Watercolor Paper vs Cardstock: What Are The Differences You Should Never Miss!

Based on what you are using your paper for, there are a lot of options to choose from. From regular writing paper to matte coated paper, from silk coating paper to watermarked paper, from bond paper to recycled paper, each kind of paper has a different use.

These different kinds of paper also have varied production processes and are quite different in every single manner. 

Watercolor paper and Cardstock paper are two very common types of paper used for a variety of reasons. They might look and feel similar, but there are a lot of differences between these two types of paper. 

First, it is very important that we know exactly what watercolor paper and cardstock paper are. 

Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is used by artists to paint on them, preferably using watercolors. Artists are usually very picky about choosing the right watercolor paper for their work because it affects the quality of their art to a great extent. 

Watercolor paper can be inexpensive and of low quality, but also expensive and high quality. Watercolor pigments do not respond well with low-quality watercolor paper, which can distort the painting and make painting techniques difficult to learn.  

A lot of different kinds of watercolor paper is available for artists to choose from, depending on factors such as their weight, their production process, their quality, their content, their texture, their form and their listing. These factors also affect the price and the availability of these watercolor papers.

Technically, watercolor papers are made to withstand a large amount of water. Since watercolors are used on these papers, watercolor papers should ideally be able to hold a lot of water on top of it without the paper becoming wet, tearing up or becoming uneven.

A good quality watercolor paper will be thick and absorbent; since it is meant to absorb a lot of water, it is built to do so effectively. While traditional paper will warp, develop bumps or even buckle underwater, watercolor paper is made to avoid these problems with watercolor. 

Texture is also very important when it comes to watercolor paper. Texture is known as ‘tooth” in paper quality, and watercolor paper has more teeth than any other kind of paper.

With a high number of teeth, watercolor papers become very absorbent and can withstand a huge amount of water. 

Cardstock Paper

Cardstock paper is more commonly known as card stock, or cover stock or paste board. They are much thicker than regular writing paper, even thicker than watercolor paper, but also thinner than cardboard. 

As the name suggests, cardstock paper is used for making all kinds of business cards, catalogue covers, playing cards, greeting cards, postcards, scrapbooks and other cards that need to be thick and durable. With a smooth surface and usually a glossy texture, cardstock can be written or printed on. 

Cardstock papers are popular because of their versatility and their durability. They, too, are made in a number of different ways, making them diverse.

Cardstock papers are mostly seen used in business settings as they happen to be more expensive than regular writing or printing paper.. They are a perfect fit for different office-related needs and business projects. 

In terms of thickness, weight and use in printing, cardstock can be of different types. They can be 0.012mil, 0.014mil or 0.016mil in thickness (mil refers to a size that is thousandth of an inch). 

Difference Between Watercolor Paper and Cardstock Paper

Although they are both thicker than the average writing and printing paper, cardstock paper and watercolor paper are actually completely different from each other.

These two types of paper have some unique characteristics that keep them separate from each other, and also defines them. 

1. Thickness or Weight of the Paper

Both watercolor paper and cardstock paper are thicker than regular paper, but they don’t have the same thickness themselves. 

The thickness of paper is measured by its weight, since paper sheets are very hard to measure with a ruler; weight of paper, in turn, is measured in terms of “Gram per Square meter(GSM)” or “Pound per realm (lbs)”.

With watercolor papers, the standard machine weight is somewhat around 190 GSM or 90 lbs, 300 GSM or 140 lbs, 356 GSM or 260 lbs or 638 GSM or 300 lbs, which is measured for a stack of 500 sheets of paper. 

With watercolor paper, the higher the GSM or lbs weight, the better the quality of the paper. Heavier paper also cost more because of their weight and their production process. 

Cardstock or cardstock paper falls under the division of “heavyweight paper”, and they are usually of 215 GSM or 110 lbs, 250 GSM or 92 lbs, and 270 GSM or 100 lbs in thickness or weight. This means that most watercolor paper is much thicker and heavier than cardstock. 

2. Material 

Most kinds of paper are made from recycled wood shavings; sometimes they are made from a combination of wood shavings and a small amount of cotton. Together, these two ingredients create a smooth texture and a fine appearance on paper sheets. 

For use with watercolor, watercolor paper needs to be extra absorbent. For making these kinds of paper, coton is intertwined in its own fibers to make watercolor paper. This material is also important for watercolor paper to not buckle or warp under water. 

Cardstock paper, on the other hand, is made from a mixture of hardwood and softwood. With a blend of these two materials, cardstock paper becomes hard and durable. Hardwood allows the proper formation of cardstock and softwood gives it the strength it needs to sustain.

Of course, the ratio between hardwood and softwood can differ, giving the user different types of cardstock paper. 

3. Texture 

Watercolor paper, by default, has a more rough texture or more “teeth” on its surface. This kind of texture helps different techniques with watercolor.

The more teeth a sheet of watercolor paper has, the better it will absorb water when painting. Bumps and a rough texture on watercolor are important for artwork, which means this is an important feature of this kind of paper.

Cardstock paper has a more smooth texture compared to watercolor paper. Because these papers are used in printers, they are smooth and ready to be printed on. Cardstock is also considered to be “photo safe” so that they can be used for printing photographs on. 

4. Use 

Watercolor paper, as the name suggests, is used by artists for their artwork using watercolor. Since watercolor has a lot of water in it, working with watercolor requires special paper to withstand all the water. 

Cardstock, too, as the name very explicitly suggests, is used for making different types of cards, i.e. business cards, greeting cards, catalogue covers, etc. They are thick, strong and durable, making them the perfect choice for making into different cards. 

5. Color and Appearance

Being bumpy and full of “teeth”, watercolor papers aren’t very smooth in appearance. They are usually white or cream in color, but they look thicker than regular paper.

Cardstock paper can be of different colors, whatever is needed for the project at hand, namely: black cardstock paper, brown cardstock paper, blue cardstock paper, gold cardstock paper, orange cardstock paper and more. 

Although watercolor paper and cardstock paper may seem similar at a first glance, they are completely different from each other. They each have their own features and specialities, and they are used for different purposes. 

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