Watercolour Paper: St Cuthberts Mill Samples (product comparison)

A few weeks ago, St Cuthberts Mill posted about their new Millford paper on Instagram. Intrigued, I made some inquiries about it and they kindly sent me a little packet of samples of various types of paper from their line (I later discovered you can buy the same sample packet from Jackson’s in the UK for about 50 cents, so if you want to try these papers out yourself, you can do so without breaking the bank). I already use and love their Saunders Waterford rough press paper so I was keen to try out other papers from their range.

The sample packet included six sheets: three of Saunders Waterford (in hot press white, rough white and cold press high white),  two of Bockingford (cold press and rough, both white) and Millford (cold press white). All six sheets are 300gsm, or 140lb.

As these are just samples, they’re relatively small sheets (roughly A5 size) and have the information about them printed on the paper itself, with space in the middle to paint on them and experiment. It says you can use a variety of mediums with them, from acrylics and gouache to pencils and pastels, but as I am primarily a watercolour artist, that’s what I’m going to use to test these samples. They also sent a single A5 sheet of the Millford paper with no markings on it, so I’ll save that and use it for a proper painting (and probably do a more detailed review of it in a separate post).

In order to give a fair and accurate comparison, I painted the same scene on all six pieces of sample paper, using the same selection of brushes and paints. The watercolours I used were Winsor & Newton Artists watercolours, specifically, the following colours:

  • Winsor (Dioxazine) Violet
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Payne’s Grey

It was a quick sketch that took less than an hour for each piece, as I wanted to be able to use the same techniques and methods on each sheet of paper and I didn’t fancy doing six copies of a detailed, time-consuming painting. On some of them, I didn’t use dark enough colours in the water, but I still felt I was able to get a good idea of how each paper handles.

Bockingford Cold Press White
There seem to be a few watercolour paper manufacturers with a Bockingford line in their range. I have a few pads of Daler-Rowney Bockingford (cold press), which I mostly use for doing watercolour charts and thumbnail sketches as part of my planning for larger paintings. St Cuthberts Mill’s Bockingford cold press paper feels much the same as Daler-Rowney’s; it has a subtle but still discernible texture. It’s also a little bit brighter white than the Saunders Waterford papers. Colour can be lifted relatively easy, but it does buckle a lot when a heavy wash of water is applied (moreso than the Saunders Waterford). This was the second piece of paper I tested and I think I inadvertently used stronger concentrations of colour on this one than on the Saunders Waterford rough paper I tested first. One thing I found odd was that the colours seemed to separate more on this paper; for the trees on the misty bank in the background, I mixed a pale mauve from Cerulean Blue and Winsor Violet, but you can clearly see in this painting how the Cerulean Blue seemed to granulate and leave the Winsor Violet behind. I don’t know if this was caused by the paper but it was the same mix I used on the SW rough paper, so I don’t know what else it could have been.

Bockingford Rough White
This was the fifth sheet I tested. The same texture but more pronounced than the Bockingford cold press white, it created much more noticeable granulating effects, which are especially noticeable in the sky area and in the misty bank of trees in the background (which again seemed to separate out into the two colours I’d used to mix it). It took a little longer to dry than the Saunders Waterford papers, but it didn’t buckle as much as the cold press Bockingford, and it still allowed me to lift colour easily when I wanted to.

As with Daler-Rowney’s Bockingford paper, I suspect St Cuthberts Mill’s Bockingford paper is aimed at students or amateur painters. It’s also the cheapest at about $4.60 AUD per 56cm X 76cm sheet at Jackson’s (UK). It’s still acid free and archival, but not 100% cotton like the Saunders Waterford or the Millford. It is, however, noticeably whiter than the SW or Millford white papers (but not as bright as the SW high white). Even with the rough paper, I find the Bockingford texture to be smoother, more uniform (for lack of a better word) and slightly less absorbent than the Saunders Waterford. The Bockingford papers are available in sheets (individual and packets) and in pads and blocks.

Millford Cold Press White
This paper was apparently brought in to replace St Cuthberts Mill’s discontinued Whatman paper (which I never tried so I can’t comment on how similar they are). I left this one til last in my tests since it was something new, and at first I thought it seemed similar to the Saunders Waterford cold press paper in terms of texture, but once I started applying paint to it, I noticed it doesn’t absorb the paint as much as other papers do. The card says it’s “hard sized” which gives it a high resistance to water (according to their website). Indeed, the paint almost seemed to float on the surface, especially when I used thick, heavy washes (when I used less water it seemed to behave more or less normally). This meant some of my washes spread a little further than I wanted or intended them to, but it was still an interesting effect and it’s something you could get used to and learn to work with. It’s also noticeably whiter than the Saunders Waterford white papers; almost as white as their high white paper. The colours I used looked bolder and brighter on this paper but I’m not sure if it’s due to its whiteness or because of the different sizing. I should note that, like the SW hot press paper, the Millford paper suffered some damage after I pulled the masking tape off, even though it was only on there for an hour. Millford paper is about $7.60 AUD per 56cm X 76cm sheet at Jacksons, making it the most expensive of these papers. At this stage it’s only available in sheets (individually or in packets), not pads or blocks.

Saunders Waterford Hot Press White
I’ve never been a huge fan of hot press paper (mainly because it doesn’t suit how I usually like to paint) and the Saunders Waterford hot press paper didn’t change that feeling. This was the third sheet I tested from the sample pack. It’s a very smooth surface, so those who do illustration work will probably find this is suitable to their painting or drawing style. The first thing I noticed was that it seems to absorb the paint more and dry very quickly compared to the cold press and rough papers in the sample packet. This made it more difficult for me to get the wet-in-wet effects I like to use as the first wash I put down was often dry (or at least almost dry) by the time I could put down the next colour, even if I already had it mixed up. The smooth surface of the paper also seemed to make paint spread in a more uniform way when I did drench the paper and add more colour, as you can see by the mauve background trees; though I dotted in some of my purple colour in an uneven manner along the bottom, it spread much faster and further, filling out the whole square I’d wet with clean water and resulting in a more blocky set of trees and an ugly hard edge instead of the distinct shorter and taller trees with soft edges in the other sample paintings. The autumnal background trees also didn’t look as variegated and mottled as I was aiming for as the colours I dropped in blended together more completely than on the other papers.

As I mentioned above, the even spread and fast drying properties probably make it excellent for those who paint fine detail and need the paint to stay exactly where they put it, but it doesn’t suit my painting style that well. Funnily enough, this hot press paper also didn’t seem to buckle anywhere near as much as the cold press and rough papers. However, it also doesn’t seem to be as sturdy as the other papers, as it began to pill a little bit when I lifted the wind streak from the water, and when I pulled the masking tape off, there was noticeable damage where it had been (even though it had been on there for less than two hours). It’s also not as easy to lift colour from the hot press paper, most likely due to how fast it dries (as you can see, the wind streak on the water is a lot less defined than on the other paintings). If you enjoy using granulating colours, the effects of those will be much less noticeable on hot press paper.

Saunders Waterford Cold Press High White
Saunders Waterford is a cold press paper so it has a distinct texture, though not as pronounced as the rough paper. The texture also feels more natural and random (at least to me) than the Bockingford papers. It stands up quite well to heavy washes and allows colour to be lifted or scrubbed up without too much difficulty. Pigment flows nicely on the paper and you can get some nice granulation and dry brush effects. Unlike the other SW papers I got in the pack, this one was high white, which is a much brighter white than the standard white (the regular white paper has a bit of a yellowish cream tinge). I felt that this made the colours look that little bit more vibrant. This was the fourth paper I tested from the sample pack.

Saunders Waterford Rough White
When doing my sample paintings, I actually used this paper first, since I already use it regularly and am familiar with how it handles. I figured it could act as a sort of control for all the other papers, which I’ve never used before. An artist grade paper, it has a lovely, natural-feeling rough texture and is quite sturdy, able to stand up to heavy washes and scrubbing techniques (though it will buckle when lots of water is applied if not taped down, as most watercolour papers do). It also allows most watercolour to be lifted easily, with the exception of some notoriously staining pigments like the phthalos.

On a side note, I did a more detailed review of this paper here. Of all the St Cuthberts Mill paper ranges, this is my favourite.

The Saunders Waterford papers all seem to be about $6.50 per sheet at Jackson’s, as well as being available in packs of sheets, pads and blocks (I can buy most locally in white papers but none of my nearby art supply shops seem to have it in high white, which is disappointing). It’s definitely an artist grade paper. My preference for watercolour paper is a rough surface, and I tend to use either Saunders Waterford or Arches. Both are excellent brands but I find that Saunders Waterford is usually significantly cheaper than Arches, without a loss in quality.

If you haven’t tried St Cuthberts Mill’s watercolour papers yet, I’d recommend getting a sheet or pad of some of them to try. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional artist, they’re a good quality surface at a reasonable price, and you can find most of their papers easily in your local art store (as the Millford paper is only new it’ll take longer for it to get into circulation, but it’s worth getting some to play with if you get the opportunity).

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1 Response to Watercolour Paper: St Cuthberts Mill Samples (product comparison)

  1. Blaze O'Rama says:

    Is there anything more annoying than a paper which pills when being utilized? (Well probably lots of things, but we are talking watercolor here!) Your reviews are thorough and thoroughly enjoyable as they are both informative about the product and methodology. These are so helpful. Thank you!


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