Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper Review

For many painters, Arches reigns supreme over other watercolor papers.  Its frequently the go-to recommendation, and I'm not here to remove its crown.  I've had nothing but positive experiences with Arches watercolor papers, although as you'll read in this post, this is not unilateral- many artists struggle with Arches for various reasons.

Throughout this post, I share illustrations created on the types of Arches paper I've used, to give an overview of how their papers handle.

Papers discussed in this post:

  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Rough Press, Block Bound
  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
  • Arches Watercolour 300lb Cold Press, Block Bound, but removed
  • Arches Watercolour 140 lb Cold Press, Block Bound

Arches 300lb Cold Press, originally block bound but removed for blueline printing
Arches 300lb Cold Press, originally block bound but removed for blueline printing
Before we get much further in this post, I'd like to clear something up.

The Misconception:

Arches is owned by Canson.

Those slightly more in the know might think Canson originally owned Arches, and now ColArts, Winsor and Newton's parent company, have acquired it.

The Truth:

Arches watercolor paper is produced by one mill in France, which was founded in 1492.  Over the years, it has merged with three other mills to form a company called Arjomari, and in the 70's Ajomari acquired Canson, and produced papers for Canson's distribution.  Recently, Canson has been acquired by Hamelin, and ColArts became the Arches distributor in 2017.  ColArts handles Winsor and Newton, Liquitex, Reeves, Conte a Paris and several other art material manufacturers, and is owned by Lindengruppen, a Swedish business.

Arches is currently owned by Ahlstrom-Munksjo  and this partneship would give Munksjo access to ColArt's worldwide network of distribution.  Ahlstrom-Munksjo makes a variety of fiber based products- wallcoverings, tape backings, beverage and food packaging, fine art papers, and even electrotechnical papers.

Sources: 
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-1337443.html
http://www.colart.com/our-brands/arches.html
http://www.colart.com/our-story.html
http://www.euroinvestor.com/news/2016/12/15/munksjo-oyj-colart-sole-distributor-of-arches-fine-art-papers/13499213

Arches isn't just watercolor paper.  The Arches mill produces fine art papers for oil and drawing, as well as papers for art publishers.

Arches manufactures two types of watercolor paper- Lavis Fidelis/En-Tout-Cas (a double sided watercolor paper- one side hot press, one side cold press, made of 25% cotton with gelatin sizing, which we will not discuss today as I haven't tried it), and Arches Aquarelle/Watercolour paper, which we ARE discussing today.

Arches 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound

The Stats:


  • 100% cotton rag paper, machine made
  • Gelatin sized
  • Available in Cold, Hot, and Rough press
  • Available in:
  • Sheets- (hot, cold, and rough press, 140lb and 300lb)- 16"x20" (CP, 140lb only), 22"x30"
  • Rolls- (90lb, cold press)- 44.5"x10 yards
  • (140lb, cold press)-44.5"x10 yards
  • (140lb, hot press)- 44.5"10 yards
  • (156lb, hot press)- 51"x10 yards
  • (140lb, rough)- 44.5"x10 yards
  • (156lb, rough)- 51"x10 yards
  • Blocks (hot, cold, and rough press, 140lb, 20 sheets)- 3.9"x9.8", 5.9"x11.8", 7.9"x7.9", 7"x10", 8"x10", 9"x12", 10"x14", 11"x14", 12"x12", 12"x16", 14"x20", 16"x20", 18"x24"
  • (cold press, 300lb, 10 sheets)- 9"x12", 10"x14", 12"x16"
  • Pads (140lb, hot, cold, and rough) 9"x12", 10"x14", 11.7"x16.5"
  • Available in Bright and Natural White


Arches 140lb, Cold Press, Block Bound
Arches 140lb, Cold Press, Block Bound


Arches

Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block, 140lb, 20 sheets- $36.99 on Amazon
Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block, 140lb, 20 sheets-$25.16 on Blick

Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block 300 lb, 10 sheets, $24.75 on Cheap Joes


L'Aquarelle Canson Heritage
Heritage Watercolor Block, 140lb, 9"x12", 20 sheets- $38.40 on Blick
Heritage Watercolor Block, 140lb, 9"x12", 20 sheets- $42.07on Amazon

Not available in 300lb

Canson Moulin du Roy
Moulin du Roy 9X12 Block, 140lb, 20 sheets- $21.18 on Amazon

Not available in 300lb

Kilimanjaro
9x12 coldpress block, 140lb, 20 sheets $21.09, only available from CheapJoes
9x12 coldpress pad, 300lb, 10 sheets, $21.69 only available from CheapJoes

Fluid 100
9"x12" coldpress block, 140lb 15 sheets- 16.27 on Blick (bound on 2 sides)

Saunders Waterford
9"x12" coldpress block, 140lb, 20 sheets-$30.98 on Blick
9"x12", coldpress, block, 300lb, 23.68 on Blick

Stonehenge Aqua
9"x12", coldpress, padbound, 140lb- $16.49 on Blick

Although Arches has gotten a reputation for being a bit pricey, when compared with comparable products, Arches is just about in the middle of the pack.  While both Fluid 100 and Stonehenge Aqua perform quite well as watercolor papers, they may not offer the tooth and taut block options that the other papers on this list offer.  I would say a good block of Arches is worth the investment, however many other artists have noticed issues with recent sheets and blocks.  There have been complaints about areas of resist that won't accept water or pigment, and there's some speculation that this is due to changes in management and quality control as the Arches mill shifts ownership over the years.  I have not encountered such a problem personally, but I know that if I did, I would find it very frustrating in a paper as expensive and lauded as Arches.
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound

  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Rough Press, Block Bound
A very rough watercolor paper that feels similar to sandpaper, and may chew up brushes.  I really love the texture on Arches Rough- it's very satisfying.  The gum used to bind the paper to the block does an excellent job holding the paper taut.  Paper does not buckle or cockle despite paper saturation, and should not need further stretching.  Paper may be difficult to remove from block without knife.  Paper accepts color well, and colors remain vivid after drying.  Paper can accept multiple layers of color- both wet over wet and details.  Paper may be difficult to ink on, given texture.  Overall, a pleasant experience.
  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Paper needs to be stretched or will buckle, especially if a lot of water is used.  In my experience, slightly less tooth than the block version of the same color- this may be due to batch, as papers were purchased several years apart.  Performs comparably with Moulin du Roy (I often can't tell the difference once the papers have been removed from their pads, if unlabeled), but is easier to find.  Paper is a bit soft, and details may get fuzzy- not suitable for comics work in my experience.  Paper accepts color well, allows for gentle subtle blending, and can handle multiple layers of water.  Overall, a pleasant experience, and an easy paper to work with.
  • Arches Watercolour 300lb Cold Press, Block Bound, but removed
Paper is almost the width of illustration board- very sturdy paper.  I needed to run my illustration through my printer, so paper was removed from block beforehand using a knife.   Paper released printer ink upon stretching (not necessary, but made for easier handling, and I intended on using a lot of water for this illustration).  Brusho did not disperse as much as I had wanted, but colors are still very vibrant (so vibrant that the scan does not do the final piece justice- it's beautiful in person).  300lb block bound CP seems to have more texture than 140lb Pad bound CP- might be batch differences.
  • Arches Watercolour 140 lb Cold Press, Block Bound
The gum used to bind the paper to the block does an excellent job holding the paper taut.  Paper does not buckle or cockle despite paper saturation, and should not need further stretching.  Paper may be difficult to remove from block without knife.  Paper accepts color well, and colors remain vivid after drying.  Paper can accept multiple layers of color- both wet over wet and details.  Paper accepts ink from brushpen well.  Overall, a pleasant experience.
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Have You Heard the Word?

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The rules and the theme are simple- we'd love to see how you draw Squiddy, our tea loving squid mascot!  For a full list of rules, and information on how to enter, please visit Ink Drop Cafe!

The Verdict:

Arches is generally one of the first papers recommended by traditional watercolorists.  It seems to have some batch issues, but in the past, Arches has been a predictable, high quality watercolor paper that yields vivid results and beautiful blends.  My experiences with Arches have all been positive- from my printmaking years using BFK Reeves (a pleasure to print on, from lino to screenprint) to pad and block bound watercolor papers.  For me, it's great for illustration and an excellent sometimes treat, as it's too expensive for comic pages, and details are frequently fuzzy.

It's probably very obvious that my watercolor style does not make me Arches' target demographic- my style does not make me the target demographic of ANY watercolor supply or paper company.  Watercolor manufacturers in the US do not cater to illustration nor to comic artists, so it's up to us as illustrators and comic artists to find papers and products that suit our needs, regardless of whether these are the supplies other artists utilize.  However, this also puts me in a unique position- few illustrators or comic artists review their supplies regularly.  Most reviews are in fact written by those who wish to pursue watercolor in a traditional sense.  I know this because for every review I write, I include a list of outside resources to help others continue their research, and I highly prize an educated dissenting opinion as it helps me refine my own.

So I hope the reviews I've shared here have been useful for those of you who love watercolor, but wish to use it for illustration or comics.

Outside Resources and Second Opinions:

Arches Site
Ahlstrom-Munksjo: Products
Wet Canvas- Arches
ColArt: Arches
ColArt: Our Story
EuroInvestor: ColArt Distributor of Arches Fine Art Papers
Arches Papers
Reviews:
Painting Watercolor: Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper Review
Amazon Reviews- Arches ColdPress Sheets 
Amazon Reviews-Arches Coldpress Blocks
Arches, the basic to compare watercolor papers
WetCanvas: Is Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper Better Than Arches

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