Hahnemühle Expression 100% Cotton Watercolor Paper Review

Raise your hand if tape or masking fluid has ever ripped your paper. Yup, me too. Frustrating, isn’t it? Have you tried to lift out a mistake or clean up an edge, and the pigment won’t budge? What did you do? Start over? Hide it? Leave it? Hahnemühle paper understands these frustrations, and in response they’ve created Hahnemühle Expression cotton and Hahnemühle Harmony alpha cellulose watercolor papers.

Grain of watercolor paper Hahnemühle Expression detail
watercolor paper detail Expression

Masking Tapes and Fluids Release Cleanly from Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton paper

Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton paper released tapes and masks without tearing, even when I masked over painted areas. I still chose to remove some of the adhesive on my strongest tapes by sticking them to my clothing first, but used artist and painter’s tape straight from the spool.

I wondered if the superior lifting capabilities would mean the tape or mask had a tendency to allow leaks. I burnished the tape down, painted the mask into place, then soaked the paper with paint. As you can see, nothing made it through. If you enjoy techniques that require masking, Hahnemühle Expression is a front runner.

Watercolor swatches on Hahnemühle Expression paper

Hahnemühle Expression watercolor paper allows colors to be lifted while wet.

Hahnemühle also claimed that wet paint could be easily lifted on the Expression paper, which makes sense given its ability to resist adhesive. Every paint, including Phthalo Blue, lifted back to Level 9 or 10 white while still wet. Most paints lifted back to 8 or 9 after dry down using just water and a soft brush; some of the more staining lifted back to level 7.

I didn’t experience any pilling or holes. This extraordinary lifting capability is a two-edged sword, however. If you fiddle while the paint is wet, you are going to have a hot mess on your hands. Even a fully dried layer requires a light, confident touch and a soft brush or the first layer begins to lift.

Hahnemühle Expression watercolor block 100% cotton

Basic Details of the Hahnemühle Expression Cold Pressed Watercolor Blocks and Sheets

The paper I was sent for testing was 100% cotton Hahnemühle 140# Cold press Expression A4 block. The block is glued, but not gauzed. I was able to remove sheets from the block with a plastic bank card. I was also sent a plastic pack of full sheets with cut edges. I tore a piece down, but ended up trimming the deckle edges when it caught on masking tape. The block and loose performed identically, which I appreciated. I normally don’t care for paper in blocks.

Expression and Harmony are heavily surface sized. The surface texture of Hahnemühle Expression is smoother than Arches cold press, and reminds me of Saffiano leather. I liked how the color flowed on this texture and how it felt on my brushes. My tongue glided rather than stuck on a paper sample when I gave it the lick test. The natural white paper allowed color to remain brilliant. Buckling was minimal on both the block and in taped-down sheets.

So how does Hahnemühle Expression paper handle in real life for a watercolor artist-doodlewasher?


Using Hahnemühle Expression watercolor paper - painting examples

Hahnemühle Expression encourages and rewards bold, expressive painting.

• Simple, colorful brush strokes to enliven an ink painting are a breeze, but coloring by the cell method is challenging.

• Large washes are easily achieved with the bead method, and can be done back-and-forth with a soft brush. Color diffuses softly when dropped into a wet wash or pre-wet paper.

• One of my favorite techniques on Hahnemühle Expression was painting a bold, crisp stroke of color along a hard edge and using a wet brush to pull the pigment out to the rest of the shape. If you want to learn more about creating organic edges and beautiful shapes with pulling, Angela Fehr, one of the World Watercolor Month Artist Ambassadors, covers it in detail.

• Charging works well, as does layering applied with light, confident strokes.

Layering with Hahnemühle Expression cotton watercolor paper

• Spray, salt, and specialty masks are drop-dead gorgeous on Expression paper.

• Lifting back highlights or shapes is easy on Expression watercolour paper. Lifting works best while the paint is still wet. Softening off with a thirsty brush was also easy.

Lifting watercolor paint on Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton watercolor paper

• Pouring (or large wet washes) worked exceptionally well.

• Dry brush was challenging but gave a soft, fur-like result on the smoother texture.

Dry brush on Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton watercolor paper
Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton watercolor paper lettering example

Platinum carbon ink and Sakura Micron pens worked well, other waterproof pens tended to run when hit with water. The texture of the cold press is smooth enough none of my pen tips caught or skipped. I was able to write or sketch easily on Hahnemüle Expression.

Summary of my experience with Hahnemühle Expression 100% cotton paper and a question for YOU!

Hahnemühle Expression watercolor paper was both fun and challenging. When I worked with it – masking, bold strokes, confident washes, spraying – it was exceptional. When I tried to fiddle with the value, fix a shape, or work an edge, I had trouble. Expression is an invaluable addition to my paper library for abstract work with landscapes and florals. I’ve also made a meandering fold sketchbook with a full sheet to encourage looser work when I’m on location. The Hahnemühle Harmony paper had similar properties, and is a nice budget alternative to the Expression paper.

I’m currently enrolled in Birgit O’Connor’s Atmospheric Landscapes course (Birgit is also a World Watercolor Month Artist Ambassador this year!) and using Hahnemühle Expression as one of my main paper choices. Follow me on Instagram to continue to see the large, flowing paintings created with this style. I will also be sketching and tagging my normal sketchbook work on my feed and in my stories when I use Hahnemühle Expression or Harmony watercolor papers.

Are masking, pouring, pulling color, or lifting essential techniques for you?   What are your favorite papers to work with when using atmospheric techniques?  Have you tried Hahnemühle Expression, Harmony, or other papers from the Hahnemühle mill?

Thank you to Hahnemühle for providing the paper for this review. I was not paid for this review, nor will I receive any compensation from future sales of this product. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

23 thoughts on “Hahnemühle Expression 100% Cotton Watercolor Paper Review

      1. Susan, don’t hesitate to ask about it at your favorite venues. Some stores have stock that they don’t list online, and many will be happy to do a special order. WetPaintArt.com is very good about that.

        1. Wet paint was the first place I looked. They don’t carry it and there’s no Contact Us button on their website that I could find.
          I did find the paper on Amazon, though.

    1. The Expression and Harmony are new to the market and should be available through Amazon and other art stores that carry Hahnemüle soon in the USA. Doodlewash has members globally, too.

    1. Sharon, I haven’t used Cézanne–the Expressions was my first Hahnemüle paper. I imagine Cezanne has several high quality reviews since it’s been on the US market for quite a while.

  1. Bekki thank you for the detailed review! I’ve tried Hahnemuhle Harmony, and totally agree with you. I’ve enjoyed using all the Hahnemuhle watercolour papers I’ve been able to try so far ( thank you Doodlewash!) and hope they are soon available in Canada. (because the exchange rate, plus shipping, plus duty makes the cost too high)

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