Review: Union Square Cold Press Watercolor Paper: Watercolor Basics

Over the years, I've privately tested a lot of watercolor papers in order to find the right papers for me.  Price has always been a factor for me, and my mother taught me not to snub store brands.  I've tried Blick Studio watercolor paper (not bad- decent for simple watercolor illustrations with minimal blending and washes), Cheap Joe's Killamanjaro (fantastic paper, would love to continue working with it), and now Jerry's Artarama's Union Square.

I picked up a pad from my local Jerry's about a year ago, sketched an illustration in it about nine months ago, inked that illustration six months ago, and finally, FINALLY! got around to painting it recently.  At the time, Union Square was a fairly recent release, and I was excited to try a new watercolor paper, as I'd already tested out several while working on additional illustrations for 7" Kara Volume 1. 

There are a number of papers produced by Jerry's Artarama under the Union Square label- Mixed Media, Layout Bond, Tracing Vellum, Smooth Cartridge, Heavyweight Drawing, Hot Press Watercolor, and Watercolor (cold press).

Union Square is available in tape bound and gum bound packages, both available in hot press and cold press, giving you a total of four options for your watercolor paper.

The Stats:

140lb watercolor paper
  • 10 sheets per pad
  • Available in hot and cold press
  • Acid Free
  • Accepts watercolor and mixed media applications
  • Natural White surface
  • Available in blocks, pads or packs of sheets
  • Durable, 1.75pt  backer board

  • This watercolor paper is available in just two sizes- 9"x12" and 11"x14".  Generally when testing papers, I prefer to purchase a small pad- say 5"x8", which leads to a lot of my test illustrations being smaller pieces.  I opted for the 9"x12" pad, although 11"x14" is also commonly used in my studio. 

    Given that this is a Jerry's house brand, you can only find Union Square watercolor Paper at Jerry's Artarama.  Both their online store and their brick and mortar locations carry this paper, although it seems like the site is closing them out for $7 a pad- quite a steal if you're interested in affordable watercolor paper.

    The site doesn't say whether or not Union Square is cotton rag or cellulose based, but my guess would be cellulose given the price.

    Hey friends!  Don't forget it's #WorldWatercolorMonth!  This post is part of my month long watercolor celebration that includes, tutorials, reviews, and more!  For more watercolor goodness, don't forget to check out my Watercolor Basics hubpage here on the blog, and my Watercolor playlist on Youtube!

    For even more great watercolor art and illustration, head on over to my beautiful watercolor webcomic, 7" Kara, which is fantastic to share with the little ones in your life.

    The Field Test

    Since I'd purchased a tape bound pad, I removed my inked illustration from the pad, and went ahead and stretched it like I would my other watercolor illustrations on Gatorboard.  I proceeded to do a tonal wash, as well as some wet into wet color (sadly, not photographed)- the Union Square watercolor paper handled wet into wet with aplomb.  Cheap papers like Canson Montval, Blick Studio watercolor, Fabriano Studio can't handle wet into wet well- the paper tends to dry too quickly to allow for color diffusion.  The Union Square paper takes awhile to dry, like many cotton rag papers and like Winsor and Newton's watercolor paper, but this allows for color blending and wet into wet techniques.

    At this point, my Union Square paper has seen multiple washes and many layers of watercolor- holding all with aplomb.  Cheaper papers often shed layers of watercolor if too much water has been applied, but the Union Square pad not only held the color well, layer after layer, but the color was fairly brilliant and deep on the paper, reminiscent of more expensive watercolor papers.

    This paper was also great at not sucking areas of color into areas left reserved.  I was able to keep Kara's skin fairly 'clean' from the green surrounding her without using a mask.

    Once I finished, I removed my illustration from the gator board and used white gouache to clean up the edges.

    The color depth is fairly good for an inexpensive paper (colors tend to go muddy or chalky when layered on cheap papers), the paper texture is still visible (a plus for me, I love coldpress papers), and there wasn't excessive sheen from paint buildup on the paper surface.

    Scanned and Cleaned Final

    The Verdict
    • Handles like Winsor and Newton Watercolor paper
    • Strong texture
    • holds water well- allows for blending
    • minimal pickup/minimal mud
    • Thick paper
    • Inexpensive
    • Jerry's Artarama Store Brand
    • Would recommend
    Union Square watercolor paper is a tough 140lb watercolor paper that's slightly thicker than most 140lb watercolor papers- about as thick as the Winsor and Newton watercolor paper.  It handles color beautifully, has a cold press texture, and is perfect for practice and illustration.  Right now, it's on discount through the Jerry's Artarama site, so grab it while it's still available.

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