Friday, January 17, 2020

Budget- Friendly Watercolor and Mixed Media Papers, Part II: Canson XL

I use a lot of Canson papers, but this entry will focus on the heavier watercolor and mixed media papers that allow wet media. I have acquired some new media since my last post, so I will be testing and discussing these new goodies, which include watercolor brush markers and alcohol markers from different brands. Reviews for these items will be the subjects of future posts.

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Canson XL Cold Press Watercolor Paper

Image of Canson XL watercolor paper pad 9 x 12 size (image from
Product Image from

If you read other reviews for Canson XL watercolor paper, you will see a wide reaction range between love and hate. Frankly, this pulp paper is good for light washes of watercolor paint and markers, but it will not bear up against multiple wet-on-wet applications. It can handle some light wet-on-dry work, but if you want to try this, be sure to test on a scrap first. Being 140 lb weight paper, it is able to handle some wet wash, but you will need to tape the paper down as it buckles a bit with a lot of water. It will dry flat, but not perfectly flat.

This paper pills easily despite its sturdy weight. You will not be able to scrub or erase the wet surface without lifting it. Once the surface lifts, it is harder to make color stick to that area. That said, this is a step up from very cheap scholastic watercolor paper, and the smoother side is not bad for pen and ink and drier mediums. It is hard on alcohol markers, however. They look great, but the surface will suck a lot of the ink. You can also use this for mixed media providing you follow the suggestions above and allow the paper to dry fully before layering.

TL/DR Notes:

-          Comes in various sizes (I use 9x12 in)
-          30 sheets, (100 sheet pad available in 12x18 in size)
-          Glue-bound pads (spiral 9x12” and 7x10 in. available also)
-          Widely available and affordable
-          Acid free
-          140 lb/ 300g weight
-          Cold press with medium rough surface (slightly smoother on reverse)
-          Suited for light washes of watercolor/gouache, inks, and thin acrylics
-          Should be taped down when working

Image of paint swatches on Canson and Bee watercolor papers for comparison
Swatches of Daler Rowney watercolors on Canson and Bee
 watercolor papers for comparison. Pulp vs cotton paper

Canson XL Mixed Media paper

image of Canson XL Mixed Media pad 7 x 10 inch size (image from
Product image from

With a 98 lb/150 g weight, Canson XL mixed media paper is heavier than regular drawing/sketching paper and sized to accept some wet media applications. In some cases, it outperforms the Canson XL watercolor paper, but it is still limited as far as wet media. Again, extensive wet-on-wet techniques are going to lift the paper surface. Since mixed media paper is lighter weight than watercolor paper, it will buckle faster with wet washes. It is an excellent base for water-based brush markers and alcohol markers, inks, and water-soluble pencils.

It can handle erasing well when dry, but once you use any wet media you should avoid scrubbing the surface. The front facing side of this paper has a light texture, while the reverse is a bit smoother, and both are workable. I have enjoyed very nice results layering colored pencil and pens over marker and dried watercolor, but the surface is not toothy enough for pastel or heavy layers of colored pencil or graphite.

I own a few different sized pads of the mixed media paper, but I use the 5.5 x 8.5-inch size to make swatches for my pencils, paints, and markers and experiment with different combinations. I will add some photos of my swatch pages to give you and idea of how versatile this paper can be.

TL/DR Notes

-          Comes is various sizes
-          60 sheets per spiral-bound pad
-          Widely available and affordable
-          Acid free
-          98 lb/ 150g heavy weight
-          Slight tooth (smoother on reverse)
-          Accepts water and alcohol-based markers, water-soluble media, light watercolor/ gouache washes, inks, pen and ink, thin acrylics, and most dry media

Image of a page of marker swatches on Canson XL mixed media paper
Here is one of my swatch pages showing Ohuhu
alcohol markers on the Canson XL mixed media paper

image of Experimental page from Canson XL mixed media pad showing various media used together
This is a page from my Canson XL swatch/experiment book
It shows how technical pens, white gel pens, and various alcohol
markers work together on the paper

I have been using both of these papers for years. While there are limits to the way they handle wet media, both papers are worth exploring even if you are on a tight budget. Canson makes high quality affordable papers that are easy to find in North America. I bought the watercolor and mixed media at Walmart.

Do you enjoy creating mixed media pieces? Let us know what papers or other substrates you prefer for your art in the comments.

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