialty art stores near you.   

How should I store my watercolor sketchbook?

You want to store your watercolor sketchbook somewhere it can stay flat and dry. It’s also best to keep it in a place that is temperature and humidity-controlled. When possible, keep the book closed and out of direct light so the color doesn’t degrade. 

Which is better: Cold-pressed or hot-pressed watercolor paper?

Both cold- and hot-press papers have advantages and disadvantages. The extra roughness of cold-press makes it more absorbent and great for any watercolor technique. However, it gives you less time to work with the paint before it dries, and the colors become somewhat dull.

Hot-press is a smoother paper. This means that paint takes longer to dry, and once it does, the colors will be more vivid. The downside is that the surface can get overloaded with too many layers quickly, as pigments aren’t held in place as well. It’s ideal for high-detail, precision brushwork.

Can I make my own watercolor sketchbook?

It will take some time and skill, but you can absolutely make your own watercolor sketchbook. If you find loose paper that you want to turn into a sketchbook, you will have to bind the pages together and add a cover. Here’s a YouTube tutorial to give you an idea of what’s in store.

You can also check out a few bookbinding kits to practice techniques!

How do I prevent my watercolor sketchbook paper from buckling or warping?

Warping can be a problem with watercolor sketchbooks, especially when you over-saturate the paper. The best way to prevent buckling is to use thicker paper. The extra thickness will limit the warping. There is also a stretching method, but that works better on single pieces of paper.

If bucking is a recurring problem, I’d recommend trying a pre-stretched watercolor block instead of a watercolor sketchbook.

That’s it for this extensive guide to watercolor sketchbooks! Hopefully, you’re now equipped with the knowledge you need to pick up a watercolor journal of your very own!

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