What paper should I use for painting with gouache?

What paper should I use for painting with gouache?

Blog article written by Andreia Melo and Nora Kag, in collaboration. See authors details below.

There are endless options when painting with gouache. Being an opaque medium, it lends itself to toned papers, such as grey, tan, or even black, and the colours of the papers can have a wonderful effect on the finished piece.

Gouache is a medium that initially can be laid down in a thin wash and then built up to a creamier consistency as one continues to work. It is not as "flexible" a medium (as the pigment particles are not ground as fine), as watercolour paints are. Because of that, gouache does need to be used with a sturdy paper, at least 180 gsm. The higher that number is, the sturdier, and thicker the paper is...
Paper that is thinner than that can't really handle the water you might use when painting and won't be a sturdy enough surface for thicker, creamier applications.

Each artist has their own unique way of working with gouache, and brush mileage, practice and time, will help you to determine which papers work well for you.
Watercolour paper always works well with gouache, but within that category, there are countless variations, such as 100% cotton, cellulose, different weights (gsm), etc.

There is cold pressed (with texture) and hot pressed (smooth surface). There are all types of papers within those categories as well: cold pressed with very rough surface or cold pressed with less rough surface (fine grain).

In the image below we show different types of paper that differ on weight and texture.

Different types of papers for using with gouache. Different weights and textures. Andreia Melo, illustrator and surface designer.

On the left we have papers with very low weight, from Canson. In the middle there is a watercolour paper from Royal Talens with 200 gsm and mixed media paper from Clairefontaine with 250 gsm.

Andreia prefers the hot pressed paper or the cold pressed with fine grain for illustrations because it's more smooth and it presents 2 advantages for her work:  the texture is not an obstacle for painting small details and results in a cleaner image after scanning so the digital work requires less effort too.

To exemplify the water effect on paper, let's see what happens when we paint with gouache on different paper weights.

Testing gouache on different paper weights and understand the differences. Andreia Melo, illustrator and surface designer.

On top we use low weight paper of 160 gsm. Despite not using much water mixed with the gouache, it is possible to see that the paper rippled, which is not a desirable behaviour with just 2 brush strokes.

Below we have more weighted papers in which that effect does not occur. On the left there is a 200 gsm watercolour paper, cold pressed with fine grain. The paper does not ripple and it is possible to see the paper texture on the painted surface. On the right side, a mixed media of 250 gsm allows to see a very smooth surface. The paint is very plain and the surface is perfect. Between the two, despite mixed media being more weighted, it's preferable to use watercolour paper if you want to use a generous amount of water in your painting.

Mixed media papers are a wonderful choice as well and are available in several colours. Nora Kag has used all the toned mixed media papers, from Strathmore, and she loves them all. Their weight is 250 gsm, and that is sturdy enough to handle the gouache. She tends to use quite a bit of dry brush technique with the paint being a creamier consistency but if she worked with more water (more washes of thinned out gouache), she may found that the mixed media paper will weaken (start to wear away). A paper with more weight to it might be better choice, if you tend to work with more washes of thinned out color.

Here are 2 examples of mixed media toned papers painted with different colours and different brush strokes to highlight the effect.

Gouache samples on toned watercolour paper by Norakag. Belongs to the blog article What paper should I use for gouache by Andreia Melo, illustrator and surface designer

Toned mixed media paper from Strathmore with different tones.

Card stock can be wonderful option, as it's available in countless colours, but be sure the weight of the paper is at least 180 gsm or more.

Our suggestion to anyone just starting out with gouache is to get some watercolour papers and if possible get assortment or sample pack. As you practice and test out your gouache, you will soon see what suits you, and your style, or your emerging style.

The hardest part is choosing among the huge array of wonderful papers out there...

If you want to take a look at some gouache paintings on watercolor paper, click here.

Andreia and Norakag.

Nora Kag, Watercolour and gouache artist, @norakag
Andreia Melo, Illustrator and surface designer, @andreiamelo.pt


For some tips on what brushes to use when painting with gouache, see the post "What brushes should I use to paint with gouache and how to clean them?"

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