Monday, August 8, 2016

Compare watercolor papers: Strathmore Watercolor, 400 Series

This is part one of twelve in my series of watercolor paper tests, comparisons, and reviews. Here I am testing Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor. See this post for introduction and photos of all the papers tested and this post for conclusions.

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor

  • Finish and weight: Cold press, 140 lb. (300 gsm)  
  • Composition: Acid free
  • Website info

Paper color

This paper is (a slightly warm) white.

Watercolor brightness

Yes, watercolors retain their brightness as long as they are relatively saturated and not too diluted.

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor with watercolors, pencil, pen, brush and ink
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Paper texture

The texture of this paper is similar to both Strathmore 500 Series Imperial and Strathmore 500 Series Ready Cut. This texture works well for a cold press paper as there is enough texture to show granulation, yet it is not too prominent or noticeable. The 400 Series Watercolor paper feels a bit softer to the touch than the 500 Series Ready Cut.

Paper sizing and absorbency

The sizing also works well. Since the paint does not soak in immediately, it allows for some reworking yet does not take too long to dry. Just the right amount of water is needed, not too much or the colors will keep spreading, and not too little. I did not get any backruns.

However, one thing to watch out for is that the sizing is sometimes unevenly applied at the factory and clustered up on the sheet, distorting the texture so that the sheet cannot be used in full.

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor paper with watercolors
© 2016 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

Paper cockling

As with most papers in this test, if you use watercolors without stretching the paper, the paper will cockle and the distortions remain after drying.

Pencil/pen/brush and ink

Since the surface is both more textured and softer than the 500 Series Ready Cut, I can feel the texture as I draw and pencil lines look darker on the paper. Be careful if you need to delete as some of the surface may come off.

With pen on the other hand, the surface feels surprisingly smooth. My Uniball Vision fine pen renders nice and glossy black lines, whereas the lines of Staedtler Pigment Liner are more gray and Pigma Micron feathers a bit.

With brush and ink I get glossy black strokes.

Cost and availability

Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor is one of the most widely available watercolor papers in the United States, both at art stores and online, and comes in pads, blocks, sheets, and rolls.
  • List price for a 22”x30” sheet is $3.15, online it can be found for about $2.
  • List price for an 18”x24” wire bound pad with 12 sheets is $32.39, online it can be found for about $20.

History and continuity

Strathmore was founded in 1892 in Massachusetts and was named after the Valley of Strathmore in Scotland. The founder Horace Moses visited this area a few years after founding his company and found it so beautiful that he selected not only the name Strathmore but also the thistle, in full bloom at the time, as symbol for his paper company. Since 2006, Strathmore is owned by Pacon Corporation in Wisconsin.

The 400 Series Watercolor paper was introduced in 1940 as Student, changed name to Alexis in 1952, and to 400 Series Watercolor in 1974. Its Artist’s counterpart is the 500 Series Imperial. In short, this paper has been around for a long time, is widely used, and can easily be found in most art stores. It is made in the United States.


I have used this paper for many years so I am quite familiar with it. It handles well, has good texture and sizing, is cost efficient, and widely available. I like that its texture works well with granulation, that the paint does not sink in immediately but can be reworked for a short time, and that it is quite responsive to pen and pencil lines.

One drawback, shared with the other papers tested, is cockling if you paint without pre-stretching, another the fact that the sizing at times is unevenly applied at the factory.

Översättning. Strathmore grundades 1892 i Massachusetts i USA och fick sitt namn från Strathmoredalen i Skottland. Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor är ett akvarellpapper som har funnits sedan 1940-talet och som ligger på liknande nivå som Canson Montval, syrafritt men ej 100% bomull. I USA är det både prisvärt och lätt att få tag i.

Under åren har det blivit ett av mina favoriter med en ytstruktur som framhäver granulerande pigment utan att vara alltför iögonfallande, en limning som tillåter bearbetning av färgen innan den torkar in utan att vara alltför hård, och en responsiv yta som tar både blyerts och tusch väl. 

Dock får man se upp för buckling om man använder mycket vatten utan att spänna upp papperet innan (detta gäller överlag alla de akvarellpapper jag testat), samt för anhopning av limning på vissa papper vilket gör att hela arket inte kan användas.

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