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Testing Paper for Journal Bookbinding + Junk Drawer Still Lifes

Junk Drawer #1, Legion Multi-Media Paper, ink & watercolor
Legion Multi-Media Paper, ink & watercolor

I used random items from my junk drawer as still-life subjects to test paper for binding my next journal.  The paper I’ve chosen is Legion Multimedia Aquarelle 300 gsm (a little thinner than 140 lb). An employee at my local Artists & Craftsman store suggested it when I was unsuccessfully seeking the Fabriano Soft Press 140 lb recommended by Shirley of Paper and Threads.

Legion Test #2
Legion Test #2

Legion Multimedia/Aquarelle

I was delighted to find that the texture of the Multimedia/Aquarelle  paper is perfect for writing on with the finest of pen points (unlike my current journal’s Arches CP paper). It took watercolor washes and multiple layers of glazes beautifully without buckling, pooling, or pilling. Color lifted off easily when rubbed with a damp brush.

The paper is nicely sized to prevent the paper from soaking up the paint, but not so extremely sized as the Arches 90 pound cold press that practically resists the ink.

It has two deckle edges and is relatively inexpensive. The Legion Multimedia/Aquarelle paper cost $2.69 a sheet at my Blick store while the Fabriano Soft Press 140 lb paper was $4.99 a sheet. Unlike the Fabriano, this paper is also available in 90 lb weight which I will try next, but I think that will have to be a special order through Artists & Craftsman since Blick only carries the 300 gsm paper.

Dick Blick’s website says about the Legion Multimedia paper:

“Use any painting and drawing media you choose on this fine quality, crisp white paper! Multimedia/Aquarelle Paper consists of 100% cotton fiber, is acid-free, and has a neutral pH. The paper is 140 lb (300 gsm) weight, and has an uneven textured surface. Available in two different surfaces — Cold Press and Rough. Cold Press is available in sheets and pads, Rough is available in sheets only, and comes in 200 lb (380 gsm) weight.”

I tested the paper for grain direction and it runs the long way, making it possible to tear it down for a journal just the size I like: 5.5″ x 7.5″, with no waste, which is not possible with the Fabriano whose grain runs the short way.

I finally was able to buy a sheet of Fabriano Soft Press (which has a similar surface texture, between hot press and cold press) and tested it too:

Fabriano Soft Press 140 lb: Test #1
Fabriano Soft Press 140 lb: Test #1

Fabriano Soft Press

The Fabriano Soft Press paper had some things in its favor but ultimately the cons outweighed the pros in my mind. It seems like good sturdy paper, and the paint lifted OK without surface damage, but it was slightly less pleasant to write on with a fine-point pen, even though the surfaces of the two papers are very similar.

Since the grain runs the short way (which means the pages will need to fold the short way) you either end up wasting some of the paper or have fewer size options for the book. Also, the paper is thicker and stiffer, which means fewer sheets per book or a thicker, heavier book. And it is more expensive.

But what bothered me the most was the sizing. According to Blick:

“Fabriano papers are synthetically sized both internally and externally so that no animal by-products are used.”

In fact, Fabriano uses an acrylic sizing as opposed to the organic sizing (gelatin) that other companies use. I found that juicy washes on this paper took forever to dry and I assume it has to do with the non-porosity of acrylic sizing.

Fabriano Soft Press Test #2
Fabriano Soft Press Test #2

Despite waiting and waiting and finally using a hair dryer before adding the next layer of glaze, the paint still wasn’t dry and glazes bled into each other.

I also tested the Arches 90 lb Cold Press in my journal (below). Washes, glazing, lifting worked fine, but just isn’t pleasant to use with a fine point pen.

90 lb Arches Cold Press test
90 lb Arches Cold Press test

I’m looking forward to binding my new book and then giving the Legion Multimedia Aquarelle paper a true test of its journal-goodness and whether it really is the “perfect” watercolor journal bookbinding paper for me.

15 replies on “Testing Paper for Journal Bookbinding + Junk Drawer Still Lifes”

I like how you share with us your journey of making art. I like reading how you try different papers. Excuse my ignorance, Jana, what are glazes? The colours seem so rich and vibrant.


Hi Anna, Glazing in watercolor is when you layer one wash of transparent paint over another. So if you painted an area yellow and then glazed over it with pink, you’d seeing the yellow through the pink, and the two colors combined that way would appear orange. Jana


Yay, Jana. Thanks so much for your very graphic and helpful analysis of the papers. This Legion is going to help a lot of us who want to do sketches & washes or sketches and watercolors.
And it’s price is appealing, too.



What fun giving yourself assignments in testing papers and inks! I tend to be too impatient to do such things, but yet it really helps in the long run if you know how your paper/paints will react. Thanks for sharing your process and results.


Hi Linda, Thanks for writing. Arches is great. I use it as my main paper. It just wasn’t working for me in the journal since I like to write as well as paint in there. Jana


Wonderful testing – I wonder if the Fabriano sizing is the reason that the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen doesn’t dry enough not to run on my soft press paper.

Hope that you love your paper and then I will have other options for the future, if only for my recycled books as a test.


I’d hoped to get it bound last weekend but ended up having a painting breakthrough instead. Can’t complain but need to get that book bound soon. Jana


Thanks for sharing! I’m taking that online watercolor class with Molly Murrah at the moment. She said there is a difference between block watercolor paper and the sheets. This has me thinking I need to just break down and make my own.

PS I just have to know, what is that thing in the top still life with the black handle and yellow top?


Hah! I don’t know what that is supposed to be for exactly either. It’s a little knife with a badly tarnished blade that was probably originally part of a cute little set that had other implements or containers. Who knows. It’s lived in the junk drawer forever and I don’t know how it got there. Jana


AHA! And I thought my problems with paint not drying and other paint handling things were entirely the fault of my lack of skill… And now I find (having read your blog yesterday) that the PAPER contributes!

In this case, the paper in question is the lowest grade Canson kids’ watercolor paper. I painted something on it a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t get the paint to flow evenly. The color was splotchy.

I tried working on it a bit yesterday and found that all the color — ALL! — was on the surface of the paper. Whenever I touched the old painting with a damp, paint-filled brush, I had a lot of trouble and effort to leave more paint on the paper than I took away!

And then I had Friday night’s experiment with a rake fan brush, begun on this same paper because it happened to be lying about. (Mostly my 8 year old daughter uses this paper, which is perfectly fine.) I could not get the paint to migrate…

Suddenly your notes on paper made sense to me in a new way! The problems with my painting are not always my lack of skill!

BTW I have been using two types of paper since I gave up the ‘cheap stuff’ a couple of years ago: Moleskine and Arches 140 lb. cold press. A couple of weeks ago I bought a different paper, my first real watercolor sheet that was hot press. (Then the dogs got into the act and decided that the rabbit skin sizing meant the paper was for them, and munched quite a bit of it, another problem!)

I haven’t played with the new paper yet. Been too sick to do anything organized. But I do appreciate that I need to invest some $$ in my education and BUY a bunch of different kinds of paper and PLAY with them! Not paint on them, not at first, but PLAY to see what they do and don’t do.

Thank you!


Hi Gwendolyn, The first thing I tell my watercolor students is to use artist grade materials to learn on so I’m really glad to hear you’re abandoning the kids’ watercolor paper. The two problems with trying to learn on student grade materials is that 1) your results won’t be very good because of the limitations caused by the materials and 2) what you learn won’t be very helpful because the results are so different when using good materials that what you came to expect to happen when you mixed this color with that, or when you put a wash down. You want things to become sort of automatic as you get more experienced–your pigments are in the same place on your palette, the paper responds as expected, you grab the brush you just know will work for this technique or that. So learning with good materials means you won’t have to start over with seeing how things work.

On the other hand, when you do switch to good materials your work will show big improvement rapidly because you won’t be fighting the materials anymore, they will be helping you get that image you want.

As far as paper goes, it is good to experiment (you’re right–PLAY!) to find what paper you prefer for the style of work you want to do. My overall favorite for making watercolor paints of any size, having tried many different papers, is still Arches 140 lb cold press. You may find your style of painting is best on hot press, or rough, or cold press or a different paper depending on the image you’re trying to create. But for sketchbook ink and watercolor washes, it’s too rough. I love the Moleskine paper for journaling and if I wasn’t making my own books now I would go back to the Moleskines. I have a feeling the Legion Multimedia 90 lb paper may be the closest but I haven’t found a source for ordering it yet without having to buy 100 sheets(!).



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