Silk Paper vs Watercolor Paper: Which Is Better?

Silk Paper vs Watercolor Paper: Which Is Better?

Comparing silk paper and Arches aquarelle watercolour paper 


Comparing Papers


Ever wondered what the difference is between watercolour paper and silk paper, and which is better for Chinoiserie painting?


In this blog post, I talk you through their key differences in texture, absorbency, and artistic possibilities.


Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting your creative journey, this insightful comparison will guide you through choosing the perfect surface for your next masterpiece!


chinoiserie artist diane hill in art studio at desk with various painting materials


What is Silk Paper?


If you haven’t heard of silk paper before, it’s essentially a piece of silk fabric backed with non-woven paper, creating a perfect painting surface. Imagine a silk scarf—light and flowy—transformed into something stable yet luxurious to paint on. 


up close image of silk paper texture

Silk paper pack of 4 sheets


I’ve been using silk paper for over ten years, and it has added a unique, luxurious edge to my artwork. However I understand that it’s an investment, which can be daunting! I suggest starting by cutting one sheet into four smaller sheets, which you can use to test paints or even create mini artworks, like I've done here. I also include test strips within every pack of silk paper, so you can test your colours in advance.


chinoiserie paintbrushes on top of artist painting paper

My chinoiserie paintbrushes and silk paper 


Silk Paper vs Watercolour Paper


For this comparison, I’m using Arches Aquarelle hot-pressed, 300 GSM 140lb, 100% cotton, watercolour paper. I chose this paper for its smooth surface, although it is not comparable to painting on silk, I think it is the best alternative because the paint techniques will lend themselves well to this paper.  


Whilst watercolour paper is fantastic for practice and technique development, it can come with its own set of limitations, especially in terms of layering and texture. But, it’s a great starting point if you’re not ready to invest in silk paper just yet!


silk paper for chinoiserie painting next to watercolour paper

My silk paper and Arches' Aquarelle watercolour paper side by side 


Exploring the Differences


Sheen and Texture


The first thing I notice with silk paper is the sheen in the silk. It is made of tightly woven silk fibres, giving it a beautiful glossy finish and a subtle texture that adds depth to your artwork. It's been specially treated for painting and backed with paper as a beautiful way to enable artists to paint on silk without any bleeding.


up close image of texture and sheen on silk painting paper

Up-close look at the sheen and texture of the silk paper  


Because it's a fabric, the paint absorbs into it (almost like a dye) and sinks in, allowing you to easily layer the paint without damaging the surface. 


This makes it super easy to dye the entire sheet of silk paper with a really light wash of acrylic, and then build up layer upon layer of texture and paint and it will never come away - unlike a paper which could eventually rub away.


hand holding wide paintbrush to dye silk artist painting paper

Using a wide paintbrush to dye my silk paper 


With the watercolour paper, I noticed straight away that it was much thicker than the silk paper and has more of a matte finish with a slightly more pronounced texture. 


up close image of texture on watercolor paper

Up-close look at the texture on the Arches watercolour paper 


Basic Washes


To start with I'm going to use watered down gouache paint and my chinoiserie brushes to create a basic wash.


hand squeezing gouache watercolor paint into paint palette

Adding gouache paint to my porcelain paint palette


This first thing I notice with the watercolour paper is there's a bit more texture showing beneath the paint. This gives it a more of a 'painterly' effect which is perfect if you prefer a traditional watercolour aesthetic with noticeable brushstrokes and textures.


The difference with the silk is that the paint glides on, dying the paper, so it absorbs the paint smoothly and evenly to create a consistent colour. For the type of work I do this kind of luxurious smoothness is perfect, and is what chinoiserie is known for!


silk paper and watercolor paper side by side with watercolour gouache shapes

Side by side comparisons of basic gouache washes 


Blending and Detailing


Before I go in with my darker shade of paint, I put down a layer of water to help create a smooth gradient. This is a technique I talk about in more detail in my eBook (along with many other chinoiserie painting techniques!) and it requires two paintbrushes, one for painting, and one for blending.


Related blog post: Learn To Paint Chinoiserie Art


hand holding two Chinese paintbrushes to create floral chinoiserie painting

Using two paintbrushes in the traditional chinoiserie technique to create a smooth blend


Blending on both the silk paper and the watercolour paper created seamless transitions! When I applied a darker shade of paint on silk paper, the paint spread smoothly, resulting in beautiful soft gradients.


On the watercolour paper, the paint blended nice and evenly, creating an easy transition - something Arches paper is know for!


silk paper and watercolor paper side by side with gouache paint shapes

Side by side comparisons of the gouache paint blends 


Before moving onto the detailing, it's important to make sure the base layer is completely dry to avoid the paint bleeding into one another. I used my detail chinoiserie brush to add some fine line detailing, and on both papers the results were clean and crisp lines!


silk painting paper and watercolor artist paper with chinoiserie style gouache shapes

Side by side comparisons of the gouache paint details


Layering Performance 


Silk paper excels in when it comes to layering! The paint sinks in beautifully, letting me build up multiple layers without disturbing what's underneath. This is perfect for creating rich, detailed backgrounds and adding depth. The texture of the silk stays intact, and the layers blend seamlessly, ideal for intricate, multi-layered designs.


Watercolour paper, on the other hand, requires a little more care. I noticed my paint colours lifting when working on top, creating patchy effects. But with patience and very careful layering, you can still achieve stunning depth and vibrancy. You may need to work quicker and with more confidence so that you are not overworking the paper. 


silk paper and watercolor paper side by side with acrylic paint wash background and gouache paint wash on top

Side by side comparisons of paint layering


Overall, the key difference lies in how the paint interacts with each surface. Silk paper absorbs and holds the paint, making it ideal for intricate designs and smooth gradients. Watercolour paper, while slightly more textured, makes the process slightly more challenging. You can still achieve beautiful gradients, but it may take a bit more effort to maintain a smooth transition.  


chinoiserie artist diane hill in her art studio at desk with artist painting papers and chinese paintbrushes


Tips and Techniques


Practice On Watercolour Paper


For those who are more comfortable with traditional watercolour techniques, starting with watercolour paper is a great way to practice blending and detailing. Once you’ve mastered these techniques, transitioning to silk paper can elevate your artwork with its luxurious finish and smooth blending capabilities. 


Both mediums offer unique advantages, but the choice depends on your preference and project requirements.


stack of artisan painting papers including silk paper, india tea paper, and slub silk paper

My artisan papers including silk paper, slub silk paper, and India tea paper 


Use The Right Brushes


The choice of brushes is just as important (if not more) than the surface you are painting on. Chinese brushes and silk paper are best friends and allow for seamless, smooth and meditative strokes. I use my own specially selected Chinese brushes for painting chinoiserie art. It took me years to source them, but the effort was so worth it as they offer incredible benefits.


Related blog post: Why Choose Chinoiserie Paintbrushes?


pot of natural hair Chinese paintbrushes for chinoiserie painting

Natural hair, bamboo chinoiserie paintbrushes  


Firstly, their highly absorbent nature allows them to hold a lot of paint, making it easier to create smooth, continuous strokes without constantly reloading the brush. The fine tips are perfect for detailed work, allowing for precise lines and intricate designs, and the long body of the brush provides perfect control, allowing you to paint in fluid, expressive movements.


hand holding bamboo chinese paintbrush to add details with gouache paint to chinoiserie bird painting on silk paper

Using my chinoiserie detail brush to add fine lines to my artwork


Using these brushes has transformed my painting experience, giving me the ability to achieve the smooth, luxurious finish that chinoiserie art is known for. If you're serious about your art, investing in high-quality brushes like these can make a huge difference to your work!


hands holding chinoiserie paintbrushes over artisan artist papers

Holding chinoiserie paintbrushes ready for shipping 


If you want an even more in depth comparison, then take a look at my latest YouTube video



For more detailed techniques and tutorials, check out my eBook and subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Don't forget to join my artist community for free painting resources and to stay up to date with all the latest launches!


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