The ultimate guide to the best watercolour sketchbooks

Want to paint on the go, or create a visual diary of your work? Watercolour sketchbooks are affordable and convenient for many artists. But with so many types on offer, how do you know what to look for?

Watercolour sketchbooks are just like any other type of sketchbook, filled with watercolour paper. You can paint on the front and back of the sheets, making them good value for money.

Why do you need a watercolour sketchbook?

  • Sketchbooks are small and handy, making them perfect for outdoor painting or creating while travelling
  • Sketchbooks allow you to make a narrative for your work, building on paintings to tell a story
  • Many artists love sketchbooks as a space to experiment and explore new watercolour techniques and subjects
  • They can be in square or rectangle format, and come in so many choices for sizes and shapes
  • You can paint on both sides of the paper, making it a cheap way to buy watercolour paper
watercolour sketchbooks with paintings on the page

Choosing the best watercolour sketchbook

Paper finish

You can choose from the usual watercolour paper finishes – cold-press, hot-press or rough. Most sketchbooks will be in a medium cold-press texture, which is usually fine for most purposes.

Read my guide to watercolour paper for more information.

Paper weight

This should be at least 200gsm, up to 300gsm. Watercolour sketchbooks can be thinner than your usual paper, but you will need to ensure you manage the water in your paint mix. Too much water can cause the sketchbook pages to warp.

Sketchbook fastening

Sketchbooks can have ring bindings, which are metal and very strong. They often allow the pages to open very flat, ideal for larger sketchbooks, but mean that there is a gap between two pages when they’re fully open.

Other types of sketchbook are bound with glue, meaning you can paint across a double page easily, but they are more difficult to lay out flat. What you choose is down to personal preference, but it’s worth trying a few types in an art store to check how they lie when open.

watercolour sketchbooks showing the fastenings

Watercolour sketchbook sizes

Pocket sketchbooks

These tiny sketchbooks are designed to fit easily in a bag or pocket. They’re perfect for quick studies and on-the-go painting sessions. Some can be tiny, just 8×10 cm (3×4 inches), which is fun to play with!

A5 size (13×21 cm)

A5 sketchbooks are some of the most flexible sizes, and my favourites. They are usually 13x21cm (5×8.25 inches) and can be portrait or landscape. I love using these watercolour sketchbooks like a diary, keeping track of my creative practice in one place.

A4 size (30×21 cm)

A4 watercolour sketchbooks (8.3×11.7 inches) are the equivalent to a regular sheet of printer paper, and close to a 9×12 regular sheet of watercolour paper. They’re a full painting surface, creating space for a lot more detail and experimentation.

Square sketchbooks

Many sizes of square watercolour sketchbook are also available. They’re popular for Instagram paintings as they have the square format already! My personal favourite size is 20×20 cm, 8×8 inches. It gives you a bit of space without being overwhelming.

spread of watercolour sketchbooks on the desk

The best brands for watercolour sketchbooks

These are some of my favourite brands to buy the best sketchbook with watercolour paper, but bear in mind that I’m shopping from the UK and Europe, so other US brands won’t be widely available here.

I recommend choosing what’s common and most affordable where you live, and using brands that make watercolour paper you already love.

Winsor & Newton

Winsor & Newton make excellent quality watercolour supplies and their sketchbooks are no exception. Their paper finish often has a lot of sizing, meaning it’s a little more water-resistant than other brands, but it keeps the colours vibrant and strong.


Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks creates portable sketchbooks in black leather-bound covers. Their paper is thinner than other brands but still holds up well, and I love to use them for practising new techniques without using cotton paper that’s too expensive.

Daler Rowney

Another British brand producing reliable watercolour sketchbooks. Their sketchbooks come in a range of sizes and paper types, and I like the ring-bound ones to paint on a smaller format.

Seawhite of Brighton

Seawhite of Brighton offer plenty of watercolour sketchbooks at a good price for beginners. They’re thinner paper quality than some of the professional brands but great for getting started.

best watercolour sketchbooks - three best brands

What to do if you hate a page in your watercolour sketchbook

One of the things many artists worry about is making a mess of a sketchbook and disrupting the flow. What if you hate how one of the paintings turns out?

To take the pressure off, I like to open the sketchbook in a random place, rather than the first page. Then it means I’m not worrying about telling a story and making every page perfect. It’s not a finished book, it’s a collection of drafts!

I also have the cheapest sketchbooks for experimentation and trying new techniques if I feel less confident in them.

If you absolutely hate the work, you can tear it out (especially if you have a ring-bound book). If you can’t rip it out, you can always glue another page over the top and start again.

Remember that we buy watercolour supplies so we can use them, not to store them in a drawer. Even if you don’t love the finished work, the goal is to learn something from your practice.

Other watercolour supply guides

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