Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff Art Blog

Tips, Tricks, Thoughts, and inspiration from across the art spectrum.

What Is a Watermark Used For?

Arches Watercolor Paper Watermark

When new artists decide to delve into the artistic process, the deluge of specific information and vocabulary can be intimidating. We at Cheap Joe's are here to help. There are so many valuable pieces of information within the materials themselves, but if new artists don't know where to look for that info, it's not helpful to them. One of the most accessible pieces of information are "watermarks" within artists' papers.


Arches Watercolor Paper WatermarkArches Watercolor Paper Watermark
Arches Oil Paper WatercolorArches Oil Paper Watercolor

What Are Watermarks?

A watermark is a subtle design set into a sheet of paper during the papermaking process. It's formed by using a sort of stamp, either on a roller or embedded in the paper mould, that's pressed into the paper while wet to make that area's fibers thinner than the surrounding paper. The thinner paper areas let light through, allowing you to see the design when the paper is held up to the light. Watermarks are present in all types of high-quality artist papers used for watercolor painting, oil or acrylic painting, printmaking, and drawing papers. Manufacturers use them to assure quality and authenticity. They're like the signature of the manufacturer.

Historically, watermarks come from when the highest quality papers were used to print bank notes, paper money, and government documents. This mark was placed into the paper to legitimize the document because it was difficult to forge and is a permanent part of the paper that can't be removed. You can see watermarks in world currencies today, including the US Dollar. Look for the ghost portraits on the bills in your wallet. Watermarks can also be used to date paper since they change over the years.

Fabriano Paper WatermarkFabriano Paper Watermark

How Do I Find A Watermark On Paper?

A watermark is easy to locate on any artists' paper by simply holding the sheet up to the light. The light will illuminate a design in one corner of each sheet where the fiber is less dense. Some papers use a "running watermark" all along one edge of the paper. This embedded feature contains valuable pieces of information not just in what text is shown, such as the brand name or paper series, but what it means for paper orientation.

Saunders Waterford Paper WatermarkSaunders Waterford Paper Watermark

How Do Watermarks Help Me?

Watermarks are a purposeful manufacturing feature of artists' papers that identify the paper maker. This mark is commonly located in one corner or along one specific edge of each sheet to designate what is to be the bottom edge. When using fine art papers, checking the position and direction of the watermark will show you which direction the paper should go, not only the top and bottom but also the front and rear faces.

When the watermark on the sheet is "right reading", where the text/design reads in the correct direction, that face is called the "felt side" of the paper. This side of the artist paper sheet was not in contact with the wire form during the manufacturing process and is intended to be the "working face" where the paint or media should be applied. The reverse side of a given sheet is referred to as the "wire side". This side is a viable working surface as well, but many times has a very different surface texture.

Roma Watermark Shown In Paper MouldRoma Watermark Shown In Paper Mould
Winsor and Newton Watercolor Paper WatermarkWinsor and Newton Watercolor Paper Watermark

Now you know what watermarks are trying to tell you to help in your art process. We hope this helps you on your art journey!

Written by Julie T. Davis of Cheap Joe's 2-Minute Art Tips


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From Cheap Joe’s Art Blog

Tips, tricks, thoughts, and inspiration from across the art spectrum.

Arches Paper WatermarkArches Paper Watermark

What Is a Watermark Used For?

There are so many valuable pieces of information within the art materials themselves. One of the most accessible pieces of information are "watermarks" within artists' papers....

Read More

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View our YouTube Channel for More!

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