Surfaces You Can Use Watercolor On | Popular & Lesser Known

Watercolor painting is a versatile and expressive art form that involves using pigments suspended in a water-based solution. Mastering this medium requires not only honing your technique but also selecting the right surface to paint on.

You can use watercolors on surfaces like watercolor paper, canvas, wood, fabric, clay, ceramics, acrylic paper, Yupo, glass, metal, and natural stones. The best surface for watercolor painting is typically watercolor paper, which comes in cold press, hot press, and rough textures, catering to different artistic styles.

The surface you choose can greatly impact the outcome of your artwork, as it influences how the colors blend, the texture, and the overall appearance. In this article, we will explore various surfaces that you can use for watercolor painting, helping you to unleash your creativity and achieve the best results possible.

Traditional Watercolor Surfaces

1. Watercolor paper

Watercolor paper is the most common and popular surface for watercolor artists, and for good reason.

It is specifically designed to handle the unique characteristics of watercolor paint, such as its transparency and fluidity.

There are three main types of watercolor paper: cold press, hot press, and rough.

Cold press paper has a slightly textured surface, making it ideal for artists who want to create expressive brush strokes and capture the nuances of the paint.

Hot press paper has a smooth surface, which allows for finer details and is often preferred for illustrations and realistic painting styles.

Rough paper has an even more textured surface than cold press, offering additional opportunities for interesting textures and effects.

When choosing watercolor paper, it is important to consider the weight and texture.

Heavier paper (usually 300 gsm or more) is less likely to warp or buckle when wet, and it can withstand multiple layers of paint without deterioration.

The texture of the paper can affect how the paint is absorbed and how colors blend, so it’s crucial to experiment with different papers to find the one that suits your style and preferences.

Watercolor paper

2. Watercolor canvas

Watercolor canvas is another traditional surface that is growing in popularity. Unlike regular canvas, watercolor canvas is specifically designed to handle watercolor paint.

It is usually coated with a special absorbent primer that allows the paint to adhere well to the surface.

To prepare a watercolor canvas, you may need to apply a layer of watercolor ground or gesso to ensure optimal paint adhesion.

One advantage of using watercolor canvas is that it is more durable than paper and can be easily framed without the need for glass.

Additionally, it allows for corrections and lifting of paint, making it a forgiving surface for beginners and experienced artists alike.

Alternative Watercolor Surfaces

While watercolor paper and canvas are the most traditional surfaces for watercolor painting, there is a world of alternative surfaces that offer unique opportunities for creativity and experimentation.

1. Fabric

Fabric is another interesting surface for watercolor painting. Natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk are best suited for this medium, as they absorb the paint well and allow for vibrant colors.

To prepare fabric for painting, it’s essential to pre-wash and iron it to remove any sizing or wrinkles. You can then stretch the fabric onto a frame or use fabric stabilizers to keep it taut while you paint.

Techniques for painting on fabric include wet-on-wet, dry brushing, and using fabric markers or fabric-specific watercolor paint.

2. Clay and ceramics

Clay and ceramics offer a unique surface for watercolor painting, allowing artists to create functional pieces with their artwork.

To paint on ceramics, you will need to use underglaze colors or ceramic stains designed for this purpose. After painting, the piece must be fired in a kiln to set the colors and make them permanent.

For clay, you can paint directly onto the surface using a watercolor ground or gesso.

Once your artwork is complete, you should seal the surface with a varnish or sealant to protect the paint from moisture and damage.

3. Acrylic paper and Yupo

Acrylic paper and Yupo are synthetic surfaces that offer some advantages over traditional watercolor paper.

Acrylic paper is a heavyweight paper specifically designed for use with acrylic paints but can also work well with watercolors.

It is less prone to warping and offers a smoother surface that some artists prefer. Yupo is a synthetic, non-porous paper made from polypropylene.

It is water-resistant, making it ideal for watercolor techniques that involve lifting and layering paint.

Painting on Yupo can result in vibrant colors and interesting effects due to its unique surface properties.

However, the paint may take longer to dry, and the non-absorbent surface may be challenging to work with for some artists.

4. Wood

Wood is a natural and versatile surface that lends itself well to watercolor painting.

To prepare the wood for painting, it’s important to sand the surface to create a smooth texture and then apply a coat of gesso or watercolor ground.

This ensures the paint adheres well and prevents the wood from warping due to moisture.

Painting on wood can result in unique effects, as the natural grain of the wood can add depth and texture to the artwork.

Watercolor on Wood
Picture Credit: Paintcrush with Kristy Rice on

Experimental Watercolor Surfaces

For artists who enjoy pushing the boundaries and exploring unconventional surfaces, watercolor painting on glass, plexiglass, metal, and natural stones or rocks can open up a world of creative possibilities.

1. Glass and plexiglass

Glass and plexiglass are transparent surfaces that offer a unique visual appeal, as light can pass through the artwork, creating interesting effects.

However, adhesion can be a challenge, as watercolor paint does not easily stick to these smooth, non-porous surfaces.

To overcome this issue, you can use a watercolor ground or a clear gesso specifically designed for glass or plexiglass.

Another option is to use watercolor markers or paints formulated for use on non-porous surfaces. Experimenting with these surfaces can lead to innovative and eye-catching creations.

2. Metal

Metal, such as aluminum or copper, is another unconventional surface for watercolor painting. To prepare the metal, it’s essential to clean the surface thoroughly, removing any oils or residues.

You should then lightly sand the surface to create a slight texture that helps the paint adhere better. Once prepared, you can apply a layer of watercolor ground or gesso designed for use on metal.

This ensures that the paint adheres properly and prevents oxidation.

Techniques for painting on metal may include layering, glazing, and using metallic or iridescent watercolors to enhance the reflective qualities of the metal.

3. Stones and rocks

Stones and rocks offer a natural and textured surface that can inspire unique watercolor artwork.

The irregular surface and shape can challenge your creativity and encourage the development of new techniques.

To paint on stones or rocks, first clean the surface with soap and water, and let it dry completely. You can then apply a layer of watercolor ground or gesso if you prefer, although this is not always necessary.

When painting on natural surfaces, it’s important to work with the existing texture and shape, allowing the paint to flow and blend organically.

Once your artwork is complete, seal the surface with a clear varnish or sealant to protect the paint from moisture and wear.


We have explored a range of surfaces suitable for watercolor painting, from traditional options like watercolor paper and canvas to alternative choices such as wood, fabric, clay, and synthetic surfaces.

We also delved into experimental surfaces like glass, metal, and natural stones or rocks. Each surface offers unique opportunities for creative expression and challenges that can help you grow as an artist.

We encourage you to explore and experiment with these different surfaces, pushing the boundaries of your watercolor practice and discovering new and exciting ways to create captivating artwork.

Mehak Verma

I love creating both traditional and digital watercolour art. Why? As a kid, transitioning from sketch pens to paint brushes and water soluble colours was a big deal. Hope you find what you're looking for on my website.

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