REVIEW: Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper Blocks

Saunders Waterford watercolor paper from St Cuthberts Mill is a professional-grade paper. It is endorsed by the Royal Watercolour Society, mould-made, and 100% cotton.

I had used the cold pressed version many years ago, but was thrilled to try all three surfaces for this review.

I received one block of:

  • Cold-press (aka Not) 7” x 10”
  • Hot-press (aka Satin) 12” x 9”
  • Rough 12” x 9”
Saunders Waterford Cold Press Block

Saunders Waterford Specs

  • Weight: 300 gsm (140 lb)
  • No. Of Sheets: 20
  • Content: 100% Cotton
  • Surface Sizing: Gelatine, internal and external
  • Characteristics: Mould made, acid free, archival
  • Good for Watercolor, gouache, acrylic, pastel, pen & ink, pencil & charcoal

These blocks come in the following sizes:

  • 10 x 7 in / 260 x 180 mm
  • 12 x 9 in / 310 x 230 mm
  • 14 x 10 in / 360 x 260 mm
  • 16 x 12 in / 410 x 310 mm
  • 20 x 14 in / 510 x 360 mm

The paper is also available in sheets, rolls, and pads, and also comes in a High White color.

Saunders Waterford Paper Examples

Saunders Waterford – Look & Feel

The Paper

Saunders Waterford comes in three surfaces — the usual cold press (Not), hot press (Satin) and rough. It’s a mould-made paper, meaning that it’s created by machine but resembles hand-made paper.

It is also acid free, archival, and has both internal and external sizing to give the paper extra strength, and even absorbency.

The difference is that the texture on all of these is even without the knots or unexpected blotches you often get with hand-made. The paper is soft, but stiff — the kind of paper that would bend rather than wrinkle, but would resist bending.

There is always some color shift, where colors are lighter once dry, but it was better than average on all three surfaces.

The cold press surface was about the medium average for cold press. Enough tooth so that you see some texture in the finished painting, but smooth enough to allow fine detail.

The hot press is smooth but does have some tooth. As expected with hot press, the colors stayed brighter, and I was able to get both extra fine detail and see effects such as blossoms more easily.

The rough texture was on the light side of rough. The texture still showed well in the finished work, but allowed a good amount of sharp detail.

I’ll talk more about the way the paper handles when I get to the examples.

The Block

A paper block has sheets that are glued on all four sides, except for an opening on top, about an inch and half wide.

The block has a heavy paper covering with information about St Cuthberts Mill, and one bit of instruction for which I give Kudos to St Cuthberts Mill.

You are told how to remove the paper from the block. This is the first time I’ve seen such instructions and they’ve been sorely needed. Just for that reason, I’d recommend this paper for someone using a block for the first time.

There is also cover sheet attached for protection, that also allows you to practice the paper removal before you try it on a finished painting.

The glue is black, so you can immediately see the opening, and it cuts easily.

Tip; The glue keeps the sheets underneath safe from most spills and enthusiastic painting styles, but paint could get under the opening. I place a piece of tape over it while painting. I also run a damp paper towel or cloth over the glued areas to remove any paint once I remove a painting. That way I don’t accidentally pick it left-over paint and get it on the next painting.

Example Set One – Using Saunders Waterford

For my first set of examples, I drew shapes with masking fluid and cut masking tapes into other shapes. All three surfaces handled them equally well, no tearing on removal. Paint covered these areas as if the masking had never been there.

I painted on the block using an extreme amount of water — standing puddles. All three surfaces puffed up slightly, but flattened as soon as the paper dried. I overworked this set in places, rewetting, lifting color and repainting several times in one spot, to see how the paper would handle the abuse.

Color lifting was moderate. I could lighten color, but didn’t get anywhere near white. It would not be easy to accidentally remove color. I was able to repaint over the areas with no trouble and there was no pilling. The color wasn’t as bright as fresh but that would be true with any paper.

Paint flows well, but hard edges form easily and are almost impossible to soften once dried.

Cold Press

Saunders Waterford Watercolor Painting Example on Cold Press Paper

The flow on the cold press surface was great, lots of movement. Granulating paints performed well, and color stayed bright.

The worst overworking was done in the middle — the yellow puffy bushes on both the far right and the far left. You can compare the yellows just in front of them to see the difference between one layer of fresh paint, and one that has been scrubbed and repainted.

Those overworked areas had color lifted and were repainted at least 5 times. They have a soft, diffused look. A lesser paper might have left little pills of torn paper, refused to take any more color, or just turned into ugly mud. I tend to use this look too much, but it’s great for soft tufts of woolly hair or a faint gleam.

Look at the five-leaf flower left front. It wasn’t overworked, but I was glazing and made a poor color choice. There is more than one way to create mud!

Hot Press

Saunders Waterford Watercolor Painting Example on Hot Press Paper

See the area at the middle top where the color left little streaks? That’s the kind of thing that can happen with hot press. Many people love these effects. Conversely, others like hot press for the fine detail and control. It’s all in the amount of water. I was more about the effects in this test.

As expected for hot press, the dried colors were more intense than on the cold press or rough.

I was hardest on this paper because hot press is the most delicate of the surfaces, but I didn’t get any pilling, mud or places where I couldn’t add any more color.


Saunders Waterford Watercolor Painting Example on Rough paper

Overall, I went easier on this rough surface than with the other paintings. Having fussed so much with the other two, I wanted to show what color would be like if you just used one layer and let it be. Not that I didn’t test this paper as hard, but I kept most of the overworking in one area — that round tree upper left.

The flow was excellent. Granulating colors really granulated so you get some lovely textures. Despite the rougher texture I was able to get good detail.

As with the other surfaces, the area I scrubbed, lifting color and painting over several times left duller color.  There was no pilling, and the paper continued to accept more color.

Example Set Two – Using Saunders Waterford

For my second set of colors, I took a sheet off the block before painting so I could see how much it would curl or dimple if not glued down. Kind of defeats the purpose of a block, but some of you might want to buy this paper in a pad or single sheets.  There was a slight *curl to all three surfaces during the initial wash and the finished work isn’t quite as flat as it is off the block.  There was no *dimpling or *waffling.

I used both wet-into-wet techniques and wet-into-dry as well as dry-brushing. But I started out with much less water.

What I concentrated on was glazing — painting a thin layer of paint, letting it dry, then painting over it, repeat as needed. I wanted to see if I would end up accidentally lifting color instead of adding — nope, that didn’t happen.

Several glazes were applied, up to seven in some places on each painting. I wanted to see if the paper would stop taking color — nope, that didn’t happen.

I was very impressed by the glazing capabilities of the paper (impressed with myself too, that I didn’t make mud by choosing the wrong colors to layer).

*Curl — the curls upward, usually at one or more corners.

*Dimpling — small spots of the paper sink, so it looks as though the paper has hills and valleys.

*Waffling — an area of the paper sinks, similar to dimpling, but in a long wave, usually from edge to edge.

Cold Press

Pixabay photo reference courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

My ring neck pheasant was painted on cold press. Everything went right with colors blending and glowing with each layer.

The tooth is just enough to allow show some texture in the finished work.

Hot Press

Having done my prior test painting, I adjusted the amount of water I used, and enjoyed the full control and fine detail that hot press paper can give you.

Sometimes hot press doesn’t glaze well, because there isn’t enough tooth to hold all the layers. The Saunders Waterford hot press handled up to five glazes with no problem.  There was a slight curl in the corners with the initial wash, but it flattened completely once dry.


Pixabay photo reference courtesy of LuvCoffee on Pixabay

The rough paper was perfect for this Mandrill’s hair. There is a lot of texture showing in the finished work, though the scanner didn’t pick it up very well. I think it got swallowed up among the variegated hair-color.

Despite the rough texture, this paper keeps the color nice and bright. I was able to get surprisingly fine detail. No curling or dimpling and the painting dried perfectly flat.

Saunders Waterford – Overall

The Saunders Waterford blocks are well-constructed with glue that cuts easily so you don’t damage your finished paintings. There are even instructions telling you how to use the block, which is a rare thing.

All three surfaces keep the colors bright, allow the paint to flow well and glaze beautifully. The paper is 140 lb (300 gsm), 100% cotton, mould-made, acid-free, archival and has both internal and external sizing. On the block, the paper puffs slightly if a great deal of water is used in the initial wash, but it flattens completely once dry. Off the block, the hot press curls slightly at the corners, but again flattens as it dries. All three surfaces dry completely flat.

The cold press has a medium tooth that shows some texture in the finished work. It performed like cold press paper should and did it well.

The hot press is smooth, but does have a little tooth. It did everything I’d expected from hot press and a little more.

The rough paper is on the light side of rough, so it gives finer detail than usual for this kind of paper, while giving the finished painting a lovely textured look.

About St Cuthbert Mills

St Cuthberts Mill is based in Somerset, England, and has been making papers at the same site since the 1700s. Their papers are made using specially sourced pulps and cotton linters, clean water from the River Axe for purity, it is both internally and externally sized to improve strength, mould made with woolen felts, and checked by humans for flaws and finishing.



I received one block Cold-press 7” x 10”, one block Hot-press 12” x 9”, and one block Rough 12” x 9” watercolor paper from the Dixon Ticonderoga Company, for the purposes of this review. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Recommended6 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

12 thoughts on “REVIEW: Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper Blocks

  1. Andy Evensen and Oliver Pyle rave about this brand. If it’s good enough for them, it’s way too good for me. Id love to play with it but I’m pretty frugal and content with all papers Stonehenge.

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