Dog Days—Part V: Which Is Also a Review of the Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor Paper

July 25, 2011

See the full post for details of my paper test.

110712BoxerStrathWC Left: Another dog practice sketch with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and gouache, on Strathmore 500 Series Watercolor paper. (The shadow area at the left is where the paper bowed up from the scanner. Since it helps you see the pronounced texture of this paper I didn't see the need to rescan.)

Can't people cut their own watercolor paper? Sometimes marketers come up with things that just baffle me, like the new packages of Strathmore 500 Series watercolor paper that are "Ready Cut." For what you might ask? Placement in standardized mats and frames.

But here's the problem I have with that, if you cut the paper to fit a certain frame size then it's too big for the mat, i.e., you'll have to only use a portion of the paper. This isn't a big deal, but the packaging Strathmore uses shows an image painted and ready to plop in a mat window. The relative sizes of both of the images implies the cut paper is suitable for putting in a standard mat size, with enough "lip" to be held in place under the mat. But that's not the case. The sizes are strictly the normal sizes we always see for frames or mats, such as 8 x 10 inches, not 8.25 x 10.25 inches. So I don't see the point.

But maybe I'm just being difficult; and this wouldn't be the first time. At any rate, I saw these packages of 500 Series Strathmore Watercolor paper and because I like most of their 500 series papers and boards I bought a package of ten 8 x 10 inch sheets for $9.99; despite their packaging.

This 140 lb. paper is 100 percent cotton, acid free, and archival. It is supposed to be hot press; it was labeled hot press; there were other packs labeled cold press containing a different paper. Frankly I think that description of this as a hot press paper would only apply on some other planet where the relative gravity was different from our own.

This is clearly a cold press paper.

Strathmore knows how to make hot press papers—look at their 500 series Bristols, or any of their Bristols for that matter.

Now look who's being difficult. Clearly they need to give a bit more thought to their labeling so that it falls in line with what you might find in other high-quality, competing watercolor lines.

How does the paper handle? Well, I'm a hot press girl, so I didn't much like this paper. It is clearly so toothy that it breaks up the Pentel Pocket Brush's line. The good news is that the pen's ink line settles in quickly to the paper and in only a few spots did it bleed when I applied my washes of thinned down gouache.

The color floated for a long time on the paper surface, so if you like that you'll probably like this paper. I think if you're patient and let things dry between layers you could do some fun glazing on this paper. I was a bit bothered by the way the color picked up when I was simply trying to smooth a line of paint (top left ear at the head), but I was at the end of a long painting session with a Niji brush and had switched over to a regular #10 round to paint this. I maybe could have given it a bit more attention. Then again, I prefer papers that aren't so needy.

What I can't get over is that the hot press surface is really more a cold press surface, and that both sides of the sheet have widely varying surfaces (without making the reverse side any more smooth—and that's a trick—the paper almost has a debosed texture on that side). There is also something about the feel of this paper and the uniformity of the texture that seems too machined for me.

Since I can cut my own paper to whatever size I need it, and both surfaces of this paper are not appealing to me (neither being hot press, and both being too uniform) I have no incentive to buy a full size sheet (assuming they come in 22 x 30 inch sheets, I didn't ask). It won't be paper I'll be making books out of any time soon.

In the meantime I'll play with the remaining sheets and see if I can get a handle on the performance of the sizing. But I'll also be placing a paper order for my favorite watercolor sheets, currently TH Saunders and Winsor & Newton; hot press for each of course.

    • Nita
    • July 25, 2011

    It’s bizarre that the cut size is the actual opening size of a standard mat. I’d probably put all the sheets through a coil-punch for binding and make a spiral journal to tote around.

    There’s no excuse for Strathmore to label it hot press. As papermakers, they know better. Some uninformed marketer has gotten control of their packaging process. Really, I’d send a letter to the CEO and say “who’s running your company?”

    (feeling outraged over a good company gone bad)

    • PeggySu
    • July 25, 2011

    I LOVE the expression on the dog’s face. Looks as though it was anticipating this review. A good reminder that a drawing can be charming despite media issues.

  1. Reply

    PeggySu, that’s a stitch, he was just a worried dog, but then I think the issues I had with the paper only intensified the concern on his face!!!

    Very funny.

  2. Reply

    Thank you for your review. was just looking online at this product last week.

  3. Reply

    Moish, I just learned yesterday evening that Strathmore has changed the packaging for this product. The surface designations are the same, but something else has changed—haven’t seen a new package yet.

  4. Reply

    I love, LOVE this dog. Do you really consider Strathmore high quality? Their products seem inconsitent (maybe due to labelling). I like water color and absorbent cold press, so their paper doesn’t really work for me. I sometimes fall for their products and am usually disappointed.

    Oh well – no matter. More doggies!

  5. Reply

    Adrianne, as you can tell from this post I’m not a fan of this particular paper of Strathmore’s.

    As to all their papers, which I think you’re alluding to, yep, their 500 series papers are wonderful, I use them all the time, especially their 500 series Bristol, which I think are the best on the market.

    I really don’t use the 400 or 300 series papers they make much at all. Those are their lesser grade papers, clearly labeled, and I prefer to just get the 500 series for my work.

    Unlike many paper companies I think Strathmore has a great labeling convention (I don’t know when they started it but it has been around for decades) which, along with price, will help the consumer find a paper that suits them.

  6. Reply


    I guess it would help if I read the labels! I didn’t realize Strathmore had the different levels of paper. I had only tried the 300 and 400 series, not realizing they had a 500 series.

    I bought some of the 500 series and it was very nice. Now that I understand their line, I’ll be able to make better choices based on what I want to do.


  7. Reply

    Adrianne, The stores really should help you understand the differences in each line. I’m glad you were able to try some 500 series. In all their lines of paper I think the 500 series Strathmore compare really well. The exception for me is their watercolor paper 500 series, shown here.

    But it’s a small exception, since there are so many other 500 series papers they make that I love.

    Glad this post helped.

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